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THE BLACK ARROW

BY

ROBERT LOUIS STEVENSON





PROLOGUE--JOHN AMEND-ALL



On a certain afternoon, in the late springtime, the bell upon
Tunstall Moat House was heard ringing at an unaccustomed hour. Far
and near, in the forest and in the fields along the river, people
began to desert their labours and hurry towards the sound; and in
Tunstall hamlet a group of poor country-folk stood wondering at the
summons.

Tunstall hamlet at that period, in the reign of old King Henry VI.,
wore much the same appearance as it wears to-day. A score or so of
houses, heavily framed with oak, stood scattered in a long green
valley ascending from the river. At the foot, the road crossed a
bridge, and mounting on the other side, disappeared into the
fringes of the forest on its way to the Moat House, and further
forth to Holywood Abbey. Half-way up the village, the church stood
among yews. On every side the slopes were crowned and the view
bounded by the green elms and greening oak-trees of the forest.

Hard by the bridge, there was a stone cross upon a knoll, and here
the group had collected--half a dozen women and one tall fellow in
a russet smock--discussing what the bell betided. An express had
gone through the hamlet half an hour before, and drunk a pot of ale
in the saddle, not daring to dismount for the hurry of his errand;
but he had been ignorant himself of what was forward, and only bore
sealed letters from Sir Daniel Brackley to Sir Oliver Oates, the
parson, who kept the Moat House in the master's absence.

But now there was the noise of a horse; and soon, out of the edge
of the wood and over the echoing bridge, there rode up young Master
Richard Shelton, Sir Daniel's ward. He, at the least, would know,
and they hailed him and begged him to explain. He drew bridle
willingly enough--a young fellow not yet eighteen, sun-browned and
grey-eyed, in a jacket of deer's leather, with a black velvet
collar, a green hood upon his head, and a steel cross-bow at his
back. The express, it appeared, had brought great news. A battle
was impending. Sir Daniel had sent for every man that could draw a
bow or carry a bill to go post-haste to Kettley, under pain of his
severe displeasure; but for whom they were to fight, or of where
the battle was expected, Dick knew nothing. Sir Oliver would come
shortly himself, and Bennet Hatch was arming at that moment, for he
it was who should lead the party.

"It is the ruin of this kind land," a woman said. "If the barons
live at war, ploughfolk must eat roots."

"Nay," said Dick, "every man that follows shall have sixpence a
day, and archers twelve."

"If they live," returned the woman, "that may very well be; but how
if they die, my master?"

"They cannot better die than for their natural lord," said Dick.

"No natural lord of mine," said the man in the smock. "I followed
the Walsinghams; so we all did down Brierly way, till two years
ago, come Candlemas. And now I must side with Brackley! It was
the law that did it; call ye that natural? But now, what with Sir
Daniel and what with Sir Oliver--that knows more of law than
honesty--I have no natural lord but poor King Harry the Sixt, God
bless him!--the poor innocent that cannot tell his right hand from
his left."

"Ye speak with an ill tongue, friend," answered Dick, "to miscall
your good master and my lord the king in the same libel. But King
Harry--praised be the saints!--has come again into his right mind,
and will have all things peaceably ordained. And as for Sir
Daniel, y' are very brave behind his back. But I will be no tale-
bearer; and let that suffice."

"I say no harm of you, Master Richard," returned the peasant. "Y'
are a lad; but when ye come to a man's inches, ye will find ye have
an empty pocket. I say no more: the saints help Sir Daniel's
neighbours, and the Blessed Maid protect his wards!"

"Clipsby," said Richard, "you speak what I cannot hear with honour.
Sir Daniel is my good master, and my guardian."

"Come, now, will ye read me a riddle?" returned Clipsby. "On whose
side is Sir Daniel?"

"I know not," said Dick, colouring a little; for his guardian had
changed sides continually in the troubles of that period, and every
change had brought him some increase of fortune.

"Ay," returned Clipsby, "you, nor no man. For, indeed, he is one
that goes to bed Lancaster and gets up York."

Just then the bridge rang under horse-shoe iron, and the party
turned and saw Bennet Hatch come galloping--a brown-faced, grizzled
fellow, heavy of hand and grim of mien, armed with sword and spear,
a steel salet on his head, a leather jack upon his body. He was a
great man in these parts; Sir Daniel's right hand in peace and war,
and at that time, by his master's interest, bailiff of the hundred.

"Clipsby," he shouted, "off to the Moat House, and send all other
laggards the same gate. Bowyer will give you jack and salet. We
must ride before curfew. Look to it: he that is last at the lych-
gate Sir Daniel shall reward. Look to it right well! I know you
for a man of naught. Nance," he added, to one of the women, "is
old Appleyard up town?"

"I'll warrant you," replied the woman. "In his field, for sure."

So the group dispersed, and while Clipsby walked leisurely over the
bridge, Bennet and young Shelton rode up the road together, through
the village and past the church.

"Ye will see the old shrew," said Bennet. "He will waste more time
grumbling and prating of Harry the Fift than would serve a man to
shoe a horse. And all because he has been to the French wars!"

The house to which they were bound was the last in the village,
standing alone among lilacs; and beyond it, on three sides, there
was open meadow rising towards the borders of the wood.

Hatch dismounted, threw his rein over the fence, and walked down
the field, Dick keeping close at his elbow, to where the old
soldier was digging, knee-deep in his cabbages, and now and again,
in a cracked voice, singing a snatch of song. He was all dressed
in leather, only his hood and tippet were of black frieze, and tied
with scarlet; his face was like a walnut-shell, both for colour and
wrinkles; but his old grey eye was still clear enough, and his
sight unabated. Perhaps he was deaf; perhaps he thought it
unworthy of an old archer of Agincourt to pay any heed to such
disturbances; but neither the surly notes of the alarm bell, nor
the near approach of Bennet and the lad, appeared at all to move
him; and he continued obstinately digging, and piped up, very thin
and shaky:


"Now, dear lady, if thy will be,
I pray you that you will rue on me."


"Nick Appleyard," said Hatch, "Sir Oliver commends him to you, and
bids that ye shall come within this hour to the Moat House, there
to take command."

The old fellow looked up.

"Save you, my masters!" he said, grinning. "And where goeth Master
Hatch?"

"Master Hatch is off to Kettley, with every man that we can horse,"
returned Bennet. "There is a fight toward, it seems, and my lord
stays a reinforcement."

"Ay, verily," returned Appleyard. "And what will ye leave me to
garrison withal?"

"I leave you six good men, and Sir Oliver to boot," answered Hatch.

"It'll not hold the place," said Appleyard; "the number sufficeth
not. It would take two score to make it good."

"Why, it's for that we came to you, old shrew!" replied the other.
"Who else is there but you that could do aught in such a house with
such a garrison?"

"Ay! when the pinch comes, ye remember the old shoe," returned
Nick. "There is not a man of you can back a horse or hold a bill;
and as for archery--St. Michael! if old Harry the Fift were back
again, he would stand and let ye shoot at him for a farthen a
shoot!"

"Nay, Nick, there's some can draw a good bow yet," said Bennet.

"Draw a good bow!" cried Appleyard. "Yes! But who'll shoot me a
good shoot? It's there the eye comes in, and the head between your
shoulders. Now, what might you call a long shoot, Bennet Hatch?"

"Well," said Bennet, looking about him, "it would be a long shoot
from here into the forest."

"Ay, it would be a longish shoot," said the old fellow, turning to
look over his shoulder; and then he put up his hand over his eyes,
and stood staring.

"Why, what are you looking at?" asked Bennet, with a chuckle. "Do,
you see Harry the Fift?"

The veteran continued looking up the hill in silence. The sun
shone broadly over the shelving meadows; a few white sheep wandered
browsing; all was still but the distant jangle of the bell.

"What is it, Appleyard?" asked Dick.

"Why, the birds," said Appleyard.

And, sure enough, over the top of the forest, where it ran down in
a tongue among the meadows, and ended in a pair of goodly green
elms, about a bowshot from the field where they were standing, a
flight of birds was skimming to and fro, in evident disorder.

"What of the birds?" said Bennet.

"Ay!" returned Appleyard, "y' are a wise man to go to war, Master
Bennet. Birds are a good sentry; in forest places they be the
first line of battle. Look you, now, if we lay here in camp, there
might be archers skulking down to get the wind of us; and here
would you be, none the wiser!"

"Why, old shrew," said Hatch, "there be no men nearer us than Sir
Daniel's, at Kettley; y' are as safe as in London Tower; and ye
raise scares upon a man for a few chaffinches and sparrows!"

"Hear him!" grinned Appleyard. "How many a rogue would give his
two crop ears to have a shoot at either of us? Saint Michael, man!
they hate us like two polecats!"

"Well, sooth it is, they hate Sir Daniel," answered Hatch, a little
sobered.

"Ay, they hate Sir Daniel, and they hate every man that serves with
him," said Appleyard; "and in the first order of hating, they hate
Bennet Hatch and old Nicholas the bowman. See ye here: if there
was a stout fellow yonder in the wood-edge, and you and I stood
fair for him--as, by Saint George, we stand!--which, think ye,
would he choose?"

"You, for a good wager," answered Hatch.

"My surcoat to a leather belt, it would be you!" cried the old
archer. "Ye burned Grimstone, Bennet--they'll ne'er forgive you
that, my master. And as for me, I'll soon be in a good place, God
grant, and out of bow-shoot--ay, and cannon-shoot--of all their
malices. I am an old man, and draw fast to homeward, where the bed
is ready. But for you, Bennet, y' are to remain behind here at
your own peril, and if ye come to my years unhanged, the old true-
blue English spirit will be dead."

"Y' are the shrewishest old dolt in Tunstall Forest," returned
Hatch, visibly ruffled by these threats. "Get ye to your arms
before Sir Oliver come, and leave prating for one good while. An
ye had talked so much with Harry the Fift, his ears would ha' been
richer than his pocket."

An arrow sang in the air, like a huge hornet; it struck old
Appleyard between the shoulder-blades, and pierced him clean
through, and he fell forward on his face among the cabbages.
Hatch, with a broken cry, leapt into the air; then, stooping
double, he ran for the cover of the house. And in the meanwhile
Dick Shelton had dropped behind a lilac, and had his crossbow bent
and shouldered, covering the point of the forest.

Not a leaf stirred. The sheep were patiently browsing; the birds
had settled. But there lay the old man, with a cloth-yard arrow
standing in his back; and there were Hatch holding to the gable,
and Dick crouching and ready behind the lilac bush.

"D'ye see aught?" cried Hatch.

"Not a twig stirs," said Dick.

"I think shame to leave him lying," said Bennet, coming forward
once more with hesitating steps and a very pale countenance. "Keep
a good eye on the wood, Master Shelton--keep a clear eye on the
wood. The saints assoil us! here was a good shoot!"

Bennet raised the old archer on his knee. He was not yet dead; his
face worked, and his eyes shut and opened like machinery, and he
had a most horrible, ugly look of one in pain.

"Can ye hear, old Nick?" asked Hatch. "Have ye a last wish before
ye wend, old brother?"

"Pluck out the shaft, and let me pass, a' Mary's name!" gasped
Appleyard. "I be done with Old England. Pluck it out!"

"Master Dick," said Bennet, "come hither, and pull me a good pull
upon the arrow. He would fain pass, the poor sinner."

Dick laid down his cross-bow, and pulling hard upon the arrow, drew
it forth. A gush of blood followed; the old archer scrambled half
upon his feet, called once upon the name of God, and then fell
dead. Hatch, upon his knees among the cabbages, prayed fervently
for the welfare of the passing spirit. But even as he prayed, it
was plain that his mind was still divided, and he kept ever an eye
upon the corner of the wood from which the shot had come. When he
had done, he got to his feet again, drew off one of his mailed
gauntlets, and wiped his pale face, which was all wet with terror.

"Ay," he said, "it'll be my turn next."

"Who hath done this, Bennet?" Richard asked, still holding the
arrow in his hand.

"Nay, the saints know," said Hatch. "Here are a good two score
Christian souls that we have hunted out of house and holding, he
and I. He has paid his shot, poor shrew, nor will it be long,
mayhap, ere I pay mine. Sir Daniel driveth over-hard."

"This is a strange shaft," said the lad, looking at the arrow in
his hand.

"Ay, by my faith!" cried Bennet. "Black, and black-feathered.
Here is an ill-favoured shaft, by my sooth! for black, they say,
bodes burial. And here be words written. Wipe the blood away.
What read ye?"

"'Appulyaird fro Jon Amend-All,'" read Shelton. "What should this
betoken?"

"Nay, I like it not," returned the retainer, shaking his head.
"John Amend-All! Here is a rogue's name for those that be up in
the world! But why stand we here to make a mark? Take him by the
knees, good Master Shelton, while I lift him by the shoulders, and
let us lay him in his house. This will be a rare shog to poor Sir
Oliver; he will turn paper colour; he will pray like a windmill."

They took up the old archer, and carried him between them into his
house, where he had dwelt alone. And there they laid him on the
floor, out of regard for the mattress, and sought, as best they
might, to straighten and compose his limbs.

Appleyard's house was clean and bare. There was a bed, with a blue
cover, a cupboard, a great chest, a pair of joint-stools, a hinged
table in the chimney corner, and hung upon the wall the old
soldier's armoury of bows and defensive armour. Hatch began to
look about him curiously.

"Nick had money," he said. "He may have had three score pounds put
by. I would I could light upon't! When ye lose an old friend,
Master Richard, the best consolation is to heir him. See, now,
this chest. I would go a mighty wager there is a bushel of gold
therein. He had a strong hand to get, and a hard hand to keep
withal, had Appleyard the archer. Now may God rest his spirit!
Near eighty year he was afoot and about, and ever getting; but now
he's on the broad of his back, poor shrew, and no more lacketh; and
if his chattels came to a good friend, he would be merrier,
methinks, in heaven."

"Come, Hatch," said Dick, "respect his stone-blind eyes. Would ye
rob the man before his body? Nay, he would walk!"

Hatch made several signs of the cross; but by this time his natural
complexion had returned, and he was not easily to be dashed from
any purpose. It would have gone hard with the chest had not the
gate sounded, and presently after the door of the house opened and
admitted a tall, portly, ruddy, black-eyed man of near fifty, in a
surplice and black robe.

"Appleyard"--the newcomer was saying, as he entered; but he stopped
dead. "Ave Maria!" he cried. "Saints be our shield! What cheer
is this?"

"Cold cheer with Appleyard, sir parson," answered Hatch, with
perfect cheerfulness. "Shot at his own door, and alighteth even
now at purgatory gates. Ay! there, if tales be true, he shall lack
neither coal nor candle."

Sir Oliver groped his way to a joint-stool, and sat down upon it,
sick and white.

"This is a judgment! O, a great stroke!" he sobbed, and rattled
off a leash of prayers.

Hatch meanwhile reverently doffed his salet and knelt down.

"Ay, Bennet," said the priest, somewhat recovering, "and what may
this be? What enemy hath done this?"

"Here, Sir Oliver, is the arrow. See, it is written upon with
words," said Dick.

"Nay," cried the priest, "this is a foul hearing! John Amend-All!
A right Lollardy word. And black of hue, as for an omen! Sirs,
this knave arrow likes me not. But it importeth rather to take
counsel. Who should this be? Bethink you, Bennet. Of so many
black ill-willers, which should he be that doth so hardily outface
us? Simnel? I do much question it. The Walsinghams? Nay, they
are not yet so broken; they still think to have the law over us,
when times change. There was Simon Malmesbury, too. How think ye,
Bennet?"

"What think ye, sir," returned Hatch, "of Ellis Duckworth?"

"Nay, Bennet, never. Nay, not he," said the priest. "There cometh
never any rising, Bennet, from below--so all judicious chroniclers
concord in their opinion; but rebellion travelleth ever downward
from above; and when Dick, Tom, and Harry take them to their bills,
look ever narrowly to see what lord is profited thereby. Now, Sir
Daniel, having once more joined him to the Queen's party, is in ill
odour with the Yorkist lords. Thence, Bennet, comes the blow--by
what procuring, I yet seek; but therein lies the nerve of this
discomfiture."

"An't please you, Sir Oliver," said Bennet, "the axles are so hot
in this country that I have long been smelling fire. So did this
poor sinner, Appleyard. And, by your leave, men's spirits are so
foully inclined to all of us, that it needs neither York nor
Lancaster to spur them on. Hear my plain thoughts: You, that are
a clerk, and Sir Daniel, that sails on any wind, ye have taken many
men's goods, and beaten and hanged not a few. Y' are called to
count for this; in the end, I wot not how, ye have ever the
uppermost at law, and ye think all patched. But give me leave, Sir
Oliver: the man that ye have dispossessed and beaten is but the
angrier, and some day, when the black devil is by, he will up with
his bow and clout me a yard of arrow through your inwards."

"Nay, Bennet, y' are in the wrong. Bennet, ye should be glad to be
corrected," said Sir Oliver. "Y' are a prater, Bennet, a talker, a
babbler; your mouth is wider than your two ears. Mend it, Bennet,
mend it."

"Nay, I say no more. Have it as ye list," said the retainer.

The priest now rose from the stool, and from the writing-case that
hung about his neck took forth wax and a taper, and a flint and
steel. With these he sealed up the chest and the cupboard with Sir
Daniel's arms, Hatch looking on disconsolate; and then the whole
party proceeded, somewhat timorously, to sally from the house and
get to horse.

"'Tis time we were on the road, Sir Oliver," said Hatch, as he held
the priest's stirrup while he mounted.

"Ay; but, Bennet, things are changed," returned the parson. "There
is now no Appleyard--rest his soul!--to keep the garrison. I shall
keep you, Bennet. I must have a good man to rest me on in this day
of black arrows. 'The arrow that flieth by day,' saith the
evangel; I have no mind of the context; nay, I am a sluggard
priest, I am too deep in men's affairs. Well, let us ride forth,
Master Hatch. The jackmen should be at the church by now."

So they rode forward down the road, with the wind after them,
blowing the tails of the parson's cloak; and behind them, as they
went, clouds began to arise and blot out the sinking sun. They had
passed three of the scattered houses that make up Tunstall hamlet,
when, coming to a turn, they saw the church before them. Ten or a
dozen houses clustered immediately round it; but to the back the
churchyard was next the meadows. At the lych-gate, near a score of
men were gathered, some in the saddle, some standing by their
horses' heads. They were variously armed and mounted; some with
spears, some with bills, some with bows, and some bestriding
plough-horses, still splashed with the mire of the furrow; for
these were the very dregs of the country, and all the better men
and the fair equipments were already with Sir Daniel in the field.

"We have not done amiss, praised be the cross of Holywood! Sir
Daniel will be right well content," observed the priest, inwardly
numbering the troop.

"Who goes? Stand! if ye be true!" shouted Bennet. A man was seen
slipping through the churchyard among the yews; and at the sound of
this summons he discarded all concealment, and fairly took to his
heels for the forest. The men at the gate, who had been hitherto
unaware of the stranger's presence, woke and scattered. Those who
had dismounted began scrambling into the saddle; the rest rode in
pursuit; but they had to make the circuit of the consecrated
ground, and it was plain their quarry would escape them. Hatch,
roaring an oath, put his horse at the hedge, to head him off; but
the beast refused, and sent his rider sprawling in the dust. And
though he was up again in a moment, and had caught the bridle, the
time had gone by, and the fugitive had gained too great a lead for
any hope of capture.

The wisest of all had been Dick Shelton. Instead of starting in a
vain pursuit, he had whipped his crossbow from his back, bent it,
and set a quarrel to the string; and now, when the others had
desisted, he turned to Bennet and asked if he should shoot.

"Shoot! shoot!" cried the priest, with sanguinary violence.

"Cover him, Master Dick," said Bennet. "Bring me him down like a
ripe apple."

The fugitive was now within but a few leaps of safety; but this
last part of the meadow ran very steeply uphill; and the man ran
slower in proportion. What with the greyness of the falling night,
and the uneven movements of the runner, it was no easy aim; and as
Dick levelled his bow, he felt a kind of pity, and a half desire
that he might miss. The quarrel sped.

The man stumbled and fell, and a great cheer arose from Hatch and
the pursuers. But they were counting their corn before the
harvest. The man fell lightly; he was lightly afoot again, turned
and waved his cap in a bravado, and was out of sight next moment in
the margin of the wood.

"And the plague go with him!" cried Bennet. "He has thieves'
heels; he can run, by St Banbury! But you touched him, Master
Shelton; he has stolen your quarrel, may he never have good I
grudge him less!"

"Nay, but what made he by the church?" asked Sir Oliver. "I am
shrewdly afeared there has been mischief here. Clipsby, good
fellow, get ye down from your horse, and search thoroughly among
the yews."

Clipsby was gone but a little while ere he returned carrying a
paper.

"This writing was pinned to the church door," he said, handing it
to the parson. "I found naught else, sir parson."

"Now, by the power of Mother Church," cried Sir Oliver, "but this
runs hard on sacrilege! For the king's good pleasure, or the lord
of the manor--well! But that every run-the-hedge in a green jerkin
should fasten papers to the chancel door--nay, it runs hard on
sacrilege, hard; and men have burned for matters of less weight.
But what have we here? The light falls apace. Good Master
Richard, y' have young eyes. Read me, I pray, this libel."

Dick Shelton took the paper in his hand and read it aloud. It
contained some lines of very rugged doggerel, hardly even rhyming,
written in a gross character, and most uncouthly spelt. With the
spelling somewhat bettered, this is how they ran:


"I had four blak arrows under my belt,
Four for the greefs that I have felt,
Four for the nomber of ill menne
That have opressid me now and then.

One is gone; one is wele sped;
Old Apulyaird is ded.

One is for Maister Bennet Hatch,
That burned Grimstone, walls and thatch.

One for Sir Oliver Oates,
That cut Sir Harry Shelton's throat.

Sir Daniel, ye shull have the fourt;
We shall think it fair sport.

Ye shull each have your own part,
A blak arrow in each blak heart.
Get ye to your knees for to pray:
Ye are ded theeves, by yea and nay!

"JON AMEND-ALL
of the Green Wood,
And his jolly fellaweship.

"Item, we have mo arrowes and goode hempen cord for otheres of your
following."


"Now, well-a-day for charity and the Christian graces!" cried Sir
Oliver, lamentably. "Sirs, this is an ill world, and groweth daily
worse. I will swear upon the cross of Holywood I am as innocent of
that good knight's hurt, whether in act or purpose, as the babe
unchristened. Neither was his throat cut; for therein they are
again in error, as there still live credible witnesses to show."

"It boots not, sir parson," said Bennet. "Here is unseasonable
talk."

"Nay, Master Bennet, not so. Keep ye in your due place, good
Bennet," answered the priest. "I shall make mine innocence appear.
I will, upon no consideration, lose my poor life in error. I take
all men to witness that I am clear of this matter. I was not even
in the Moat House. I was sent of an errand before nine upon the
clock" -

"Sir Oliver," said Hatch, interrupting, "since it please you not to
stop this sermon, I will take other means. Goffe, sound to horse."

And while the tucket was sounding, Bennet moved close to the
bewildered parson, and whispered violently in his ear.

Dick Shelton saw the priest's eye turned upon him for an instant in
a startled glance. He had some cause for thought; for this Sir
Harry Shelton was his own natural father. But he said never a
word, and kept his countenance unmoved.

Hatch and Sir Oliver discussed together for a while their altered
situation; ten men, it was decided between them, should be
reserved, not only to garrison the Moat House, but to escort the
priest across the wood. In the meantime, as Bennet was to remain
behind, the command of the reinforcement was given to Master
Shelton. Indeed, there was no choice; the men were loutish
fellows, dull and unskilled in war, while Dick was not only
popular, but resolute and grave beyond his age. Although his youth
had been spent in these rough, country places, the lad had been
well taught in letters by Sir Oliver, and Hatch himself had shown
him the management of arms and the first principles of command.
Bennet had always been kind and helpful; he was one of those who
are cruel as the grave to those they call their enemies, but
ruggedly faithful and well willing to their friends; and now, while
Sir Oliver entered the next house to write, in his swift, exquisite
penmanship, a memorandum of the last occurrences to his master, Sir
Daniel Brackley, Bennet came up to his pupil to wish him God-speed
upon his enterprise.

"Ye must go the long way about, Master Shelton," he said; "round by
the bridge, for your life! Keep a sure man fifty paces afore you,
to draw shots; and go softly till y' are past the wood. If the
rogues fall upon you, ride for 't; ye will do naught by standing.
And keep ever forward, Master Shelton; turn me not back again, an
ye love your life; there is no help in Tunstall, mind ye that. And
now, since ye go to the great wars about the king, and I continue
to dwell here in extreme jeopardy of my life, and the saints alone
can certify if we shall meet again below, I give you my last
counsels now at your riding. Keep an eye on Sir Daniel; he is
unsure. Put not your trust in the jack-priest; he intendeth not
amiss, but doth the will of others; it is a hand-gun for Sir
Daniel! Get your good lordship where ye go; make you strong
friends; look to it. And think ever a pater-noster-while on Bennet
Hatch. There are worse rogues afoot than Bennet. So, God-speed!"

"And Heaven be with you, Bennet!" returned Dick. "Ye were a good
friend to me-ward, and so I shall say ever."

"And, look ye, master," added Hatch, with a certain embarrassment,
"if this Amend-All should get a shaft into me, ye might, mayhap,
lay out a gold mark or mayhap a pound for my poor soul; for it is
like to go stiff with me in purgatory."

"Ye shall have your will of it, Bennet," answered Dick. "But, what
cheer, man! we shall meet again, where ye shall have more need of
ale than masses."

"The saints so grant it, Master Dick!" returned the other. "But
here comes Sir Oliver. An he were as quick with the long-bow as
with the pen, he would be a brave man-at-arms."

Sir Oliver gave Dick a sealed packet, with this superscription:
"To my ryght worchypful master, Sir Daniel Brackley, knyght, be
thys delyvered in haste."

And Dick, putting it in the bosom of his jacket, gave the word and
set forth westward up the village.

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A Spirit In Prison

by Robert Hichens


 

Chapter XLII

 

"Hermione!"

Artois spoke to the void.

"Hermione, because I have followed you, because I have come here, don't you think that I am claiming any right. Don't think that I imagine, because I am your -- because I am -- I mean that it has not been easy to me to come. It has not been -- it is not a simple thing to me to break in upon -- upon -- "

He had begun to speak with determination. He had said the very first words with energy, almost with a warm eagerness, as of one hurrying on to vital speech. But suddenly the energy faltered, the eagerness failed, the ring of naturalness died out of the voice. It was as if a gust of cold air had blown out a flame. He paused. Then he said, in a low voice:

"You hate me for coming."

He stopped again. He stared at the void, at the blackness.

"You hate me for being here."

As he said the last words the blackness before him surely gathered itself together, took a form, the form of a wave, towered up as a gigantic wave towers, rolled upon him to overwhelm him. So acute was his sensation of being attacked, of being in peril, that his body was governed by it and instinctively shrank, trying to make itself small that it might oppose as little resistance as possible to the oncoming foe.

For it seemed to him that the wave of blackness was the wave of Hermione's present hatred, that it came upon him, that it struck him, that it stunned and almost blinded him, then divided, rushing onwards he knew not where, unspent and unsatisfied.

He stood like a man startled and confused, striving to regain lost footing, to recover his normal condition.

"You hate me."

Had he spoken the words or merely thought them? He did not know. He was not conscious of speaking them, yet he seemed to hear them. He looked at the blackness. And again it surely moved. Again he surely saw it gathering itself together, and towering up as a wave towers.

His sensation was absolutely one of nightmare. And exactly as in a nightmare a man feels that he is no longer fully himself, has no longer the power to do any manly or effective thing, so Artois felt now.

It seemed to him that he was nothing, and yet that he was hated. He turned and looked behind him, moved by a fierce desire for relief. He had not the courage to persist in confronting that blackness which took a form, which came upon him, which would surely overwhelm him.

In the distance he saw a pallor, where the face of the night looked into the palace from the sea. And he heard the distant water. Still the little waves were entering the deserted chambers, only to seek an exit which they could never find. Their ceaseless determination was horrible to him, because it suggested to him the ceaseless determination of those other waves of black hatred, one following another, from some hidden centre of energy that was inexhaustible. As he listened the sound of the sea stole into his ears till his brain was full of it, till he felt as if into his brain, as into those deserted chambers, the waves were penetrating, the waves of the sea and those dark waves which gathered themselves together and flowed upon him from the void.

For a moment they possessed him. For a moment he was the prey of these two oceans.

Then he made a violent effort, released himself, and turned again to the chamber in which Hermione was hidden. He faced the blackness. He was able to do that now. But he was not able to go on speaking to the woman who remained invisible, but whose influence he was so painfully conscious of. He was not able to speak to her because she was surely speaking to him, was communicating to him not only her feeling towards him, but also its reason, its basis, in that wordless language which is only used and comprehended by human beings in moments of crisis and intense emotion. That was what he felt, seemed to know.

He stood there, facing the blackness and listening, while she seemed to be telling him her woman's reasons for her present hatred of the man who had been for so long a time her closest friend.

And these reasons were not only the reasons born of a day's events, of the discovery of the lie on which her spirit had been resting. She did not say -- her heart did not say only: "I hate you because you let me believe in that which never existed except in my imagination -- my husband's complete love of me, complete faithfulness to me. I hate you because you enclosed me in the prison of a lie. I hate you because during all these years you have been a witness of my devotion to an idol, a graven image whose wooden grimace I mistook for the smile of the god's happy messenger, because you have been a witness of my cult for the memory of one who betrayed my trust in him, who thought nothing of my gift to him, who put another in the sanctuary that should have been sacred to me, and who has poisoned the sources of the holy streams that flow into and feed the soul of a good woman."

If Hermione had silently told Artois reasons such as these for hating him she would have roused him to battle with her, to defend himself with some real hope of holding his own, even of eventual conquest. But other reasons, too, did they not come from her, creeping out of her brain and heart and soul into his, reasons against which he had no weapons, against which he could make no defence?

He had claimed to understand the psychology of women. He had believed he comprehended women well. Hermione best of all women. But these reasons, creeping out of her into him, set a ring of illuminating fire about his misconception. They told him that though perhaps he had known one Hermione in his friend, there were other Hermiones in her whom he had never really known. Once in the garden of the island by night he had seen, or fancied he had seen, a strange smile upon her face that betokened a secret bitterness; and for a moment he had been confused, and had faltered in his speech, and had felt as if he were sitting with a stranger who was hostile to him, or, if not actually hostile, was almost cruelly critical of him. Now that stranger silently spoke to him, silently told him many things.

She told him -- that which few men ever know -- something of what women specially want, specially need in life. And the catalogue of these needs seemed to him to be also the catalogue of her reasons for hating him at this moment.

"Women need -- I needed," she seemed to say, "not only a large and ample friendship, noble condescending, a friendship like an announcement to citizens affixed to the wall of a market-place, and covering boldly all the principal circumstances and likely happenings of ordinary feminine life, but a friendship, an affection, very individual, very full of subtlety, not such as would suit, would fit comfortably women, but such as would suit, would fit comfortably, would fit beautifully one individual woman -- me."

Ah, the "women need" was flung away, like a stone thrown into the sea! It was the "I needed" that was held fast, that was shown to Artois now. And the "I" stood to Hermione for herself. But might it not have stood to the world for many a woman?

"I needed some one to whom I could be kind, for whom I could think, plan, hope, weave a fabric of ambitious dreams, look forward along the path that leads to glory. I needed some one for whom I could be unselfish, to whom I could often offer those small burnt sacrifices whose smoke women love to see ascending towards God, burnt sacrifices of small personal desire, small personal plans and intentions. I needed some one to need my encouragement, my admiration -- frequently expressed -- my perpetual sympathy hovering about him like a warm cloud of fragrant incense, my gentle criticism, leading him to efforts which would win from the world, and from me, more admiration of and wonder at his energy and genius. I needed some one to stir within me woman's soft passion for forgiveness, woman's delight in petting the child who has been naughty, but who puts the naughtiness aside and runs home to be good again. I needed some one to set upon a pedestal.

"These needs you fully satisfied.

"You gave me generously opportunities for kindness, for thoughtfulness, for impersonal ambition, for looking forward on your behalf, for unselfishness, for the sacrifice of my little personal desires, plans, and intentions, for encouragement of you, for admiration of your abilities, for sympathy -- even for gentle criticism leading you to efforts which won from me eventually a greater respect for your powers and for secret forgiveness which ended in open petting. When I prepared the pedestal you were quite ready to mount it, and to remain upon it without any demonstration of fatigue.

"And so many needs of mine you satisfied.

"But I had more needs, and far other needs, than these.

"I needed not only to make many gifts, to satisfy my passion for generosity, but to have many gifts, and gifts of a special nature, made in return to me. I needed to feel another often, if not perpetually and exclusively, intent on me. I needed to feel tenderness -- watchful, quick, eager tenderness, not tenderness slow- footed and in blinkers -- round about me.

"I needed a little blindness in my friend. That is true. But the blindness that I needed was not blindness to my little sacrifices, but blindness to my little faults.

"To a woman there is such a world of difference between the two! I longed for my friend to see the smoke ascending from my small burnt- offerings of self made for his sake. But I longed, too, for him not always to see with calm, clear eyes my petty failings, my minute vanities, my inconsistencies, my incongruities, my frequent lack of reasoning power and logical sequence, my gusts of occasional injustice -- ending nearly always in a rain of undue benefits -- my surely forgivable follies of sentiment, my irritabilities -- how often due to physical causes which no man could ever understand! -- my blunders of the head -- of the heart I made but few, or none -- my weak depressions, struggled against but not always conquered, my perhaps childish anxieties and apprehensions, my forebodings, not invariably well founded, my fleeting absurdities of temper, of temperament, of manner, or of word.

"But as definitely as my friend did not see my little sacrifices he saw my little faults, and he made me see that he saw them. Men are so free from the tender deceits that women are compact of.

"And as I needed blindness in some directions, in others I needed clear sight.

"I needed some one to see that my woman's heart was not only the heart of a happy mother, to whom God had given an almost perfect child, but also the heart of a lover -- not of a grande amoureuse, perhaps, but of a lover who had been deprived of the love that is the complement of woman's, and who suffered perpetually in woman's peculiar and terrible way because of that deprivation.

"I needed an understanding of my sacred hunger, a comprehension of my desolation, a realization that my efforts to fill my time with work were as the efforts of a traveller in a forest to escape from the wolves whose voices he hears behind him. I needed the recognition of a simple truth -- that the thing one is passionately eager to give is nearly always the thing one is passionately eager to receive, and that when I poured forth sympathy upon others I was longing to have it poured forth upon me. I gave because secretly I realized the hunger I was sharing. And often, having satisfied your hunger, I was left to starve, no longer in company, but entirely alone.

"I needed great things, perhaps, but I needed them expressed in little ways; and I needed little cares, little attentions, little thoughtfulnesses, little preventions, little, little, absurd kindnesses, tendernesses, recognitions, forgivenesses. Perhaps, indeed, even more than anything magnificent or great, I needed the so- called little things. It is not enough for a woman to know that a man would do for her something important, something even superb, if the occasion for it arose. Such an occasion probably never would arise -- and she cannot wait. She wants to be shown at every moment that some one is thinking kindly of her, is making little, kind plots and plans for her, is wishing to ward off from her the chill winds, to keep from pricking her the thorns of the roses, to shut out from her the shadows of life and let in the sunbeams to her pathway.

"I needed the tender, passing touch to show me my secret grief was understood, and my inconsistency was pardoned. I needed the generous smile to prove to me that my greed for kindness, even when perhaps inopportune, was met in an ungrudging spirit. I needed now and then -- I needed this sometimes terribly, more, perhaps, than any other thing -- a sacrifice of some very small, very personal desire of yours, because it was not mine or because it was opposite to mine. Never, never, did my heart and my nature demand of yours any great sacrifice of self, such as mine could have made -- such as mine once did make -- for you. But it did demand, often -- often it demanded some small sacrifice: the giving up of some trifle, the resignation of some advantage, perhaps, that your man's intellect gave you over my woman's intellect, the abandoning of some argumentative position, or the not taking of it, the sweet pretence -- scarcely a sin against the Holy Ghost of truth! -- that I was a tiny bit more persuasive, or more clear-sighted, or more happy in some contention, or more just in some decision, than perhaps I really was. I needed to be shown your affection for me, as I was ever ready, ever anxious, to show mine for you, in all the little ways that are the language of the heart and that fill a woman's life with music.

"All this I needed. My nature cried out for it as instinctively as the nature of man cries out for God. But all this I needed generally in vain. You were not always a niggard. You were ready sometimes to give in your way. But were you ever ready to give in mine when you saw -- and sometimes you must have seen, sometimes you did see -- what mine was? I longed always to give you all you wanted in the way you wanted it. But you gave when you wished and as you chose to give. I was often grateful. I was too often grateful. I was unduly grateful. Because I was giving, I was always giving far more than I received.

"But all that time I had something. All that time I had a memory that I counted sacred. All that time, like an idiot child, I was clasping in my hand a farthing, which I believed, which I stated, to be a shining piece of gold.

"You knew what it was. You knew it was a farthing! You knew -- you knew!

"And now that the hour has come when I know, too, can't you understand that I realize not only that that farthing is a farthing, but that all farthings are farthings? Can't you understand that I hate those who have given me farthings when my hands were stretched out for gold -- my hands that were giving gold?

"Can't you understand? Can't you? Then I'll make you understand! I'll make you! I'll make you!"

Again the blackness gathered itself together, took a form, the form of a wave, towered up as a gigantic wave towers, rolled upon Artois to overwhelm him. He stood firm and received the shock. For he was beginning to understand. He was no longer confronting waves of hatred which were also waves of mystery.

He had thought that Hermione hated him, hated every one just then, because of what Ruffo had silently told her that day at Mergellina. But as he stood there in the dark at the door of that black chamber, hearing the distant murmur of the sea about the palace walls, there were borne in upon him, as if in words she told him, all the reasons for present hatred of him which preceded the great reason of that day; reasons for hatred which sprang, perhaps, which surely must spring, from other reasons of love.

His mind was exaggerating, as minds do when the heart is intensely moved, yet it discerned much truth. And it was very strange, but his now acute consciousness of a personal hatred coming to him from out of the darkness of this almost secret chamber, and of its complex causes, causes which nevertheless would surely never have produced the effect he felt but for the startling crisis of that day, this acute consciousness of a personal and fierce hatred bred suddenly in Artois a new sensation of something that was not hatred, that was the reverse of hatred. Vere had once compared him to a sleepy lion. The lion was now awake.

"Hermione," he said -- and now his voice was strong and unfaltering -- "I seem to have been listening to you all this time that I have been standing here. Surely I have been listening to you, hearing your thoughts. Don't you know it? Haven't you felt it? When I left the island, when I followed you, I thought I understood. I thought I understood what you were feeling, almost all that you were feeling. I know now how little I understood. I didn't realize how much there was to understand. You've been telling me. Haven't you, Hermione? Haven't you?"

He paused. But there was no answer.

"I am sure you have been telling me. We must get down to the truth at last. I thought -- till now I have thought that I was more able to read the truth than most men. You must often have laughed -- how you must have laughed -- secretly at my pretensions. Only once -- one night in the garden on the island -- I think I saw you laughing. And even then I didn't understand. Mon Dieu!"

He was becoming fiercely concentrated now on what he was saying. He was losing all self-consciousness. He was even losing consciousness of the strange fact that he was addressing a void. It was as if he saw Hermione, so strongly did he feel her.

"Mon Dieu! It is as if I'd been blind all the time I have known you, blind to the truth of you and blinder still to my own truth. Perhaps I am blind now. I don't know. But, Hermione, I can see something. I do know something of you and of myself. I do know that even now there is a link between us. You want to deny it. You wouldn't acknowledge it. But it is there. We are not quite apart from each other. We can't be that. for there is something -- there has always been something, since that night we met in Paris, at Madame Enthoven's" -- he paused again, so vividly flashed the scene of that dinner in Paris upon his memory -- "something to draw us together, something to hold us together, something strong. Don't deny it even now. Don't deny it. Can't I be of some help, even now? Don't say I am utterly useless because I have been so useless to you, so damnably useless in the past. I see all that, my wretched uselessness to you through all these years. I am seeing it now while I am speaking. All the time I'm seeing it. What you have deserved and what you have had!"

He stopped, then he said again:

"What you have deserved and what you have had from me! And from -- it was so -- it was the same long ago, not here. But till to-day you didn't know that. I was wrong. I must have been wrong, hideously wrong, but I didn't want you ever to know that. It isn't that I don't love truth. You know I do. But I thought that he was right. And it is only lately, this summer, that I have had any doubts. But I was wrong. I must have been wrong. It was intended that you should know. God, perhaps, intended it."

He thought he heard a movement. But he was not quite sure. For there was always the noise of the sea in the deserted chambers of the palace.

"It seems to me now as if I had always been deceived, mistaken, blind with you, about you. I thought you need never know. I was mad enough to think that. But I was madder still, for I thought -- I must have thought -- that you could not bear to know, that you weren't strong enough to endure the knowledge. But" -- he was digging deep now, searching for absolute truth: in this moment his natural passion for truth, in one direction repressed for many years deliberately and consciously, in other directions, perhaps almost unconsciously frustrated, took entire possession of his being -- "but nothing should ever be allowed to stand in the way of truth. I believe that. I know it. I must, I will always act upon the knowledge from this moment. Never mind if it is bitter, cruel. Perhaps it is sometimes put into the world because of that. I've been a horrible faineant, the last of faineants. I protected you from the truth. With Gaspare I managed to do it. We never spoke of it -- never. But I think each of us understood. And we acted together for you in that. And I -- it has often seemed to me that it was a fine thing to do, and that my motives in doing it were fine. But sometimes I have wondered whether they weren't selfish -- whether, instead of protecting you, I wasn't only protecting myself. For it was all my fault. It all came about through me, through my weakness, my cursed weakness, my cursed weakness and whining for help." He grew scarlet in the dark, realizing how his pride in his strength, his quiet assumption with Hermione that he was the stronger, must often have made her marvel, or almost weep. "I called you away. I called you to Africa. And if I hadn't it would all have been different."

"No, it would all have been the same."

Artois started. Out of the darkness a voice, a low, cold, inexorable voice had spoken -- had spoken absolute truth, correcting his lie:

"It would all have been the same!"

The woman's unerring instinct had penetrated much further than the man's. He had been feeling the shell; she plucked out the kernel. He had been speaking of the outward facts, of the actions of the body; she spoke of the inward facts, of the actions of the soul. Her husband's sin against her was not his unfaithfulness, the unfaithfulness at the Fair, but the fact that all the time he had been with her, all the time she had been giving her whole self to him, all the time that she had been surrounding him with her love, he had retained in his soul the power to will to commit it. That he had been given an opportunity to sin was immaterial. What was material was that he had been capable of sinning.

Artois saw his lie. And he stood there silent, rebuked, waiting for the voice to speak again. But it did not speak. And he felt as if Hermione were silently demanding that he should sound the deeper depths of truth, he who had always proclaimed to her his love of truth.

"Perhaps -- yes, it would have been the same," he said. "But -- but -- " His intention was to say, "But we should not have known it." He checked himself. Even as they formed themselves in his mind the words seemed bending like some wretched, flabby reed.

"It would have been the same. But that makes no difference in my conduct. I was weak and called to you. You were strong and came to me. How strong you were! How strong it was of you to come!"

As if for the first time -- and indeed it was for the first time -- he really and thoroughly comprehended her self-sacrifice, the almost bizarre generosity of her implacably unselfish nature. He measured the force of her love and the greatness of her sacrifice, by the depth of her disillusion; and he began to wonder, almost as a child wonders at things, how he had been able during all these years quite simply, with indeed the almost incredible simplicity of man, never to be shared by any woman, to assume and to feel, when with Hermione, that he was the dominant spirit of the two, that she was, very rightly and properly, and very happily for her, leaning comfortably upon his strength. And in his wonder he knew that the real dominance strikes its roots in the heart, not in the head.

"You were strong, then, and you were strong, you were wonderfully strong, when -- afterwards. On Monte Amato -- that evening -- you were strong."

His mind went to that mountain summit. The eyes of his mind saw the evening calm on Etna, and then -- something else, a small, fluttering fragment of white paper at his feet among the stones. And, as if her mind read his, she spoke again, still in that low, cold, and inexorable voice.

"That piece of paper you found -- what was it?"

"Hermione -- Hermione -- it was part of a letter of yours written in Africa, telling him that we were coming to Sicily, the day we were coming."

"It was that!"

The voice had suddenly changed. It struggled with a sob. It sank away in a sob. The sin -- that she could speak of with a sound of calm. But all the woman in her was stricken by the thought of her happy letter treated like that, hated, denied, destroyed, and thrown to the winds.

"My letter! My letter!"

"Hermione!"

His heart spoke in his voice, and he made a step forward in the darkness.

"Don't!"

The voice had changed again, had become sharp, almost cutting. Like the lash of a whip it fell upon him. And he stopped at once. It seemed to him as if she had cried out, "If you dare to give me your pity I shall kill you!"

And he felt as if just then, for such a reason, she would be capable of such an action.

"I will not -- " He almost faltered. "I am not -- coming."

Never before had he been so completely dominated by any person, or by any fate, or by anything at all.

There was again a silence. Then he said:

"You are strong. I know you will be strong now. You can't go against your nature. I ought to have realized that as I have not realized it. I ought to have trusted to your strength long ago."

If he had known how weak she felt while she listened to him, how her whole being was secretly entreating to be supported, to be taken hold of tenderly, and guarded and cared for like a child! But he was a man. And at one moment he understood her and at another he did not.

"Gaspare and I -- we wished to spare you. And perhaps I wished to spare myself. I think I did. I am sure I did. I am sure that was partly my reason. I was secretly ashamed of my cowardice, my weakness in Africa; and when I knew -- no, when I guessed, for it was only that -- what my appeal to you had caused -- all it had caused -- "

He paused. He was thinking of Maurice's death, which must have been a murder, which he was certain had been a murder.

"I hadn't -- "

But the compelling voice from the darkness interrupted him.

"All?" it said.

He hesitated. Had she read his mind again?

"All?"

"The misery," he answered, slowly. "The sorrow that has lain upon your life ever since."

"Did you mean that? Did you only mean that?"

"No."

"What did you mean?"

"I was thinking of his death," he replied.

He spoke very quietly. He was resolved to have no more subterfuges, whatever the coward or the tender friend, or -- the something else that was more than the tender friend within him might prompt him to try to hide.

"I was thinking of his death."

"His death!"

Artois felt cold with apprehension, but he was determined to be sincere.

"I don't understand."

"Don't ask me any more, Hermione. I know nothing more."

"He was coming from the island. He slipped and fell into the sea."

"He fell into the sea."

There was a long silence between them, filled by the perpetual striving of the restless waves within the chambers of the palace. Then she said:

"Her father was on the island that night?"

"I think he was."

"Was it that? Was it that? Did Maurice make that atonement?"

Artois shuddered. Her voice was so strange, or sounded so strange in the dark. Did she wish to think, wish to be sure that her husband had been murdered? He heard the faint rustle of her dress. She had moved. Was she coming nearer? He heard her breathing, or thought he heard it. He longed to be certain. He longed to still the perpetual cry of the baffled sea.

"Then he was brave -- at the last. I think he knew -- I am sure he knew -- when he went down to the sea. I am sure he knew -- when he said good- bye."

Her voice was nearer to him. And again it had changed, utterly changed. And in the different sounds of her voice Artois seemed to see the different women who dwelt within her, to understand and to know them as he had never understood and known them before. This woman was pleading, as women will plead for a man they have once loved, so long as they have voices, so long as they have hearts.

"Then that last time he didn't -- no, he didn't go to -- her."

The voice was almost a whisper, and Artois knew that she was speaking for herself -- that she was telling herself that her husband's last action had been -- not to creep to the woman, but to stand up and face the man.

"Was it her father?"

The voice was still almost a whisper.

"I think it was."

"Maurice paid then -- he paid!"

"Yes. I am sure he paid."

"Gaspare knew. Gaspare knew -- that night. He was afraid. He knew -- but he didn't tell me. He has never told me."

"He loved his master."

"Gaspare loved Maurice more than he loved me."

By the way she said that Artois knew that Gaspare was forgiven. And a sort of passion of love for woman's love welled up in his heart. At that moment he almost worshipped Hermione for being unable, even in that moment, not to love Gaspare because Gaspare had loved the dead man more than he loved her.

"But Gaspare loves you," he said.

"I don't believe in love. I don't want love any more."

Again the voice was transformed. It had become hollow and weary, without resonance, like the voice of some one very old. And Artois thought of Virgil's Grotto, of all they had said there, and of how the rock above them had broken into deep and sinister murmurings, as if to warn them, or rebuke.

And now, too, there were murmurings about them, but below them from the sea.

"Hermione, we must speak only the truth to-night."

"I am telling you the truth. You chose to follow me. You chose to hunt me -- to hunt me when you knew it was necessary to me to be alone. It was brutal to do it. It was brutal. I had earned the right at least to one thing: I had earned the right to be alone. But you didn't care. You wouldn't respect my right. You hunted me as you might have hunted an animal. I tried to escape. But you saw me coming, and you chased me, and you caught me. I can't get away. You have driven me in here. And I can't get away from you. You won't even let me be alone."

"I dare not let you be alone to-night."

"Why not? What are you afraid of? What does it matter to you where I go or what I do? Don't say it matters! Don't dare say that!"

Her voice was fierce now.

"It doesn't matter to anybody, except perhaps a little to Vere and a very little to Gaspare. It never has really mattered to anybody. I thought it did once to some one. I thought I knew it did. But I was wrong. It didn't. It never mattered."

As she spoke an immense, a terrific feeling of desolation poured over her, as if from above, coming down upon her in the dark. It was like a flood that stiffened into ice upon her, making her body and her soul numb for a moment.

"I've never mattered to any one."

She muttered the words to herself. As she did so Artois seemed again to be looking into the magic mirror of the fattura della morte, to see the pale man, across whose face the shadow of a palm-leaf shifted, turning on his bed towards a woman who stood by an open door.

"You have always mattered to me," he said.

As he spoke there was in his voice that peculiar ring of utter sincerity which can no more be simulated, or mistaken, than the ringing music of sterling gold. But perhaps she was not in a condition to hear rightly, or perhaps something within her chose to deny, had a lust for denial because denial hurt her.

"To you least of all," she said. "Only yourself has ever really mattered to you."

In a sentence she summed up the long catalogue that had been given to him by her silence.

His whole body felt as if it reddened. His skin tingled with a sort of physical anger. His mature pride that had grown always, as a strong man's natural pride does grow with the passing of the years, seemed to him instinctively to rush forward to return the blow that had been dealt it.

"That is not quite true," he said.

"It is true. I have always had copper and I have always wanted gold," she answered.

He controlled himself, to prove to himself that she lied, that he was not the eternal egoist she dubbed him. Sometimes he had been genuinely unselfish, sometimes -- not often, perhaps, but sometimes -- he had really sunk himself in her. She was not being quite just. But how could she be quite just to-night? An almost reckless feeling overtook him, a desire to conquer at all costs in this struggle; to win her back, whether against her will or not, to her old self; to eliminate the shocking impression made upon her soul by the discovery of that day, to wipe it out utterly, to replace it with another; to revive within her that beautiful enthusiasm which had been as a light always shining for her and from her upon people and events and life; to make her understand, to prove to her that, after all allowance has been made for uncertainties and contradictions of fate, for the ironies, the paradoxes, the cruelties, the tragedies, and the despairs of existence, the great, broad fact emerges, that what the human being gives, in the long run the human being generally gets, and that she who persistently gives gold will surely at last receive it.

The thought of a lost Hermione struck to his heart a greater fear than had already that night the thought of a dead Hermione. And if she was changed she was lost.

The real, the beautiful Hermione -- he must seize her, grip her, hold her fast before it was too late.

"Hermione," he said, "I think you saved me from death; I am sure you did. Did you save me only to hate me?"

She made no reply.

"Do you remember that evening when you came into my room at Kairouan all covered with dust from your journey across the plains? I do. I remember it as if it had happened an hour ago instead of nearly seventeen years. I remember the strange feeling I had when I turned my head and saw you, a feeling that you and Africa would fight for me and that you would conquer. It had seemed to me that Africa meant to have me and would have me. Unless you came I felt certain of that. And I had thought about it all as I lay there in the stifling heat, till I almost felt the feverish earth enclosing me. I had loved Africa, but Africa seemed to me terrible then. I thought of only Arabs, always Arabs, walking above me on the surface of the ground when I was buried. And the thought made me shudder with horror. As if it could have mattered! I was absurd! But one is often absurd when one is very ill. The child in one comes out then, I suppose. And I had wondered -- how I had wondered! -- whether there was any chance of your coming. I hadn't actually asked you to come. I hadn't dared to do that. But it was the same thing almost. I had let you know -- I had let you know. And I saw you come into my room all covered with dust. You had come so quickly -- at once. Perhaps -- perhaps sometimes you have thought I had forgotten that evening. I may be an egoist. I expect most men are egoists. And perhaps I am the egoist you say I am. Often one doesn't know what one is. But I have never forgotten that day, and that you were covered with dust. It was that -- the dust -- which seemed to make me realize that you had not lost a moment as to whether you would come or not. You looked as if -- almost as if you had run all the way to be in time to save my life -- my wretched life. And you saved it. Did you save me to hate me?"

He waited for her to speak. But still she was silent. He heard no sound of her at all, and for a moment he almost wondered whether she had discovered that the chamber had some second outlet, whether she had not escaped while he had been speaking. But he looked round and he saw only dense darkness. She must be there still, close to him, hearing everything he said, whether against her will or with it. He was being perfectly sincere, and he was feeling very deeply, with intensity. But out of his natural reserve now rose a fear -- the fear that perhaps his voice, his speech, did not convey his sincerity to her. If she should mistake him! If she should fancy he was trying to play upon her emotions in order to win her away from some desperate resolve. He longed to make her see what he was feeling, feel what he was feeling, be him and herself for one moment. And now the darkness began to distract him. He wanted light. He wanted to see Hermione, to see which of the women in her faced him, which was listening to him.

"Hermione," he said, "I want you -- I want -- it's hateful speaking like this, always in the darkness. Don't make me feel all the time that I am holding you a prisoner. No, I can't -- I won't bear that any more."

He moved suddenly from the doorway back into the room behind him, in which there was a very little, very faint light. There he waited.

Almost immediately the tall shadow which had disappeared into the darkness emerged from it, passed before him, and went into the central chamber of the palace. He followed it, and found Hermione standing by the great doorway that overlooked the sea. Hermione she was, no longer a shadow, but the definite darkness of a human form relieved against the clear but now moonless night. She was waiting. Surely she was waiting for him. She might have escaped, but she stayed. She was willing, then, to hear what he had to say, all he had to say.

He stood still at a little distance from her. But in this hall the sound of the sea which came from the chamber on the left was much more distinct and disturbing than in the chamber where she had hidden. And he came nearer to her, till he was very near, almost close to her.

"If you hated me for -- once, when we were standing on the terrace, you said, 'Take care -- or I shall hate you for keeping me in the dark.' If you hated me because of what I have done, with Gaspare, Hermione, I could bear it. I could bear it, because I think it would pass away. We did keep you in the dark. Now you know it. But you know our reason, and that it was a reason of very deep affection. And I think you would forgive us, I know you would forgive us in the end. But I understand it isn't only that -- "

Suddenly he thought of Vere, of that perhaps dawning folly, so utterly dead now, so utterly dead that he could no longer tell whether it had ever even sluggishly stirred with life. He thought of Vere, and of the poems, and of the secret of Peppina's revelation. And he wondered whether the record he seemed to read in the silence had been a true record, or whether his imagination and his intellect of a psychologist, alert even in this hour of intense emotion, had been deceiving him. Hermione had seemed to be speaking to him. But had he really been only impersonating her? Had it been really himself that had spoken to himself? As this question arose in his mind he longed to make Hermione speak. Then he could be sure of all. He must clear away all misconception. Yet, even now, how could he speak of that episode with Vere?

"You say you have always wanted gold, and that you have never been given gold -- "

"Yes."

He saw the dark figure near him lift its head. And he felt that Hermione had come out of the darkness with the intention of speaking the truth of what she felt. If she could not have spoken she would have stayed in the inner chamber, or she would have escaped altogether from the palace when he moved from the doorway. He was sure that only if she spoke would she change. In her silence there was damnation for them both. But she meant to speak.

"I have been a fool. I see that now. But I think I have been suspecting it for some time -- nearly all this summer."

He could hear by the sound of her voice that while she was speaking she was thinking deeply. Like him, she was in search of absolute truth.

"It is only this summer that I have begun to see why people -- you -- have often smiled at my enthusiasms. No wonder you smiled! No wonder you laughed at me secretly!"

Her voice was hard and bitter.

"I never laughed at you, never -- either secretly or openly!" he said, with a heat almost of anger.

"Oh yes, you did, as a person who can see clearly might laugh at a short-sighted person tumbling over all the little obstacles on a road. I was always tumbling over things -- always -- and you must always have been laughing. I have been a fool. Instead of growing up, my heart has remained a child -- till now. That's what it is. Children who have been kindly treated think the world is all kindness. Because my friends were good to me, the world was good to me, I got into the habit of believing that I was lovable, and of loving in return. And I trusted people. I always thought they were giving me what I was giving them. That has been my great folly, the folly I'm punished for. I have been a credulous fool. I have thought that because I gave a thing with all my heart it was -- it must be -- given back to me. And yet I was surprised -- I could scarcely believe it -- when -- when -- "

He knew she was thinking of her beautiful wonder when Maurice had said he loved her.

"I could scarcely believe it! But, because I was a fool, I got to believe it, and I have believed it till to-day -- you have stood by, and watched me believing it, and laughed at me for believing it till to-day."

"Hermione!"

"Yes, you mayn't have meant to laugh, but you must have laughed. Your mind, your intellect must have laughed. Don't say they haven't. I wouldn't believe you. And I know your mind -- at any rate, I know that. Not your heart! I shall never pretend -- I shall never think again for a moment that I know anything -- anything at all -- about a man's heart. But I do know something about your mind. And I know the irony in it. What a subject I have presented to you all these years for the exercise of your ironic faculty! You ought to thank me! You ought to go on your knees and thank me and bless me for that!"

"Hermione!"

"Just now you talked of my coming into your room in Kairouan all covered with dust. You asked me if I remembered it. Yes, I do. And I remember something you don't -- probably you don't -- remember. There was no looking-glass in your room."

She stopped.

"No looking-glass!" he repeated, wondering.

"No, there was no looking-glass. And I remember when I came in I saw there wasn't, and I was glad. Because I couldn't look at myself and see how dreadful and dishevelled and hideous I was -- how dirty even I was. My impulse was to go to a glass. And then I was glad I couldn't. And I looked at your face. And I thought 'he doesn't care. He loves me, all dusty and hideous and horrid, as I am.' And then I didn't care either. I said to myself, 'I look an object, and I don't mind a bit, because I see in his face that he loves me for myself, because he sees my heart, and -- ' "

And suddenly in her voice there was a sharp, hissing catch, and she stopped short. For a full minute she was silent. And Artois did not speak. Nor did he move.

"I felt then, perhaps for the first time, 'the outside doesn't matter to real people.' I felt that. I felt, 'I'm real, and he is real, and -- and Maurice is real. And though it is splendid to be beautiful, and beauty means so much, yet it doesn't mean so much as I used to think. Real people get beyond it. And when once they have got beyond it then life begins.' I remember thinking that, feeling that, and -- just for a minute loving my own ugliness. And then, suddenly, I wished there was a looking-glass in the room that I might stand before it and see what an object I was, and then look into your face and see that it didn't matter. And I even triumphed in my ugliness. 'I have a husband who doesn't mind,' I thought. 'And I have a friend who doesn't mind. They love me, both of them, whatever I look like. It's me -- the woman inside -- they love, because they know I care, and how I care for them.' And that thought made me feel as if I could do anything for Maurice and anything for you; heroic things, or small, dreadful, necessary things; as if I could be the servant of, or sacrifice my life easily for, those who loved me so splendidly, who knew how to love so splendidly. And I was happy then even in sacrificing my happiness with Maurice. And I thanked God then for not having given me beauty.

"And I was a fool. But I didn't find it out. And so I revelled in self-sacrifice. You don't know, you could never understand, how I enjoyed doing the most menial things for you in your illness. Often you thanked me, and often you seemed ashamed that I should do such things. And the doctor -- that little Frenchman -- apologized to me. And you both thought that doing so much in the frightful heat would make me ill. And I blessed the heat and the flies and everything that made what I did for you more difficult to do. Because the doing of what was more difficult, more trying, more fatiguing needed more love. And my gratitude to you for your loving friendship, and for needing me more than any one else, wanted to be tried to the uttermost. And I thought, too, 'When I go back to Maurice I shall be worth a little more, I shall be a little bit finer, and he'll feel it. He'll understand exactly what it was to me to leave him so soon, to leave -- to leave what I thought of then as my Garden of Paradise. And he'll love me more because I had the courage to leave it to try and save my friend. He'll realize -- he'll realize -- ' But men don't. They don't want to. Or they can't. I'm sure -- I'm positive now that men think less of women who are ready to sacrifice themselves than of women who wish to make slaves of them. I see that now. It's the selfish women they admire, the women who take their own way and insist on having all they want, not the women who love to serve them -- not slavishly, but out of love. A selfish woman they can understand; but a woman who gives up something very precious to her they don't understand. Maurice never understood my action in going to Africa. And you -- I don't believe you ever understood it. You must have wondered at my coming as much as he did at my going. You were glad I came at the moment. Oh yes, you were glad. I know that. But afterwards you must have wondered, you did wonder. You thought it Quixotic, odd. You said to yourself, 'It was just like Hermione. How could she do it? How could she come to me if she really loved her husband?' And very likely my coming made you doubt my really loving Maurice. I am almost sure it did. I don't believe all these years you have ever understood what I felt about him, what his death meant to me, what life meant to me afterwards. I told -- I tried to tell you in the cave -- that day. But I don't think you really understood at all. And he -- he didn't understand my love for him. But I suppose he didn't even want to. When I went away he simply forgot all about me. That was it. I wasn't there, and he forgot. I wasn't there, and another woman was there -- and that was enough for him. And I dare say -- now -- it is enough for most men, perhaps for every man. And then I'd made another mistake. I was always making mistakes when my heart led me. And I'd made a mistake in thinking that real people get beyond looks, the outside -- and that then life begins. They don't -- at least real men don't. A woman may spend her heart's blood for a man through years, and for youthful charm and a face that is pretty, for the mere look in a pair of eyes or the curve of a mouth, he'll almost forget that she's alive, even when she's there before him. He'll take the other woman's part against her instinctively, whichever is in the right. If both women do exactly the same thing a man will find that the pretty woman has performed a miracle and the ugly woman made some preposterous mistake. That is how men are. That is how you are, I suppose, and that was Maurice, too. He forgot me for a peasant. But -- she must have been pretty once. And I was always ugly!"

"Delarey loved you," Artois said, suddenly, interrupting her in a strong, deep voice, a voice that rang with true conviction.

"He never loved me. Perhaps he thought he did. He must have thought so. And that first day -- when we were coming up the mountain-side -- "

She stopped. She was seized; she was held fast in the grip of a memory so intense, so poignant, that she made, she could make, no effort to release herself. She heard the drowsy wail of the Ceramella dropping down the mountain-side in the radiant heat of noon. She felt Maurice's warm hand. She remembered her words about the woman's need to love -- "I wanted, I needed to love -- do men ever feel that? Women do often, nearly always, I think." The Pastorale -- it sounded in her ears. Or was it the sea that sounded, the sea in the abandoned chambers of the Palace of the Spirits? She listened. No, it was the Pastorale, that antique, simple, holy tune, that for her must always be connected with the thought of love, man's love for woman, and the Bambino's love for all the creatures of God. It flooded her heart, and beneath it sank down, like a drowning thing, for a moment the frightful bitterness that was alive in her heart to-night.

"Delarey loved you," Artois repeated. "He loved you on the first day in Sicily, and he loved you on the last."

"And -- and the days between?"

Her voice spoke falteringly. In her voice there was a sound of pleading that struck into the very depths of his heart. The real Hermione was in that sound, the loving woman who needed love, who deserved a love as deep as that which she had given, as that which she surely still had to give.

"He loved you always, but he loved you in his way."

"In his way!" she repeated, with a sort of infinite, hopeless sadness.

"Yes, Hermione, in his way. Oh, we all have our ways, all our different ways of loving. But I don't believe a human being ever existed who had no way at all. Delarey's way was different from your way, so different that, now you know the truth of him, perhaps you can't believe he ever loved you. But he did. He was young, and he was hot-blooded -- he was really of the South. And the sun got hold of him. And he betrayed you. But he repented. That last day he was stricken, not by physical fear, but by a tremendous shame at what he had done to you, and perhaps, also, by fear lest you should ever know it. I sat with him by the wall, and I felt without at all fully understanding it the drama in his soul. But now I understand it. I'm sure I understand it. And I think the depth of a shame is very often the exact measure of the depth of a love. Perhaps, indeed, there is no more exact measure."

Again he thought of the episode with Vere, and of his determination always from henceforth to be absolutely sincere with himself and with those whom he really loved.

"I am sure there is no more exact measure. Hermione, it is very difficult, I think, to realize what any human being is, to judge any one quite accurately. Some judge a nature by the distance it can sink, others by the distance it can rise. Which do you do? Do you judge Delarey by his act of faithlessness? And, if you do, how would you judge me?"

"You!"

There was a sound of wonder in her voice.

"Yes. You say I am an egoist. And this that I am saying will seem to you egoism. It is egoism, I suppose. But I want to know -- I must know. How would you judge me? How do you judge me?"

She was silent.

"How are you judging me at this moment? Aren't you judging me by the distance I fall, the distance, perhaps, you think I have fallen?"

He spoke slowly. He was delaying. For all the time he spoke he was secretly battling with his pride -- and his pride was a strong fighter. But to-night his passion for sincerity, his instinct that for Hermione -- and for him, too -- salvation lay in their perfect, even in their cruel sincerity to themselves and to each other, was a strong fighter also. In it his pride met an antagonist that was worthy of it. And he went on:

"Are you judging me by this summer?"

He paused.

"Go on," she said.

He could not tell by her voice what she was feeling, thinking. Expression seemed to be withdrawn from it, perhaps deliberately.

"This summer something has come between us, a cloud has come between us. I scarcely know when I first noticed it, when it came. But I have felt it, and you have felt it."

"Yes."

"It might, perhaps, have arisen from the fact of my suspicion who Ruffo was, a suspicion that lately became a certainty. My suspicion, and latterly my knowledge, no doubt changed my manner -- made me anxious, perhaps, uneasy, made me watchful, made me often seem very strange to you. That alone might have caused a difference in our relations. But I think there was something else."

"Yes, there was something else."

"And I think, I feel sure now, that it was something to do with Vere. I was, I became deeply interested in Vere -- interested in a new way. She was growing up. She was passing from childhood into girlhood. She was developing swiftly. That development fascinated me. Of course I had always been very fond of Vere. But this summer she meant more to me than she had meant. One day -- it was the day I came back to the island after my visit to Paris -- "

"Yes?"

He looked at her, trying to read what she was feeling in her face, but it was too dark for him to discern it.

"Vere made a confession to me. She told me she was working secretly, that she was writing poems. I asked her to show them to me. She did so. I found some talent in them, enough for me to feel justified in telling her to continue. Once, Hermione, you consulted me. Then my advice was different."

"I know."

"The remembrance of this, and Vere's knowledge that you had suffered in not succeeding with work, prompted us to keep the matter of her attempts to write a secret for the time. It seems a trifle -- all this, but looking back now I feel that we were quite wrong in not telling you."

"I found it out."

"You knew?"

"I went to Vere's room. The poems were on the table with your corrections. I read them."

"We ought to have told you."

"I oughtn't to have read them, but I did."

"A mother has the right -- "

"Not a mother who has resigned her right to question her child. I had said to Vere, 'Keep your secrets.' So I had no right, and I did wrong in reading them."

He felt that she was instinctively trying to match his sincerity with hers, and that fact helped him to continue.

"The knowledge of this budding talent of Vere's made me take a new interest in her, made me wish very much -- at least I thought, I believed it was that, Hermione -- that no disturbing influence should come into her life. Isidoro Panacci came -- through me. Peppina came -- through you. Hermione, on the night when Vere and I went out alone together in the boat Vere learned the truth about Peppina and the life behind the shutter."

"I knew that, too."

"You knew it?"

"Yes. I suspected something. You led me to suspect it."

"I remember -- "

"I questioned Peppina. I made her tell me."

He said nothing for a moment. Then, with an effort, he said:

"You knew we had kept those two things from you, Vere and I?"

"Vere and you -- yes."

Now he understood almost all, or quite all, that had been strange to him in her recent conduct.

"Sometimes -- have you almost hated us for keeping those two secrets?"

"I don't think I have ever hated Vere."

"But me?"

"Do you know why I told Vere she might read your books?"

"Why?"

"Because I thought they might make her feel differently towards you."

"Less -- less kindly?"

"Yes."

She spoke very quietly, but he felt -- he did not know why -- that it had cost her very much to say what she had said.

"You wanted Vere to think badly of me!"

He was honoring her for the moral courage which enabled her to tell him. Yet he felt as if she had struck him. And so absolutely was he accustomed to delicate tenderness, and the most thoughtful, anxious kindness from her, that he suffered acutely and from a double distress. The thing itself was cruel and hurt him. But that Hermione had done it hurt him far more. He could hardly believe it. That by any road she could travel to such an action seemed incredible to him. He stood, realizing it. And the bitter sharpness of his suffering made him understand something. In all its fulness he understood what Hermione's tenderness had been in his life for many, many years. And then -- his mind seemed to take another step. "Why does a woman do such a thing as this?" he asked himself. "Why does such a woman as Hermione do such a thing?" And he knew what her suffering must have been, and how her heart must have been storm-tossed, before it was driven to succumb to such an impulse.

And he came quite close to her. And he felt a strange, sudden nearness to her that was no nearness of body.

"Hermione," he said, "I could never judge your character by that action. Don't -- don't judge mine by any cruelty of which I have been guilty during this summer. You have told me something that it was very difficult for you to tell. I have something to tell you. And it is -- it is not easy to tell."

"Tell it me."

He looked at her. He was now quite close to her, and could see the outline of her face but not the expression in her eyes.

"My interest in Vere increased. I believed it to be an interest aroused in me by the discovery of this talent in her. I believed the new fondness I felt for her to be a very natural fondness, caused by her charming confidence in me. Our little secret drew us together. And I understand now, Hermione, that it seemed to set you apart from us. I believe I understand all now, all the circumstances that have seemed strange to me this summer. I wanted Vere's talent to develop naturally, unhindered, unaffected -- I thought it was merely that -- and I became exigent, I even became jealous of all outside interference. On the night we dined at Frisio's I felt strongly irritated at Panacci's interest in Vere. And there were other moments -- "

He looked at her again. She stood perfectly still. Her head was slightly bent and she seemed to be looking at the ground.

"And then came the night of the Carmine. Hermione, after you and Vere had gone to bed Panacci and I had a quarrel. He attacked me violently. He told me -- he told me that I was in love with Vere, and that you, and even -- even that Gaspare knew it. At the moment I think I laughed at him. I thought his accusation ridiculous. But when he was gone -- and afterwards -- I examined myself. I tried to know myself. I spent hours in self-examination, cruel self-examination. I did not spare myself. Believe that, Hermione! Believe that!"

"I do believe it."

"And at the end I knew that it was not true. I was not, I had never been in love with Vere. When I thought of Vere and myself in such a relation my spirit recoiled. Such a thing seemed to me monstrous. But though I knew that it was not true, I knew also that I had been jealous of Vere, unjust to others because of Vere. I had been, perhaps, foolish, undignified. Perhaps -- perhaps -- for how can we be quite sure of ourselves. Hermione? How can we be certain of our own natures, our own conduct? -- perhaps, if Panacci's coarse brutality had not waked up my whole being, I might have drifted on towards an affection for Vere that, in a man of my age, would have been absurd, have made me ridiculous in the eyes of others. I scarcely think so. But I want to be sincere. I would rather exaggerate than minimize my own shortcomings to you to-night. I scarcely believe it ever could have been so. But Panacci said it was so. And you -- I don't know what you have thought -- "

"What I have thought doesn't matter now."

She spoke very quietly, but not with bitterness. She knew Artois. And even in that moment of emotion, and of a sort of strange exhaustion following upon emotion, she knew, as no other living person could have known, the effort it must have cost him to speak as he had just spoken.

"That, at any rate, is the exact truth."

"I know it is."

"I have thought myself clear-sighted, Hermione. I have studied others. Just lately I have been forced to study myself. It is as if -- it seems to me as if events had conspired against my own crass ignorance of myself, as if a resolve had been come to by the power that directs our destinies that I should know myself. I wish I dared to tell you more. I wish to-night I dared to tell you all that I have come to know. But I dare not, I dare not. You would not believe me. I could not even expect you to believe me."

He stopped. Perhaps he hoped for a word that would deny his last observation. But it did not come to him. And he hesitated for what seemed to him a very long time, almost an eternity. He was beset by indecision, by an extraordinary deep modesty and consciousness of his own unworthiness that he had never before experienced, and also by a new and acute consciousness of the splendor of Hermione's nature, of the power of her heart, of the faithfulness and nobility of her temperament.

"All I can say, Hermione" -- he at length went on speaking, and in his voice sounded that strange modesty, a modesty that made his voice seem to her almost like a voice of hesitating youth -- "all that I dare to say to-night is this. I told you just now that we all have our different ways of loving. You have loved in your way. You have loved Delarey as your husband. And you have loved me as your friend. Delarey, as your husband, betrayed you. Only to-day you know it. I, as your friend -- have I ever betrayed you? Do you believe -- even now when you are ready to believe very much of evil -- do you really believe that as a friend I could ever betray you?"

He moved, stood in front of her, lifted his hands and laid them on her shoulders.

"Do you believe that?"

"No."

"You have loved us in your way. He is dead. But I am here to love you always in my way. Perhaps my way seems to you such a poor way -- it must, it must -- that it is hardly worth anything at all. But perhaps, now that I know so much of myself -- and of you" -- there was a slight break in his voice -- "and of you, I shall be able to find a different, a better way. I don't know. To-night I doubt myself. I feel as if I were so unworthy. But I may -- I may be able to find a better way of loving you."

Quite unconsciously his two hands, which still rested upon her shoulders, began to lean heavily upon them, to press them, to grip them till she suffered a physical discomfort that almost amounted to pain.

"I shall seek a better way -- I shall seek it. And the only thing I ask you to-night is -- that you will not forbid me to seek it."

The pressure of his hands upon her shoulders was

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A Spirit In Prison

by Robert Hichens


 

Chapter XLI

 

Artois did not go with them. Once again he was governed by an imperious feeling that held him inactive, the feeling that it was not for him to approach Hermione -- that others might draw near to her, but that he dared not. The sensation distressed and almost humiliated him. it came upon him like a punishment for sin, and as a man accepts a punishment which he is conscious of deserving Artois accepted it.

So now he waited alone on the crest of the island, looking towards the Casa del Mare.

What would be the result of this strange and daring embassy?

He was not long to be in doubt.

"Signore! Signore!"

Gaspare's voice was calling him from somewhere in the darkness.

"Signore."

"I am coming."

There had been a thrill of emotion in the appeal sent out to him. He hurried towards the house. He crossed the bridge. When he was on it he heard the splash of oars below him in the Pool, but he took no heed of it. What were the fishermen to him to-night? Before the house door he met Gaspare and Ruffo.

"What is it?"

"The Signora is not in her room, Signore."

"Not -- ? How do you know? Is the door open?"

"Si, Signore. The Signora has gone! And the fattura della morte has gone."

"The fattura della morte has gone!" repeated Ruffo.

The repetition of the words struck a chill to the heart of Artois. Again he was beset by superstition. He caught it from these children of the South, who stared at him now with their grave and cloudy eyes.

"Perhaps one of the servants -- " he began.

"No, Signore. I have asked them. And they would not dare to touch it."

"The Signorina?"

He shook his head.

"She is in the garden. She has been there all the time. She does not know" -- he lowered his voice almost to a whisper -- "she does not know about the Signora and the fattura della morte."

"We must not let her know -- "

He stopped. Suddenly his ears seemed full of the sound of splashing oars in water. Yet he heard nothing.

"Gaspare," he said quickly, "have you looked everywhere for the Signora?"

"I have looked in the house, Signore. I have been on the terrace and to the Signorina in the garden. Then I came to tell you. I thought you should know about the Signora and the fattura della morte."

Artois felt that it was this fact of the disappearance of the death- charm which for the moment paralyzed Gaspare's activities. What stirring of ancient superstition was in the Sicilian's heart he did not know, but he knew that now his own time of action was come. No longer could he delegate to others the necessary deed. And with this knowledge his nature seemed to change. An ardor that was almost vehement with youth, and that was hard-fibred with manly strength and resolution, woke up in him.

Again his ears were full of the sound of oars in water.

"Ruffo," he said, "will you obey me?"

He laid his hand on the boy's shoulder.

"Si, Signore."

"Go into the garden. Stay with the Signorina till I come."

"Si, Signore."

"If it is a long time, if the Signorina is afraid, if she wants to do anything, you are to say that Don Emilio said she was not to be afraid, and that she was to wait."

"Si, Signore."

The boy paused, looking steadily at Artois, then, seeing that he had finished, turned away and went softly into the house.

"Gaspare, come with me."

Gaspare said nothing, but followed him down to the foot of the cliff. One of the island boats was gone. When Gaspare saw that he ran to pull in the other. He held out his arm to help Artois into the boat, then took the oars, standing up and looking before him into the night.

"Row towards the village, Gaspare."

"Si, Signore."

At that moment Gaspare understood much of what was in Artois's mind. He relied upon Artois. He trusted him -- and this fact, of Gaspare's trust and reliance upon him, added now to that feeling of ardor that had risen up in Artois, gave him courage, helped to banish completely that punishing sensation which had condemned him to keep away from Hermione as one unworthy to approach her, to touch even the hem of her grief.

No need to tell Gaspare to row quickly. With all his strength he forced the boat along through the calm sea.

"Keep near the shore, Gaspare!"

"Si, Signore."

Only the first quarter of the young moon was visible in the sky. It cast but a thin and distant glint of silver upon the waters. By the near shore the dimness of this hour was unbroken by any light, unstirred by any sound except the withdrawn and surreptitious murmur of the sea. The humped shapes of the low yellow rocks showed themselves faintly like shapes of beasts asleep. In the distance, lifted above the sea, two or three flames shone faintly. They were shed by lamps or candles set in the windows of the fishermen's cottages in the village.

Had Hermione gone to the village?

She might have left the island with some definite purpose, or moved by a blind impulse to get away, and be alone. Artois could not tell. But she had taken the fattura della morte.

He wondered whether she knew its meaning, with what sinister intention it had been made. Something in the little worthless thing must have attracted her, have fascinated her, or she would not have taken it. In her distress of mind, in her desire for solitude, she would have hastened away and left it lying where it was.

Perhaps she had a purpose in leaving the island with the fattura della morte.

Her taking of it began to seem to Artois, as it had evidently seemed to Gaspare, a fact of profound significance. His imagination, working with an almost diseased rapidity and excitement, brought before him a series of scenes in which the death-charm figured as symbol. In one of these there were two women -- Hermione and Maddalena.

Hermione might have set out on some wild quest to Mergellina. He remembered the face at the window, and knew that to-night everything was possible.

"Row quickly, Gaspare!"

Gaspare bent almost furiously to the oars. Then sharply he turned his head.

"What is it?"

"I can see the boat! I can see the Signora!"

The words struggled out on a long breath that made his broad chest heave. Instinctively Artois put his hands on the gunwale of the boat on either side of him, moving as if to stand up.

"Take care, Signore!"

"I'd forgotten -- " He leaned forward, searching the night. "Where is the Signora?"

"There -- in front! She is rowing to the village. No, she has turned."

He stopped rowing.

"The Signora has seen, or she has heard, and she is going in to shore."

"But there are only the rocks."

"The Signora is going in to the Palazzo of the Spirits."

"The Palazzo of the Spirits?" Artois repeated.

"Si, Signore."

Gaspare turned and looked again into the darkness.

"I cannot see the Signora any more."

"Follow the Signora, Gaspare. If she has gone to the Palazzo of the Spirits row in there."

"Si, Signore."

He drew the oars again strongly through the water.

Artois remembered a blinding storm that had crashed over a mountain village in Sicily long ago, a flash of lightning which had revealed to him the gaunt portal of a palace that seemed abandoned, a strip of black cloth, the words "Lutto in famiglia." They had seemed to him prophetic words.

And now -- ?

In the darkness he saw another darkness, the strange and broken outline of the ruined palace by the sea, once perhaps, the summer home of some wealthy Roman, now a mere shell visited in the lonely hours by the insatiate waves. Were Hermione and he to meet here? To-day he had thought of his friend as a spirit that had been long in prison. Now he came to the Palace of the Spirits to face her truth with his. The Palace of the Spirits! The name suggested the very nakedness of truth. Well, let it be so, let the truth stand there naked. Again, mingling with a certain awe, there rose up in him a strong ardor, a courage that was vehement, that longed at last to act. And it seemed to him suddenly that for many years, through all the years that divided Hermione and him from the Sicilian life, they had been held in leash, waiting for the moment of this encounter. Now the leash slackened. They were being freed. And for what?

Gaspare plunged his right oar into the sea alone. The boat swung round obediently, heading for the shore.

One of the faint lights that gleamed in the village was extinguished.

"Signore, the Signora has left the boat!"

"Si?"

"Madonna! She has let it go! She has left it to the sea!"

He backed water. A moment later the little boat in which Vere loved to go out alone grated against theirs.

"Madonna! To leave the boat like that!" exclaimed Gaspare, bending to catch the tow-rope. "The Signora is not safe to-night. The Signora's saint will not look on her to-night."

"Put me ashore, Gaspare."

"Si, Signore."

The boat passed before the façade of the palace.

Artois knew the palace well by day. This was the first time he had come to it by night. In daylight it was a small and picturesque ruin washed by the laughing sea, lonely but scarcely sad. Leaping from its dark and crumbling walls the fisher-boys often plunged into the depths below; or they lay upon the broad sills of the gaping window-spaces to dry themselves in the sun. Men came with rods and lines to fish from its deserted apartments, through which, when rough weather was at hand, the screaming sea-birds flew. The waves played frivolously enough in its recesses. And their voices were heard against the slimy and defiant stones calling to teach other merrily, as perhaps once the voices of revellers long dead called in the happy hours of a vanished villeggiatura.

But the night wrought on it, in it, and about it change. Its solitude then became desolation, the darkness of its stones a blackness that was tragic, its ruin more than a suggestion, the decisive picture of despair.

At its base was a line of half-discovered window-spaces, the lower parts of which had become long since the prey of the waves. Above it were more window-spaces, fully visible, and flanking a high doorway, once, no doubt, connected with a staircase, but now giving upon mid- air. Formerly there had been another floor, but this had fallen into decay and disappeared, with the exception of one small and narrow chamber situated immediately over the doorway. Isolated, for there was no means of approach to it, this chamber had something of the aspect of a low and sombre tower sluggishly lifting itself towards the sky. The palace was set upon rock and flanked by rocks. Round about it grass grew to the base of a high cliff at perhaps two hundred yards distance from it. And here and there grass and tufts of rank herbage pushed in its crevices, proclaiming the triumph of time to exulting winds and waters.

As Gaspare rowed in cautiously and gently to this deserted place, to which from the land no road, no footpath led, he stared at the darkness of the palace with superstitious awe, then at the small, familiar boat, which followed in their wake because he held the tow- rope.

"Signore," he said, "I am afraid!"

"You -- Gaspare!"

"I am afraid for the Signora. Why should she come here all alone with the fattura della morte? I am afraid for the Signora."

The boat touched the edge of the rock to the right of the palace.

"And where has the Signora gone, Signore? I cannot see her, and I cannot hear her."

He lifted up his hand. They listened. But they heard only the sucking murmur of the sea against the rocks perforated with little holes, and in distant, abandoned chambers of the palace.

"Where has the Signora gone?" Gaspare repeated, in a whisper.

"I will find the Signora," said Artois.

He got up. Gaspare held his arm to assist him to the shore.

"Thank you."

He was on the rocks.

"Gaspare," he said, "wait here. Lie off the shore close by till I come back."

"Si, Signore."

Artois hesitated, looking at Gaspare.

"I will persuade the Signora to come back with us," he said.

"Si, Signore. You must persuade the poor Signora. The poor Signora is mad to-night. She gave me a look -- " His eyes clouded with moisture. "If the poor Signora had not been mad she could not have looked at me like that -- at another, perhaps, but not at me."

It seemed as if at last his long reserve was breaking down. He put up his hand to his eyes.

"I did not think that my Padrona -- "

He stopped. Artois remembered the face at the window. He grasped Gaspare's hand.

"The Signora does not understand," he said. "I will make the Signora understand."

"Si, Signore, you must make the poor Signora understand."

Gaspare's hand held on to the hand of Artois, and in that clasp the immense reserve, that for so many years had divided, and united, these two men, seemed to melt like gold in a crucible of fire.

"I will make the Signora understand."

"And I will wait, Signore."

He pushed the boat off from the rocks. It floated away, with its sister boat, on the calm sea that kissed the palace walls. He gave his Padrona's fate into the hands of Artois. It was a tribute which had upon Artois a startling effect.

It was like a great resignation which conferred a great responsibility.

Always Gaspare had been very jealous, very proud of his position of authority as the confidential servant and protector of Hermione. And now, suddenly, and very simply, he seemed to acknowledge his helplessness with Hermione -- to rely implicitly upon the power of Artois.

Vere, too, in her way had performed a kindred action. She had summoned "Monsieur Emile" in her great trouble. She had put herself in his hands. And he -- he had striven to delegate to others the burden he was meant to bear. He had sent Vere to Hermione. He had sent Gaspare to her. He had even sent Ruffo to her. Now he must go himself. Vere, Gaspare, Ruffo -- they were all looking to him. But Gaspare's eyes were most expressive, held more of demand for him than the eyes of the girl and boy. For the past was gathered in Gaspare, spoke to him in Gaspare's voice, looked at him from Gaspare's eyes, and in Gaspare's soul waited surely to know how it would be redeemed.

He turned from the sea and looked towards the cliff. Now he had the palace on his left hand. On his right, not far off, was a high bluff going almost sheer into the sea. Nevertheless, access to the village was possible by the strip of rocks beneath it. Had Hermione gone to the village by the rocks? If she had, Gaspare's keen eyes would surely have seen her. Artois looked at the blank wall of the palace. This extended a little way, then turned at right angles. Just beyond the angle, in its shadow, there was a low and narrow doorway. Artois moved along the wall, reached this doorway, stood without it, and listened.

The grass here grew right up to the stones of the ruin. He had come almost without noise. Before him he saw blackness, the blackness of a passage extending from the orifice of the doorway to an interior chamber of the palace. He heard the peculiar sound of moving water that is beset and covered in by barriers of stone, a hollow and pugnacious murmur, as of something so determined that it would be capable of striving through eternity, yet of something that was wistful and even sad.

For an instant he yielded his spirit to this sound of eternal striving. Then he said:

"Hermione!"

No one answered.

"Hermione!"

He raised his voice. He almost called the name.

Still there was no answer. Yet the silence seemed to tell him that she was near.

He did not call again. He waited a moment, then he stepped into the passage.

The room to which it led was the central room, or hall, of the palace -- a vaulted chamber, high and narrow, opening to the sea at one end by the great doorway already mentioned, to the land beneath the cliff by a smaller doorway at the other. The faint light from without, penetrating through these facing doorways, showed to Artois a sort of lesser darkness, towards which he walked slowly, feeling his way along the wall. When he reached the hall he again stood still, trying to get accustomed to the strange and eerie obscurity, to pierce it with his eyes.

Now to his left, evidently within the building, and not far from where he stood, he heard almost loudly the striving of the sea. He heard the entering wave push through some narrow opening, search round the walls for egress, lift itself in a vain effort to emerge, fall back baffled, retreat, murmuring discontent, only to be succeeded by another eager wave. And this startling living noise of water filled him with a sensation of acute anxiety, almost of active fear.

"Hermione!" he said once more.

It seemed to him that the voice of the water drowned his voice, that it was growing louder, was filling the palace with an uproar that was angry.

"Hermione! Hermione!"

He strove to dominate that uproar.

Now, far off, through the seaward opening, he saw a streak of silver lying like a thread upon the darkness of the sea. And as he saw it, the voice of the waves within the palace seemed to sink suddenly away almost to silence. He did not know why, but the vision of that very distant radiance of the young and already setting moon seemed to restore to him abruptly the accuracy of his sense of hearing.

He again went forward a few steps, descending in the chamber towards the doorway by the worn remains of an almost effaced staircase. Reaching the bottom he stood still once more. On either side of him he could faintly discern openings leading into other rooms. Perhaps Hermione, hearing him call, had retreated from him through one of them. A sort of horror of the situation came upon him, as he began thoroughly to realize the hatred, hatred of brain, of nerves, of heart, that was surely quivering in Hermione in this moment, that was driving her away into the darkness from sound and touch of life. Like a wounded animal she was creeping away from it and hating it. He remembered Gaspare's words about the look she had cast upon perhaps the most truly faithful of all her friends.

But -- she did not know. And he, Artois, must tell her. He must make her see the exact truth of the years. He must win her back to reason.

Reason! As the word went through his mind it chilled him, like the passing of a thing coated with ice. He had been surely a reasonable man, and his reasonableness had led him to this hour. Suddenly he saw himself, as he had seen that palace door by lightning. He saw himself for an instant lit by a glare of fire. He looked, he stared upon himself.

And he shivered, as if he had drawn close to, as if he had stood by, a thing coated with ice.

And he dared to come here, to pursue such a woman as Hermione! He dared to think that he could have any power over her, that his ice could have any power over her fire! He dared to think that! For a moment all, and far more than all, his former feelings of unworthiness, of helplessness, of cowardice, rushed back upon him. Then, abruptly, there came upon him this thought -- "Vere believes I have power over Hermione." And then followed the thought -- "Gaspare believes that I have power over her." And the ice seemed to crack. He saw fissures in it. He saw it melting. He saw the "thing" it had covered appearing, being gradually revealed as -- man.

"Vere believes in my power. Gaspare believes in my power. They are the nearest to Hermione. They know her best. Their instincts about her must be the strongest, the truest. Why do they believe in it? Why do they -- why do they know -- for they must, they do know, that I have this power, that I am the one to succeed where any one else would fail? Why have they left Hermione in my hands to-night?"

The ice was gone. The lightning flash lit up a man warm with the breath of life. From the gaunt door of the abandoned palace the strip of black cloth, the tragic words above it, dropped down and disappeared.

Suddenly Artois knew why Vere believed in his power, and why Gaspare believed in it -- knew how their instincts had guided them, knew to what secret knowledge -- perhaps not even consciously now their knowledge -- they had travelled. And he remembered the words he had written in the book at Frisio's on the night of the storm:

"La Conscience, c'est la quantite de science innee que nous avons en nous."

He had written those words hurriedly, irritably, merely because he had to write something, and they chanced -- he knew not why -- to come into his mind as he took hold of the pen. And it was on that night, surely, that his conscience -- his innate knowledge -- began to betray him. Or -- no -- it was on that night that he began to defy it, to deny it, to endeavor to cast it out.

For surely he must have known, he had known, what Vere and Gaspare innately knew. Surely his conscience had not slept while theirs had been awake.

He did not know. It seemed to him as if he had not time to decide this now. Very rapidly his mind had worked, rushing surely through corridors of knowledge to gain an inner room. He had only stood at the foot of the crumbling staircase two or three minutes before he moved again decisively, called again, decisively:

"Hermione! Hermione! I know you are here. I have come for you!"

He went to the right. On the left was the chamber which had been taken possession of by the sea. She could not have gone that way, unless -- he thought of the fattura della morte, and for a moment the superstitious horror returned upon him. But he banished it. That could not be. His heart was flooded by conviction that cruelty has an end, that the most relentless fate fails at last in its pursuing, that the fattura della morte, if it brought death with it, brought a death that was not of the body, brought, perhaps, a beautiful death of something that had lived too long.

He banished fear, and he entered the chamber on the right. It was lit only by an opening looking to the sea. As he came into it he saw a tall thing -- like a tall shadow -- pass close to him and disappear. He saw that, and he heard the faint sound of material in movement.

There was then still another chamber on this side, and Hermione had passed into it. He followed her in silence, came to the doorway of it, looked, saw black darkness. There was no other opening either to sea or land. In it Hermione had found what she sought -- absolute blackness.

But he had found her. Here she could not escape him.

He stood in the doorway. He remembered Vere's trust in him. He remembered Gaspare's trust. He remembered that Gaspare was waiting in the boat for him -- for them. He remembered the words of Gaspare:

"You must make the poor Signora understand!"

That was what he had to do: to make Hermione understand. And that surely he could do. Surely he had the power to do it now.

For he himself understood.

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A Spirit In Prison

by Robert Hichens


 

Chapter XL

 

"Monsieur Emile, what is it?" exclaimed Vere.

The frightened servants were gone, half coaxed and half scolded into silence by Artois. He had taken the lemon from Peppina, and it lay now in his hand.

"It is what the people of Naples call a death-charm."

"A death-charm?"

In her eyes superstition dawned.

"Why do they call it that?"

"Because it is supposed to bring death to any one -- any enemy -- near whom it is placed."

"Who can have put it in the house to-night?" Vere said. Her voice was low and trembling. "Who can have wished to bring death here to-night?"

"I don't know, Vere."

"And such a thing -- could it bring death?"

"Vere! You can ask me!"

He spoke with an attempt at smiling irony, but his eyes held something of the awe, the cloudy apprehension that had gathered in hers.

"Where is your mind?" he added.

She answered: "Are you going to Madre's room, Monsieur Emile?"

He put the death-charm down quickly, as if it had burned his hand.

"I am going now. Gaspare!"

At this moment Gaspare came into the room with a face that was almost livid.

"Who is it that has brought a fattura della morte here?" he exclaimed.

His usually courageous eyes were full of superstitious fear.

"Signore, do you -- "

He stopped. He had seen the death-charm lying on the little table covered with silver trifles. He approached it, made a sign of the cross, bent down his head and examined it closely, but did not touch it.

Artois and Vere watched him closely. He lifted up his head at last.

"I know who brought the fattura della morte here," he said, solemnly. "I know."

"Who?" said Vere.

"It was Ruffo."

"Ruffo!"

Vere reddened. "Ruffo! He loves our house, and he loves us!"

"It is Ruffo, Signorina. It is Ruffo. He brought it, and it is he that must take it away. Do not touch it, Signorina. Do not touch it, Signore. Leave it where it is till Ruffo comes, till Ruffo takes it away."

He again made the sign of the cross, and drew back from the death- charm with a sort of mysterious caution.

"Signore," he said to Artois, "I will go down to the Saint's Pool. I will find Ruffo. I will bring him here. I will make him come here."

He was going out when Artois put a hand on his shoulder.

"And the Padrona?"

"Signore, she is always there, in her room, in the dark."

"And you have heard nothing?"

"Signore, I have heard the Padrona moving."

The hand of Artois dropped down. He was invaded by a sense of relief that was almost overwhelming.

"You are certain?"

"Si, Signore. The Padrona is walking up and down the room. When Peppina screamed out I heard the Padrona move. And then I heard her walking up and down the room."

He looked again at the death-charm and went out. Vere stood for a moment. Then she, too, went suddenly away, and Artois heard her light footstep retreating from him towards the terrace.

He understood her silent and abrupt departure. His fear had been hers. His relief was hers, too, and she was moved to hide it. He was left alone with the death-charm.

He sat down by the table on which it lay among the bright toys of silver. Released from his great fear, released from his undertaking to force his way into the darkness of that room which had been silent, he seemed suddenly to regain his identity, to be put once more into possession of his normal character. He had gone out from it. He returned to it. The cloud of superstition, in which even he had been for a moment involved with Vere and with the servants, evaporated, and he was able to smile secretly at them and at himself. Yet while he smiled thus secretly, and while he looked at the lemon with its perforating nails, he realized his own smallness, helplessness, the smallness and the helplessness of every man, as he had never realized them before. And he realized also something, much, of what it would have meant to him, had the body of his fear been the body of a truth, not of a lie.

If death had really come into the Casa del Mare that night with the death-charm!

He stretched out his hand to the table, lifted the death-charm from among the silver ornaments, held it, kept it in his hand, which he laid upon his knee.

If Ruffo had carried death in his boy's hand over the sea to the island, had carried death to Hermione!

Artois tried to imagine that house without Hermione, his life without Hermione.

For a long time he sat, always holding the death-charm in his hand, always with his eyes fixed upon it, until at last in it, as in a magic mirror, among the scars of its burning, and among the nails that pierced it, as the woman who had fashioned it, and fired it, and muttered witch's words over it, longed to pierce the heart of her enemy, he saw scenes of the past, and shadowy, moving figures. He saw among the scars and among the nails Hermione and himself!

They were in Paris, at a table strewn with flowers. That was the first scene in the magic mirror of the fattura della morte, the scene in which they met for the first time. Hermione regarded him almost with timidity. And he looked at her doubtfully, because she had no beauty.

Then they were in another part of Paris, in his "Morocco slipper of a room," crammed with books, and dim with Oriental incense and tobacco smoke, his room red and yellow, tinted with the brilliant colors of the East. And he turned to her for sympathy, and he received it in full measure, pressed down and running over. He told her his thought, and he told her his feelings, his schemes, his struggles, his moments of exaltation, his depressions. Something, much indeed of him was hers, the egotistic part of a man that does really give, but that keeps back much, and that seeks much more than it gives. And what he sought she eagerly, generously gave, with both hands, never counting any cost. Always she was giving and always he was taking.

Then they were in London, in another room full of books. He stood by a fire, and she was seated with a bundle of letters in her lap. And his heart was full of something that was like anger, and of a dull and smouldering jealousy. And hers was full of a new and wonderful beauty, a piercing joy.

He sighed deeply. He stirred. He looked up for a moment and listened.

But all the house was silent. And again he bent over the death-charm.

He stood by a door. Outside was the hum of traffic, inside a narrow room. And now in the magic mirror a third figure showed itself, a figure of youth incarnate, brave, passionate, thrilling with the joy of life. He watched it, how coldly, although he felt its charm, the rays of fire that came from it, as sunbeams come from the sun! And apprehension stirred within him. And presently in the night, by ebony waters, and by strange and wandering lights, and under unquiet stars, he told Hermione something of his fear.

Africa -- and the hovering flies, and the dreadful feeling that death's hands were creeping about his body and trying to lay hold of it! A very lonely creature lay there in the mirror, with the faint shadow of a palm-leaf shifting and swaying upon the ghastly whiteness of its face -- himself, in the most desolate hour of his life. As he gazed he was transported to the City of the Mosques. The years rolled back. He felt again all, or nearly all, that he had felt then of helplessness, abandonment, despair. It was frightful to go out thus alone, to be extinguished in the burning heat of Africa, and laid in that arid soil, where the vipers slid through the hot crevices of the earth, and the scorpions bred in the long days of the summer. Now it was evening. He heard the call to prayer, that wailing, wonderful cry which saluted the sinking sun.

He remembered exactly how it had come into his ears through the half- opened window, the sensation of remoteness, of utter solitude, which it had conveyed to him. An Arab had passed under the window, singing in a withdrawn and drowsy voice a plaintive song of the East which had mingled with the call to prayer. And then, he, Artois being quite alone, had given way in his great pain and weakness. He remembered feeling the tears slipping over his cheeks, one following another, quickly, quickly. It had seemed as if they would never stop, as if there would always be tears to flow from those sources deep within his stricken body, his stricken soul.

He looked into the mirror. The door of the room was opened. A woman stood upon the threshold. The sick man turned upon his pillow. He gazed towards the woman. And his tears ceased. He was no longer alone. His friend had come from her garden of Paradise to draw him back to life.

In the magic mirror of the fattura della morte other scenes formed themselves, were clearly visible for a moment, then dispersed, dissolved -- till scenes of the island came, till the last scene in the mirror dawned faintly before his eyes.

He saw a dark room, and a woman more desolate than he had been when he lay alone with the shadow of the palm-tree shifting on his face, and heard the call to prayer. He saw Hermione in her room in the Casa del Mare that night, after she knew.

Suddenly he put his hand to his eyes.

Those were the first tears his eyes had known since that evening in Africa years and years ago.

He laid the death-charm down once more among the silver toys. But he still looked at it as he sat back now in his chair, waiting for Gaspare's return.

He gazed at the symbol of death. And he began to think how strangely appropriate was its presence that night in the Casa del Mare, how almost more than strange had been its bringing there by Ruffo -- if indeed Ruffo had brought it, as Gaspare declared. And Ruffo, all ignorantly and unconsciously, had pierced the heart of Hermione.

Artois knew nothing of what had happened that day at Mergellina, but he divined that it was Ruffo who, without words, had told Hermione the truth. It must have been Ruffo, in whom the dead man lived again. And, going beyond the innocent boy, deep into the shadows where lies so much of truth, Artois saw the murdered man stirring from his sleep, unable to rest because of the lie that had been coiled around his memory, making it what it should not be. Perhaps only the dead know the true, the sacred passion for justice. Perhaps only they are indifferent to everything save truth, they who know the greatest truth of all.

And Artois saw Maurice Delarey, the gay, the full-blooded youth, grown stern in the halls of death, unable to be at peace until she who had most loved him knew him at last as he had been in life.

As no one else would tell Hermione the truth, the dead man himself, speaking through his son, the fruit of his sin, had told her the truth that day. He, too, had been perhaps a spirit in prison, through all these years since his death.

Artois saw him in freedom.

And at that moment Artois felt that in the world there was only one thing that was perfectly beautiful, and that thing was absolute truth. Its knowledge must make Hermione greater.

But now she was hanging on her cross.

If he could only comfort her!

As she had come to him in Africa, he longed now to go to her. She had saved him from the death of the body. If only he could save her from another and more terrible death -- the death of the spirit that believes and trusts in life!

He had been absorbed in thought and unconscious of time. Now he looked up, he was aware of things. He listened. Surely Gaspare had been away a long while. And Vere -- where was she?

He had a strange desire to see Ruffo now. Something new and mystic had been born, or had for the first time made itself apparent, within him to-night. And he knew that to-night he would look at Ruffo as he had never looked at him before.

He got up and, leaving the death-charm lying on the table, went to the door. There he hesitated. Should he go to the terrace, to Vere? Or should he go up-stairs to that dark room and try to speak to his friend? Or should he go out to the cliff, to seek Gaspare and Ruffo?

Ruffo drew him. He had to go to the cliff.

He went out by the front door. At first he thought of descending at once by the steps to the Pool of San Francesco. But he changed his mind and went instead to the bridge.

He looked over into the Pool.

It was a very clear night. San Francesco's light was burning brightly. Very sincerely it was burning beneath the blessing hands of the Saint. A ray of gold that came from it lay upon the darkness of the Pool, stealing through the night a little way, as if in an effort to touch the Casa del Mare.

In the Pool there was one boat. Artois saw no one by the sea's edge, heard no voices there, and he turned towards the crest of the island, to the seat where Vere so often went at night, and where Hermione, too, had often sought out Ruffo.

Gaspare and Ruffo were near it. Almost directly he saw their forms, relieved against the dimness but not deep darkness of the night, and heard their voices talking. As he went towards them Gaspare was speaking vehemently. He threw up one arm in a strong, even, and excited gesture, and was silent. Then Artois heard Ruffo say, in a voice that, though respectful and almost deprecatory, was yet firm like a man's:

"I cannot take it away, Gaspare. When I go home my mamma will ask me if I have put it in the house."

"Dio mio!" cried Gaspare. "But you have put it in the house! Is it not there -- is it not there now to bring death upon the Signora, upon the Signorina, upon us all?"

"It was made for Peppina. My mamma made it only against Peppina, because she has brought evil into our house. It will hurt only Peppina! It will kill only Peppina!"

He spoke now with a vehemence and passion almost equal to Gaspare's. Artois stood still. They did not see him. They were absorbed in their conversation.

"It will not hurt the Signora or the Signorina. The fattura della morte -- it is to harm Peppina. Has she not done us injury? Has she not taken my Patrigno from my mamma? Has she not made him mad? Is it not for her that he has been in prison, and that he has left my mamma without a soldo in the house? The Signora -- she has been good to me and my mamma. It is she who sent my mamma money -- twenty lire! I respect the Signora as I respect my mamma. Only to-day, only this very day she came to Mergellina, she came to see my mama. And when she knew that my Patrigno was let out of prison, when I cried out at the door that he was coming, the Signora was so glad for us that she looked -- she looked -- Madre di Dio! She was all white, she was shaking -- she was worse than my poor mamma. And when I came to her, and when I called out, 'Signora! Signora!' you should have seen! She opened her eyes! She gave me such a look! And then my Patrigno came in at the door, and the Signora -- she went away. I was going to follow her, but she put out her hand -- so, to make me stay -- she wanted me to stay with my mamma. And she went down the stairs all trembling because my Patrigno was let out of prison. Per dio! She has a good heart. She is an angel. For the Signora I would die. For the Signora I would do anything! I -- you say I would kill the Signora! Would I kill my mamma? Would I kill the Madonna? La Bruna -- would I kill her? To me the Signora is as my mamma! I respect the Signora as I respect my mamma. Ecco!"

"The fattura della morte will bring evil on the house, it will bring death into the house."

Gaspare spoke again, and his voice was dogged with superstition, but it was less vehement than before.

"Already -- who knows what it has brought? Who knows what evil it has done? All the house is sad to-night, all the house is terrible to-night."

"It is Peppina who has looked on the house with the evil eye," said Ruffo. "It is Peppina who has brought trouble to the house."

There was silence. Then Gaspare said:

"No, it is not Peppina."

As he spoke Artois saw him stretch out his hand, but gently, towards Ruffo.

"Who is it, then?" said Ruffo.

Moved by an irresistible impulse to interpose, Artois called out:

"Gaspare!"

He saw the two figures start.

"Gaspare!" he repeated, coming up to them.

"Signore! What is it? Has the Signora -- "

"I have not heard her. I have not seen her."

"Then what is it, Signore?"

"Good-evening, Ruffo," Artois said, looking at the boy.

"Good-evening, Signore."

Ruffo took off his cap. He was going to put it back on his dark hair, when Artois held his arm.

"Wait a minute, Ruffo!"

The boy looked surprised, but met fearlessly the eyes that were gazing into his.

"Va bene, Ruffo."

Artois released his arm, and Ruffo put on his cap.

"I heard you talking of the fattura della morte," Artois said.

Ruffo reddened slightly.

"Si, Signore."

"Your mother made it?"

Ruffo did not answer. Gaspare stood by, watching and listening with deep, half-suspicious attention.

"I heard you say so."

"Si, Signore. My mamma made it."

"And told you to bring it to the island and put it in the house to-night?"

"Si, Signore."

"Are you sure it was Peppina your mother wished to do evil?"

"Si, Signore, quite sure. Peppina is a bad girl. She made my Patrigno mad. She brought trouble to our house."

"You love the Signora, don't you, Ruffo?"

His face changed and grew happier at once.

"Si, Signore. I love the Signora and the Signorina."

He would not leave out Vere. Artois's heart warmed to him for that.

"Ruffo -- "

While he had been on the crest of the island an idea had come to him. At first he had put it from him. Now, suddenly, he caressed it, he resolved to act on its prompting.

"Ruffo, the Signora is in the house."

"Si, Signore."

"I don't think she is very well. I don't think she will leave the house to-night. Wouldn't you like to see her?"

"Signore, I always like to see the Signora."

"And I think she likes to see you. I know she does."

"Si, Signore. The Signora is always glad when I come."

He spoke without conceit or vanity, with utterly sincere simplicity.

"Go to the house and ask to see her now -- Gaspare will take you."

As he spoke he looked at Gaspare, and Gaspare understood.

"Come on, Ruffo!"

Gaspare's voice was rough, arbitrary, but the eyes that he turned on Ruffo were full of the almost melting gentleness that Hermione had seen in them sometimes and that she had always loved.

"Come on, Ruffino!"

He walked away quickly, almost sternly, towards the house. And Ruffo followed him.

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 A Spirit In Prison 27 Alerter l'administrateur Recommander à un ami Lien de l'article 

A Spirit In Prison

by Robert Hichens


 

Chapter XXXIX

 

There was no one at the foot of the cliff. Artois got out of the boat and stood for a moment, hesitating whether to keep Giovanni or to dismiss him.

"I can stay, Signore," said the man. "You will want some one to row you back."

"No, Giovanni. I can get Gaspare to put me ashore. You had better be off."

"Va bene, Signore," he replied, looking disappointed.

The Signora of the Casa del Mare was always very hospitable to such fishermen as she knew. Giovanni wanted to seek out Gaspare, to have a cigarette. But he obediently jumped into the boat and rowed off into the darkness, while Artois went up the steps towards the house.

A cold feeling of dread encompassed him. He still saw, imaginatively, that stranger at the window, that falling movement, that frantic gesture, the descending blind that brought to Hermione's bedroom a great obscurity. And he remembered Hermione's face in the garden, half seen by him once in shadows, with surely a strange and terrible smile upon it -- a smile that had made him wonder if he had ever really known her.

He came out on the plateau before the front door. The door was shut, but as he went to open it it was opened from within, and Gaspare stood before him in the twilight, with the dark passage for background.

Gaspare looked at Artois in silence.

"Gaspare," Artois said, "I came home from San Martino. I found a note from the Signorina, begging me to come here at once."

"Lo so, Signore."

"I have come. What has -- what is it? Where is the Signorina?"

Gaspare stood in the middle of the narrow doorway.

"The Signorina is in the garden."

"Waiting for me?"

"Si, Signore."

"Very well."

He moved to enter the house; but Gaspare stood still where he was.

"Signore," he said.

Artois stopped at the door-sill.

"What is it?"

"What are you going to do here?"

At last Gaspare was frankly the watch-dog guarding the sacred house. His Padrona had cast upon him a look of hatred. Yet he was guarding the sacred house and her within it. Deep in the blood of him was the sense that, even hating him, she belonged to him and he to her.

And his Padroncina had trusted him, had clung to him that day.

"What are you going to do here?"

"If there is trouble here, I want to help."

"How can you help, Signore?"

"First tell me, -- there is great trouble?"

"Si, Signore."

"And you know what it is? You know what caused it?"

"No one has told me."

"But you know what it is."

"Si, Signore."

"Does -- the Signorina doesn't know?"

"No, Signore."

He paused, then added:

"The Signorina is not to know what it is."

"You do not think I shall tell her?"

"Signore, how can I tell what you will do here? How can I tell what you are here?"

For a moment Artois felt deeply wounded -- wounded to the quick. He had not supposed it was possible for any one to hurt him so much with a few quiet words. Anger rose in him, an anger such as the furious attack of the Marchesino had never brought to the birth.

"You can say that!" he exclaimed. "You can say that, after Sicily!"

Gaspare's face changed, softened for an instant, then grew stern again.

"That was long ago, Signore. It was all different in Sicily!"

His eyes filled with tears, yet his face remained stern. But Artois was seized again, as when he walked in the golden air between the vineyards and heard the peasants singing, by an intense desire to bring happiness to the unhappy, especially and above all to one unhappy woman. To-night his intellect was subordinate to his heart, his pride of intellect was lost in feeling, in an emotion that the simplest might have understood and shared: the longing to be of use, to comfort, to pour balm into the terrible wound of one who had been his friend -- such a friend as only a certain type of woman can be to a certain type of man.

"Gaspare," he said, "you and I -- we helped the Signora once, we helped her in Sicily."

Gaspare looked away from him, and did not answer.

"Perhaps we can help her now. Perhaps only we can help her. Let me into the house, Gaspare. I shall do nothing here to make your Padrona sad."

Gaspare looked at him again, looked into his eyes, then moved aside, giving room for him to enter. As soon as he was in the passage Gaspare shut the door.

"I am sorry, Signore; the lamp is not lighted."

Artois felt at once an unusual atmosphere in the house, an atmosphere not of confusion but of mystery, of secret curiosity, of brooding apprehension. At the foot of the servants' staircase he heard a remote sound of whispering, which emphasized the otherwise complete silence of this familiar dwelling, suddenly become unfamiliar to him -- unfamiliar and almost dreadful.

"I had better go into the garden."

"Si, Signore."

Gaspare looked down the servants' staircase and hissed sharply:

"Sh! S-s-sh!"

"The Signora -- ?" asked Artois, as Gaspare came to him softly.

"The Signora is always in her room. She is shut up in her room."

"I saw the Signora just now, at the window," Artois said, in an undervoice.

"You saw the Signora?"

Gaspare looked at him with sudden eagerness mingled with a flaming anxiety.

"From the boat. She came to the window and let down the blind."

Gaspare did not ask anything. They went to the terrace above the sea.

"I will tell the Signorina you have come, Signore."

"Sha'n't I go down?"

"I had better go and tell her."

He spoke with conviction. Artois did not dispute his judgment. He went away, always softly. Artois stood still on the terrace. The twilight was spreading itself over the sea, like a veil dropping over a face. The house was dark behind him. In that darkness Hermione was hidden, the Hermione who was a stranger to him, the Hermione into whose heart and soul he was no longer allowed to look. Upon Monte Amato at evening she had, very simply, showed him the truth of her great sorrow.

Now -- he saw the face at the window, the falling blind. Between then and now -- what a gulf fixed!

Vere came from the garden followed by Gaspare. Her eyes were wide with terror. The eyelids were red. She had been weeping. She almost ran to Artois, as a child runs to refuge. Never before had he felt so acutely the childishness that still lingered in this little Vere of the island -- lingered unaffected, untouched by recent events. Thank God for that! In that moment the Marchesino was forgiven; and Artois -- did he not perhaps also in that moment forgive himself?

"Oh Monsieur Emile -- I thought you wouldn't come!"

There was the open reproach of a child in her voice. She seized his hand.

"Has Gaspare told you?" She turned her head towards Gaspare. "Something terrible has happened to Madre. Monsieur Emile, do you know what it is?"

She was looking at him with an intense scrutiny.

"Gaspare is hiding something from me -- "

Gaspare stood there and said nothing.

" -- something that perhaps you know."

Gaspare looked at Artois, and Artois felt now that the watch-dog trusted him. He returned the Sicilian's glance, and Gaspare moved away, went to the rail of the terrace, and looked down over the sea.

"Do you know? Do you know anything -- anything dreadful about Madre that you have never told me?"

"Vere, don't be frightened."

"Ah, but you haven't been here! You weren't here when -- "

"What is it?"

Her terror infected him.

"Madre came back. She had been to Mergellina all alone. She was away such a long time. When she came back I was in my room. I didn't know. I didn't hear the boat. But my door was open, and presently I heard some one come up-stairs and go into the boudoir. It was Madre. I know her step. I know it was Madre!"

She reiterated her assertion, as if she anticipated that he was going to dispute it.

"She stayed in the boudoir only a very little while -- only a few minutes. Oh, Monsieur Emile, but -- "

"Vere. What do you mean? Did -- what happened there -- in the boudoir?"

He was reading from her face.

"She went -- Madre went in there to -- "

She stopped and swallowed.

"Madre took father's photograph -- the one on the writing-table -- and tore it to pieces. And the frame -- that was all bent and nearly broken. Father's photograph, that she loves so much!"

Artois said nothing. At that moment it was as if he entered suddenly into Hermione's heart, and knew every feeling there.

"Monsieur Emile -- is she -- is Madre -- ill?"

She began to tremble once more, as she had trembled when she came to fetch Gaspare from the nook of the cliff beside the Saint's Pool.

"Not as you mean, Vere."

"You are sure? You are certain?"

"Not in that way."

"But then I heard Madre come out and go to her bedroom. I didn't hear whether she locked the door. I only heard it shut. But Gaspare says he knows it is locked. Two or three minutes after the door was shut I heard -- I heard -- "

"Don't be afraid. Tell me -- if I ought to know."

Those words voiced a deep and delicate reluctance which was beginning to invade him. Yet he wished to help Vere, to release this child from the thrall of a terror which could only be conquered if it were expressed.

"Tell me," he added, slowly.

"I heard Madre -- Monsieur Emile, it was hardly crying!"

"Don't. You needn't tell me any more."

"Gaspare heard it too. It went on for a long, long time. We -- Gaspare made the servants keep downstairs ever since. And I -- I have been waiting for you to come, because Madre cares for you."

Artois put his hand down quickly upon Vere's right hand.

"I am glad that you sent for me, Vere. I am glad you think that. Come and sit down on the bench."

He drew her down beside him. He felt that he was with a child whom he must comfort. Gaspare stood always looking down over the rail of the terrace to the sea.

"Vere!"

"Yes, Monsieur Emile."

"You mother is not ill as you thought -- feared. But -- to-day -- she has had, she must have had, a great shock."

"But at Mergellina?"

"Only that could account for what you have just told me."

"But I don't understand. She only went to Mergellina."

"Did you see her before she went there?"

"Yes."

"Was she as usual?"

"I don't think she was. I think Madre has been changing nearly all this summer. That is why I am so afraid. You know she has been changing."

He was silent. The difficulty of the situation was great. He did not know how to resolve it.

"You have seen the change, Monsieur Emile!"

He did not deny it. He did not know what to do or say. For of that change, although perhaps now he partly understood it, he could never speak to Vere or to any one.

"It has made me so unhappy," Vere said, with a break in her voice.

And he had said to himself: "Vere must be happy!" At that moment he and his intellect seemed to him less than a handful of dust.

"But this change of to-day is different," he said, slowly. "Your mother has had a dreadful shock."

"At Mergellina?"

"It must have been there."

"But what could it be? We scarcely ever go there. We don't know any one there -- oh, except Ruffo."

Her eyes, keen and bright with youth, even though they had been crying, were fixed upon his face while she was speaking, and she saw a sudden conscious look in his eyes, a movement of his lips -- he drew them sharply together, as if seized by a spasm.

"Ruffo!" she repeated. "Has it something to do with Ruffo?"

There was a profound perplexity in her face, but the fear in it was less.

"Something to do with Ruffo?" she repeated.

Suddenly she moved, she got up. And all the fear had come back to her face, with something added to it, something intensely personal.

"Do you mean -- is Ruffo dead?" she whispered.

A voice rose up from the sea singing a sad little song. Vere turned towards the sea. All her body relaxed. The voice passed on. The sad little song passed under the cliff, to the Saint's Pool and the lee of the island.

"Ah, Monsieur Emile," she said, "why don't you tell me?"

She swayed. He put his arm quickly behind her.

"No, no! It's all right. That was Ruffo!"

And she smiled.

At that moment Artois longed to tell her the truth. To do so would surely be to do something that was beautiful. But he dared not -- he had no right.

A bell rang in the house, loudly, persistently, tearing its silence. Gaspare turned angrily from the rail, with an expression of apprehension on his face.

Giulia was summoning the household to dinner.

"Perhaps -- perhaps Madre will come down," Vere whispered.

Gaspare passed them and went into the house quickly. They knew he had gone to see if his Padrona was coming. Moved by a mutual instinct, they stayed where they were till he should come to them again.

For a long time they waited. He did not return.

"We had better go in, Vere. You must eat."

"I can't -- unless she comes."

"You must try to eat."

He spoke to her as to a child.

"And perhaps -- Gaspare may be with her, may be speaking with her. Let us go in."

They passed into the house, and went to the dining-room. The table was laid. The lamp was lit. Giulia stood by the sideboard looking anxious and subdued. She did not even smile when she saw Artois, who was her favorite.

"Where is Gaspare, Giulia?" said Artois.

"Up-stairs, Signore. He came in and ran up-stairs, and he has not come down. Ah!" -- she raised her hands -- "the evil eye has looked upon this house! When that girl Peppina -- "

"Be quiet!" Artois said, sharply.

Giulia's round, black eyes filled with tears, and her mouth opened in surprise.

He put his hand kindly on her arm.

"Never mind, Giulia mia! But it is foolish to talk like that. There is no reason why evil should come upon the Casa del Mare. Here is Gaspare!"

At that moment he entered, looking tragic.

"Go away, Giulia!" he said to her, roughly.

"Ma -- "

"Go away!"

He put her out of the room without ceremony, and shut the door.

"Signore!" he said to Artois, "I have been up to the Padrona's room. I have knocked on the door. I have spoken -- "

"What did you say?"

"I did not say that you were here, Signore."

"Did you ask the Signora to come down?"

"I asked if she was coming down to dinner. I said the Signorina was waiting for her."

"Yes?"

"The Signora did not answer. There was no noise, and in the room there is no light!"

"Let me go!" Vere said, breathlessly.

She was moving towards the door when Artois stopped her authoritatively.

"No, Vere -- wait!"

"But some one must -- I'm afraid -- "

"Wait, Vere!"

He turned once more to Gaspare.

"Did you try the door, Gaspare?"

"Signore, I did. After I had spoken several times and waited a long time, I tried the door softly. It is locked."

"You see!"

It was Vere speaking, still breathlessly.

"Let me go, Monsieur Emile. We can't let Madre stay like that, all alone in the dark. She must have food. We can't stay down here and leave her."

Artois hesitated. He thought of the stranger at the window, and he felt afraid. But he concealed his fear.

"Perhaps you had better go, Vere," he said, at length. "But if she does not answer, don't try the door. Don't knock. Just speak. You will find the best words."

"Yes. I'll try -- I'll try."

Gaspare opened the door. Giulia was sobbing outside. Her pride and dignity were lacerated by Gaspare's action.

"Giulia, never mind! Don't cry! Gaspare didn't mean -- "

Before she had finished speaking the servant passionately seized her hand and kissed it. Vere released her hand very gently and went slowly up the stairs.

The instinct of Artois was to follow her. He longed to follow her, but he denied himself, and sat down by the dinner-table, on which the zuppa di pesce was smoking under the lamp. Giulia, trying to stifle her sobs, went away down the kitchen stairs, and Gaspare stood near the door. He touched his face with his hands, opened and shut his lips, then thrust his hands into his pockets, and stared first at Artois then at the floor. His cheeks and his forehead looked hot, as if he had just finished some difficult physical act. Artois did not glance at him. In that moment both men, in their different ways, felt dreadfully, almost unbearably, self-conscious.

Presently Vere's step was heard again on the stairs, descending softly and slowly. She came in and went at once to Artois.

"Madre doesn't answer."

Artois got up.

"What ought we to do?"

Vere was whispering.

"Did you hear anything?"

"No."

Gaspare moved, took his hands violently out of his pockets, then thrust them in again.

Artois stood in silence. His face, generally so strong, so authoritative, showed his irresolution, and Vere, looking to him like a frightened child for guidance, felt her terror increase.

"Shall I go up again. I didn't knock. You told me not to. Shall I go and knock? Or shall Gaspare go again?"

She did not suggest that Artois should go himself. He noticed that, even in this moment of the confusion of his will.

"I think we had better leave her for a time," he said, at last.

As he spoke he made an effort, and recovered himself.

"We had better do nothing more. What can we do?"

He was looking at Gaspare.

Gaspare went out into the passage and called down the stairs.

"Giulia! Come up! The Signorina is going to dinner."

His defiant voice sounded startling in the silent house.

"We are to eat!"

"Yes, Vere. I shall stay. Presently our mother may come down. She feels that she must be alone. We have no right to try to force ourselves upon her."

"Do you think it is that? Are you telling me the truth? Are you?"

"If she does not come down presently I will go up. Don't be afraid. I will not leave you till she comes down."

Giulia returned, wiping her eyes. When he saw her Gaspare disappeared. They knew he had gone to wait outside his Padrona's door.

The dinner passed almost in silence. Artois ate, and made Vere eat. Vere sat in her mother's place, with her back to the door. Artois was facing her. Often his eyes travelled to the door. Often, too, Vere turned her head. And in the silence both were listening for a step that did not come: Vere with a feverish eagerness, Artois with a mingling of longing and of dread. For he knew he dreaded to see Hermione that night. He knew that it would be terrible to him to meet her eyes, to speak to her, to touch her hand. And yet he longed for her to come. For he was companioned by a great and growing fear, which he must hide. And that act of secrecy, undertaken for Vere's sake, seemed to increase the thing he hid, till the shadow it had been began to take form, to grow in stature, to become dominating, imperious.

Giulia put some fruit on the table. The meal was over, and there had been no sound outside upon the stairs.

"Monsieur Emile, what are you going to do?"

"Go to the drawing-room, Vere. I will go out and see whether there is any light in your mother's window."

She obeyed him silently and went away. Then he took his hat and went out upon the terrace.

Gaspare had said that Hermione's room was dark. Perhaps he had been mistaken. The key might have been so placed in the lock that he had been deceived. As Artois walked to a point from which he could see one of the windows of Hermione's bedroom, he knew that he longed to see a light there. If the window was dark the form of his fear would be more distinct. He reached the point and looked up. There was no light.

He stood there for some time gazing at that darkness. He thought of the bent photograph frame, of the photograph that had been so loved torn into fragments, of the sound that was -- hardly crying, and of the face he had seen for an instant as he drew near to the island. He ought to come to some decision, to take some action. Vere was depending upon him. But he felt as if he could do nothing. In answer to Vere's appeal he had hastened to the island. And now he was paralyzed, he was utterly useless.

He felt as if he dared not do anything. Hermione in her grief, had suddenly passed from him into a darkness that was sacred. What right had he to try to share it?

And yet -- if that great shape of fear were not the body of a lie, but of the truth?

Never had he felt so impotent, so utterly unworthy of his manhood.

He moved away, turned, came back and stood once more beneath the window. Ought he to go up to Hermione's door, to knock, to speak, to insist on admittance? And if there was no reply? -- what ought he to do then? Break down the door?

He went into the house. Vere was sitting in the drawing-room looking at the door. She sprang up.

"Is there a light in Madre's room?"

"No."

He saw, as he answered, that she caught his fear, that hers now had the same shape as his.

"Monsieur Emile, you -- you don't think -- ?"

Her voice faltered, her bright eyes became changed, dim, seemed to sink into her head.

"You must go to her room. Go to Madre, Monsieur Emile, Go! Speak to her! Make her answer! Make her! make her!"

She put her hands on him. She pushed him frantically.

He took her hands and held them tightly.

"I am going, Vere. Don't be frightened!"

"But you are frightened! You are frightened!"

"I will speak to your mother. I will beg her to answer."

"And if she doesn't answer?"

"I will get into the room."

He let go her hands and went towards the door. Just as he reached it there came from below in the house a loud, shrill cry. It was followed by an instant of silence, then by another cry, louder, nearer than before. And this time they could hear the words:

"La fattura della morte! La fattura della morte!"

Running, stumbling feet sounded outside, and Peppina appeared at the door, her disfigured face convulsed with terror, her hand out- stretched.

"Look!" she cried shrilly. "Look, Signorina! Look, Signore! La fattura della morte! La fattura della morte! It has been brought to the house to-night! It has been put in my room to-night!"

In her hand lay a green lemon pierced by many nails.

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  Blog créé le 10-04-2009 à 16h36 | Mis à jour le 09-10-2011 à 14h55 | Note : 9.04/10