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 A Spirit In Prison 26 Alerter l'administrateur Recommander à un ami Lien de l'article 

A Spirit In Prison

by Robert Hichens


 

Chapter XXXVII

 

Hermione was outside in the street, hearing the cries of ambulant sellers, the calls of women and children, the tinkling bells and the rumble of the trams, and the voice of Fabiano Lari speaking -- was it to her?

"Signora, did you see him?"

"Yes."

"He is glad to be out of prison. He is gay, but he looks wicked."

She did not understand what he meant. She walked on and came into the road that leads to the tunnel. She turned mechanically towards the tunnel, drawn by the darkness.

"But, Signora, this is not the way! This is the way to Fuorigrotta!"

"Oh!"

She went towards the sea. She was thinking of the green parrot expanding and contracting the pupils of its round, ironic eyes.

"Was Maddalena pleased to see him? Was Donna Teresa pleased?"

Hermione stood still.

"What are you talking about?"

"Signora! About Antonio Bernari, who has just come home from prison! Didn't you see him? But you were there -- in the house!"

"Oh -- yes, I saw him. A rivederci!"

"Ma -- "

"A rivederci!"

She felt in her purse, found a coin, and gave it to him. Then she walked on. She did not see him any more. She did not know what became of him.

Of course she had seen the return of Antonio Bernari. She remembered now. As Ruffo stood before her with the wet hair on his forehead there had come a shrill cry from the old woman in the kitchen: a cry that was hideous and yet almost beautiful, so full it was of joy. Then from the kitchen the two women had rushed in, gesticulating, ejaculating, their faces convulsed with excitement. They had seized Maddalena, Ruffo. One of them -- the old woman, she thought -- had even clutched at Hermione's arm. The room had been full of cries.

"Ecco! Antonio!"

"Antonio is coming!"

"I have seen Antonio!"

"He is pale! He is white like death!"

"Mamma mia! But he is thin!"

"Ecco! Ecco! He comes! Here he is! Here is Antonio!"

And then the door had been opened, and on the sill a big, broad- shouldered man had appeared, followed by several other evil-looking though smiling men. And all the women had hurried to them. There had been shrill cries, a babel of voices, a noise of kisses.

And Ruffo! Where had he been? What had he done?

Hermione only knew that she had head a rough voice saying:

"Sangue del Diavolo! Let me alone! Give me a glass of wine! Basta! Basta!"

And then she went out in the street, thinking of the green parrot and hearing the cries of the sellers, the tram-bells, and Fabiano's questioning voice.

Now she continued her walk towards the harbor of Mergellina alone. The thought of the green parrot obsessed her mind.

She saw it before her on its board, with the rolled-up bed towering behind it. Now it was motionless -- only the pupils of its eyes moved. Now it lifted its claw, bowed its head, shuffled along the board to hear their conversation better.

She saw it with extreme distinctness, and now she also saw on the wall of the room near it the "Fattura della Morte" -- the green lemon with the nails stuck through it, like nails driven into a cross.

Vaguely the word "crucifixion" went through her mind. Many people, many women, had surely been crucified since the greatest tragedy the world had ever known. What had they felt, they who were only human, they who could not see the face of the Father, who could -- some of them, perhaps -- only hope that there was a Father? What had they felt? Perhaps scarcely anything. Perhaps merely a sensation of numbness, as if their whole bodies, and their minds, too, were under the influence of a great injection of cocaine. Her thoughts again returned to the parrot. She wondered where it had been bought, whether it had come with Antonio from America.

Presently she reached the tramway station and stood still. She had to go back to the "Trattoria del Giardinetto." She must take the tram here, one of those on which was written in big letters, "Capo di Posilipo." No, not that! That did not go far enough. The other one -- what was written upon it? Something -- "Sette Settembre." She looked for the words "Sette Settembre."

Tram after tram came up, paused, passed on. But she did not see those words on any of them. She began to think of the sea, of the brown body of the bathing boy which she had seen shoot through the air and disappear into the shining water before she had gone to that house where the green parrot was. She would go down to the sea, to the harbor.

She threaded her way across the broad space, going in and out among the trams and the waiting people. Then she went down a road not far from the Grand Hotel and came to the Marina.

There were boys bathing still from the breakwater of the rocks. And still they were shouting. She stood by the wall and watched them, resting her hands on the stone.

How hot the stone was! Gaspare had been right. It was going to be a glorious day, one of the tremendous days of summer.

The nails driven through the green lemon like nails driven through a cross -- Peppina -- the cross cut on Peppina's cheek.

That broad-shouldered man who had come in at the door had cut that cross on Peppina's cheek.

Was it true that Peppina had the evil eye? Had it been a fatal day for the Casa del Mare when she had been allowed to cross its threshold? Vere had said something -- what was it? -- about Peppina and her cross. Oh yes! That Peppina's cross seemed like a sign, a warning come into the house on the island, that it seemed to say, "There is a cross to be borne by some one here, by one of us!"

And the fishermen's sign of the cross under the light of San Francesco?

Surely there had been many warnings in her life. They had been given to her, but she had not heeded them.

She saw a brown body shoot through the air from the rocks and disappear into the shining sea. Was it Ruffo? With an effort she remembered that she had left Ruffo in the tall house, in the room where the green parrot was.

She walked on slowly till she came to the place where Artois had seen Ruffo with his mother. A number of tables were set out, but there were few people sitting at them. She felt tired. She crossed the road, went to a table, and sat down. A waiter came up and asked her what she would have.

"Acqua fresca," she said.

He looked surprised.

"Oh -- then wine, vermouth -- anything!"

He looked more surprised.

"Will you have vermouth, Signora?"

"Yes, yes -- vermouth."

He brought her vermouth and iced water. She mixed them together and drank. But she was not conscious of tasting anything. For a considerable time she sat there. People passed her. The trams rushed by. On several of them were printed the words she had looked for in vain at the station. But she did not notice them.

During this time she did not feel unhappy. Seldom had she felt calmer, more at rest, more able to be still. She had no desire to do anything. It seemed to her that she would be quite satisfied to sit where she was in the sun forever.

While she sat there she was always thinking, but vaguely, slowly, lethargically. And her thoughts reiterated themselves, were like recurring fragments of dreams, and were curiously linked together. The green parrot she always connected with the death-charm, because the latter had once been green. Whenever the one presented itself to her mind it was immediately followed by the other. The shawl at which the old woman's yellow fingers had perpetually pulled led her mind to the thought of the tunnel, because she imagined that the latter must eventually end in blackness, and the shawl was black. She knew, of course, really that the tunnel was lit from end to end by electricity. But her mind arbitrarily put aside this knowledge. It did not belong to her strange mood, the mood of one drawing near to the verge either of some abominable collapse or of some terrible activity. Occasionally, she thought of Ruffo; but always as one of the brown boys bathing from the rocks beyond the harbor, shouting, laughing, triumphant in his glorious youth. And when the link was, as it were, just beginning to form itself from the thought-shape of youth to another thought-shape, her mind stopped short in that progress, recoiled, like a creature recoiling from a precipice it has not seen but has divined in the dark. She sipped the vermouth and the iced water, and stared at the drops chasing each other down the clouded glass. And for a time she was not conscious where she was, and heard none of the noises round about her.

It was the song of Mergellina, sung at some distance off in dialect, by a tenor voice to the accompaniment of a piano-organ. Hermione ceased from gazing at the drops on the glass, looked up, listened.

The song came nearer. The tenor voice was hard, strident, sang lustily but inexpressively in the glaring sunshine. And the dialect made the song seem different, almost new. Its charm seemed to have evaporated. Yet she remembered vaguely that it had charmed her. She sought for the charm, striving feebly to recapture it.

The piano-organ hurt her, the hard voice hurt her. It sounded cruel and greedy. But the song -- once it had appealed to her. Once she had leaned down to hear it, she had leaned down over the misty sea, her soul had followed it out over the sea.

"Oh, dolce luna bianca de l' estate Mi fugge il sonno accanto a la Marina: Mi destan le dolcissime serate Gli occhi di Rosa e il mar di Mergellina."

Those were the real words. And what voice had sung them?

And then, suddenly, her brain worked once more with its natural swiftness and vivacity, her imagination and her heart awaked. She was again alive. She saw the people. She heard the sounds about her. She felt the scorching heat of the sun. But in it she was conscious also of the opposite of day, of the opposite of heat. At that moment she had a double consciousness. For she felt the salt coolness of the night around the lonely island. And she heard not only the street singer, but Ruffo in his boat.

Ruffo -- in his boat.

Suddenly she could not see anything. Her sight was drowned by tears. She got up at once. She felt for her purse, found it, opened it, felt for money, found some coins, laid them down on the table, and began to walk. She was driven by fear, the fear of falling down in the sun in the sight of all men, and crying, sobbing, with her face against the ground. She heard a shout. Some one gave her a violent push, thrusting her forward. She stumbled, recovered herself. A passer-by had saved her from a tram. She did not know it. She did not look at him or thank him. He went away, swearing at the English. Where was she going?

She must go home. She must go to the island. She must go to Vere, to Gaspare, to Emile -- to her life.

Her body and soul revolted from the thought, her outraged body and her outraged soul, which were just beginning to feel their courage, as flesh and nerves begin to feel pain after an operation when the effect of the anaesthetic gradually fades away.

She was walking up the hill and still crying.

She met a boy of the people, swarthy, with impudent black eyes, tangled hair, and a big, pouting mouth, above which a premature mustache showed like a smudge. He looked into her face and began to laugh. She saw his white teeth, and her tears rushed back to their sources. At once her eyes were dry. And, almost at once, she thought, her heart became hard as stone, and she felt self-control like iron within her.

That boy of the people should be the last human being to laugh at her.

She saw a tram stop. It went to the "Trattoria del Giardinetto." She got in, and sat down next to two thin English ladies, who held guide- books in their hands, and whose pointed features looked piteously inquiring.

"Excuse me, but do you know this neighborhood?"

She was being addressed.

"Yes."

"That is fortunate -- we do not. Perhaps you will kindly tell us something about it. Is it far to Bagnoli?"

"Not very far."

"And when you get there?"

"I beg your pardon!"

"When you get there, is there much to see?"

"Not so very much."

"Can one lunch there?"

"No doubt."

"Yes. But I mean, what sort of lunch? Can one get anything clean and wholesome, such as you get in England?"

"It would be Italian food."

"Oh, dear. Fanny, this lady says we can only get Italian food at Bagnoli!"

"Tcha! Tcha!"

"But perhaps -- excuse me, but do you think we could get a good cup of tea there? We might manage with that -- tea and some boiled eggs. Don't you think so, Fanny? Could we get a cup of -- "

The tram stopped. Hermione had pulled the cord that made the bell sound. She paid and got down. The tram carried away the English ladies, their pointed features red with surprise and indignation.

Hermione again began to walk, but almost directly she saw a wandering carriage and hailed the driver.

"Carrozza!"

She got in.

"Put me down at the 'Trattoria del Giardinetto.' "

"Si, Signora -- but how much are you going to give me? I can't take you for less than -- "

"Anything -- five lire -- drive on at once."

The man drove on, grinning.

Presently Hermione was walking through the short tunnel that leads to the path descending between vineyards to the sea. She must take a boat to the island. She must go back to the island. Where else could she go? If Vere had not been there she might -- but Vere was there. It was inevitable. She must return to the island.

She stood still in the path, between the high banks.

Her body was demanding not to be forced by the will to go to the island.

"I must go back to the island."

She walked on very slowly till she could see the shining water over the sloping, vine-covered land. The sight of the water reminded her that Gaspare would be waiting for her on the sand below the village. When she remembered that she stopped again. Then she turned round, and began to walk back towards the highroad.

Gaspare was waiting. If she went down to the sand she would have to meet his great intent eyes, those watching eyes full of questions. He would read her. He would see in a moment that -- she knew. And he would see more than that! He would see that she was hating him. The hatred was only dawning, struggling up in her tangled heart. But it existed -- it was there. And he would see that it was there.

She walked back till she reached the tunnel under the highroad. But she did not pass through it. She could not face the highroad with its traffic. Perhaps the English ladies would be coming back. Perhaps -- She turned again and presently sat down on a bank, and looked at the dry and wrinkled ground. Nobody went by. The lizards ran about near her feet. She sat there over an hour, scarcely moving, with the sun beating upon her head.

Then she got up and walked fast, and with a firm step, towards the village and the sea.

The village is only a tiny hamlet, ending in a small trattoria with a rough terrace above the sea, overlooking a strip of sand where a few boats lie. As Hermione came to the steps that lead down to the terrace she stood still and looked over the wall on her left. The boat from the island was at anchor there, floating motionless on the still water. Gaspare was not in it, but was lying stretched on his back on the sand, with his white linen hat over his face.

He lay like one dead.

She stood and watched him, as she might have watched a corpse of some one she had cared for but who was gone from her forever.

Perhaps he was not asleep, for almost directly he became aware of her observation, sat up, and uncovered his face, turning towards her and looking up. Already, and from this distance, she would see a fierce inquiry in his eyes.

She made a determined effort and waved her hand.

Gaspare sprang to his feet, took out his watch, looked at it, then went and fetched the boat.

His action -- the taking out of the watch -- reminded Hermione of the time. She looked at her watch. It was half-past two. On the island they lunched at half-past twelve. Gaspare must have been waiting for hours. What did it matter?

She made another determined effort and went down the remaining steps to the beach.

Gaspare should not know that she knew. She was resolved upon that, concentrated upon that. Continually she saw in front of her the pouting mouth, the white teeth of the boy who had laughed at her in the street. There should be no more crying, no more visible despair. No one should see any difference in her. All the time that she had been sitting still in the sun upon the bank she had been fiercely schooling herself in an act new to her -- the act of deception. She had not faced the truth that to-day she knew. She had not faced the ruin that its knowledge had made of all that had been sacred and lovely in her life. She had fastened her whole force fanatically upon that one idea, that one decision and the effort that was the corollary of it.

"There shall be no difference in me. No one is to know that anything has happened."

At that moment she was a fanatic. And she looked like one as she came down upon the sand.

"I'm afraid I'm rather late -- Gaspare."

It was difficult to her to say his name. But she said it firmly.

"Signora, it is nearly three o'clock."

"Half-past two. No, I can get in all right."

He had put out his arm to help her into the boat. But she could not touch him. She knew that. She felt that she would rather die at the moment than touch or be touched by him.

"You might take away your arm."

He dropped his arm at once.

Had she already betrayed herself?

She got into the boat and he pushed off.

Usually he sat, when he was rowing, so that he might keep his face towards her. But to-day he stood up to row, turning his back to her. And this change of conduct made her say to herself again:

"Have I betrayed myself already?"

Fiercely she resolved to be and to do the impossible. It was the only chance. For Gaspare was difficult to deceive.

"Gaspare!" she said.

"Si, Signora," he replied, without turning his head.

"Can't you row sitting down?"

"If you like, Signora."

"We can talk better then."

"Va bene, Signora."

He turned round and sat down.

The boat was at this moment just off the "Palace of the Spirits." Hermione saw its shattered walls cruelly lit up by the blazing sun, its gaping window-spaces like eye-sockets, sightless, staring, horribly suggestive of ruin and despair.

She was like that. Gaspare was looking at her. Gaspare must know that she was like that.

But she was a fanatic just then, and she smiled at him with a resolution that had in it something almost brutal, something the opposite of what she was, of the sum of her.

"I forgot the time. It is so lovely to-day. It was so gay at Mergellina."

"Si?"

"I sat for a long time watching the boats, and the boys bathing, and listening to the music. They sang 'A Mergellina.' "

"Si?"

She smiled again.

"And I went to visit Ruffo's mother."

Gaspare made no response. He looked down now as he plied his oars.

"She seems a nice woman. I -- I dare say she was quite pretty once."

The voice that was speaking now was the voice of a fanatic.

"I am sure she must have been pretty."

"Chi lo sa?"

"If one looks carefully one can see the traces. But, of course, now -- "

She stopped abruptly. It was impossible to her to go on. She was passionately trying to imagine what that spreading, graceless woman, with her fat hands resting on her knees set wide apart, was like once -- was like nearly seventeen years ago. Was she ever pretty, beautiful? Never could she have been intelligent -- never, never. Then she must have been beautiful. For otherwise -- Hermione's drawn face was flooded with scarlet.

"If -- if it's easier to you to row standing up, Gaspare," she almost stammered, "never mind about sitting down."

"I think it is easier, Signora."

He got up, and once more turned his back upon her.

They did not speak again until they reached the island.

Hermione watched his strong body swinging to and fro with every stroke, and wondered if he felt the terrible change in her feeling for him -- a change that a few hours ago she would have thought utterly impossible.

She wondered if Gaspare knew that she was hating him.

He was alive and, therefore, to be hated. For surely we cannot hate the dust!

Chapter XXXVIII

 

Gaspare did not offer to help Hermione out of the boat when they reached the island. He glanced at her face, met her eyes, looked away again immediately, and stood holding the boat while she got out. Even when she stumbled slightly he made no movement; but he turned and gazed after her as she went up the steps towards the house, and as he gazed his face worked, his lips muttered words, and his eyes, become almost ferocious in their tragic gloom, were clouded with moisture. Angrily he fastened the boat, angrily he laid by the oars. In everything he did there was violence. He put up his hands to his eyes to rub the moisture that clouded them away. But it came again. And he swore under his breath. He looked once more towards the Casa del Mare. The figure of his Padrona had disappeared, but he remembered just how it had gone up the steps -- leaning forward, moving very slowly. It had made him think of an early morning long ago, when he and his Padrona had followed a coffin down the narrow street of Marechiaro, and over the mountain-path to the Campo Santo above the Ionian Sea. He shook his head, murmuring to himself. He was not swearing now. He shook his head again and again. Then he went away, and sat down under the shadow of the cliff, and let his hands drop down between his knees.

The look he had seen in his Padrona's eyes had made him feel terrible. His violent, faithful heart was tormented. He did not analyze -- he only knew, he only felt. And he suffered horribly. How had his Padrona been able to look at him like that?

The moisture came thickly to his eyes now, and he no longer attempted to rub it away. He no longer thought of it.

Never had he imagined that his Padrona could look at him like that. Strong man though he was, he felt as a child might who is suddenly abandoned by its mother. He began to think now. He thought over all he had done to be faithful to his dead Padrone and to be faithful to the Padrona. During many, many years he had done all he could to be faithful to these two, the dead and the living. And at the end of this long service he received as a reward this glance of hatred.

Tears rolled down his sunburnt cheeks.

The injustice of it was like a barbed and poisoned arrow in his heart. He was not able to understand what his Padrona was feeling, how, by what emotional pilgrimage, she had reached that look of hatred which she had cast upon him. If she had not returned, if she had done some deed of violence in the house of Maddalena, he could perhaps have comprehended it. But that she should come back, that she should smile, make him sit facing her, talk about Maddalena as she had talked, and then -- then look at him like that!

His amour-propre, his long fidelity, his deep affection -- all were outraged.

Vere came down the steps and found him there.

"Gaspare!"

He got up instantly when he heard her voice, rubbed his eyes, and yawned.

"I was asleep, Signorina."

She looked at him intently, and he saw tears in her eyes.

"Gaspare, what is the matter with Madre?"

"Signorina?"

"Oh, what is the matter?" She came a step nearer to him. "Gaspare, I'm frightened! I'm frightened!"

She laid her hand on his arm.

"Why, Signorina? Have you seen the Padrona?"

"No. But -- but -- I've heard -- What is it? What has happened? Where has Madre been all this time? Has she been in Naples?"

"Signorina, I don't think so."

"Where has she been?"

"I believe the Signora has been to Mergellina."

Vere began to tremble.

"What can have happened there? What can have happened?"

She trembled in every limb. Her face had become white.

"Signorina, Signorina! Are you ill?"

"No -- I don't know what to do -- what I ought to do. I'm afraid to speak to the servants -- they are making the siesta. Gaspare, come with me, and tell me what we ought to do. But -- never say to any one -- never say -- if you hear!"

"Signorina!"

He had caught her terror. His huge eyes looked awestruck.

"Come with me, Gaspare!"

Making an obvious and great effort, she controlled her body, turned and went before him to the house. She walked softly, and he imitated her. They almost crept up-stairs till they reached the landing outside Hermione's bedroom door. There they stood for two or three minutes, listening.

"Come away, Gaspare!"

Vere had whispered with lips that scarcely moved.

When they were in Hermione's sitting-room she caught hold of both his hands. She was a mere child now, a child craving for help.

"Oh, Gaspare, what are we to do? Oh -- I'm -- I'm frightened! I can't bear it!"

The door of the room was open.

"Shut it!" she said. "Shut it, then we sha'n't -- "

He shut it.

"What can it be? What can it be?"

She looked at him, followed his eyes. He had stared towards the writing-table, then at the floor near it. On the table lay a quantity of fragments of broken glass, and a silver photograph-frame bent, almost broken. On the floor was scattered a litter of card-board.

"She came in here! Madre was in here -- "

She bent down to the carpet, picked up some of the bits of card-board, turned them over, looked at them. Then she began to tremble again.

"It's father's photograph!"

She was now utterly terrified.

"Oh, Gaspare! Oh, Gaspare!"

She began to sob.

"Hush, Signorina! Hush!"

He spoke almost sternly, bent down, collected the fragments of card- board from the floor, and put them into his pocket.

"Father's photograph! She was in here -- she came in here to do that! And she loves that photograph. She loves it!"

"Hush, Signorina! Don't, Signorina -- don't!"

"We must do something! We must -- "

He made her sit down. He stood by her.

"What shall we do, Gaspare? What shall we do?"

She looked up at him, demanding counsel. She put out her hands again and touched his arm. His Padroncina -- she at least still loved, still trusted him.

"Signorina," he said, "we can't do anything."

His voice was fatalistic.

"But -- what is it? Is -- is -- "

A frightful question was trembling on her lips. She looked again at the fragments of card-board in her hand, at the broken frame on the table.

"Can Madre be -- "

She stopped. Her terror was increasing. She remembered many small mysteries in the recent conduct of her mother, many moments when she had been surprised, or made vaguely uneasy, by words or acts of her mother. Monsieur Emile, too, he had wondered, and more than once. She knew that. And Gaspare -- she was sure that he, also, had seen that change which now, abruptly, had thus terribly culminated. Once in the boat she had asked him what was the matter with her mother, and he had, almost angrily, denied that anything was the matter. But she had seen in his eyes that he was acting a part -- that he wished to detach her observation from her mother.

Her trembling ceased. Her little fingers closed more tightly on his arm. Her eyes became imperious.

"Gaspare, you are to tell me. I can bear it. You know something about Madre."

"Signorina -- "

"Do you think I'm a coward? I was frightened -- I am frightened, but I'm not really a coward, Gaspare. I can bear it. What is it you know?"

"Signorina, we can't do anything."

"Is it -- Does Monsieur Emile know what it is?"

He did not answer.

Suddenly she got up, went to the door, opened it, and listened. The horror came into her face again.

"I can't bear it," she said. "I -- I shall have to go into the room."

"No, Signorina. You are not to go in."

"If the door isn't locked I must -- "

"It is locked."

"You don't know. You can't know."

"I know it is locked, Signorina."

Vere put her hands to her eyes.

"It's too dreadful! I didn't know any one -- I have never heard -- "

Gaspare went to her and shut the door resolutely.

"You are not to listen, Signorina. You are not to listen."

He spoke no longer like a servant, but like a master.

Vere's hands had dropped.

"I am going to send for Monsieur Emile," she said.

"Va bene, Signorina."

She went quickly to the writing-table, sat down, hesitated. Her eyes were riveted upon the photograph-frame.

"How could she? How could she?" she said, in a choked voice.

Gaspare took the frame away reverently, and put it against his breast, inside his shirt.

"I can't go to Don Emilio, Signorina. I cannot leave you."

"No, Gaspare. Don't leave me! Don't leave me!"

She was the terrified child again.

"Perhaps we can find a fisherman, Signorina."

"Yes, but don't -- Wait for me, Gaspare!"

"I am not going, Signorina."

With feverish haste she took a pen and a sheet of paper and wrote:

"DEAR MONSIEUR EMILE, -- Please come to the island at once. Something terrible has happened. I don't know what it is. But Madre is -- No, I can't put it. Oh, do come -- please -- please come!

VERE

"Come the quickest way."

When the paper was shut in an envelope and addressed she got up. Gaspare held out his hand.

"I will go and look for a fisherman, Signorina."

"But I must come with you. I must keep with you."

She held on to his arm.

"I'm not a coward. But I can't -- I can't -- "

"Si, Signorina! Si, Signorina!"

He took her hand and held it. They went to the door. When he put out his other hand to open it Vere shivered.

"If we can't do anything, let us go down quickly, Gaspare!"

"Si, Signorina. We will go quickly."

He opened the door and they went out.

In the Pool of the Saint there was no boat. They went to the crest of the island and looked out over the sea. Not far off, between the island and Nisida, there was a boat. Gaspare put his hands to his mouth and hailed her with all his might. The two men in her heard, and came towards the shore.

A few minutes later, with money in their pockets, and set but cheerful faces, they were rowing with all their strength in the direction of Naples.

That afternoon Artois, wishing to distract his thoughts and quite unable to work, went up the hill to the Monastery of San Martino. He returned to the hotel towards sunset feeling weary and depressed, companionless, too, in this gay summer world. Although he had never been deeply attached to the Marchesino he had liked him, been amused by him, grown accustomed to him. He missed the "Toledo incarnate." And as he walked along the Marina he felt for a moment almost inclined to go away from Naples. But the people of the island! Could he leave them just now? Could he leave Hermione so near to the hands of Fate, those hands which were surely stretched out towards her, which might grasp her at any moment, even to-night, and alter her life forever? No, he knew he could not.

"There is a note for Monsieur!"

He took it from the hall porter.

"No, I'll walk up-stairs."

He had seen the lift was not below, and did not wish to wait for its descent. Vere's writing was on the envelope he held; but Vere's writing distorted, frantic, tragic. He knew before he opened the envelope that it must contain some dreadful statement or some wild appeal; and he hurried to his room, almost feeling the pain and fear of the writer burn through the paper to his hand.

"DEAR MONSIEUR EMILE, -- Please come to the island at once. Something terrible has happened. I don't know what it is. But Madre is -- No, I can't put it. Oh, do come -- please -- please come!

VERE

"Come the quickest way."

"Something terrible has happened." He knew at once what it was. The walls of the cell in which he had enclosed his friend had crumbled away. The spirit which for so long had rested upon a lie had been torn from its repose, had been scourged to its feet to face the fierce light of truth. How would it face the truth?

"But Madre is -- No, I can't put it."

That phrase struck a chill almost of horror to his soul. He stared at it for a moment trying to imagine -- things. Then he tore the note up.

The quickest way to the island!

"I shall not be in to dinner to-night."

He was speaking to the waiter at the door of the Egyptian Room. A minute later he was in the Via Chiatamone at the back of the hotel waiting for the tram. He must go by Posilipo to the Trattoria del Giardinetto, walk down to the village below, and take a boat from there to the island. That was the quickest way. The tram-bell sounded. Was he glad? As he watched the tram gliding towards him he was conscious of an almost terrible reluctance -- a reluctance surely of fear -- to go that night to the island.

But he must go.

The sun was setting when he got down before the Trattoria del Giardinetto. Three soldiers were sitting at a table outside on the dusty road, clinking their glasses of marsala together, and singing, "Piange Rosina! La Mamma ci domanda." Their brown faces looked vivid with the careless happiness of youth. As Artois went down from the road into the tunnel their lusty voices died away.

Because his instinct was to walk slowly, to linger on the way, he walked very fast. The slanting light fell gently, delicately, over the opulent vineyards, where peasants were working in huge straw hats, over the still shining but now reposeful sea. In the sky there was a mystery of color, very pure, very fragile, like the mystery of color in a curving shell of the sea. The pomp and magnificence of sunset were in abeyance to-night, were laid aside. And the sun, like some spirit modestly radiant, slipped from this world of vineyards and of waters almost surreptitiously, yet shedding exquisite influences in his going.

And in the vineyards, as upon the dusty highroad, the people of the South were singing.

The sound of their warm voices, rising in the golden air towards the tender beauty of the virginal evening sky, moved Artois to a sudden longing for a universal brotherhood of happiness, for happy men on a happy earth, men knowing the truth and safe in their knowledge. And he longed, too, just then to give happiness. A strongly generous emotion stirred him, and went from him, like one of the slanting rays of light from the sun, towards the island, towards his friend, Hermione. His reluctance, his sense of fear, were lessened, nearly died away. His quickness of movement was no longer a fight against, but a fulfilment of desire.

Once she had helped him. Once she had even, perhaps, saved him from death. She had put aside her own happiness. She had shown the divine self-sacrifice of woman.

And now, after long years, life brought to him an hour which would prove him, prove him and show how far he was worthy of the friendship which had been shed, generously as the sunshine over these vineyards of the South, upon him and his life.

He came down to the sea and met the fisherman, Giovanni, upon the sand.

"Row me quickly to the island, Giovanni!" he said.

"Si, Signore."

He ran to get the boat.

The light began to fall over the sea. They cleared the tiny harbor and set out on their voyage.

"The Signora has been here to-day, Signore," said Giovanni.

"Si! When did she come?"

"This morning, with Gaspare, to take the tram to Mergellina."

"She went to Mergellina?"

"Si, Signore. And she was gone a very long time. Gaspare came back for her at half-past eleven, and she did not come till nearly three. Gaspare was in a state, I can tell you. I have known him -- for years I have known him -- and never have I seen him as he was to-day."

"And the Signora? When she came, did she look tired?"

"Signore, the Signora's face was like the face of one who has been looked on by the evil eye."

"Row quickly, Giovanni!"

"Si, Signore."

The men talked no more.

When they came in sight of the island the last rays of the sun were striking upon the windows of the Casa del Mare.

The boat, urged by Giovanni's powerful arms, drew rapidly near to the land, and Artois, leaning forward with an instinct to help the rower, fixed his eyes upon these windows which, like swift jewels, focussed and gave back the light. While he watched them the sun sank. Its radiance was withdrawn. He saw no longer jewels, casements of magic, but only the windows of the familiar house; and then, presently, only the window of one room, Hermione's. His eyes were fixed on that as the boat drew nearer and nearer -- were almost hypnotized by that. Where was Hermione? What was she doing? How was she? How could she be, now that -- she knew? A terrible but immensely tender, immensely pitiful curiosity took possession of him, held him fast, body and soul. She knew, and she was in that house!

The boat was close in now, but had not yet turned into the Pool of San Francesco. Artois kept his eyes upon the window for still a moment longer. He felt now, he knew, that Hermione was in the room beyond that window. As he gazed up from the sea he saw that the window was open. He saw behind the frame of it a white curtain stirring in the breeze. And then he saw something that chilled his blood, that seemed to drive it in an icy stream back to his heart, leaving his body for a moment numb.

He saw a figure come, with a wild, falling movement to the window -- a white, distorted face utterly strange to him looked out -- a hand lifted in a frantic gesture.

The gesture was followed by a crash.

The green Venetian blind had fallen, hiding the window, hiding the stranger's face.

"Who was that at the window, Signore?" asked Giovanni, staring at Artois with round and startled eyes.

And Artois answered: "It is difficult to see, Giovanni, now that the sun has gone down. It is getting dark so quickly."

"Si, Signore, it is getting dark."

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A Spirit In Prison

by Robert Hichens


 

Chapter XXXV

 

Hermione did not sleep at all that night. When the dawn came she got up and looked out over the sea. The mist had vanished with the darkness. The vaporous heat was replaced by a delicate freshness that embraced the South as dew embraces a rose. On the as yet pale waters, full of varying shades of gray, slate color, ethereal mauve, very faint pink and white, were dotted many fishing-boats. Hermione looked at them with her tired eyes. Ruffo's boat was no doubt among them. There was one only a few hundred yards beyond the rocks from which Vere sometimes bathed. Perhaps that was his.

Ruffo's boat! Ruffo!

She put her elbows on the sill of the window and rested her face in her hands.

Her eyes felt very dry, like sand she thought, and her mind felt dry too, as if insomnia was withering it up. She opened her lips to breathe in the salt freshness of the morning.

Upon Anacapri a woolly white cloud lay lightly. The distant coast, where dreams Sorrento, was becoming clearer every moment.

Often and often in the summer-time had Hermione been invaded by the radiant cheerfulness of the Bay of Naples. She knew no sea that had its special gift of magical gayety and stirring hopefulness, its laughing Pagan appeal to all the light things of the soul. It woke even the weary heart to holiday when, in the summer, it glittered and danced in the sun, whispering or calling with a tender or bold vivacity along its lovely coast.

Out of this morning beauty, refined and exquisitely gentle, would rise presently that livelier Pagan spirit. It was not hers. She was no Pagan. But she had loved it, and she had, or thought she had, been able to understand it.

All that was long ago.

Now, as she leaned out, her soul felt old and haggard, and the contact with the youth and freshness of the morning emphasized its inability to be influenced any more by youthful wonders, by the graciousness and inspiration that are the gifts of dawn.

Was that Ruffo's boat?

Her mind was dwelling on Ruffo, but mechanically, heavily, like a thing with feet of lead, unable to lift itself once it had dropped down upon a surface.

All the night her brain had been busy. Now it did not slumber, but it brooded, like the mist that had so lately left the sea. It brooded upon the thought of Ruffo.

The light grew. Over the mountains the sky spread scarlet banners. The sea took, with a quiet readiness that was happily submissive, its burnished gift of gold. The gray was lost in gold.

And Hermione watched, and drank in the delicate air, but caught nothing of the delicate spirit of the dawn.

Presently the boat that lay not far beyond the rocks moved. A little black figure stood up in it, swayed to and fro, plying tiny oars. The boat diminished. It was leaving the fishing-ground. It was going towards Mergellina.

"To-day I am going to Mergellina."

Hermione said that to herself as she watched the boat till it disappeared in the shining gold that was making a rapture of the sea. She said it, but the words seemed to have little meaning, the fact which they conveyed to be unimportant to her.

And she leaned out of the window, with a weary and inexpressive face, while the gold spread ever more widely over the sea, and the Pagan spirit surely stirred from its brief repose to greet the brilliant day.

Presently she became aware of a boat approaching the island from the direction of Mergellina. She saw it first when it was a long distance off, and watched it idly as it drew near. It looked black against the gold, till it was off the Villa Pantano. But then, or soon after, she saw that it was white. It was making straight for the island, propelled by vigorous arms.

Now she thought it looked like one of the island boats. Could Vere have got up and gone out so early with Gaspare?

She drew back, lifted her face from her hands, and stood straight up against the curtain of the window. In a moment she heard the sound of oars in the water, and saw that the boat was from the island, and that Gaspare was in it alone. He looked up, saw her, and raised his cap, but with a rather reluctant gesture that scarcely indicated satisfaction or a happy readiness to greet her. She hesitated, then called out to him.

"Good-morning, Gaspare."

"Good-morning, Signora."

"How early you are up!"

"And you, too, Signora."

"Couldn't you sleep?"

"Signora, I never want much sleep."

"Where have you been?"

"I have been for a row, Signora."

He lifted his cap again and began to row in. The boat disappeared into the Saint's Pool.

"He has been to Mergellina."

The mind of Hermione was awake again. The sight of Gaspare had lifted those feet of lead. Once more she was in flight.

Arabs can often read the thoughts of those whom they know. In many Sicilians there is some Arab blood, and sometimes Hermione had felt that Gaspare knew well intentions of hers which she had never hinted to him. Now she was sure that in the night he had divined her determination to go to Mergellina, to see the mother of Ruffo, to ask her for the truth which Gaspare had refused to tell. He had divined this, and he had gone to Mergellina before her. Why?

She was fully roused now. She felt like one in a conflict. Was there, then, to be a battle between herself and Gaspare, a battle over this hidden truth?

Now she felt that it was vital to her to know this truth. Yet when her mind, or her tormented heart, was surely on the verge of its statement, was -- or seemed to be -- about to say to her, "Perhaps it is -- that!" or "It is -- that!" something within her, housed deep down in her, refused to listen, refused to hear, revolted from -- what it did not acknowledge the existence of.

Paradox alone could hint the condition of her mind just then. She was in the thrall of fear, but, had she been questioned, would not have allowed that she was afraid.

Afterwards she never rightly knew what was the truth of her during this period of her life.

There was to be a conflict between her and Gaspare.

She came from the window, took a bath, and dressed. When she had finished she looked in the glass. Her face was calm, but set and grim. She had not known she could look like that. She hated her face, her expression, and she came away from the glass feeling almost afraid of herself.

At breakfast she and Vere always met. The table was laid out-of-doors in the little garden or on the terrace if the weather was fine, in the dining-room if it was bad. This morning Hermione saw the glimmer of the white cloth near the fig-tree. She wondered if Vere was there, and longed to plead a headache and to have her coffee in her bedroom. Nevertheless, she went down resolved to govern herself.

In the garden she found Giulia smiling and putting down the silver coffee-pot in quite a bower of roses. Vere was not visible.

Hermione exchanged a good-morning with Giulia and sat down. The servant's smiling face brought her a mingled feeling of relief and wonder. The pungent smell of coffee, conquering the soft scent of the many roses, pinned her mind abruptly down to the simple realities and animal pleasures and necessities of life. She made a strong effort to be quite normal, to think of the moment, to live for it. The morning was fresh and lively; the warmth of the sun, the tonic vivacity of the air from the sea, caressed and quickened her blood.

The minute garden was secluded. A world that seemed at peace, a world of rocks and waters far from the roar of traffic, the uneasy hum of men, lay around her.

Surely the moment was sweet, was peaceful. She would live in it.

Vere came slowly from the house, and at once Hermione's newly made and not yet carried out resolution crumbled into dust. She forgot the sun, the sea, the peaceful situation and all material things. She was confronted by the painful drama of the island life! Vere with her secrets, Emile with his, Gaspare fighting to keep her, his Padrona, still in mystery. And she was confronted by her own passions, those hosts of armed men that have their dwelling in every powerful nature.

Vere came up listlessly.

"Good-morning, Madre," she said.

She kissed her mother's cheek with cold lips.

"What lovely roses!"

She smelled them and sat down in her place facing the sea-wall.

"Yes, aren't they?"

"And such a heavenly morning after the mist! What are we going to do to-day?"

Hermione gave her her coffee, and the little dry tap of a spoon on an egg-shell was heard in the stillness of the garden.

"Well, I -- I am going across to take the tram."

"Are you?"

"Yes."

"Naples again? I'm tired of Naples."

There was in her voice a sound that suggested rather hatred than lassitude.

"I don't know that I shall go as far as Naples. I am going to Mergellina."

"Oh!"

Vere did not ask her what she was going to do there. She showed no special interest, no curiosity.

"What will you do, Vere?"

"I don't know."

She glanced round. Hermione saw that her usually bright eyes were dull and lack-lustre.

"I don't know what I shall do."

She sighed and began to eat her egg slowly, as if she had no appetite.

"Did you sleep well, Vere?"

"Not very well, Madre."

"Are you tired of the island?"

Vere looked up as if startled.

"Oh no! at least" -- she paused -- "No, I don't believe I could ever be really that. I love the island."

"What is it, then?"

"Sometimes -- some days one doesn't know exactly what to do."

"Well, but you always seem occupied." Hermione spoke with slow meaning, not unkindly, but with a significance she hardly meant to put into her voice, yet could not keep out of it. "You always manage to find something to do."

Suddenly Vere's eyes filled with tears. She bent down her head and went on eating. Again she heard Monsieur Emile's harsh words. They seemed to have changed her world. She felt despised. At that moment she hated the Marchesino with a fiery hatred.

Hermione was not able to put her arm round her child quickly, to ask her what was the matter, to kiss her tears away, or to bid them flow quietly, openly, while Vere rested against her, secure that the sorrow was understood, was shared. She could only pretend not to see, while she thought of the two shadows in the garden last night.

What could have happened between Emile and Vere? What had been said, done, to cause that cry of pain, those tears? Was it possible that Emile had let Vere see plainly his -- his -- ? But here Hermione stopped. Not even in her own mind, for herself alone, could she summon up certain spectres.

She went on eating her breakfast, and pretending not to notice that Vere was troubled. Presently Vere spoke again.

"Would you like me to come with you to Mergellina, Madre?" she said.

Her voice was rather uneven, almost trembling.

"Oh no, Vere!"

Hermione spoke hastily, abruptly, strongly conscious of the impossibility of taking Vere with her. Directly she had said the words she realized that they must have fallen on Vere like a blow. She realized this still more when she looked quickly up and saw that Vere's face was scarlet.

"I don't mean that I shouldn't like to have you with me, Vere," she added, hurriedly. "But -- "

"It's all right, Madre. Well, I've finished. I think I shall go out a little in my boat."

She went away, half humming, half singing the tune of the Mergellina song.

Hermione put down her cup. She had not finished her coffee, but she knew she could not finish it. Life seemed at that moment utterly intolerable to her. She felt desperate, as a nature does that is forced back upon itself by circumstances, that is forced to be, or to appear to be, traitor to itself. And in her desperation action presented itself to her as imperatively necessary -- necessary as air is to one suffocating.

She got up. She would start at once for Mergellina. As she went up- stairs she remembered that she did not know where Ruffo's mother lived, what she was like, even what her name was. The boy had always spoken of her as "Mia Mamma." They dwelt at Mergellina. That was all she knew.

She did not choose to ask Gaspare anything. She would go alone, and find out somehow for herself where Ruffo lived. She would ask the fishermen. Or perhaps she would come across Ruffo. Probably he had gone home by this time from the fishing.

Quickly, energetically she got ready.

Just before she left her room she saw Vere pass slowly by upon the sea, rowing a little way out alone, as she often did in the calm summer weather. Vere had a book, and almost directly she laid the oars in their places side by side, went into the stern, sat down under the awning, and began -- apparently -- to read. Hermione watched her for two or three minutes. She looked very lonely; and moved by an impulse to try to erase the impression made on her by the abrupt exclamation at the breakfast-table, the mother leaned out and hailed the child.

"Good-bye, Vere! I am just starting!" she cried out, trying to make her voice sound cheerful and ordinary.

Vere looked up for a second.

"Good-bye!"

She bent her head and returned to her book.

Hermione felt chilled.

She went down and met Giulia in the passage.

"Giulia, is Gaspare anywhere about? I want to cross to the mainland. I am going to take the tram."

"Signora, are you going to Naples? Maria says -- "

"I can't do any commissions, because I shall probably not go beyond Mergellina. Find Gaspare, will you?"

Giulia went away and Hermione descended to the Saint's Pool. She waited there two or three minutes. Then Gaspare appeared above.

"You want the boat, Signora?"

"Yes, Gaspare."

He leaped down the steps and stood beside her.

"Where do you want to go?"

She hesitated. Then she looked him straight in the face and said:

"To Mergellina."

He met her eyes without flinching. His face was quite calm.

"Shall I row you there, Signora?"

"I meant to go to the village, and walk up and take the tram."

"As you like, Signora. But I can easily row you there."

"Aren't you tired after being out so early this morning?"

"No, Signora."

"Did you go far?"

"Not so very far, Signora."

Hermione hesitated. She knew Gaspare had been to Mergellina. She knew he had been to see Ruffo's mother. If that were so her journey would probably be in vain. In their conflict Gaspare had struck the first blow. Could anything be gained by her going?

Gaspare saw, and perhaps read accurately, her hesitation.

"It will get very hot to-day, Signora," he said, carelessly.

His words decided Hermione. If obstacles were to be put in her way she would overleap them. At all costs she would emerge from the darkness in which she was walking. A heat of anger rushed over her. She felt as if Gaspare, and perhaps Artois, were treating her like a child.

"I must go to Mergellina, Gaspare," she said. "And I shall go by tram. Please row me to the village."

"Va bene, Signora," he answered.

He went to pull in the boat.

Chapter XXXVI

 

When Hermione got out of the boat in the little harbor of the village on the mainland Gaspare said again:

"I could easily row you to Mergellina, Signore. I am not a bit tired."

She looked at him as he stood with his hand on the prow of the boat. His shirt-sleeves were rolled up, showing his strong arms. There was something brave, something "safe" -- so she called it to herself -- in his whole appearance which had always appealed to her nature. How she longed at that moment to be quite at ease with him! Why would he not trust her completely? Perhaps in her glance just then she showed her thought, her desire. Gaspare's eyes fell before her.

"I think I'll take the tram," she said, "unless -- "

She was still looking at him, longing for him to speak. But he said nothing. At that moment a fisherman ran down the steps from the village, and came over the sand to greet them.

"Good-bye, Gaspare," she said. "Don't wait, of course. Giovanni can row me back."

The fisherman smiled, but Gaspare said:

"I can come for you, Signora. You will not be very long, will you? You will be back for colazione?"

"Oh yes, I suppose so."

"I will come for you, Signora."

Again she looked at him, and felt his deep loyalty to her, his strong and almost doglike affection. And, feeling them, she was seized once more by fear. The thing Gaspare hid from her must be something terrible.

"Thank you, Gaspare."

"A rivederci, Signora."

Was there not a sound of pleading in his voice, a longing to retain her? She would not heed it. But she gave him a very gentle look as she turned to walk up the hill.

At the top, by the Trattoria del Giardinetto, she had to wait for several minutes before the tram came. She remembered her solitary dinner there on the evening when she had gone to the Scoglio di Frisio to look at the visitor's book. She had felt lonely then in the soft light of the fading day. She felt far more lonely now in the brilliant sunshine of morning. And for an instant she saw herself travelling steadily along a straight road, from which she could not diverge. She passed milestone after milestone. And now, not far off, she saw in the distance a great darkness in which the road ended. And the darkness was the ultimate loneliness which can encompass on earth the human spirit.

The tram-bell sounded. She lifted her head mechanically. A moment later she was rushing down towards Naples. Before the tram reached the harbor of Mergellina, on the hill opposite the Donn' Anna, Hermione got out. Something in her desired delay; there was plenty of time. She would walk a little way among the lively people who were streaming to the Stabilimenti to have their morning dip.

In the tram she had scarcely thought at all. She had given herself to the air, to speed, to vision. Now, at once, with physical action came an anxiety, a restlessness, that seemed to her very physical too. Her body felt ill, she thought; though she knew there was nothing the matter with her. All through her life her health had been robust. Never yet had she completely "broken down." She told herself that her body was perfectly well.

But she was afraid. That was the truth. And to feel fear was specially hateful to her, because she abhorred cowardice, and was inclined to despise all timidity as springing from weakness of character.

She dreaded reaching Mergellina. She dreaded seeing this woman, Ruffo's mother. And Ruffo? Did she dread seeing him?

She fought against her fear. Whatever might befall her she would remain herself, essentially separate from all other beings and from events, secure of the tremendous solitude that is the property of every human being on earth.

"Pain, misery, horror, come from within, not from without." She said that to herself steadily. "I am free so long as I choose, so long as I have the courage to choose, to be free."

And saying that, and never once allowing her mind to state frankly any fear, she came down to the harbor of Mergellina.

The harbor and its environs looked immensely gay in the brilliant sunshine. Life was at play here, even at its busiest. The very workers sang as if their work were play. Boats went in and out on the water. Children paddled in the shallow sea, pushing hand-nets along the sand. From the rocks boys were bathing. Their shouts travelled to the road where the fishermen were talking with intensity, as they leaned against the wall hot with the splendid sun.

Hermione looked for Ruffo's face among all these sun-browned faces, for his bright eyes among all the sparkling eyes of these children of the sea.

But she could not see him. She walked along the wall slowly.

"Ruffo -- Ruffo -- Ruffo!"

She was summoning him with her mind.

Perhaps he was among those bathing boys. She looked across the harbor to the rocks, and saw the brown body of one shoot through the shining air and disappear with a splash into the sea.

Perhaps that boy was he -- how far away from her loneliness, her sadness, and her dread!

She began to despair of finding him.

"Barca! Barca!"

She had reached the steps now near the Savoy Hotel. A happy-looking boatman, with hazel eyes and a sensitive mouth, hailed her from the water. It was Fabiano Lari, to whom Artois had once spoken, waiting for custom in his boat the Stella del Mare.

Hermione was attracted to the man, as Artois had been, and she resolved to find out from him, if possible, where Ruffo's mother lived. She went down the steps. The man immediately brought his boat right in.

"No," she said, "I don't want the boat."

Fabiano looked a little disappointed.

"I am looking for some one who lives here, a Sicilian boy called Ruffo."

"Ruffo Scarla, Signora? The Sicilian?"

"That must be he. Do you know him?"

"Si, Signora, I know Ruffo very well. He was here this morning. But I don't know where he is now." He looked round. "He may have gone home, Signora."

"Do you know where he lives?"

"Si, Signora. It is near where I live. It's near the Grotto."

"Could you possibly leave your boat and take me there?"

"Si, Signora! A moment, Signora."

Quickly he signed to a boy who was standing close by watching them. The boy ran down to the boat. Fabiano spoke to him in dialect. He got into the boat, while Fabiano jumped ashore.

"Signora, I am ready. We go this way."

They walked along together.

Fabiano was as frank and simple as a child, and began at once to talk. Hermione was glad of that, still more glad that he talked of himself, his family, the life and affairs of a boatman. She listened sympathetically, occasionally putting in a word, till suddenly Fabiano said:

"Antonio Bernari will be out to-day. I suppose you know that, Signora?"

"Antonio Bernari! Who is he? I never heard of him."

Fabiano looked surprised.

"But he is Ruffo's Patrigno. He is the husband of Maddalena."

Hermione stood still on the pavement. She did not know why for a moment. Her mind seemed to need a motionless body in which to work. It was surely groping after something, eagerly, feverishly, yet blindly.

Fabiano paused beside her.

"Signora," he said, staring at her in surprise, "are you tired? Are you not well?"

"I'm quite well. But wait a minute. Yes, I do want to rest for a minute."

She dared not move lest she should interfere with that mental search. Fabiano's words had sent her mind sharply to Sicily.

Maddalena!

She was sure she had known, or heard of, some girl in Sicily called Maddalena, some girl or some woman. She thought of the servants in the Casa del Prete, Lucrezia. Had she any sister, any relation called Maddalena? Or had Gaspare -- ?

Suddenly Hermione seemed to be on the little terrace above the ravine with Maurice and Artois. She seemed to feel the heat of noon in summer. Gaspare was there, too. She saw his sullen face. She saw him looking ugly. She heard him say:

"Salvatore and Maddalena, Signora."

Why had he said that? In answer to what question?

And then, in a flash, she remembered everything. It was she who had spoken first. She had asked him who lived in the House of the Sirens.

"Salvatore and Maddalena."

And afterwards -- Maurice had said something. Her mind went in search, seized its prey.

"They're quite friends of ours. We saw them at the fair only yesterday."

Maurice had said that. She could hear his voice saying it.

"I'm rested now."

She was speaking to Fabiano. They were walking on again among the chattering people. They had come to the wooden station where the tram- lines converge.

"Is it this way?"

"Si, Signora, quite near the Grotto. Take care, Signora."

"It's all right. Thank you."

They had crossed now and were walking up the street that leads directly to the tunnel, whose mouth confronted them in the distance. Hermione felt as if they were going to enter it, were going to walk down it to the great darkness which seemed to wait for her, to beckon her. But presently Fabiano turned to the right, and they came into a street leading up the hill, and stopped almost immediately before a tall house.

"Antonio and Maddalena live here, Signora."

"And Ruffo," she said, as if correcting him.

"Ruffo! Si, Signora, of course."

Hermione looked at the house. It was evidently let out in rooms to people who were comparatively poor; not very poor, not in any destitution, but who made a modest livelihood, and could pay their fourteen or fifteen lire a month for lodging. She divined by its aspect that every room was occupied. For the building teemed with life, and echoed with the sound of calling, or screaming, voices. The inhabitants were surely all of them in a flurry of furious activity. Children were playing before and upon the door-step, which was flanked by an open shop, whose interior revealed with a blatant sincerity a rummage of mysterious edibles -- fruit, vegetables, strings of strange objects that looked poisonous, fungi, and other delights. Above, from several windows, women leaned out, talking violently to one another. Two were holding babies, who testified their new-born sense of life by screaming shrilly. Across other window-spaces heads passed to and fro, denoting the continuous movement of those within. People in the street called to people in the house, and the latter shouted in answer, with that absolute lack of self-consciousness and disregard of the opinions of others which is the hall-mark of the true Neapolitan. From the corner came the rumble and the bell notes of the trams going to and coming from the tunnel that leads to Fuorigrotta. And from every direction rose the vehement street calls of ambulant venders of the necessaries of Neapolitan life.

"Ruffo lives here!" said Hermione.

She could hardly believe it. So unsuitable seemed such a dwelling to that bright-eyed child of the sea, whom she had always seen surrounded by the wide airs and the waters.

"Si, Signora. They are on the third floor. Shall I take you up?"

Hermione hesitated. Should she go up alone?

"Please show me the way," she said, deciding.

Fabiano preceded her up a dirty stone staircase, dark and full of noises, till they came to the third floor.

"It is here, Signora!"

He knocked loudly on a door. It was opened very quickly, as if by some one who was on the watch, expectant of an arrival.

"Chi e?" cried a female voice.

And, almost simultaneously, a woman appeared with eyes that stared in inquiry.

By these eyes, their shape, and the long, level brows above them, Hermione knew that this woman must be Ruffo's mother.

"Good-morning, Donna Maddalena," said Fabiano, heartily.

"Good-morning," said the woman, directing her eyes with a strange and pertinacious scrutiny to Hermione, who stood behind him. "I thought perhaps it was -- "

She stopped. Behind, in the doorway, appeared the head of a young woman, covered with blue-black hair, then the questioning face of an old woman with a skin like yellow parchment.

"Don Antonio?"

She nodded, keeping her long, Arab eyes on Hermione.

"No. Are you expecting him so early?"

"He may come at any time. Chi lo sa?"

She shrugged her broad, graceless shoulders.

"It isn't he! It isn't Antonio!" bleated a pale and disappointed voice, with a peculiarly irritating timbre.

It was the voice of the old woman, who now darted over Maddalena Bernari's shoulder a hostile glance at Hermione.

"Madonna Santissima!" baaed the woman with the blue-black hair. "Perhaps he will not be let out to-day!"

The old woman began to cry feebly, yet angrily.

"Courage, Madre Teresa!" said Fabiano. "Antonio will be here to-day for a certainty. Every one knows it. His friends" -- he raised a big brown hand significantly -- "his friends have managed well for him."

"Si! si! It is true!" said the black-haired woman, nodding her large head, and gesticulating towards Madre Teresa. "He will be here to-day. Antonio will be here."

They all stared at Hermione, suddenly forgetting their personal and private affairs.

"Donna Maddalena," said Fabiano, "here is a signora who knows Ruffo. I met her at the Mergellina, and she asked me to show her the way here."

"Ruffo is out," said Maddalena, always keeping her eyes on Hermione.

"May I come in and speak to you?" asked Hermione.

Maddalena looked doubtful, yet curious.

"My son is in the sea, Signora. He is bathing at the Marina."

Hermione thought of the brown body she had seen falling through the shining air, of the gay splash as it entered the water.

"I know your son so well that I should like to know his mother," she said.

Fabiano by this time had moved aside, and the two women were confronting each other in the doorway. Behind Maddalena the two other women stared and listened with all their might, giving their whole attention to this unexpected scene.

"Are you the Signora of the island?" asked Maddalena.

"Yes, I am."

"Let the Signora in, Donna Maddalena," said Fabiano. "She is tired and wants to rest."

Without saying anything Maddalena moved her broad body from the doorway, leaving enough space for Hermione to enter.

"Thank you," said Hermione to Fabiano, giving him a couple of lire.

"Grazie, Signora. I will wait down-stairs to take you back."

He went off before she had time to tell him that was not necessary.

Hermione walked into Ruffo's home.

There were two rooms, one opening into the other. The latter was a kitchen, the former the sleeping-room. Hermione looked quietly round it, and her eyes fell at once upon a large green parrot, which was sitting at the end of the board on which, supported by trestles of iron, the huge bed of Maddalena and her husband was laid. At present this bed was rolled up, and in consequence towered to a considerable height. The parrot looked at Hermione coldly, with round, observant eyes whose pupils kept contracting and expanding with a monotonous regularity. She felt as if it had a soul that was frigidly ironic. Its pertinacious glance chilled and repelled her, and she fancied it was reflected in the faces of the women round her.

"Can I speak to you alone for a few minutes?" she asked Maddalena.

Maddalena turned to the two women and spoke to them loudly in dialect. They replied. The old woman spoke at great length. She seemed always angry and always upon the verge of tears. Over her shoulders she wore a black shawl, and as she talked she kept fidgeting with it, pulling it first to one side, then to the other, or dragging at it with her thin and crooked yellow fingers. The parrot watched her steadily. Her hideous voice played upon Hermione's nerves till they felt raw. At length, looking back, as she walked, with bloodshot eyes, she went into the kitchen, followed by the young woman. They began talking together in sibilant whispers, like people conspiring.

After a moment of apparent hesitation Maddalena gave her visitor a chair.

"Thank you," Hermione said, taking it.

She looked round the room again. It was clean and well kept, but humbly furnished. Ruffo's bed was rolled up in a corner. On the walls were some shields of postcards and photographs, such as the poor Italians love, deftly enough arranged and fastened together by some mysterious not apparent means. Many of the postcards were American. Near two small flags, American and Italian, fastened crosswise above the head of the big bed, was a portrait of Maria Addolorata, under which burned a tiny light. A palm, blessed, and fashioned like a dagger with a cross for the hilt, was nailed above it, with a coral charm to protect the household against the evil eye. And a little to the right of it was a small object which Hermione saw and wondered at without understanding why it should be there, or what was its use -- a Fattura della morte (death-charm), in the form of a green lemon pierced with many nails. This hung by a bit of string to a nail projecting from the wall.

From the death-charm Hermione turned her eyes to Maddalena.

She saw a woman who was surely not very much younger than herself, with a broad and spreading figure, wide hips, plump though small-boned arms, heavy shoulders. The face -- that, perhaps -- yes, that, certainly -- must have been once pretty. Very pretty? Hermione looked searchingly at it until she saw Maddalena's eyes drop before hers suddenly, as if embarrassed. She must say something. But now that she was here she felt a difficulty in opening a conversation, an intense reluctance to speak to this woman into whose house she had almost forced her way. With the son she was strangely intimate. From the mother she felt separated by a gulf.

And that fear of hers?

She looked again round the room. Had that fear increased or diminished? Her eyes fell on Maria Addolorata, then on the Fattura della morte. She did not know why, but she was moved to speak about it.

"You have nice rooms here," she said.

"Si, Signora."

Maddalena had rather a harsh voice. She spoke politely, but inexpressively.

"What a curious thing that is on the wall!"

"Signora?"

"It's a lemon, isn't it? With nails stuck through it?"

Maddalena's broad face grew a dusky red.

"That is nothing, Signora!" she said, hastily.

She looked greatly disturbed, suddenly went over to the bed, unhooked the string from the nail, and put the death-charm into her pocket. As she came back she looked at Hermione with defiance in her eyes.

The gulf between them had widened.

From the kitchen came the persistent sound of whispering voices. The green parrot turned sideways on the board beyond the pile of rolled-up mattresses, and looked, with one round eye, steadfastly at Hermione.

An almost intolerable sensation of desertion swept over her. She felt as if every one hated her.

"Would you mind shutting that door?" she said to Maddalena, pointing towards the kitchen.

The sound of whispers ceased. The women within were listening.

"Signora, we always keep it open."

"But I have something to say to you that I wish to say in private."

"Si!"

The exclamation was suspicious. The voice sounded harsher than before. In the kitchen the silence seemed to increase, to thrill with anxious curiosity.

"Please shut that door."

It was like an order. Maddalena obeyed it, despite a cataract of words from the old woman that voiced indignant protest.

"And do sit down, won't you? I don't like to sit while you are standing."

"Signora, I -- "

"Please do sit down."

Hermione's voice began to show her acute nervous agitation. Maddalena stared, then took another chair from its place against the wall, and sat down at some distance from Hermione. She folded her plump hands in her lap. Seated, she looked bigger, more graceless, than before. But Hermione saw that she was not really middle-aged. Hard life and trouble doubtless had combined to destroy her youth and beauty early, to coarsen the outlines, to plant the many wrinkles that spread from the corners of her eyes and lips to her temples and her heavy, dusky cheeks. She was now a typical woman of the people. Hermione tried to see her as a girl, long ago -- years and years ago.

"I know your son Ruffo very well," she said.

Maddalena's face softened.

"Si, Signora. He has told me of you."

Suddenly she seemed to recollect something.

"I have never -- Signora, thank you for the money," she said.

The harshness was withdrawn from her voice as she spoke now, and in her abrupt gentleness she looked much younger than before. Hermione divined in that moment her vanished beauty. It seemed suddenly to be unveiled by her tenderness.

"I heard you were in trouble."

"Si, Signora -- great trouble."

Her eyes filled with tears and her mouth worked. As if moved by an uncontrollable impulse, she thrust one hand into her dress, drew out the death-charm, and contemplated it, at the same time muttering some words that Hermione did not understand. Her face became full of hatred. Holding up the charm, and lifting her head, she exclaimed:

"Those who bring trouble shall have trouble!"

While she spoke she looked straight before her, and her voice became harsh again, seemed to proclaim to the world unalterable destiny.

"Yes," said Hermione, in a low voice.

Maddalena hid the death-charm once more with a movement that was surreptitious.

"Yes," Hermione said again, gazing into Maddalena's still beautiful eyes. "And you have trouble!"

Maddalena looked afraid, like an ignorant person whose tragic superstition is proved true by an assailing fact.

"Signora!"

"You have trouble in your house. Have you ever brought trouble to any one? Have you?"

Maddalena stared at her with dilated eyes, but made no answer.

"Tell me something." Hermione leaned forward. "You know my servant, Gaspare?"

Maddalena was silent.

"You know Gaspare. Did you know him in Sicily?"

"Sicily?" Her face and her voice had become stupid. "Sicily?" she repeated.

The parrot shifted on the board, lifted its left claw, and craned its head forward in the direction of the two women. The tram-bell sounded its reiterated appeal.

"Yes, in Sicily. You are a Sicilian?"

"Who says so?"

"Your son is a Sicilian. At the port they call him 'Il Siciliano.' "

"Do they?"

Her intellect seemed to be collapsing. She looked almost bovine.

Hermione's excitement began to be complicated by a feeling of hot anger.

"But don't you know it? You must know it!"

The parrot shuffled slowly along the board, coming nearer to them, and bowing its head obsequiously. Hermione could not help watching its movements with a strained attention. Its presence distracted her. She had a longing to take it up and wring its neck. Yet she loved birds.

"You must know it!" she repeated, no longer looking at Maddalena.

"Si!"

All ignorance and all stupidity were surely enshrined in that word thus said.

"Where did you know Gaspare?"

"Who says I know Gaspare?"

The way in which she pronounced his name revealed to Hermione a former intimacy between them.

"Ruffo says so."

The parrot was quite at the edge of the board now, listening apparently with cold intensity to every word that was being said. And Hermione felt that behind the kitchen door the two women were straining their ears to catch the conversation. Was the whole world listening? Was the whole world coldly, cruelly intent upon her painful effort to come out of darkness into -- perhaps a greater darkness?

"Ruffo says so. Ruffo told me so."

"Boys say anything."

"Do you mean it is not true?"

Maddalena's face was now almost devoid of expression. She had set her knees wide apart and planted her hands on them.

"Do you mean that?" repeated Hermione.

"Boys -- "

"I know it is true. You knew Gaspare in Sicily. You come from Marechiaro."

At the mention of the last word light broke into Maddalena's face.

"You are from Marechiaro. Have you ever seen me before? Do you remember me?"

Maddalena shook her head.

"And I -- I don't remember you. But you are from Marechiaro. You must be."

Maddalena shook her head again.

"You are not?"

Hermione looked into the long Arab eyes, searching for a lie. She met a gaze that was steady but dull, almost like that of a sulky child, and for a moment she felt as if this woman was only a great child, heavy, ignorant, but solemnly determined, a child that had learned its lesson and was bent on repeating it word for word.

"Did Gaspare come here early this morning to see you?" she asked, with sudden vehemence.

Maddalena was obviously startled. Her face flushed.

"Why should he come?" she said, almost angrily.

"That is what I want you to tell me."

Maddalena was silent. She shifted uneasily in her chair, which creaked under her weight, and twisted her full lips sideways. Her whole body looked half-sleepily apprehensive. The parrot watched her with supreme attention. Suddenly Hermione felt that she could no longer bear this struggle, that she could no longer continue in darkness, that she must have full light. The contemplation of this stolid ignorance -- that yet knew how much? -- confronting her like a featureless wall almost maddened her.

"Who are you?" she said. "What have you had to do with my lie?"

Maddalena looked at her and looked away, bending her head sideways till her plump neck was like a thing deformed.

"What have you had to do with my life? What have you to do with it now? I want to know!" She stood up. "I must know. You must tell me! Do you hear?" She bent down. She was standing almost over Maddalena. "You must tell me!"

There was again a silence through which presently the tram-bell sounded. Maddalena's face had become heavily expressionless, almost like a face of stone. And Hermione, looking down at this face, felt a moment of impotent despair that was succeeded by a fierce, energetic impulse.

"Then," she said -- "then -- I'll tell you!"

Maddalena looked up.

"Yes, I'll tell you."

Hermione paused. She had begun to tremble. She put one hand down to the back of the chair, grasping it tightly as if to steady herself.

"I'll tell you."

What? What was she going to tell?

That first evening in Sicily -- just before they went in to bed -- Maurice had looked down over the terrace wall to the sea. He had seen a light -- far down by the sea.

It was the light in the House of the Sirens.

"You once lived in Sicily. You once lived in the Casa delle Sirene, beyond the old wall, beyond the inlet. You were there when we were in Sicily, when Gaspare was with us as our servant."

Maddalena's lips parted. Her mouth began to gape. It was obvious that she was afraid.

"You -- you knew Gaspare. You knew -- you knew my husband, the Signore of the Casa del Prete on Monte Amato. You knew him. Do you remember?"

Maddalena only stared up at her with a sort of heavy apprehension, sitting widely in her chair, with her feet apart and her hands always resting on her knees.

"It was in the summer-time -- " She was again in Sicily. She was tracing out a story. It was almost as if she saw words and read them from a book. "There were no forestieri in Sicily. They had all gone. Only we were there -- " An expression so faint that it was like a fleeting shadow passed over Maddalena's face, the fleeting shadow of something that denied. "Ah, yes! Till I went away, you mean! I went to Africa. Did you know it then? But before I went -- before -- " She was thinking, she was burrowing deep down into the past, stirring the heap of memories that lay like drifted leaves. "They used to go -- at least they went once -- down to the sea. One night they went to the fishing. And they slept out all night. They slept in the caves. Ah, you know that? You remember that night!"

The trembling that shook her body was reflected in her voice, which became tremulous. She heard the tram-bell ringing. She saw the green parrot listening on its board. And yet she was in Sicily, and saw the line of the coast between Messina and Cattaro, the Isle of the Sirens, the lakelike sea of the inlet between it and the shore.

"I see that you remember it. You saw them there. They -- they didn't tell me!"

As she said the last words she felt that she was entering the great darkness. Maurice and Gaspare -- she had trusted them with all her nature. And they -- had they failed her? Was that possible?

"They didn't tell me," she repeated, piteously, speaking now only for herself and to her own soul. "They didn't tell me!"

Maddalena shook her head like one in sympathy or agreement. But Hermione did not see the movement. She no longer saw Maddalena. She saw only herself, and those two, whom she had trusted so completely, and -- who had not told her.

What had they not told her?

And then she was in Africa, beside the bed of Artois, ministering to him in the torrid heat, driving away the flies from his white face.

What had been done in the Garden of Paradise while she had been in exile?

She turned suddenly sick. Her body felt ashamed, defiled. A shutter seemed to be sharply drawn across her eyes, blotting out life. Her head was full of sealike noises.

Presently, from among these noises, one detached itself, pushed itself, as it were, forward to attract forcibly her attention -- the sound of a boy's voice.

"Signora! Signora!"

"Signora!"

A hand touched her, gripped her.

"Signora!"

The shutter was sharply drawn back from her eyes, and she saw Ruffo. He stood before her, gazing at her. His hair, wet from the sea, was plastered down upon his brown forehead -- as his hair had been when, in the night, they drew him from the sea.

She saw Ruffo in that moment as if for the first time.

And she knew. Ruffo had told her.

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 A Spirit In Prison 24 Alerter l'administrateur Recommander à un ami Lien de l'article 

A Spirit In Prison

by Robert Hichens


 

Chapter XXXIII

 

When Hermione reached the door of the Casa del Mare she did not go in immediately, but waited on the step. The door was open. There was a dim lamp burning in the little hall, which was scarcely more than a passage. She looked up and saw a light shining from the window of her sitting-room. She listened; there was no sound of voices.

They were not in there.

She was trying to crush down her sense of outrage, to feel calm before she entered the house.

Perhaps they had gone into the garden. The night was terribly hot. They would prefer to be out-of-doors. Vere loved the garden. Or they might be on the terrace.

She stepped into the hall and went to the servants' staircase. Now she herd voices, a laugh.

"Giulia!" she called.

The voices stopped talking, but it was Gaspare who came in answer to her call. She looked down to him.

"Don't come up, Gaspare. Where is the Signorina?"

"The Signorina is on the terrace, Signora -- with Don Emilio."

He looked up at her very seriously in the gloom. She thought of the meeting at the Festa, and longed to wring from Gaspare his secret.

"Don Emilio is here?"

"Si, Signora."

"How long ago did he come?"

"About half an hour, I think, Signora."

"Why didn't you tell me?"

"Don Emilio told me not to bother you, Signora -- that he would just sit and wait."

"I see. And the Signorina?"

"I did not tell her, either. She was in the garden alone, but I have heard her talking on the terrace with the Signore. Are you ill, Signora?"

"No. All right, Gaspare!"

She moved away. His large, staring eyes followed her till she disappeared in the passage. The passage was not long, but it seemed to Hermione as if a multitude of impressions, of thoughts, of fears, of determinations rushed through her heart and brain while she walked down it and into the room that opened to the terrace. This room was dark.

As she entered it she expected to hear the voices from outside. But she heard nothing.

They were not on the terrace, then!

She again stood still. Her heart was beating violently, and she felt violent all over, thrilling with violence like one on the edge of some outburst.

She looked towards the French window. Through its high space she saw the wan night outside, a sort of thin paleness resting against the blackness in which she was hidden. And as her eyes became accustomed to their environment she perceived that the pallor without was impinged upon by two shadowy darknesses. Very faint they were, scarcely relieved against the night, very still and dumb -- two shadowy darknesses, Emile and Vere sitting together in silence.

When Hermione understood this she remained where she was, trying to subdue even her breathing. Why were they not talking? What did this mutual silence, this mutual immobility mean? She was only a few feet from them. Yet she could not hear a human sound, even the slightest. There was something unnatural, but also tremendously impressive to her in their silence. She felt as if it signified something unusual, something of high vitality. She felt as if it had succeeded some speech that was exceptional, and that had laid its spell, of joy or sorrow, upon both their spirits.

And she felt much more afraid, and also much more alone, than she would have felt had she found them talking.

Presently, as the silence continued, she moved softly back into the passage. She went down it a little way, then returned, walking briskly and loudly. In this action her secret violence was at play. When she came to the room she grasped the door-handle with a force that hurt her hand. She went in, shut the door sharply behind her, and without any pause came out upon the terrace.

"Emile!"

"Yes," he said, getting up from his garden-chair quickly.

"Gaspare told me you were here."

"I have been here about half an hour."

She had not given him her hand. She did not give it.

"I didn't hear you talking to Vere, so I wondered -- I almost thought -- "

"That I had gone without seeing you? Oh no. It isn't very late. You don't want to get rid of me at once?"

"Of course not."

His manner -- or so it seemed to her -- was strangely uneasy and formal, and she thought his face looked drawn, almost tortured. But the light was very dim. She could not be sure of that.

Vere had said nothing, had not moved from her seat.

There was a third chair. As Hermione took it and drew it slightly forward, she looked towards Vere, and thought that she was sitting in a very strange position. In the darkness it seemed to the mother as if her child's body were almost crouching in its chair, as if the head were drooping, as if --

"Vere! Is anything the matter with you?"

Suddenly, as if struck sharply, Vere sprang up and passed into the darkness of the house, leaving a sound that was like a mingled exclamation and a sob behind her.

"Emile!"

*****

"Emile!"

"Hermione?"

"What is the matter with Vere? What have you been doing to Vere?"

"I!"

"Yes, you! No one else is here."

Hermione's violent, almost furious agitation was audible in her voice.

"I should never wish to hurt Vere -- you know that."

His voice sounded as if he were deeply moved.

"I must -- Vere! Vere!"

She moved towards the house. But Artois stepped forward swiftly, laid a hand on her arm, and stopped her.

"No, leave Vere alone to-night."

"Why?"

"She wishes to be alone to-night."

"But I find her here with you."

There was a harsh bitterness of suspicion, of doubt, in her tone that he ought surely to have resented. But he did not resent it.

"I was sitting on the terrace," he said, gently. "Vere came in from the garden. Naturally she stayed to entertain me till you were here."

"And directly I come she rushes away into the house!"

"Perhaps there was -- something may have occurred to upset her."

"What was it?"

Her voice was imperious.

"You must tell me what it was!" she said, as he was silent.

"Hermione, my friend, let us sit down. Let us at any rate be with each other as we always have been -- till now."

He was almost pleading with her, but she did not feel her hardness melting. Nevertheless she sat down.

"Now tell me what it was."

"I don't think I can do that, Hermione."

"I am her mother. I have a right to know. I have a right to know everything about my child's life."

In those words, and in the way they were spoken, Hermione's bitter jealousy about the two secrets kept from her, but shared by Artois, rushed out into the light.

"I am sure there is nothing in Vere's life that might not be told to the whole world without shame; and yet there may be many things that an innocent girl would not care to tell to any one."

"But if things are told they should be told to the mother. The mother comes first."

He said nothing.

"The mother comes first!" she repeated, almost fiercely. "And you ought to know it. You do know it!"

"You do come first with Vere."

"If I did, Vere would confide in me rather than in any one else."

As Hermione said this, all the long-contained bitterness caused by Vere's exclusion of her from the knowledge that had been freely given to Artois brimmed up suddenly in her heart, overflowed boundaries, seemed to inundate her whole being.

"I do not come first," she said.

Her voice trembled, almost broke.

"You know that I do not come first. You have just told me a lie."

"Hermione!"

His voice was startled.

"You know it perfectly well. You have known it for a long time."

Hot tears were in her eyes, were about to fall. With a crude gesture, almost like that of a man, she put up her hands to brush them away.

"You have known it, you have known it, but you try to keep me in the dark."

Suddenly she was horribly conscious of the darkness of the night in which they were together, of the darkness of the world.

"You love to keep me in the dark, in prison. It is cruel, it is wicked of you."

"But Hermione -- "

"Take care, Emile, take care -- or I shall hate you for keeping me in the dark."

Her passionate words applied only to the later events in which Vere was concerned. But his mind rushed back to Sicily, and suddenly there came to his memory some words he had once read, he did not know when, or where:

"The spirit that resteth upon a lie is a spirit in prison."

As he remembered them he felt guilty, guilty before Hermione. He saw her as a spirit confined for years in a prison to which his action had condemned her. Yes, she was in the dark. She was in an airless place. She was deprived of the true liberty, that great freedom which is the accurate knowledge of the essential truths of our own individual lives. From his mind in that moment the cause of Hermione's outburst, Vere and her childish secrets, were driven out by a greater thing that came upon it like a strong and mighty wind -- the memory of that lie, in which he had enclosed his friend's life for years, that lie on which her spirit had rested, on which it was resting still. And his sense of truth did not permit him to try to refute her accusation. Indeed, he was filled with a desire that nearly conquered him -- there and then, brutally, clearly, nakedly, to pour forth to his friend all the truth, to say to her:

"You have a strong, a fiery spirit, a spirit that hates the dark, that hates imprisonment, a spirit that can surely endure, like the eagle, to gaze steadfastly into the terrible glory of the sun. Then come out of the darkness, come out of your prison. I put you there -- let me bring you forth. This is the truth -- listen! hear it! -- it is this -- it is this -- and -- this!"

This desire nearly conquered him. Perhaps it would have conquered him but for an occurrence that, simple though it was, changed the atmosphere in which their souls were immersed, brought in upon them another world with the feeling of other lives than their own.

The boat to which Ruffo belonged, going out of the Pool to the fishing, passed at this moment slowly upon the sea beneath the terrace, and from the misty darkness his happy voice came up to them in the song of Mergellina which he loved:

"Oh, dolce luna bianca de l' Estate Mi fugge il sonno accanto a la marina: Mi destan le dolcissime serate Gli occhi di Rosa e il mar di Mergellina."

Dark was the night, moonless, shrouded in the mist. But his boy's heart defied it, laughed at the sorrowful truths of life, set the sweet white moon in the sky, covered the sea with her silver. Artois turned towards the song and stood still. But Hermione, as if physically compelled towards it, moved away down the terrace, following in the direction in which the boat was going.

As she passed Artois saw tears running down her cheeks. And he said to himself:

"No, I cannot tell her; I can never tell her. If she is to be told, let Ruffo tell her. Let Ruffo make her understand. Let Ruffo lift her up from the lie on which I have made her rest, and lead her out of prison."

As this thought came to him a deep tenderness towards Hermione flooded his heart. He stood where he was. Far off he still heard Ruffo's voice drifting away in the mist out to the great sea. And he saw the vague form of Hermione leaning down over the terrace wall, towards the sea, the song, and Ruffo.

How intensely strange, how mysterious, how subtle was the influence housed within the body of that singing boy, that fisher-boy, which, like an issuing fluid, or escaping vapor, or perfume, had stirred and attracted the childish heart of Vere, had summoned and now held fast the deep heart of Hermione.

Just then Artois felt as if in the night he was walking with the Eternities, as if that song, now fading away across the sea, came even from them. We do not die. For in that song to which Hermione bent down -- the dead man lived when that boy's voice sang it. In that boat, now vanishing upon the sea, the dead man held an oar. In that warm young heart of Ruffo the dead man moved, and spoke -- spoke to his child, Vere, whom he had never seen, spoke to his wife, Hermione, whom he had deceived, yet whom he had loved.

Then let him -- let the dead man himself -- speak out of that temple which he had created in a moment of lawless passion, out of that son whom he had made to live by the action which had brought upon him death.

Ruffo -- all was in the hands of Ruffo, to whom Hermione, weeping, bent for consolation.

The song died away. Yet Hermione did not move, but still leaned over the sea. She scarcely knew where she was. The soul of her, the suffering soul, was voyaging through the mist with Ruffo, was voyaging through the mist and through the night with -- her Sicilian and all the perfect past. It seemed to her at that moment that she had lost Vere in the dark, that she had lost Emile in the dark, that even Gaspare was drifting from her in a mist of secrecy which he did not intend that she should penetrate.

There was only Ruffo left.

He had no secrets. He threw no darkness round him and those who loved him. In his happy, innocent song was his happy, innocent soul.

She listened, she leaned down, almost she stretched out her arms towards the sea. And in that moment she knew in her mind and she felt in her heart that Ruffo was very near to her, that he meant very much to her, even that she loved him.

Chapter XXXIV

 

Artois left the island that night without speaking to Hermione. He waited a long time. But she did not move to come to him. And he did not dare to go to her. He did not dare! In all their long friendship never before had his spirit bent before, or retreated as if in fear from Hermione's. To-night he was conscious that in her fierce anger, and afterwards in her tears, she had emancipated herself from him. He was conscious of her force as he had never been conscious of it before. Something within him almost abdicated to her intensity. And at last he turned and went softly away from the terrace. He descended to the sea. He left the island.

Were they no longer friends?

As the boat gave itself to the mist he wondered. It had come to this, then -- that he did not know whether Hermione and he were any longer friends. Almost imperceptibly, with movement so minute that it had seemed like immobility, they had been drifting apart through these days and nights of the summer. And now abruptly the gulf appeared between them.

He felt just then that they could never more be friends, that their old happy camaraderie could never be reestablished.

That they could ever be enemies was unthinkable. Even in Hermione's bitterness and anger Artois felt her deep affection. In her cry, "Take care, Emile, or I shall hate you for keeping me in the dark!" he heard only the hatred that is the other side of love.

But could they ever be comrades again? And if they could not, what could they be?

As the boat slipped on, under the Saint's light, which was burning although the mist had hidden it from Hermione's searching eyes, and out to the open sea, Artois heard again her fierce exclamation. It blended with Vere's sob. He looked up and saw the faint lights of the Casa del Mare fading from him in the night. And an immense sadness, mingled with an immense, but chaotic, longing invaded him. He felt horribly lonely, and he felt a strange, new desire for the nearness to him of life. He yearned to feel life close to him, pulsing with a rhythm to which the rhythm of his being answered. He yearned for that strange and exquisite satisfaction, compounded of mystery and wonder, and thrilling with something akin to pain, that is called forth in the human being who feels another human being centring all its highest faculties, its strongest powers, its deepest hopes in him. He desired intensely, as he had never desired before, true communion with another, that mingling of bodies, hearts, and spirits, that is the greatest proof of God to man.

The lights of the Casa del Mare were lost to his eyes in the night. He looked for them still. He strained his eyes to see them. But the powerful night would not yield up its prey.

And now, in the darkness and with Hermione's last words ringing in his ears, he felt almost overwhelmed by the solitariness of his life in the world of lives.

That day, before he came to the island, he had met himself face to face like a man meeting his double. He had stripped himself bare. He had searched himself for the truth. Remembering all the Marchesino had said, he had demanded of his heart the truth, uncertain whether it would save or slay him. It had not slain him. When the colloquy was over he was still upright.

But he had realized as never before the delicate poise of human nature, set, without wings, on a peak with gulfs about it. Had he not looked in time, and with clear, steadfast eyes, might he not have fallen?

His affection for Vere was perfectly pure, was the love of a man without desire for a gracious and charming child. It still was that. He knew it for that by the wave of disgust that went over him when his imagination, prompted by the Marchesino's brutality, set pictures before him of himself in other relations with Vere. The real man in him recoiled so swiftly, so uncontrollably, that he was reassured as to his own condition. And yet he found much to condemn, something to be contemptuous of, something almost to weep over -- that desire to establish a monopoly -- that almost sickly regret for his vanished youth, that bitterness against the community to which all young things instinctively belong, whatever their differences of intellect, temperament, and feeling.

Could he have fallen?

Even now he did not absolutely know whether such a decadence might have been possible to him or not. But that now it would not be possible he felt that he did know.

Age could never complete youth, and Vere must be complete. He had desired to make her gift for song complete. He could never desire to mutilate her life. Had he not said to himself one day, as his boat glided past the sloping gardens of Posilipo, "Vere must be happy."

Yet that evening he had made her unhappy.

He had come to the island from his self-examination strong in the determination to be really himself, no longer half self-deceived and so deceiving. He had gone out upon the terrace, and waited there. But when Vere had come to join him, he had not been able to be natural. In his desire to rehabilitate himself thoroughly and swiftly in his own opinion he must have been almost harsh to the child. She had approached him a little doubtfully. She had needed specially just then to be met with even more than the usual friendship. Artois had seen in her face, in her expressive eyes, a plea not for forgiveness -- there was no need for that, but for compassion, an appeal to him to ignore and yet to sympathise, that was exquisitely young and winning. But, because of his self-examination, and because he was feeling acutely, he had been abrupt, cold, changed in his manner. They had sat down together in the dark, and after some uneasy conversation, Vere, perhaps eager to make things easier between herself and "Monsieur Emile," had brought up the subject of her poems with a sort of anxious simplicity, and a touch of timidity that yet was confidential. And Artois, still recoiling secretly from that which might possibly have become a folly but could never have been anything more, had told Vere plainly and almost sternly that she must go to her literary path unaided, unadvised by him.

"I was glad to advise you at the beginning, Vere," he had said, finally; "but now I must leave you to yourself to work out your own salvation. You have talent. Trust it. Trust yourself. Do no lean on any one, least of all on me."

"No, Monsieur Emile," she had answered.

Those were the last words exchanged between them before Hermione came and questioned Vere. And only when Vere slipped into the house, leaving that sound of pain behind her, did Artois realize how cruel he must have seemed in his desire quickly to set things right.

He realized that; but, subtle though he was, he did not understand the inmost and root-cause of Vere's loss of self-control.

Vere was feeling bitterly ashamed, had been bending under this sense of undeserved shame, ever since the Marchesino's stratagem on the preceding night. Although she was gay and fearless, she was exquisitely sensitive. Peppina's confession had roused her maidenhood to a theoretical knowledge of certain things in life, of certain cruel phases of man's selfishness and lust which, till then, she had never envisaged. The Marchesino's madness had carried her one step further. She had not actually looked into the abyss. But she had felt herself near to something that she hated even more than she feared it. And she had returned to the hotel full of a shrinking delicacy, not to be explained, intense as snow, which had made the meeting with her mother and Artois a torture to her, which had sealed her lips to silence that night, which had made her half apology to Gaspare in the morning a secret agony, which had even set a flush on her face when she looked at San Francesco. The abrupt change in Monsieur Emile's demeanor towards her made her feel as if she were despised by him because she had been the victim of the Marchesino's trick. Or perhaps Monsieur Emile completely misunderstood her; perhaps he thought -- perhaps he dared to think, that she had helped the Marchesino in his manoeuvre.

Vere felt almost crucified, but was too proud to speak of the pain and bitterness within her. Only when her mother came out upon the terrace did she suddenly feel that she could bear no more.

That night, directly she was in her room, she locked her door. She was afraid that her mother might follow her, to ask what was the matter.

But Hermione did not come. She, too, wished to be alone that night. She, too, felt that she could not be looked at by searching eyes that night.

She did not know when Artois left the terrace. Long after Ruffo's song had died away she still leaned over the sea, following his boat with her desirous heart. Artois, too, was on the sea. She did not know it. She was, almost desperately, seeking a refuge in the past. The present failed her. That was her feeling. Then she would cling to the past. And in that song, prompted now by her always eager imagination, she seemed to hear it. For she was almost fiercely, feverishly, beginning to find resemblances in Ruffo to Maurice. At first she had noticed none, although she had been strangely attracted by the boy. Then she had seen that look, fleeting but vivid, that seemed for a moment to bring Maurice before her. Then, on the cliff, she had discerned a likeness of line, a definite similarity of features.

And now -- was not that voice like Maurice's? Had it not his wonderful thrill of youth in it, that sound of the love of life which wakes all the pulses of the body and stirs all the depths of the heart?

"Oh, dolce luna bianca de l' estate -- -- "

The voice upon the sea was singing always the song of Mergellina. But to Hermione it began to seem that the song was changing to another song, and that the voice that was dying away across the shrouded water was sinking into the shadows of a ravine upon a mountainside.

"Ciao, Ciao, Ciao, Morettina bella, ciao -- -- "

Maurice was going to the fishing under the sweet white moon of Sicily. And she -- she was no longer leaning down from the terrace of the Casa del Mare, but from the terrace of the House of the Priest.

"Prima di partire Un bacio ti voglio da!"

That kiss, which he had given her before he had gone away from her forever! She seemed to feel it on her lips again, and she shut her eyes, giving herself up to a passion of the imagination.

When she opened them again she felt exhausted and terribly alone. Maurice had gone down into the ravine. He was never coming back. Ruffo was taken by the mists and by the night. She lifted herself up from the balustrade and looked round, remembering suddenly that she had left Artois upon the terrace. He had disappeared silently, without a word of good-bye.

And now, seeing the deserted terrace, she recollected her fierce attack upon Artois, she remembered how she had stood in the black room watching the two darknesses outside, listening to their silence. And she remembered her conversation with Ruffo.

Actualities rushed back upon her memory. She felt as if she heard them coming like an army to the assault. Her brain was crowded with jostling thoughts, her heart with jostling feelings and fears. She was like one trying to find a safe path through a black troop of threatening secrets. What had happened that night between Vere and Emile? Why had Vere fled? Why had she wept? And the previous night with the Marchesino -- Vere had not spoken of it to her mother. Hermione had found it impossible to ask her child for any details. There was a secret too. And there were the two secrets, which now she knew, but which Vere and Artois thought were unknown to her still. And then -- that mystery of which Ruffo had innocently spoken that night.

As Hermione, moving in imagination through the black and threatening troop, came to that last secret, she was again assailed by a curious, and horrible, sensation of apprehension. She again felt very little and very helpless, like a child.

She moved away from the balustrade and turned towards the house. Above, in her sitting-room, the light still shone. The other windows on this side of the Casa del Mare were dark. She felt that she must go to that light quickly, and she hastened in, went cautiously -- though now almost panic-stricken -- through the black room with the French windows, and came into the dimly lighted passage that led to the front door.

Gaspare was there locking up. She came to him.

"Good-night, Gaspare," she said, stopping.

"Good-night, Signora," he answered, slightly turning his head, but not looking into her face.

Hermione turned to go up-stairs. She went up two or three steps. She heard a bolt shot into its place below her, and she stopped again. To-night she felt for the first time almost afraid of Gaspare. She trusted him as she had always trusted him -- completely. Yet that trust was mingled with this new and dreadful sensation of fear bred of her conviction that he held some secret from her in his breast. Indeed, it was her trust in Gaspare which made her fear so keen. As she stood on the staircase she knew that. If Gaspare kept things, kept anything from her that at all concerned her life, it must be because he was faithfully trying to save her from some pain or misery.

But perhaps she was led astray by her depression of to-night. Perhaps this mystery was her own creation, and he would be quite willing to explain, to clear it away with a word.

"Gaspare," she said, "have you finished locking up?"

"Not quite, Signora. I have the front of the house to do."

"Of course. Well, when you have finished come up to my room for a minute, will you?"

"Va bene, Signora."

Was there reluctance in his voice? She thought there was. She went up- stairs and waited in her sitting-room. It seemed to her that Gaspare was a very long time locking up. She leaned out of the window that overlooked the terrace to hear if he was shutting the French windows. When she did so she saw him faintly below, standing by the balustrade. She watched him, wondering what he was doing, till at last she could not be patient any longer.

"Gaspare!" she called out.

He started violently.

"I am coming, Signora."

"I am waiting for you."

"A moment, Signora!"

Yes, his voice was reluctant; but he went at once towards the house and disappeared. Directly afterwards she heard the windows being shut and barred, then a step coming rather slowly up the staircase.

"Che vuole, Signora?"

How many times she had heard that phrase from Gaspare's lips? How many times in reply she had expressed some simple desire! To-night she found a difficulty in answering that blunt question. There was so much that she wished, wanted -- wide and terrible want filled her heart.

"Che vuole?" he repeated.

As she heard it a second time, suddenly Hermione knew that for the moment she was entirely dominated by Ruffo and that, which concerned, which was connected with him. The fisher-boy had assumed an abrupt and vast importance in her life.

"Gaspare," she said, "you know me pretty well by this time, don't you?"

"Know you, Signora! Of course I know you!" He gazed at her, then added, "Who should know you, Signora, if I do not?"

"That is just what I mean, Gaspare. I wonder -- I wonder -- " She broke off. "Do you understand, Gaspare, how important you are to me, how necessary you are to me?"

An expressive look that was full of gentleness dawned in his big eyes.

"Si, Signora, I understand."

"And I think you ought to understand my character by this time." She looked at him earnestly. "But I sometimes wonder -- I mean lately -- I sometimes wonder whether you do quite understand me."

"Why, Signora?"

"Do you know what I like best from the people who are near me, who live with me?"

"Si, Signora."

"What?"

"Affection, Signora. You like to be cared for, Signora."

She felt tears rising again in her eyes.

"Yes, I love affection. But -- there's something else, too. I love to be trusted. I'm not curious. I hate to pry into people's affairs. But I love to feel that I am trusted, that those I trust and care for would never keep me in the dark -- "

She thought again of Emile and of the night and her outburst.

"The dark, Signora?"

"Don't you understand what I mean? When you are in the dark you can't see anything. You can't see the things you ought to see."

"You are not in the dark, Signora."

He spoke rather stupidly, and looked towards the lamp, as if he misunderstood her explanation. But she knew his quickness of mind too well to be deceived.

"Gaspare," she said, "I don't know whether you are going to be frank with me, but I am going to be frank with you. Sit down for a minute, and -- please shut the door first."

He looked at her, looked down, hesitated, then went slowly to the door, and shut it softly. Hermione was sitting on the sofa when he turned. He came back and stood beside her.

"Si, Signora?"

"I'd rather you sat too, Gaspare."

He took a seat on a hard chair. His face had changed. Generally it was what is called "an open face." Now it looked the opposite to that. When she glanced at him, almost furtively, Hermione was once more assailed by fear. She began to speak quickly, with determination, to combat her fear.

"Gaspare, I may be wrong, but for some time I have felt now and then as if you and I were not quite as we used to be together, as if -- well, now and then it seems to me as if there was a wall, and I was on one side of the wall and you were on the other. I don't like that feeling, after having you with me so long. I don't like it, and I want to get rid of it."

She paused.

"Si, Signora," he said, in a low voice.

He was now looking at the floor. His arms were resting on his knees, and his hands hung down touching each other.

"It seems to me that -- I never noticed the thing between us until -- until Ruffo came to the island."

"Ruffo?"

"Yes, Gaspare, Ruffo."

She spoke with increasing energy and determination, still combating her still formless fear. And because of this interior combat her manner and voice were not quite natural, though she strove to keep them so, knowing well how swiftly a Sicilian will catch the infection of a strange mood, will be puzzled by it, be made obstinate, even dogged by it.

"I am sure that all this -- I mean that this has something to do with Ruffo."

Gaspare said nothing.

"I know you like Ruffo, Gaspare. I believe you like him very much. Don't you?"

"Signora, Ruffo has never done me any harm."

"Ruffo is very fond of you."

She saw Gaspare redden.

"He respects and admires you more than other people. I have noticed that."

Gaspare cleared his throat but did not look up or make any remark.

"Both the Signorina and I like Ruffo, too. We feel -- at least I feel -- I feel as if he had become one of the family."

Gaspare looked up quickly and his eyes were surely fierce.

"One of the family!" he exclaimed.

Hermione wondered if he were jealous.

"I don't mean that I put him with you, Gaspare. No -- but he seems to me quite a friend. Tell me -- do you know anything against Ruffo?"

"Non, Signora."

It came very slowly from his lips.

"Absolutely nothing?"

"Signora, I don't know anything bad of Ruffo."

"I felt sure not. Don't you like his coming to the island?"

Gaspare's face was still flushed.

"Signora, it is nothing to do with me."

A sort of dull anger seemed to be creeping into his voice, an accent of defiance that he was trying to control. Hermione noticed it, and it brought her to a resolve that, till now, she had avoided. Her secret fear had prompted her to delay, to a gradual method of arriving at the truth. Now she sat forward, clasping her hands together hard, and speaking quickly:

"Gaspare, I feel sure that you noticed long ago something very strange in Ruffo. Perhaps you noticed it almost at once. I believe you did. It is this. Ruffo has an extraordinary look in his face sometimes, a look of -- of your dead Padrone. I didn't see it for some time, but I think you saw it directly. Did you? Did you, Gaspare?"

There was no answer. Gaspare only cleared his throat again more violently. Hermione waited for a minute. Then, understanding that he was not going to answer, she went on:

"You have seen it -- we have both noticed it. Now I want to tell you something -- something that happened to-night."

Gaspare started, looked up quickly, darted at his Padrona a searching glance of inquiry.

"What is it?" she said.

"Niente!"

He kept his eyes on her, staring with a tremendous directness that was essentially southern. And she returned his gaze.

"I was with Ruffo this evening. We talked, and he told me that he met you at the Festa last night. He told me, too, that he was with his mother."

She waited to give him a chance of speaking, of forestalling any question. But he only stared at her with dilated eyes.

"He told me that you knew his mother, and that his mother knew you."

"Why not?"

"Of course, there is no reason. What surprised me rather" -- she was speaking more slowly now, and more unevenly -- "was this -- "

"Si?"

Gaspare's voice was loud. He lifted up his hands and laid them heavily on his knees.

"Si?" he repeated.

"After you had spoken with her, she cried, Ruffo's mother cried, Gaspare. And she said, 'To think of its being Gaspare on the island!'"

"Is that all?"

"No."

A look that was surely a look of fear came into his face, rendering it new to Hermione. Never before had she seen such an expression -- or had she once -- long ago -- one night in Sicily?

"That isn't all. Ruffo took his mother home, and when they got home she said to him this, 'Has Gaspare ever said you were like somebody?' "

Gaspare said nothing.

"Did you hear, Gaspare?"

"Si, Signora."

"Gaspare, it seems to me" -- Hermione was speaking now very slowly, like one shaping a thought in her mind while she spoke -- "it seems to me strange that you and Ruffo's mother should have known each other so well long before Ruffo was born, and that she should cry because she met you at the Festa, and that -- afterwards -- she should ask Ruffo that."

"Strange?"

The fear that had been formless was increasing now in Hermione, and surely it was beginning at last to take a form, but as yet only a form that was vague and shadowy.

"Yes. I think it very strange. Did you" -- an intense curiosity was alive in her now -- "did you know Ruffo's mother in Sicily?"

"Signora, it does not matter where I knew her."

"Why should she say that?"

"What?"

"Has Gaspare ever said you were like somebody?"

"I have never said Ruffo was like anybody!" Gaspare exclaimed, with sudden and intense violence. "May the Madonna let me die -- may I die" -- he held up his arms -- "may I die to-morrow if I have ever said Ruffo was like anybody!"

He got up from his chair. His face was red in patches, like the face of a man stricken with fever.

"Gaspare, I know that, but what could this woman have meant?"

"Madonna! How should I know? Signora, how can I tell what a woman like that means? Such women have no sense, they talk, they gossip -- ah, ah, ah, ah!" -- he imitated the voice of a woman of the people -- "they are always on the door-step, their tongues are always going. Dio mio! Who is to say what they mean, or what nonsense goes through their heads?"

Hermione got up and laid her hand heavily on his arm.

"I believe you know of whom Ruffo's mother spoke, Gaspare. Tell me this -- did Ruffo's mother ever know your Padrone?"

She looked straight into his eyes. It seemed to her as if, for the first time, there came from them to her a look that had something in it of dislike. This look struck her to a terrible melancholy, yet she met it firmly, almost fiercely, with a glance that fought it, that strove to beat it back. And with a steady voice she repeated the question he had not answered.

"Did Ruffo's mother ever know your Padrone?"

Gaspare moved his lips, passing his tongue over them. His eyes fell. He moved his arm, trying to shift it from his Padrona's hand. Her fingers closed on it more tenaciously.

"Gaspare, I order you to tell me."

"Signora," he said, "such things are not in my service. I am here to work, not to answer questions."

He spoke quietly now, heavily, and moved his feet on the carpet.

"You disobey me?"

"Signora, I shall always obey all your orders as a servant."

"And as a friend, Gaspare, as a friend! You are my friend, aren't you?"

Her voice had suddenly changed, and in answer to it his face changed. He looked into her face, and his eyes were full of a lustrous softness that was like a gentle and warm caress.

"Signora, you know what I am for you. Then leave me alone, Signora." He spoke solemnly. "You ought to trust me, Signora, you ought to trust me."

"I do trust you. But you -- do you trust me?"

"Si, Signora."

"In everything?"

"Signora, I trust you; I have always trusted you."

"And my courage -- do you trust that?"

He did not answer.

"I don't think you do, Gaspare."

Suddenly she felt that he was right not to trust it. Again she felt beset by fear, and as if she had nothing within her that was strong enough to stand up in further combat against the assaults of the world and of destiny. The desire to know all, to probe this mystery, abruptly left her, was replaced by an almost frantic wish to be always ignorant, if only that ignorance saved her from any fresh sorrow or terror.

"Never mind," she said. "You needn't answer. I don't want -- What does it all matter? It's -- it's all so long ago."

Having got hold of that phrase, she clung to it as if for comfort.

"It's all so long ago," she repeated. "Years and years ago. We've forgotten it. We've forgotten Sicily, Gaspare. Why should we think of it or trouble about it any more? Good-night, Gaspare."

She smiled at him, but her face was drawn and looked old.

"Buona notte, Signora."

He did not smile, but gazed at her with earnest gentleness, and still with that lustrous look in his eyes, full of tenderness and protection.

"Buon riposo, Signora."

He went away, surely relieved to go. At the door he said again:

"Buon riposo."

The door was shut.

"Buon riposo!"

Hermione repeated the words to herself.

"Riposo!"

The very thought of repose was like the most bitter irony. She walked up and down the room. To-night there was no stability in her. She was shaken, lacerated mentally, by sharply changing moods that rushed through her, one chasing another. Scarcely had Gaspare gone before she longed to call him back, to force him to speak, to explain everything to her. The fear that cringed was suddenly replaced by the fear that rushes forward blindly, intent only on getting rid of uncertainty even at the cost of death. Soldiers know that fear. It has given men to bayonet points.

Now it increased rapidly within Hermione. She was devoured by a terror that was acutely nervous, that gnawed her body as well as her soul.

Gaspare had known Ruffo's mother in Sicily. And Maurice -- he had known Ruffo's mother. He must have known her. But when? How had he got to know her?

Hermione stood still.

"It must have been when I was in Africa!"

A hundred details of her husband's conduct, from the moment of his return from the fair till the last kiss he had given her before he went away down the side of Monte Amato, flashed through her mind. And each one seemed to burn her mind as a spark, touching flesh, burns the flesh.

"It was when I was in Africa!"

She went to the window and leaned out into the night over the misty sea. Her lips moved. She was repeating to herself again and again:

"To-morrow I'll go to Mergellina! To-morrow I'll go to Mergellina!"

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A Spirit In Prison

by Robert Hichens


 

Chapter XXXI

 

It was nearly dawn when Artois fell asleep. He did not wake till past ten o'clock. The servant who brought his breakfast handed him a note, and told him that the ladies of the island had just left the hotel with Gaspare. As Artois took the note he was conscious of a mingled feeling of relief and disappointment. This swift, almost hurried departure left him lonely, yet he could not have met Hermione and Vere happily in the light of morning. To-day he felt a self-consciousness that was unusual in him, and that the keen eyes of women could not surely fail to observe. He wanted a little time. He wanted to think quietly, calmly, to reach a decision that he had not reached at night.

Hermione and Vere had a very silent voyage. Gaspare's tragic humor cast a cloud about his mistresses. He had met them in the morning with a look of heavy, almost sullen scrutiny in his great eyes, which seemed to develop into a definite demand for information. But he asked nothing. He made no allusion to the night before. To Vere his manner was almost cold. When they were getting into the boat at Santa Lucia she said, with none of her usual simplicity and self-possession, but like one making an effort which was repugnant:

"I'm very sorry about last night, Gaspare."

"It doesn't matter, Signorina."

"Did you get back very late?"

"I don't know, Signora. I did not look at the hour."

She looked away from him and out to sea.

"I am very sorry," she repeated.

And he again said:

"It doesn't matter, Signorina."

It was nearly noon when they drew near to the island. The weather was heavily hot, languidly hot even upon the water. There was a haze hanging over the world in which distant objects appeared like unsubstantial clouds, or dream things impregnated with a mystery that was mournful. The voice of a fisherman singing not far off came to them like the voice of Fate, issuing from the ocean to tell them of the sadness that was the doom of men. Behind them Naples sank away into the vaporous distance. Vesuvius was almost blotted out, Capri an ethereal silhouette. And their little island, even when they approached it, did not look like the solid land on which they had made a home, but like the vague shell of some substance that had been destroyed, leaving its former abiding-place untenanted.

As they passed San Francesco Vere glanced at him, and Hermione saw a faint flush of red go over her face. Directly the boat touched the rock she stepped ashore, and without waiting for her mother ran up the steps and disappeared towards the house. Gaspare looked after her, then stared at his Padrona.

"Is the Signorina ill?" he asked.

"No, Gaspare. But I think she is tired to-day and a little upset. We had better take no notice of it."

"Va bene, Signora."

He busied himself in making fast the boat, while Hermione followed Vere.

In the afternoon about five, when Hermione was sitting alone in her room writing some letters, Gaspare appeared with an angry and suspicious face.

"Signora," he said, "that Signore is here."

"What Signore? The Marchese!"

"Si, Signora."

Gaspare was watching his Padrona's face, and suddenly his own face changed, lightened, as he saw the look that had come into her eyes.

"I did not know whether you wished to see him -- "

"Yes, Gaspare, I will see him. You can let him in. Wait a moment. Where is the Signorina?"

"Up in her room, Signora."

"You can tell her who is here, and ask her whether she wishes to have tea in her room or not."

"Si, Signora."

Gaspare went out almost cheerfully. He felt that now he understood what his Padrona was feeling and what she meant to do. She meant to do in her way what he wanted to do in his. He ran down the steps to the water with vivacity, and his eyes were shining as he came to the Marchesino, who was standing at the edge of the sea looking almost feverishly excited, but determined.

"The Signora will see you, Signor Marchese."

The words hit the Marchesino like a blow. He stared at Gaspare for a moment almost stupidly, and hesitated. He felt as if this servant had told him something else.

"The Signora will see you," repeated Gaspare.

"Va bene," said the Marchesino.

He followed Gaspare slowly up the steps and into the drawing-room. It was empty. Gaspare placed a chair for the Marchesino. And again the latter felt as if he had received a blow. He glanced round him and sat down, while Gaspare went away. For about five minutes he waited.

When he had arrived at the island he had been greatly excited. He had felt full of an energy that was feverish. Now, in this silence, in this pause during which patience was forced upon him, his excitement grew, became fierce, dominant. He knew from Gaspare's way of speaking, from his action, from his whole manner, that his fate had been secretly determined in that house, and that it was being rejoiced over. At first he sat looking at the floor. Then he got up, went to the window, came back, stood in the middle of the room and glanced about it. How pretty it was, with a prettiness that he was quite unaccustomed to. In his father's villa at Capodimonte there was little real comfort. And he knew nothing of the cosiness of English houses. As he looked at this room he felt, or thought he felt, Vere in it. He even made an effort scarcely natural to him, and tried to imagine a home with Vere as its mistress.

Then he began to listen. Perhaps Emilio was in the house. Perhaps Emilio was talking now to the Signora, was telling her what to do.

But he heard no sound of voices speaking.

No doubt Emilio had seen the Signora that morning in the hotel. No doubt there had been a consultation. And probably at this consultation his -- the Marchesino's -- fate had been decided.

By Emilio?

At that moment the Marchesino actively, even furiously, hated his former friend.

There was a little noise at the door; the Marchesino turned swiftly, and saw Hermione coming in. He looked eagerly behind her. But the door shut. She was alone. She did not give her hand to him. He bowed, trying to look calm.

"Good-afternoon, Signora."

Hermione sat down. He followed her example.

"I don't know why you wish to see me, after yesterday, Marchese," she said, quietly, looking at him with steady eyes.

"Signora, pardon me, but I should have thought that you would know."

"What is it?"

"Signora, I am here to ask the great honor of your daughter the Signorina's hand in marriage. My father, to whom -- "

But Hermione interrupted him.

"You will never marry my daughter, Marchese," she said.

A sudden red burned in her cheeks, and she leaned forward slightly, but very quickly, almost as if an impulse had come to her to push the Marchesino away from her.

"But, Signora, I assure you that my family -- "

"It is quite useless to talk about it."

"But why, Signora?"

"My child is not for a man like you," Hermione said, emphasizing the first word.

A dogged expression came into the Marchesino's face, a fighting look that was ugly and brutal, but that showed a certain force.

"I do not understand, Signora. I am like other men. What is the matter with me?"

He turned a little in his chair so that he faced her more fully.

"What is the matter with me, Signora?" he repeated, slightly raising his voice.

"I don't think you would be able to understand if I tried to tell you."

"Why not? You think me stupid, then?"

An angry fire shone in his eyes.

"Oh no, you are not stupid."

"Then I shall understand."

Hermione hesitated. There was within her a hot impulse towards speech, towards the telling to this self-satisfied young Pagan her exact opinion of him. Yet was it worth while? He was going out of their lives. They would see no more of him.

"I don't think it is necessary for me to tell you," she said.

"Perhaps there is nothing to tell because there is nothing the matter with me."

His tone stung her.

"I beg your pardon, Marchese. I think there is a good deal to tell."

"All I say is, Signora, that I am like other men."

He thrust forward his strong under jaw, showing his big, white teeth.

"There I don't agree with you. I am thankful to say I know many men who would not behave as you behaved last night."

"But I have come to ask for the Signorina's hand!" he exclaimed.

"And you think -- you dare to think that excuses your conduct!"

She spoke with a sudden and intense heat.

"Understand this, please, Marchese. If I gave my consent to your request, and sent for my daughter -- "

"Si! Si!" he said, eagerly, leaning forward in his chair.

"Do you suppose she would come near you?"

"Certainly."

"You think she would come near a man she will not even speak of?"

"What!"

"She won't speak of you. She has told me nothing about last night. That is why I know so much."

"She has not -- the Signorina has -- not -- ?"

He stopped. A smile went over his face. It was sufficiently obvious that he understood Vere's silence as merely a form of deceit, a coquettish girl's cold secret from her mother.

"Signora, give me permission to speak to your daughter, and you will see whether it is you -- or I -- who understands her best."

"Very well, Marchese."

Hermione rang the bell. It was answered by Gaspare.

"Gaspare," said Hermione, "please go to the Signorina, tell her the Signor Marchese is here, and wishes very much to see her before he goes."

Gaspare's face grew dark, and he hesitated by the door.

"Go, Gaspare, please."

He looked into his Padrona's face, and went out as if reassured. Hermione and the Marchese sat in silence waiting for him to return. In a moment the door was reopened.

"Signora, I have told the Signorina."

"What did she say?"

Gaspare looked at the Marchese as he answered.

"Signora, the Signorina said to me, 'Please tell Madre that I cannot come to see the Signor Marchese.' "

"You can go, Gaspare."

He looked at the angry flush on the Marchesino's cheeks, and went out.

"Good-bye, Marchese."

Hermione got up. The Marchesino followed her example. But he did not go. He stood still for a moment in silence. Then he lifted his head up with a jerk.

"Signora," he said, in a hard, uneven voice that betrayed the intensity of his excitement, "I see how it is. I understand perfectly what is happening here. You think me bad. Well, I am like other men, and I am not ashamed of it -- not a bit. I am natural. I live according to my nature, and I do not come from your north, but from Naples -- from Naples." He threw out his arm, pointing at a window that looked towards the city. "If it is bad to have the blood hot in one's veins and the fire hot in one's head and in one's heart -- very well! I am bad. And I do not care. I do not care a bit! But you think me a stupid boy. And I am not that. And I will show you." He drew his fingers together, and bent towards her, slightly lowering his voice. "From the first, from the very first moment, I have seen, I have understood all that is happening here. From the first I have understood all that was against me -- "

"Marchese -- !"

"Signora, pardon me! You have spoken, the Signorina has spoken, and now it is for me to speak. It is my right. I come here with an honorable proposal, and therefore I say I have a right -- "

He put his fingers inside his shirt collar and pulled it fiercely out from his throat.

"E il vecchio!" he exclaimed, with sudden passion. "E il maledetto vecchio!"

Hermione's face changed. There had been in it a firm look, a calmness of strength. But now, at his last words, the strength seemed to shrink. It dwindled, it faded out of her, leaving her not collapsed, but cowering, like a woman who crouches down in a corner to avoid a blow.

"It is he! It is he! He will not allow it, and he is master here."

"Marchese -- "

"I say he is master -- he is master -- he has always been master here!"

He came a step towards Hermione, moving as a man sometimes moves instinctively when he is determined to make something absolutely clear to one who does not wish to understand.

"And you know it, and every one knows it -- every one. When I was in the sea, when I saw the Signorina for the first time, I did not know who she was, where she lived; I did not know anything about her. I went to tell my friend about her -- my friend, you understand, whom I trusted, to whom I told everything! -- I went to him. I described the Signora, the Signorina, the boat to him. He knew who the ladies were; he knew directly. I saw it in his face, in his manner. But what did he say? That he did not know, that he knew nothing. I was not to come to the island. No one was to come to the island but he. So he meant. But I -- I was sharper than he, I who am so stupid! I took him to fish by night. I brought him to the island. I made him introduce me to you, to the Signorina. That night I made him. You remember? Well, then -- ever since that night all is changed between us. Ever since that night he is my enemy. Ever since that night he suspects me, he watches me, he hides from me, he hates me. Oh, he tries to conceal it. He is a hypocrite. But I, stupid as I am, I see it all. I see what he is, what he wants, I see all -- all that is in his mind and heart. For this noble old man, so respected, with the white hairs and the great brain, what is he, what does he do? He goes at night to the Galleria. He consults with Maria Fortunata, she who is known to all Naples, she who is the aunt of that girl -- that girl of the town and of the bad life, whom you have taken to be your servant here. You have taken her because he -- he has told you to take her. He has put her here -- "

"Marchese!"

"I say he has put her here that the Signorina -- "

"Marchese, I forbid you to say that! It is not true."

"It is true! It is true! Perhaps you are blind, perhaps you see nothing. I do not know. But I know that I am not blind. I love, and I see. I see, I have always seen that he -- Emilio -- loves the Signorina, that he loves her madly, that he wishes, that he means to keep her for himself. Did he not hide with her in the cave, in the Grotto of Virgil, that night when I came to serenade her on the sea? Yes, he took her, and he hid her, because he loves her. He loves her, he an old man! And he thinks -- and he means -- "

"Marchese -- "

"He loves her; I say he loves her!"

"Marchese, I must ask you to go!"

"I say -- "

"Marchese, I insist upon your going."

She opened the door. She was very pale, but she looked calm. The crouching woman had vanished. She was mistress of herself.

"Gaspare!" she called, in a loud, sharp voice that betrayed the inner excitement her appearance did not show.

"Signora," vociferated the Marchesino, "I say and I repeat -- "

"Gaspare! Come here!"

"Signora!" cried a voice from below.

Gaspare came running.

"The Signore Marchese is going, Gaspare. Go down with him to the boat, please."

The Marchesino grew scarlet. The hot blood rushed over his face, up to his forehead, to his hair. Even his hands became red in that moment.

"Good-bye, Marchese."

She went out, and left him standing with Gaspare.

"Signore Marchese, shall I take you to the boat?"

Gaspare's voice was quite respectful. The Marchesino made no answer, but stepped out into the passage and looked up to the staircase that led to the top floor of the house. He listened. He heard nothing.

"Is the French Signore here?" he said to Gaspare. "Do you hear me? Is he in this house?"

"No, Signore!"

The Marchesino again looked towards the staircase and hesitated. Then he turned and saw Gaspare standing in a watchful attitude, almost like one about to spring.

"Stay here!" he said, loudly, making a violent threatening gesture with his arm.

Gaspare stood where he was with a smile upon his face.

A moment later he heard the splash of oars in the sea, and knew that the Marchesino's boat was leaving the island.

He drew his lips together like one about to whistle.

The sound of the oars died away.

Then he began to whistle softly "La Ciocciara."

Chapter XXXII

 

The ghostly day sank into a ghostly night that laid pale hands upon the island, holding it closely, softly, in a hypnotic grasp, bidding it surely rest, it and those who dwelled there with all the dreaming hours. A mist hung over the sea, and the heat did not go with day, but stayed to greet the darkness and the strange, enormous silence that lay upon the waters. In the Casa del Mare the atmosphere was almost suffocating, although every window was wide open. The servants went about their duties leaden-footed, drooping, their Latin vivacity quenched as by a spell. Vere was mute. It seemed, since the episode of the Carmine, as if her normal spirit had been withdrawn, as if a dumb, evasive personality replaced it. The impression made upon Hermione was that the real Vere had sunk far down in her child, out of sight and hearing, out of reach, beyond pursuit, to a depth where none could follow, where the soul enjoyed the safety of utter isolation.

Hermione did not wish to pursue this anchorite. She did not wish to draw near to Vere that evening. To do so would have been impossible to her, even had Vere been willing to come to her. Since the brutal outburst of the Marchesino, she, too, had felt the desire, the necessity, of a desert place, where she could sit alone and realize the bareness of her world.

In that outburst of passion the Marchesino had gathered together and hurled at her beliefs that had surely been her own, but that she had striven to avoid, that she had beaten back as spectres and unreal, that she had even denied, tricking, or trying to trick, her terrible sense of truth. His brutality had made the delicacy in her crouch and sicken. It had been almost intolerable to her, to see her friend, Emile, thus driven out into the open, like one naked, to be laughed at, condemned, held up, that the wild folly, the almost insane absurdity of his secret self might be seen and understood even by the blind, the determined in stupidity.

She had always had a great reverence for her friend, which had been mingled with her love for him, giving it its character. Was this reverence to be torn utterly away? Had it already been cast to the winds?

Poor Emile!

In the first moments after the departure of the Marchesino she pitied Emile intensely with all her heart of woman. If this thing were true, how he must have suffered, how he must still be suffering -- not only in his heart, but in his mind! His sense of pride, his self-respect, his passion for complete independence, his meticulous consciousness of the fitness of things, of what could be and what was impossible -- all must by lying in the dust. She could almost have wept for him then.

But another feeling succeeded this sense of pity, a sensation of outrage that grew within her and became almost ungovernable. She had her independence too, her pride, her self-respect. And now she saw them in dust that Emile had surely heaped about them. A storm of almost hard anger shook her. She tasted an acrid bitterness that seemed to impregnate her, to turn the mainspring of her life to gall. She heard the violent voice of the young Neapolitan saying: "He is master, he is master, he has always been master here!" And she tried to look back over her life, and to see how things had been. And, shaken still by this storm of anger, she felt as if it were true, as if she had allowed Artois to take her life in his hands and to shape it according to his will, as if he had been governing her although she had not known it. He had been the dominant personality in their mutual friendship. His had been the calling voice, hers the obedient voice that answered. Only once had she risen to a strong act, an act that brought great change with it, and that he had been hostile to. That was when she had married Maurice.

And she had left Maurice for Artois. From Africa had come the calling, dominant voice. And even in her Garden of Paradise she had heard it. And even from her Garden of Paradise she had obeyed it. For the first time she saw that act of renunciation as the average man or woman would probably see it; as an extraordinary, quixotic act, to be wondered at blankly, or, perhaps, to be almost angrily condemned. She stood away from her own impulsive, enthusiastic nature, and stared at it critically -- as even her friends had often stared -- and realized that it was unusual, perhaps extravagant, perhaps sometimes preposterous. This readiness to sacrifice -- was it not rather slavish than regally loyal? This forgetfulness of personal joy, this burnt-offering of personality -- was it not contemptible? Could such actions bring into being the respect of others, the respect of any man? Had Emile respected her for rushing to Africa? Or had he, perhaps, then and through all these years, simply wondered how she could have done such a thing?

And Maurice -- Maurice? Oh, what had he thought? How had he looked upon that action?

Often and often in lonely hours she had longed to go down into the grave, or to go up into the blue, to drag the body, the soul, the heart she loved back to her. She had been rent by a desire that had made her limbs shudder, or that had flushed her whole body with red, and set her temples beating. The longing of heart and flesh had been so vehement that it had seemed to her as if they must compel, or cease to be. Now, again, she desired to compel Maurice to come to her from his far, distant place, but in order that she might make him understand what he had perhaps died misunderstanding; why she had left him to go to Artois, exactly how she had felt, how desperately sad to abandon the Garden of Paradise, how torn by fear lest the perfect days were forever at an end, how intensely desirous to take him with her. Perhaps he had felt cruelly jealous! Perhaps that was why he had not offered to go with her at once. Yes, she believed that now. She saw her action, she saw her preceding decision as others had seen it, as no doubt Maurice had seen it, as perhaps even Artois had seen it. Why had she instinctively felt that because her nature was as it was, and because she was bravely following it, every one must understand her? Oh, to be completely understood! If she could call Maurice back for one moment, and just make him see her as she had been then; loyal to her friend, and through and through passionately loyal to him! If she could! If she could!

She had left Maurice, the one being who had utterly belonged to her, to go to Artois. She had lost the few remaining days in which she could have been supremely happy. She had come back to have a few short hours devoid of calm, chilled sometimes by the strangeness that had intruded itself between her and Maurice, to have one kiss in which surely at last misunderstanding was lost and perfect love was found. And then -- that "something" in the water! And then -- the gulf.

In that gulf she had not been quite alone. The friend whom she had carried away from Africa and death had been with her. He had been closely in her life ever since. And now --

She heard the Marchesino's voice: "I see what he is, what he wants, I see it all -- all that is in his mind and heart. I see, I have always seen, that he loves the Signorina, that he loves her madly."

Vere!

Hermione sickened. Emile and Vere in that relation!

The storm of anger was not spent yet. Would it ever be spent? Something within her, the something, perhaps, that felt rejected, strove to reject in its turn, did surely reject. Pride burned in her like a fire that cruelly illumines night, shining upon the destruction it is compassing.

The terrible sense of outrage that gripped her soul and body -- her body because Vere was bone of her bone, flesh of her flesh -- seemed to be forcibly changing her nature, as cruel hands, prompted by murder in a heart, change form, change beauty in the effort to destroy.

That evening Hermione felt herself being literally defaced by this sensation of outrage within her, a sensation which she was powerless to expel.

She found herself praying to God that Artois might not come to the island that night. And yet, while she prayed, she felt that he was coming.

She dined with Vere, in almost complete silence -- trying to love this dear child as she had always loved her, even in certain evil moments of an irresistible jealousy. But she felt immensely far from Vere, distant from her as one who does not love from one who loves; yet hideously near, too, like one caught in the tangle of an enforced intimacy rooted in a past which the present denies and rejects. Directly dinner was over they parted, driven by the mutual desire to be alone.

And then Hermione waited for that against which she had prayed.

Artois would come to the island that night. Useless to pray! He was coming. She felt that he was on the sea, environed by this strange mist that hung to-night over the waters. She felt that he was coming to Vere. She had gone to Africa to save him -- in order that he might fall in love with her then unborn child.

Monstrosities, the monstrosities that are in life, deny them, beat them back, close our eyes to them as we will, rose up around her in the hot stillness. She felt haunted, terrified. She was forcibly changed, and now all the world was changing about her.

She must have relief. She could not sit there among spectres waiting for the sound of oars that would tell her Vere's lover had come to the island. How could she detach herself for a moment from this horror?

She thought of Ruffo.

As the thought came to her she got up and went out of the house.

Only when she was out-of-doors did she fully realize the strangeness of the night. The heat of it was flaccid. The island seemed to swim in a fatigued and breathless atmosphere. The mist that hung about it was like the mist in a vapor-bath.

Below the vague sea lay a thing exhausted, motionless, perhaps fainting in the dark. And in this heat and stillness there was no presage, no thrill, however subtle, of a coming change, of storm. Rather there was the deadness of eternity, as if this swoon would last forever, neither developing into life, nor deepening into death.

Hermione had left the house feverishly, yearning to escape from her company of spectres, yearning to escape from the sensation of ruthless hands defacing her. As she passed the door-sill it was only with difficulty that she suppressed a cry of "Ruffo!" a cry for help. But when the night took her she no longer had any wish to disturb it by a sound. She was penetrated at once by an atmosphere of fatality. Her pace changed. She moved on slowly, almost furtively. She felt inclined to creep.

Would Ruffo be at the island to-night? Would Artois really come? It seemed unlikely, almost impossible. But if Ruffo were there, if Artois came, it would be fatality. That she was there was fatality.

She walked always slowly, always furtively, to the crest of the cliff.

She stood there. She listened.

Silence.

She felt as if she were quite alone on the island. She could scarcely believe that Vere, that Gaspare, that the servants were there -- among them Peppina with her cross.

They said Peppina had the evil eye. Had she perhaps cast a spell to-night?

Hermione did not smile at such an imagination as she dismissed it.

She waited and listened, but not actively, for she did not feel as if Ruffo could ever stand with her in the embrace of such a night, he, a boy, with bright hopes and eager longings, he the happy singer of the song of Mergellina.

And yet, when in a moment she found him standing by her side, she accepted his presence as a thing inevitable.

It had been meant, perhaps for centuries, that they two should stand together that night, speak together as now they were about to speak.

"Signora, buona sera."

"Buona sera, Ruffo."

"The Signorina is not here to-night?"

"I think she is in the house. I think she is tired to-night."

"The Signorina is tired after the Festa, Signora."

"You knew we were at the Festa, Ruffo?"

"Ma si, Signora."

"Did we tell you we were going? I had forgotten."

"It was not that, Signora. But I saw the Signorina at the Festa. Did not Don Gaspare tell you?"

"Gaspare said nothing. Did he see you?"

She spoke languidly. Quickness had died out of her under the influence of the night. But already she felt a slight yet decided sense of relief, almost of peace. She drew that from Ruffo. And, standing very close to him, she watched his eager face, hoping to see presently in it the expression that she loved.

"Did he see you, Ruffo?"

"Ma si, Signora. I was with my poor mamma."

"Your mother! I wish I had met her!"

"Si, Signora. I was with my mamma in the Piazza of Masaniello. We had been eating snails, Signora, and afterwards watermelon, and we had each had a glass of white wine. And I was feeling very happy, because my poor mamma had heard good news."

"What was that?"

"To-morrow my Patrigno is to be let out of prison."

"So soon! But I thought he had not been tried."

"No, Signora. But he is to be let out now. Perhaps he will be put back again. But now he is let out because" -- he hesitated -- "because -- well, Signora, he has such friends, he has friends who are powerful for him. And so he is let out just now."

"I understand."

"Well, Signora, and after the white wine we were feeling happy, and we were going to see everything: the Madonna, and Masaniello, and the fireworks, and the fire-balloon. Did you see the fire-balloon, Signora?"

"Yes, Ruffo. It was very pretty."

His simple talk soothed her. He was so young, so happy, so free from the hideous complexities of life; no child of tragedy, but the son surely of a love that had been gay and utterly contented.

"Si, Signora! Per dio, Signora, it was wonderful! It was just before the fire-balloon went up, Signora, that I saw the Signorina with the Neapolitan Signorino. And close behind them was Don Gaspare. I said to my mamma, 'Mamma, ecco the beautiful Signorina of the island!' My mamma was excited, Signora. She held on to my arm, and she said: 'Ruffino,' she said, 'show her to me. Where is she?' my mamma said, Signora. 'And is the Signora Madre with her?' Just then, Signora, the people moved, and all of a sudden there we were, my mamma and I, right in front of Don Gaspare."

Ruffo stopped, and Hermione saw a change, a gravity, come into his bright face.

"Well, Ruffo?" she said, wondering what was coming.

"I said to my mamma, Signora, 'Mamma, this is Don Gaspare of the island.' Signora, my mamma looked at Don Gaspare for a minute. Her face was quite funny. She looked white, Signora, my mamma looked white, almost like the man at the circus who comes in with the dog to make us laugh. And Don Gaspare, too, he looked" -- Ruffo paused, then used a word beloved of Sicilians who wish to be impressive -- "he looked mysterious, Signora. Don Gaspare looked mysterious."

"Mysterious? Gaspare?"

"Si, Signora, he did. And he looked almost white, too, but not like my mamma. And then my mamma said, 'Gaspare!' just like that, Signora, and put out her hand -- so. And Don Gaspare's face got red and hot. And then for a minute they spoke together, Signora, and I could not hear what they said. For Don Gaspare stood with his back so that I should not hear. And then the balloon went sideways and the people ran, and I did not see Don Gaspare any more. And after that, Signora, my mamma was crying all the time. And she would not tell me anything. I only heard her say: 'To think of its being Gaspare! To think of its being Gaspare on the island!' And when we got home she said to me, 'Ruffo,' she said, 'has Gaspare ever said you were like somebody?' What is it, Signora?"

"Nothing, Ruffo. Go on."

"But -- "

"Go on, Ruffo."

" 'Has Gaspare ever said you were like somebody?' my mamma said."

"And you -- what did you say?"

"I said, 'No,' Signora. And that is true. Don Gaspare has never said I was like somebody."

The boy had evidently finished what he had to say. He stood quietly by Hermione, waiting for her to speak in her turn. For a moment she said nothing. Then she put her hand on Ruffo's arm.

"Whom do you think your mother meant when she said 'somebody,' Ruffo?"

"Signora, I do not know."

"But surely -- didn't you ask whom she meant?"

"No, Signora. I told my mamma Don Gaspare had never said that. She was crying. And so I did not say anything more."

Hermione still held his arm for a moment. Then her hand dropped down.

Ruffo was looking at her steadily with his bright and searching eyes.

"Signora, do you know what she meant?"

"I! How can I tell, Ruffo? I have never seen your mother. How can I know what she meant?"

"No, Signora."

Again there was a silence. Then Hermione said:

"I should like to see your mother, Ruffo."

"Si, Signora."

"I must see her."

Hermione said the last words in a low and withdrawn voice, like one speaking to herself. As she spoke she was gazing at the boy beside her, and in her eyes there was a mystery almost like that of the night.

"Ruffo," she added, in a moment, "I want you to promise me something."

"Si, Signora."

"Don't speak to any one about the little talk we have had to-night. Don't say anything, even to Gaspare."

"No, Signora."

For a short time they remained together talking of other things. Hermione spoke only enough to encourage Ruffo. And always she was watching him. But to-night she did not see the look she longed for, the look that made Maurice stand before her. Only she discerned, or believed she discerned, a definite physical resemblance in the boy to the dead man, a certain resemblance of outline, a likeness surely in the poise of the head upon the strong, brave-looking neck, and in a trait that suggested ardor about the full yet delicate lips. Why had she never noticed these things before? Had she been quite blind? Or was she now imaginative? Was she deceiving herself?

"Good-night, Ruffo," she said, at last.

He took off his cap and stood bareheaded.

"Good-night, Signora."

He put the cap on his dark hair with a free and graceful gesture.

Was not that, too, Maurice?

"A rivederci, Signora."

He was gone.

Hermione stood alone in the fatal night. She had forgotten Vere. She had forgotten Artois. The words of Ruffo had led her on another step in the journey it was ordained that she should make. She felt the under-things. It seemed to her that she heard in the night the dull murmuring of the undercurrents that carry through wayward, or terrible, channels the wind-driven bark of life. What could it mean, this encounter just described to her: this pain, this emotion of a woman, her strange question to her son? And Gaspare's agitation, his pallor, his "mysterious" face, the colloquy that Ruffo was not allowed to hear!

What did it mean? That woman's question -- that question!

"What is it? What am I near?" Ruffo's mother knew Gaspare, must have known him intimately in the past. When? Surely long ago in Sicily; for Ruffo was sixteen, and Hermione felt sure -- knew, in fact -- that till they came to the island Gaspare had never seen Ruffo.

That woman's question!

Hermione went slowly to the bench and sat down by the edge of the cliff.

What could it possibly mean?

Could it mean that this woman, Ruffo's mother, had once known Maurice, known him well enough to see in her son the resemblance to him?

But then --

Hermione, as sometimes happened, having reached truth instinctively and with a sure swiftness, turned to retreat from it. She had lost confidence in herself. She feared her own impulses. Now, abruptly, she told herself that this idea was wholly extravagant. Ruffo probably resembled some one else whom his mother and Gaspare knew. That was far more likely. That must be the truth.

But again she seemed to hear in the night the dull murmurings of those undercurrents. And many, many times she recurred mentally to that weeping woman's question to her son -- that question about Gaspare.

Gaspare -- he had been strange, disturbed lately. Hermione had noticed it; so had the servants. There had been in the Casa del Mare an oppressive atmosphere created by the mentality of some of its inhabitants.

Even she, on that day when she had returned from Capri, had felt a sensation of returning to meet some grievous tale.

She remembered Artois now, recalling his letter which she had found that day.

Gaspare and Artois -- did they both suspect, or both know, something which they had been concealing from her?

Suddenly she began to feel frightened. Yet she did not form in her mind any definite conception of what such a mutual secret might be. She simply began to feel frightened, almost like a child.

She said to herself that this brooding night, with its dumbness, its heat, its vaporous mystery, was affecting her spirit. And she got up from the bench, and began to walk very slowly towards the house.

When she did this she suddenly felt sure that while she had been on the crest of the cliff Artois had arrived at the island, that he was now with Vere in the house. She knew that it was so.

And again there rushed upon her that sensation of outrage, of being defaced, and of approaching a dwelling in which things monstrous had taken up their abode.

She came to the bridge and paused by the rail. She felt a sort of horror of the Casa del Mare in which Artois was surely sitting -- alone or with Vere? With Vere. For otherwise he would have come up to the cliff.

She leaned over the rail. She looked into the Pool. One boat was there just below her, the boat to which Ruffo belonged. Was there another? She glanced to the right. Yes; there lay by the rock a pleasure-boat from Naples.

Artois had come in that.

She looked again at the other boat, searching the shadowy blackness for the form of Ruffo. She longed that he might be awake. She longed that he might sing, in his happy voice, of the happy summer nights, of the sweet white moons that light the Southern summer nights, of the bright eyes of Rosa, of the sea of Mergellina. But from the boat there rose no voice, and the mist hung heavily over the silent Pool.

Then Hermione lifted her eyes and looked across the Pool, seeking the little light of San Francesco. Only the darkness and the mist confronted her. She saw no light -- and she trembled like one to whom the omens are hostile.

She trembled and hid her face for a moment. Then she turned and went up into the house.

  Aucun commentaire | Ecrire un nouveau commentaire Posté le 17-09-2011 à 14h28

 A Spirit In Prison 22 Alerter l'administrateur Recommander à un ami Lien de l'article 

A Spirit In Prison

by Robert Hichens


 

Chapter XXX

 

Two minutes later there was the sound of steps coming quickly down the uncarpeted corridor, and Vere entered, followed, but not closely, by the Marchesino. Vere went up at once to her mother, without even glancing at Artois.

"I am so sorry, Madre," she said, quietly. "But -- but it was not my fault."

The Marchesino had paused near the door, as if doubtful of Vere's intentions. Now he approached Hermione, pulling off his white gloves.

"Signora," he said, in a hard and steady voice, but smiling boyishly, "I fear I am the guilty one. When the balloon went up we were separated from you by the crowd, and could not find you immediately. The Signorina wished to go back to the enclosure. Unfortunately I had lost the tickets, so that we should not have been readmitted. Under these circumstances I thought the best thing was to show the Signorina the illuminations, and then to come straight back to the hotel. I hope you have not been distressed. The Signorina was of course perfectly safe with me."

"Thank you, Marchese," said Hermione, coldly. "Emile, what are we to do about Gaspare?"

"Gaspare?" asked Vere.

"He has gone back to the Piazza to search for you again."

"Oh!"

She flushed, turned away, and went up to the window. Then she hesitated, and finally stepped out on to the balcony.

"You had better spend the night in the hotel," said Artois.

"But we have nothing!"

"The housemaid can find you what is necessary in the morning."

"As to our clothes -- that doesn't matter. Perhaps it will be the best plan."

Artois rang the bell. They waited in silence till the night porter came.

"Can you give these two ladies rooms for the night?" said Artois. "It is too late for them to go home by boat, and their servant has not come back yet."

"Yes, sir. The ladies can have two very good rooms."

"Good-night, Emile," said Hermione. "Good-night, Marchese. Vere!"

Vere came in from the balcony.

"We are going to sleep here, Vere. Come!"

She went out.

"Good-night, Monsieur Emile," Vere said to Artois, without looking at him.

She followed her mother without saying another word.

Artois looked after them as they went down the corridor, watched Vere's thin and girlish figure until she turned the corner near the staircase, walking slowly and, he thought, as if she were tired and depressed. During this moment he was trying to get hold of his own violence, to make sure of his self-control. When the sound of the footsteps had died completely away he drew back into the room and shut the door.

The Marchesino was standing near the window. When he saw the face of Artois he sat down in an arm-chair and put his hat on the floor.

"You don't mind if I stay for a few minutes, Emilio?" he said. "Have you anything to drink? I am thirsty after all this walking in the crowd."

Artois brought him some Nocera and lemons.

"Do you want brandy, whiskey?"

"No, no. Grazie."

He poured out the Nocera gently, and began carefully to squeeze some lemon-juice into it, holding the fruit lightly in his strong fingers, and watching the drops fall with a quiet attention.

"Where have you been to-night?"

The Marchesino looked up.

"In the Piazza di Masaniello."

"Where have you been?"

"I tell you -- the Piazza, the Mercato, down one or two streets to see the illuminations. What's the matter, caro mio? Are you angry because we lost you in the crowd?"

"You intended to lose us in the crowd before we left the hotel to-night."

"Not at all, amico mio. Not at all."

His voice hardened again, the furrows appeared on his forehead.

"Now you are lying," said Artois.

The Marchesino got up and stood in front of Artois. The ugly, cat-like look had come into his face, changing it from its usual boyish impudence to a hardness that suggested age. At that moment he looked much older than he was.

"Be careful, Emilio!" he said. "I am Neapolitan, and I do not allow myself to be insulted."

His gray eyes contracted.

"You did not mean to get lost with the Signorina?" said Artois.

"One leaves such things to destiny."

"Destiny! Well, to-night it is your destiny to go out of the Signorina's life forever."

"How dare you command me? How dare you speak for these ladies?"

Suddenly Artois went quite white, and laid his hand on the Marchesino's arm.

"Where have you been? What have you been doing all this time?" he said.

Questions blazed in his eyes. His hand closed more firmly on the Marchesino.

"Where did you take that child? What did you say to her? What did you dare to say?"

"I! And you?" said the Marchesino, sharply.

He threw out his hand towards the face of Artois. "And you -- you!" he repeated.

"I?"

"Yes -- you! What have you said to her? Where have you taken her? I at least am young. My blood speaks to me. I am natural, I am passionate. I know what I am, what I want; I know it; I say it; I am sincere. I -- I am ready to go naked into the sun before the whole world, and say, 'There! There! This is Isidoro Panacci; and he is this -- and this -- and this! Like it or hate it -- that does not matter! It is not his fault. He is like that. He is made like that. He is meant to be like that, and he is that -- he is that!' Do you hear? That is what I am ready to do. But you -- you -- ! Ah, Madonna! Ah, Madre benedetta!"

He threw up both his hands suddenly, looked at the ceiling and shook his head sharply from side to side. Then he slapped his hands gently and repeatedly against his knees, and a grim and almost venerable look came into his mobile face.

"The great worker! The man of intellect! The man who is above the follies of that little Isidoro Panacci, who loves a beautiful girl, and who is proud of loving her, and who knows that he loves her, that he wants her, that he wishes to take her! Stand still!" -- he suddenly hissed out the words. "The man with the white hairs who might have had many children of his own, but who prefers to play papa -- caro papa, Babbo bello! -- to the child of another on a certain little island. Ah, buon Dio! The wonderful writer, respected and admired by all; by whose side the little Isidoro seems only a small boy from college, about whom nobody need bother! How he is loved, and how he is trusted on the island! Nobody must come there but he and those whom he wishes. He is to order, to arrange all. The little Isidoro -- he must not come there. He must not know the ladies. He is nothing; but he is wicked. He loves pleasure. He loves beautiful girls! Wicked, wicked Isidoro! Keep him out! Keep him away! But the great writer -- with the white hairs -- everything is allowed to him because he is Caro Papa. He may teach the Signorina. He may be alone with her. He may take her out at night in the boat." -- His cheeks were stained with red and his eyes glittered. -- "And when the voice of that wicked little Isidoro is heard -- Quick! Quick! To the cave! Let us escape! Let us hide where it is dark, and he will never find us! Let us make him think we are at Nisida! Hush! the boat is passing. He is deceived! He will search all night till he is tired! Ah -- ah -- ah! That is good! And now back to the island -- quick! -- before he finds out!" -- He thrust out his arm towards Artois. -- "And that is my friend!" he exclaimed. "He who calls himself the friend of the little wicked Isidoro. P -- !" -- He turned his head and spat on to the balcony. -- "Gran Dio! And this white-haired Babbo! He steals into the Galleria at night to meet Maria Fortunata! He puts a girl of the town to live with the Signorina upon the island, to teach her -- "

"Stop!" said Artois.

"I will not stop!" said the Marchesino, furiously. "To teach the Signorina all the -- "

Artois lifted his hand.

"Do you want me to strike you on the mouth?" he said.

"Strike me!"

Artois looked at him with a steadiness that seemed to pierce.

"Then -- take care, Panacci. You are losing your head."

"And you have lost yours!" cried the Marchesino. "You, with your white hairs, you are mad. You are mad about the 'child.' You play papa, and all the time you are mad, and you think nobody sees it. But every one sees it, every one knows it. Every one knows that you are madly in love with the Signorina."

Artois had stepped back.

"I -- in love!" he said.

His voice was contemptuous, but his face had become flushed, and his hands suddenly clinched themselves.

"What! you play the hypocrite even with yourself! Ah, we Neapolitans, we may be shocking; but at least we are sincere! You do not know! -- then I will tell you. You love the Signorina madly, and you hate me because you are jealous of me -- because I am young and you are old. I know it; the Signora knows it; that Sicilian -- Gaspare -- he knows it! And now you -- you know it!"

He suddenly flung himself down on the sofa that was behind him. Perspiration was running down his face, and even his hands were wet with it.

Artois said nothing, but stood where he was, looking at the Marchesino, as if he were waiting for something more which must inevitably come. The Marchesino took out his handkerchief, passed it several times quickly over his lips, then rolled it up into a ball and shut it up in his left hand.

"I am young and you are old," he said. "And that is all the matter. You hate me, not because you think I am wicked and might do the Signorina harm, but because I am young. You try to keep the Signorina from me because I am young. You do not dare to let her know what youth is, really, really to know, really, really to feel. Because, if once she did know, if once she did feel, if she touched the fire" -- he struck his hand down on his breast -- "she would be carried away, she would be gone from you forever. You think, 'Now she looks up to me! She reverences me! She admires me! She worships me as a great man!' And if once, only once she touched the fire -- ah!" -- he flung out both his arms with a wide gesture, opened his mouth, then shut it, showing his teeth like an animal. -- "Away would go everything -- everything. She would forget your talent, she would forget your fame, she would forget your thoughts, your books, she would forget you, do you hear? -- all, all of you. She would remember only that you are old and she is young, and that, because of that, she is not for you. And then" -- his voice dropped, became cold and serious and deadly, like the voice of one proclaiming a stark truth -- "and then, if she understood you, what you feel, and what you wish, and how you think of her -- she would hate you! How she would hate you!"

He stopped abruptly, staring at Artois, who said nothing.

"Is it not true?" he said.

He got up, taking his hat and stick from the floor.

"You do not know! Well -- think! And you will know that it is true. A rivederci, Emilio!"

His manner had suddenly become almost calm. He turned away and went towards the door. When he reached it he added:

"To-morrow I shall ask the Signora to allow me to marry the Signorina."

Then he went out.

The gilt clock on the marble table beneath the mirror struck the half- hour after one. Artois looked at it and at his watch, comparing them. The action was mechanical, and unaccompanied by any thought connected with it. When he put his watch back into his pocket he did not know whether its hands pointed to half-past one or not. He carried a light chair on to the balcony, and sat down there, crossing his legs, and leaning one arm on the rail.

"If she touched the fire." Those words of the Marchesino remained in the mind of Artois -- why, he did not know. He saw before him a vision of a girl and of a flame. The flame aspired towards the girl, but the girl hesitated, drew back -- then waited.

What had happened during the hours of the Festa? Artois did not know. The Marchesino had told him nothing, except that he -- Artois -- was madly in love with Vere. Monstrous absurdity! What trivial nonsense men talked in moments of anger, when they desired to wound!

And to-morrow the Marchesino would ask Vere to marry him. Of course Vere would refuse. She had no feeling for him. She would tell him so. He would be obliged to understand that for once he could not have his own way. He would go out of Vere's life, abruptly, as he had come into it.

He would go. That was certain. But others would come into Vere's life. Fire would spring up round about her, the fire of love of men for a girl who has fire within her, the fire of the love of youth for youth.

Youth! Artois was not by nature a sentimentalist -- and he was not a fool. He knew how to accept the inevitable things life cruelly brings to men, without futile struggling, without contemptible pretence. Quite calmly, quite serenely, he had accepted the snows of middle age. He had not secretly groaned or cursed, railed against destiny, striven to defy it by travesty, as do many men. He had thought himself to be "above" all that -- until lately. But now, as he thought of the fire, he was conscious of an immense sadness that had in it something of passion, or a regret that was, for a moment, desperate, bitter, that seared, that tortured, that was scarcely to be endured. It is terrible to realize that one is at a permanent disadvantage, which time can only increase. And just then Artois felt that there was nothing, that there could never be anything, to compensate any human being for the loss of youth.

He began to wonder about the people of the island. The Marchesino had spoken with a strange assurance. He had dared to say:

"You love the Signorina. I know it; the Signora knows it; Gaspare -- he knows it. And now you -- you know it."

Was it possible that his deep interest in Vere, his paternal delight in her talent, in her growing charm, in her grace and sweetness, could have been mistaken for something else, for the desire of man for woman? Vere had certainly never for a moment misunderstood him. That he knew as surely as he knew that he was alive. But Gaspare and Hermione? He fell into deep thought, and presently he was shaken by an emotion that was partly disgust and partly anxiety. He got up from his chair and looked out into the night. The weather was exquisitely still, the sky absolutely clear. The sea was like the calm that dwells surely in the breast of God. Naples was sleeping in the silence. But he was terribly awake, and it began to seem to him as if he had, perhaps, slept lately, slept too long. He was a lover of truth, and believed himself to be a discerner of it. The Marchesino was but a thoughtless, passionate boy, headstrong, Pagan, careless of intellect, and immensely physical. Yet it was possible that he had been enabled to see a truth which Artois had neither seen nor suspected. Artois began to believe it possible, as he remembered many details of the conduct of Hermione and of Gaspare in these last summer days. There had been something of condemnation sometimes in the Sicilian's eyes as they looked into his. He had wondered what it meant. Had it meant -- that? And that night in the garden with Hermione --

With all the force and fixity of purpose he fastened his mind upon Hermione, letting Gaspare go.

If what the Marchesino had asserted were true -- not that -- but if Hermione had believed it to be true, much in her conduct that had puzzled Artois was made plain. Could she have thought that? Had she thought it? And if she had -- ? Always he was looking out to the stars, and to the ineffable calm of the sea. But now their piercing brightness, and its large repose, only threw into a sort of blatant relief in his mind its consciousness of the tumult of humanity. He saw Hermione involved in that tumult, and he saw himself. And Vere?

Was it possible that in certain circumstances Vere might hate him? It was strange that to-night Artois found himself for the first time considering the Marchesino seriously, not as a boy, but as a man who perhaps knew something of the world and of character better than he did. The Marchesino had said:

"If she understood you -- how she would hate you."

But surely Vere and he understood each other very well.

He looked out over the sea steadily, as he wished, as he meant, to look now at himself, into his own heart and nature, into his own life. Upon the sea, to the right and far off, a light was moving near the blackness of the breakwater. It was the torch of a fisherman -- one of those eyes of the South of which Artois had thought. His eyes became fascinated by it, and he watched it with intensity. Sometimes it was still. Then it travelled gently onward, coming towards him. Then it stopped again. Fire -- the fire of youth. He thought of the torch as that; as youth with its hot strength, its beautiful eagerness, its intense desires, its spark-like hopes, moving without fear amid the dark mysteries of the world and of life; seeking treasure in the blackness, the treasure of an answering soul, of a completing nature, of the desired and desirous heart, seeking its complement of love -- the other fire.

He looked far over the sea. But there was no other fire upon it.

And still the light came on.

And now he thought of it as Vere.

She was almost a child, but already her fire was being sought, longed for. And she knew it, and must be searching, too, perhaps without definite consciousness of what she was doing, instinctively. She was searching there in the blackness, and in her quest she was approaching him. But where he stood it was all dark. There was no flame lifting itself up that could draw her flame to it. The fire that was approaching would pass before him, would go on, exploring the night, would vanish away from his eyes. Elsewhere it would seek the fire it needed, the fire it would surely find at last.

And so it was. The torch came on, passed softly by, slipped from his sight beneath the bridge of Castel dell' Uovo.

When it had gone Artois felt strangely deserted and alone, strangely unreconciled with life. And he remembered his conversation with Hermione in Virgil's Grotto; how he had spoken like one who scarcely needed love, having ambition and having work to do, and being no longer young.

To-night he felt that every one needs love first -- that all the other human needs come after that great necessity. He had thought himself a man full of self-knowledge, full of knowledge of others. But he had not known himself. Perhaps even now the real man was hiding somewhere, far down, shrinking away for fear of being known, for fear of being dragged up into the light.

He sought for this man, almost with violence.

A weariness lay beneath his violence to-night, a physical fatigue such as he sometimes felt after work. It had been produced, no doubt, by the secret anger he had so long controlled, the secret but intense curiosity which was not yet satisfied, and which still haunted him and tortured him. This curiosity he now strove to expel from his mind, telling himself that he had no right to it. He had wished to preserve Vere just as she was, to keep her from all outside influences. And now he asked the real man why he had wished it? Had it been merely the desire of the literary godfather to cherish a pretty and promising talent? Or had something of the jealous spirit so brutally proclaimed to him that night by the Marchesino really entered into the desire? This torturing curiosity to know what had happened at the Festa surely betrayed the existence of some such spirit.

He must get rid of it.

He began to walk slowly up and down the little balcony, turning every instant like a beast in a cage. It seemed to him that the real man had indeed lain in hiding, but that he was coming forth reluctantly into the light.

Possibly he had been drifting without knowing it towards some nameless folly. He was not sure. To-night he felt uncertain of himself and of everything, almost like an ignorant child facing the world. And he felt almost afraid of himself. Was it possible that he, holding within him so much of the knowledge, so much of pride, could ever draw near to a crazy absurdity, a thing that the whole world would laugh at and despise? Had he drawn near to it. Was he near it now?

He thought of all his recent intercourse with Vere, going back mentally to the day in spring when he arrived in Naples. He followed the record day by day until he reached that afternoon when he had returned from Paris, when he came to the island to find Vere alone, when she read to him her poems. Very pitilessly, despite the excitement still raging within him, he examined that day, that night, recalling every incident, recalling every feeling the incidents of those hours had elicited from his heart. He remembered how vexed he had been when Hermione told him of the engagement for the evening. He remembered the moments after the dinner, his sensation of loneliness when he listened to the gay conversation of Vere and the Marchesino, his almost irritable anxiety when she had left the restaurant and gone out to the terrace in the darkness. He had felt angry with Panacci then. Had he not always felt angry with Panacci for intruding into the island life?

He followed the record of his intercourse with Vere until he reached the Festa of that night, until he reached the moment in which he was pacing the tiny balcony while the night wore on towards dawn.

That was the record of himself with Vere.

He began to think of Hermione. How had all this that he had just been telling over in his mind affected her? What had she been thinking of it -- feeling about it? And Gaspare?

Even now Artois did not understand himself, did not know whither his steps might have tended had not the brutality of the Marchesino roused him abruptly to this self-examination, this self-consideration. He did not fully understand himself, and he wondered very much how Hermione and the Sicilian had understood him -- judged him.

Artois had a firm belief in the right instincts of sensitive but untutored natures, especially when linked with strong hearts capable of deep love and long fidelity. He did not think that Gaspare would easily misread the character or the desires of one whom he knew well. Hermione might. She was tremendously emotional and impulsive, and might be carried away into error. But there was a steadiness in Gaspare which was impressive, which could not be ignored.

Artois wondered very much what Gaspare had thought.

There was a tap at the door, and Gaspare came in, holding his soft hat in his hand, and looking tragic and very hot and tired.

"Oh, Gaspare!" said Artois, coming in from the balcony, "they have come back."

"Lo so, Signore."

"And they are sleeping here for the night."

"Si, Signore."

Gaspare looked at him as if inquiring something of him.

"Sit down a minute," said Artois, "and have something to drink. You must spend the night here, too. The porter will give you a bed."

"Grazie, Signore."

Gaspare sat down by the table, and Artois gave him some Nocera and lemon-juice. He would not have brandy or whiskey, though he would not have refused wine had it been offered to him.

"Where have you been?" Artois asked him.

"Signore, I have been all over the Piazza di Masaniello and the Mercato. I have been through all the streets near by. I have been down by the harbor. And the Signorina?"

He stared at Artois searchingly above his glass. His face was covered with perspiration.

"I only saw her for a moment. She went to bed almost immediately."

"And that Signore?"

"He has gone home."

Gaspare was silent for a minute. Then he said:

"If I had met that Signore -- " He lifted his right hand, which was lying on the table, and moved it towards his belt.

He sighed, and again looked hard at Artois.

"It is better that I did not meet him," he said, with naive conviction. "It is much better. The Signorina is not for him."

Artois was sitting opposite to him, with the table between them.

"The Signorina is not for him," repeated Gaspare, with a dogged emphasis.

His large eyes were full of a sort of cloudy rebuke and watchfulness. And as he met them Artois felt that he knew what Gaspare had thought. He longed to say, "You are wrong. It is not so. It was never so." But he only said:

"The Signore Marchese will know that to-morrow."

And as he spoke the words he was conscious of an immense sensation of relief which startled him. He was too glad when he thought of the final dismissal of the Marchesino.

Gaspare nodded his head and put his glass to his lips. When he set it down again it was empty. He moved to get up, but Artois detained him.

"And so you met Ruffo to-night?" he said.

Gaspare's expression completely changed. Instead of the almost cruel watcher, he became the one who felt that he was watched.

"Si, Signore."

"Just when the balloon went up?"

"Si, Signore. They were beside me in the crowd."

"Was he alone with his mother?"

"Si, Signore. Quite alone."

"Gaspare, I have seen Ruffo's mother."

Gaspare looked startled.

"Truly, Signore?"

"Yes. I saw her with him one day at the Mergellina. She was crying."

"Perhaps she is unhappy. Her husband is in prison."

"Because of Peppina."

"Si."

"And to-night you spoke to her for the first time?"

Artois laid a strong emphasis on the final words.

"Signore, I have never met her with Ruffo before."

The two men looked steadily at each other. A question that could not be evaded, a question that would break like a hammer upon a mutual silence of years, was almost upon Artois' lips. Perhaps Gaspare saw it, for he got up with determination.

"I am going to bed now, Signore. I am tired. Buona notte, Signore."

He took up his hat and went out.

Artois had not asked his question. But he felt that it was answered.

Gaspare knew. And he knew.

And Hermione -- did Fate intend that she should know?

  Aucun commentaire | Ecrire un nouveau commentaire Posté le 17-09-2011 à 14h28


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Retrouvez toute l'actu lyonnaise 24/24h 7/7j !


L'information à Annecy
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L'information à Grenoble
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Application Restaurant
Restaurateurs, demandez un devis pour votre application iPhone


Fete des Lumières
Fête des lumières : vente de luminaires, lampes, ampoules, etc.

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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