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A Spirit In Prison
by Robert Hichens
Hermione was very thankful that the Marchesino had gone. She felt that the lunch had been a failure, and was sorry. But she had done her best. Vere and the young man himself had frustrated her, she thought. It was a bore having to entertain any one in the hot weather. As she went up-stairs she said to herself that her guest's addio had been the final fiasco of an unfortunate morning. Evidently he knew something of Peppina, and had been shocked to find the girl in the house. Emile had told her -- Hermione -- that she was an impulsive. Had she acted foolishly in taking Peppina? She had been governed in the matter by her heart, in which dwelt pity and a passion for justice. Surely the sense of compassion, the love of fair dealing could not lead one far astray. And yet, since Peppina had been on the island the peace of the life there had been lessened. Emile had become a little different, Vere too. And even Gaspare -- was there not some change in him?
She thought of Giulia's assertion that the disfigured girl had the evil eye.
She had laughed at the idea, and had spoken very seriously to Giulia, telling her that she was not to communicate her foolish suspicion to the other servants. But certainly the joy of their life in this House of the Sea was not what it had been. And even Vere had had forebodings with which Peppina had been connected. Perhaps the air of Italy, this clear, this radiant atmosphere which seemed created to be the environment of happiness, contained some subtle poison that was working in them all, turning them from cool reason.
She thought of Emile, calling up before her his big frame his powerful face with the steady eyes. And a wave of depression went over her, as she understood how very much she had relied on him since the death of Maurice. Without him she would indeed have been a derelict.
Again that bitter flood of curiosity welled up in her. She wondered where Vere was, but she did not go to the girl's room. Instead, she went to her own sitting-room. Yesterday she had been restless. She had felt driven. To-day she felt even worse. But to-day she knew what yesterday she had not known -- Vere's solitary occupation. Why had not Vere told her, confided in her? It was a very simple matter. The only reason why it now assumed an importance to her was because it had been so carefully concealed. Why had not Vere told her all about it, as she told her other little matters of their island life, freely, without even a thought of hesitation?
She sought the reason of this departure which was paining her. But at first she did not find it.
Perhaps Vere wanted to give her a surprise. For a moment her heart grew lighter. Vere might be preparing something to please or astonish her mother, and Emile might be in the secret, might be assisting in some way. But no! Vere's mysterious occupation had been followed too long. And then Emile had not always known what it was. He had only known lately.
Those long reveries of Vere upon the sea, when she lay in the little boat in the shadow cast by the cliffs over the Saint's Pool -- they were the prelude to work; imaginative, creative perhaps.
And Vere was not seventeen.
Hermione smiled to herself rather bitterly, thinking of the ignorance, of the inevitable folly of youth. The child, no doubt, had dreams of fame. What clever, what imaginative and energetic child has not such dreams at some period or other? How absurd we all are, thinking to climb to the stars almost as soon as we can see them!
And then the smile died away from Hermione's lips as the great tenderness of the mother within her was moved by the thought of the disappointments that come with a greater knowledge of life. Vere would suffer when she learned the truth, when she knew the meaning of failure.
Quite simply and naturally Hermione was including her child inevitably within the circle of her own disaster.
If Emile knew, why did he not tell Vere what he had told her mother?
But Emile had surely shown much greater interest in Vere just lately than ever before?
Was Emile helping Vere in what she was doing? But if he was, then he must believe in Vere's capacity to do something that was worth doing.
Hermione knew the almost terrible sincerity of Artois in the things of the intellect, his clear, unwavering judgment, his ruthless truthfulness. Nothing would ever turn him from that. Nothing, unless he --
Her face became suddenly scarlet, then pale. A monstrous idea had sprung up in her mind; an idea so monstrous that she strove to thrust it away violently, without even contemplating it. Why had Vere not told her? There must be some good and sufficient reason. Vehemently -- to escape from that monstrous idea -- she sought it. Why had everything else in her child been revealed to her, only this one thing been hidden from her?
She searched the past, Vere and herself in that past. And now, despite her emotion, her full intelligence was roused up and at work. And presently she remembered that Emile and Vere shared the knowledge of her own desire to create, and her utter failure to succeed in creation. Emile knew the whole naked truth of that. Vere did not. But Vere knew something. Could that mutual knowledge be the reason of this mutual secrecy? As women often do, Hermione had leaped into the very core of the heart of the truth, had leaped out of the void, guided by some strange instinct never alive in man. But, as women very seldom do, she shrank away from the place she had gained. Instead of triumphing, she was afraid. She remembered how often her imagination had betrayed her, how it had created phantoms, had ruined for her the lagging hours. Again and again she had said to herself, "I will beware of it." Now she accused it of playing her false once more, of running wild. Sharply she pulled herself up. She was assuming things. That was her great fault, to assume that things were that which perhaps they were not.
How often Emile had told her not to trust her imagination! She would heed him now. She knew nothing. She did not even know for certain that Vere's flush, Vere's abrupt hesitation at lunch, were a betrayal of the child's secret.
But that she would find out.
Again the fierce curiosity besieged and took possession of her. After all, she was a mother. A mother had rights. Surely she had a right to know what another knew of her child.
"I will ask Vere," she said to herself.
Once before she had said to herself that she would do that, and she had not done it. She had felt that to do it would be a humiliation. But now she was resolved to do it, for she knew more of her own condition and was more afraid of herself. She began to feel like one who has undergone a prolonged strain of work, who believes that it has not been too great and has been capably supported, and who suddenly is aware of a yielding, of a downward and outward movement, like a wide and spreading disintegration, in which brain, nerves, the whole body are involved.
Yet what had been the strain that she had been supporting, that now suddenly she began to feel too much? The strain of a loss. Time should have eased it. But had Time eased it, or only lengthened the period during which she had been forced to carry her load? People ought to get accustomed to things. She knew that it is supposed by many that the human body, the human mind, the human heart can get accustomed -- by which is apparently meant can cease passionately and instinctively to strive to repel -- can get accustomed to anything. Well she could not. Never could she get accustomed to the loss of love, of man's love. The whole world might proclaim its proverbs. For her they had no truth. For her -- and for how many other silent women!
And now suddenly she felt that for years she had been struggling, and that the struggle had told upon her far more than she had ever suspected. Nothing must be added to her burden or she would sink down. The dust would cover her. She would be as nothing -- or she would be as something terrible, nameless.
She must ask Vere, do what she had said to herself that she would not do. Unless she had the complete confidence of her child she could not continue to do without the cherishing love she had lost. She saw herself a cripple, something maimed. Hitherto she had been supported by blessed human crutches: by Vere, Emile, Gaspare. How heavily she had leaned upon them! She knew that now. How heavily she must still lean if she were to continue on her way. And a fierce, an almost savage something, desperate and therefore arbitrary, said within her:
"I will keep the little that I have: I will -- I will."
"The little!" Had she said that? It was wicked of her to say that. But she had had the wonderful thing. She had held for a brief time the magic of the world within the hollow of her hands, within the shadow of her heart. And the others? Children slip from their parents' lives into the arms of another whose call means more to them than the voices of those who made them love. Friends drift away, scarcely knowing why, divided from each other by the innumerable channels that branch from the main stream of existence. Even a faithful servant cannot be more than a friend.
There is one thing that is great, whose greatness makes the smallness of all the other things. And so Hermione said, "the little that I have," and there was truth in it. And there was as vital a truth in the fact of her whole nature recognizing that little's enormous value to her. Not for a moment did she underrate her possession. Indeed, she had to fight against the tendency to exaggeration. Her intellect said to her that, in being so deeply moved by such a thing as the concealment from her by Vere of something innocent of which Emile knew, she was making a water drop into an ocean. Her intellect said that. But her heart said no.
And the voice of her intellect sank away like the frailest echo that ever raised its spectral imitation of a reality. And the voice of her heart rang out till it filled her world.
And so the argument was over.
She thought she heard a step below, and looked out of the window into the sunshine.
Gaspare was there. It was his hour of repose, and he was smoking a cigarette. He was dressed in white linen, without a coat, and had a white linen hat on his head. He stood near the house, apparently looking out to sea. And his pose was meditative. Hermione watched him. The sight of him reminded her of another question she wished to ask.
Gaspare had one hand in the pocket of his white trousers. With the other he held the cigarette. Hermione saw the wreaths of pale smoke curling up and evaporating in the shining, twinkling air, which seemed full of joyous, dancing atoms. But presently his hand forgot to do its work. The cigarette, only half smoked, went out, and he stood there as if plunged in profound thought. Hermione wondered what he was thinking about.
She said it softly. Evidently he did not hear.
Each time she spoke a little louder, but still he took no notice.
She leaned farther out and called:
This time he heard and started violently, dropped the cigarette, then, without looking up, bent down slowly, recovered it, and turned round.
The sun shone full on his upturned face, showing to Hermione the dogged look which sometimes came to it when anything startled him.
"I made you jump."
"But I did. What were you thinking about?"
"Nothing, Signora. Why are you not asleep?"
He spoke almost as if she injured him by being awake.
"I couldn't sleep to-day. What are you going to do this afternoon?"
"I don't know, Signora. Do you wish me to do anything for you?"
"Well -- "
She had a wish to clear things up, to force her life, the lives of those few she cared for, out of mystery into a clear light. She had a desire to chastise thought by strong, bracing action.
"I rather want to send a note to Don Emilio."
His voice did not sound pleased.
"It is too hot to row all the way to Naples. Couldn't you go to the village and take the tram to the hotel -- if I write the note?"
"If you like, Signora."
"Or would it be less bother to row as far as Mergellina, and take a tram or carriage from there?
"I can do that, Signora."
He sounded a little more cheerful.
"I think I'll write the note, Gaspare, then. And you might take it some time -- whenever you like. You might come and fetch it in five minutes."
"Very well, Signora."
He moved away and she went to her writing-table. She sat down, and slowly, with a good deal of hesitation and thought, she wrote part of a letter asking Emile to come to dine whenever he liked at the island. And now came the difficulty. She knew Emile did not want to meet the Marchesino there. Yet she was going to ask them to meet each other. She had told the Marchesino so. Should she tell Emile? Perhaps, if she did, he would refuse to come. But she could never lay even the smallest trap for a friend. So she wrote on, asking Emile to let her know the night he would come as she had promised to invite the Marchesino to meet him.
"Be a good friend and do this for me," she ended, "even if it bores you. The Marchese lunched here alone with us to-day, and it was a fiasco. I think we were very inhospitable, and I want to wipe away the recollection of our dulness from his mind. Gaspare will bring me your answer."
At the bottom she wrote "Hermione." But just as she was going to seal the letter in its envelope she took it out, and added, "Delarey" to her Christian name.
"Hermione Delarey." She looked at the words for a long time before she rang the bell for Gaspare.
When she gave him the letter, "Are you going by Mergellina?" she asked him.
He stood beside her for a moment; then, as she said nothing more, turned to go out.
"Gaspare, wait one minute," she said, quickly.
"I meant to ask you last night, but -- well, we spoke of other things, and it was so late. Have you ever noticed anything about that boy, Ruffo, anything at all, that surprised you?"
"Surprised me, Signora?"
"Surprised you, or reminded you of anything?"
"I don't know what you mean, Signora."
Gaspare's voice was hard and cold. He looked steadily at Hermione, as a man of strong character sometimes looks when he wishes to turn his eyes away from the glance of another, but will not, because of his manhood.
Hermione hesitated to go on, but something drove her to be more explicit.
"Have you never noticed in Ruffo a likeness to -- to your Padrone?" she said, slowly.
Gaspare's great eyes dropped before hers, and he stood looking on the floor. She saw a deep flush cover his brown skin.
"I am sure you have noticed it, Gaspare," she said. "I can see you have. Why did you not tell me?"
At that moment she felt angry with herself and almost angry with him. Had he noticed this strange, this subtle resemblance between the fisher-boy and the dead man at once, long before she had? Had he been swifter to see such a thing than she?
"What do you mean, Signora? What are you talking about?"
He looked ugly.
"How can a fisher-boy, a nothing from Mergellina, look like my Padrone?"
Now he lifted his eyes, and they were fierce -- or so she thought.
"Signora, how can you say such a thing?"
"Gaspare?" she exclaimed, astonished at his sudden vehemence.
"Signora -- scusi! But -- but there will never be another like my Padrone."
He opened the door and went quickly out of the room, and when the door shut it was as if an iron door shut upon a furnace.
Hermione stood looking at this door. She drew a long breath.
"But he has seen it!" she said, aloud. "He has seen it."
Had she been a blind woman, she who had so loved the beauty that was dust? She thought of Vere and Ruffo standing together, so youthful, so happy in their simple, casual intercourse.
It was as if Vere had been mysteriously drawn to this boy because of his resemblance to the father she had never seen.
Vere! Little Vere!
Again the mother's tenderness welled up in Hermione's heart, this time sweeping away the reluctance to be humble.
"I will go to Vere now."
She went to the door, as she had gone to it the previous day. But this time she did not hesitate to open it. A strong impulse swept her along, and she came to her child's room eagerly.
She knocked at the door.
"Vere! May I come in?"
She knocked again. There was no answer.
Then she opened the door and went in. Possibly Vere was sleeping. The mosquito-net was drawn round the bed, but Hermione saw that her child was not behind it. Vere had gone out somewhere.
The mother went to the big window which looked out upon the sea. The green Venetian blind was drawn. She pushed up one of its flaps and bent to look through. Below, a little way out on the calm water, she saw Vere's boat rocking softly in obedience to the small movement that is never absent from the sea. The white awning was stretched above the stern-seats, and under it lay Vere in her white linen dress, her small head, not protected by a hat, supported by a cushion. She lay quite still, one arm on the gunwale of the boat, the other against her side. Hermione could not see whether her eyes were shut or open.
The mother watched her for a long time through the blind.
How much of power was enclosed in that young figure that lay so still, so perfectly at ease, cradled on the great sea, warmed and cherished by the tempered fires of the sun! How much of power to lift up and to cast down, to be secret, to create sorrow, to be merciful! Wonderful, terrible human power!
The watching mother felt just then that she was in the hands of the child.
"Now it's the child's turn."
Surely Vere must be asleep. Such absolute stillness must mean temporary withdrawal of consciousness.
Just as Hermione was thinking this, Vere's left hand moved. The girl lifted it up to her face, and gently and repeatedly rubbed her eyebrow.
Hermione dropped the flap of the blind. The little, oddly natural movement had suddenly made her feel that it was not right to be watching Vere when the child must suppose herself to be unobserved and quite alone with the sea.
As she came away from the window she glanced quickly round the room, and upon a small writing-table at the foot of the bed she saw a number of sheets of paper lying loose, with a piece of ribbon beside them. They had evidently been taken out of the writing-table drawer, which was partially open, and which, as Hermione could see, contained other sheets of a similar kind. Hermione looked, and then looked away. She passed the table and reached the door. When she was there she glanced again at the sheets of paper. They were covered with writing. They drew, they fascinated her eyes, and she stood still, with her hand resting on the door-handle. As a rule it would have seemed perfectly natural to her to read anything that Vere had left lying about, either in her own room or anywhere else. Until just lately her child had never had, or dreamed of having any secret from her. Never had Vere received a letter that her mother had not seen. Secrets simply did not exist between them -- secrets, that is, of the child from the mother.
But it was not so now. And that was why those sheets of paper drew and held the mother's eyes.
She had, of course, a perfect right to read them. Or had she -- she who had said to Vere, "Keep your secrets"? In those words had she not deliberately relinquished such a right? She stood there thinking, recalling those words, debating within herself this question -- and surely with much less than her usual great honesty.
Emile, she was sure, had read the writing upon those sheets of paper.
She did not know exactly why she was certain of this -- but she was certain, absolutely certain. She remembered the long-ago days, when she had submitted to him similar sheets. What Emile had read surely she might read. Again that intense and bitter curiosity mingled with something else, a strange, new jealousy in which it was rooted. She felt as if Vere, this child whom she had loved and cared for, had done her a cruel wrong, had barred her out from the life in which she had always been till now the best loved, the most absolutely trusted dweller. Why should she not take that which she ought to have been given?
Again she was conscious of that painful, that piteous sensation of one who is yielding under a strain that has been too prolonged. Something surely collapsed within her, something of the part of her being that was moral. She was no longer a free woman in that moment. She was governed. Or so she felt, perhaps deceiving herself.
She went swiftly and softly over to the table and bent over the sheets.
At first she stood. Then she sat down. She took up the paper, handled it, held it close to her eyes.
Verses! Vere was writing verses. Of course! Every one begins by being a poet. Hermione smiled, almost laughed aloud. Poor little Vere with her poor little secret! There was still that bitterness in the mother, that sense of wrong. But she read on and on. And presently she started and her hand shook.
She had come to a poem that was corrected in Vere's handwriting, and on the margin was written, "Monsieur Emile's idea."
So there had been a conference, and Emile was advising Vere.
Hermione's hand shook so violently that she could not go on reading for a moment, and she laid the paper down. She felt like one who has suddenly unmasked a conspiracy against herself. It was useless for her intellect to deny this conspiracy, for her heart proclaimed it.
Long ago Emile had told her frankly that it was in vain for her to waste her time in creative work, that she had not the necessary gift for it. And now he was secretly assisting her own child -- a child of sixteen -- to do what he had told her, the mother, not to do. Why was he doing this?
Again the monstrous idea that she had forcibly dismissed from her mind that day returned to Hermione. There is one thing that sometimes blinds the most clear-sighted men, so that they cannot perceive truth.
But -- Hermione again bent over the sheets of paper, this time seeking for a weapon against the idea which assailed her. On several pages she found emendations, excisions, on one a whole verse completely changed. And on the margins were pencilled "Monsieur Emile's suggestion"; "Monsieur E.'s advice"; and once, "These two lines invented by Monsieur Emile."
When had Vere and Emile had the opportunity for this long and secret discussion? On the day of the storm they had been together alone. They had had tea together alone. And on the night Emile dined on the island they had been out in the boat together for a long time. All this must have been talked over then.
She read on. Had Vere talent? Did her child possess what she had longed for, and had been denied? She strove to read critically, but she was too excited, too moved to do so. All necessary calm was gone. She was painfully upset. The words moved before her eyes, running upward in irregular lines that resembled creeping things, and she saw rings of light, yellow in the middle and edged with pale blue.
She pushed away the sheets of paper, got up and went again to the window. She must look at Vere once more, look at her with this new knowledge, look at her critically, with a piercing scrutiny. And she bent down as before, and moved a section of the blind, pushing it up.
There was no boat beneath her on the sea.
She dropped the blind sharply, and all the blood in her body seemed to make a simultaneous movement away from the region of the heart.
Vere was perhaps already in the house, running lightly up to the room. She would come in and find her mother there. She would guess what her mother had been doing.
Hermione did not hesitate. She crossed the room swiftly, opened the door, and went out. She reached her own room without meeting Vere. But she had not been in it for more than a minute and a half when she heard Vere come up-stairs, the sound of her door open and shut.
Hermione cleared her throat. She felt the need of doing something physical. Then she pulled up her blinds and let the hot sun stream in upon her.
She felt dark just then -- black.
In a moment she found that she was perspiring. The sun was fierce -- that, of course, must be the reason. But she would not shut the sun out. She must have light around her, although there was none within her.
She was thankful she had escaped in time. If she had not, if Vere had run into the room and found her there, she was sure she would have frightened her child by some strange outburst. She would have said or done something -- she did not at all know what -- that would perhaps have altered their relations irrevocably. For, in that moment, the sense of self-control, of being herself -- so she put it -- had been withdrawn from her.
She would regain it, no doubt. She was even now regaining it. Already she was able to say to herself that she was not seeing things in their true proportions, that some sudden crisis of the nerves, due perhaps to some purely physical cause, had plunged her into a folly of feeling from which she would soon escape entirely. She was by nature emotional and unguarded: therefore specially likely to be the victim in mind of any bodily ill.
And then she was not accustomed to be unwell. Her strength of body was remarkable. Very seldom had she felt weak.
She remembered one night, long ago in Sicily, when an awful bodily weakness had overtaken her. But that had been caused by dread. The mind had reacted upon the body. Now, she was sure of it, body had reacted on mind.
Yet she had not been ill.
She felt unequal to the battle of pros and cons that was raging within her.
"I'll be quiet," she thought. "I'll read."
And she took up a book.
She read steadily for an hour, understanding thoroughly all she read, and wondering how she had ever fancied she cared about reading. Then she laid the book down and looked at the clock. It was nearly four. Tea would perhaps refresh her. And after tea? She had loved the island, but to-day she felt almost as if it were a prison. What was there to be done? She found herself wondering for the first time how she had managed to "get through" week after week there. And in a moment her wonder made her realize the inward change in her, the distance that now divided her from Vere, the gulf that lay between them.
A day with a stranger may seem long, but a month with a friend how short! To live with Vere had been like living with a part of herself. But now what would it be like? And when Emile came, and they three were together?
When Hermione contemplated that reunion, she felt that it would be to her intolerable. And yet she desired it. For she wanted to know something, and she was certain that if she, Vere, and Emile could be together, without any fourth person, she would know it.
A little while ago, when she had longed for bracing action, she had resolved to ask Emile to meet the Marchesino. She had felt as if that meeting would clear the air, would drive out the faint mystery which seemed to be encompassing them about. The two men, formerly friends, were evidently in antagonism now. She wanted to restore things to their former footing, or to make the enmity come out into the open, to understand it thoroughly, and to know if she and Vere had any part in it. Her desire had been to throw open windows and let in light.
But now things were changed. She understood, she knew more. And she wanted to be alone with Emile and with Vere. Then, perhaps, she would understand everything.
She said this to herself quite calmly. Her mood was changed. The fire had died down in her, and she felt almost sluggish, although still restless. The monstrous idea had come to her again. She did not vehemently repel it. By nature she was no doubt an impulsive. But now she meant to be a watcher. Before she took up her book and began to read she had been, perhaps, almost hysterical, had been plunged in a welter of emotion in which reason was drowned, had not been herself.
But now she felt that she was herself.
There was something that she wished to know, something that the knowledge she had gained in her child's room that day suggested as a possibility.
She regretted her note to Emile. Why had not she asked him to come alone, to-morrow, or even to-night -- yes, to-night?
If she could only be with him and Vere for a few minutes to-night!
A Spirit In Prison
by Robert Hichens
The Marchesino had really been unwell, as he had told Hermione. The Panacci disposition, of which he had once spoken to Artois, was certainly not a calm one, and Isidoro, was, perhaps, the most excitable member of an abundantly excitable family. Although changeable, he was vehement. He knew not the meaning of the word patience, and had always been accustomed to get what he wanted exactly when he wanted it. Delay in the gratification of his desires, opposition to his demands, rendered him as indignant as if he were a spoiled child unable to understand the fixed position and function of the moon. And since the night of his vain singing along the shore to the Nisida he had been ill with fever, brought on by jealousy and disappointment, brought on partly also by the busy workings of a heated imagination which painted his friend Emilio in colors of inky black.
The Marchesino had not the faintest doubt that Artois was in love with Vere. He believed this not from any evidence of his eyes, for, even now, in not very lucid moments, he could not recall any occasion on which he had seen Emilio paying court to the pretty English girl. But, then, he had only seen them together twice -- on the night of his first visit to the island and on the night of the storm. It was the general conduct of his friend that convinced him, conduct in connection not with Vere, but with himself -- apart from that one occasion when Emilio must have lain hidden with Vere among the shadows of the grotto of Virgil. He had been deceived by Emilio. He had thought of him as an intellectual, who was also a bon vivant and interested in Neapolitan life. But he had not thought of him as a libertine. Yet that was what he certainly was. The interview with Maria Fortunata in the alley beyond the Via Roma had quite convinced the Marchesino. He had no objection whatever to loose conduct, but he had a contempt for hypocrisy which was strong and genuine. He had trusted Emilio. Now he distrusted him, and was ready to see subtlety, deceit, and guile in all his undertakings.
Emilio had been trying to play with him. Emilio looked upon him as a boy who knew nothing of the world. The difference in their respective ages, so long ignored by him, now glared perpetually upon the Marchesino, even roused within him a certain condemnatory something that was almost akin to moral sense, a rare enough bird in Naples. He said to himself that Emilio was a wicked old man, "un vecchio briccone." The delights of sin were the prerogative of youth. Abruptly this illuminating fact swam, like a new comet, within the ken of the Marchesino. He towered towards the heights of virtuous indignation. As he lay upon his fevered pillow, drinking a tisane prepared by his anxious mamma, he understood the inner beauty of settling down -- for the old, and white-haired age, still intent upon having its fling, appeared to him so truly pitiable and disgusting that he could almost have wept for Emilio had he not feared to make himself more feverish by such an act of enlightened friendship.
And the sense and appreciation of the true morality, ravishing in its utter novelty for the young barbarian, was cherished by the Marchesino until he began almost to swell with virtue, and to start on stilts to heaven, big with the message that wickedness was for the young and must not be meddled with by any one over thirty -- the age at which, till now, he had always proposed to himself to marry some rich girl and settle down to the rigid asceticism of Neapolitan wedded life.
And as the Marchesino had lain in bed tingling with morality, so did he get up and issue forth to the world, and even set sail upon the following day for the island. Morality was thick upon him, as upon that "briccone" Emilio, something else was thick. About mediaeval chivalry he knew precisely nothing. Yet, as the white wings of his pretty yacht caught the light breeze of morning, he felt like a most virtuous knight sans peur et sans reproche. He even felt like a steady-going person with a mission.
But he wished he thoroughly understood the English nation. Towards the English he felt friendly, as do most Italians; but he knew little of them, except that they were very rich, lived in a perpetual fog, and were "un poco pazzi." But the question was how mad -- in other words, how different from Neapolitans -- they were! He wished he knew. It would make things easier for him in his campaign against Emilio.
Till he met the ladies of the island he had never said a hundred words to any English person. The Neapolitan aristocracy is a very conservative body, and by no means disposed to cosmopolitanism. To the Panacci Villa at Capodimonte came only Italians, except Emilio. The Marchesino had inquired of Emilio if his mother should call upon the Signora Delarey, but Artois, knowing Hermione's hatred of social formalities, had hastened to say that it was not necessary, that it would even be a surprising departure from the English fashion of life, which ordained some knowledge of each other by the ladies of two families, or at least some formal introduction by a mutual woman friend, before an acquaintance could be properly cemented. Hitherto the Marchesino had felt quite at ease with his new friends. But hitherto he had been, as it were, merely at play with them. The interlude of fever had changed his views and enlarged his consciousness. And Emilio was no longer at hand to be explanatory if desired.
The Marchesino wished very much that he thoroughly understood the inner workings of the minds of English ladies.
How mad were the English? How mad exactly, for instance, was the Signora Delarey? And how mad exactly was the Signorina? It would be very valuable to know. He realized that his accurate knowledge of Neapolitan women, hitherto considered by him as amply sufficient to conduct him without a false step through all the intricacies of the world feminine, might not serve him perfectly with the ladies of the island. His fever had, it seemed, struck a little blow on his self- confidence, and rendered him so feeble as to be almost thoughtful.
And then, what exactly did he want? To discomfit Emilio utterly? That, of course, did not need saying, even to himself. And afterwards? There were two perpendicular lines above his eyebrows as the boat drew near to the island.
But when he came into the little drawing-room, where Hermione was waiting to receive him, he looked young and debonair, though still pale from his recent touch of illness.
Vere was secretly irritated by his coming. Her interview with Peppina had opened her eyes to many things, among others to a good deal that was latent in the Marchesino. She could never again meet him, or any man of his type, with the complete and masterful simplicity of ignorant childhood that can innocently coquet by instinct, that can manage by heredity from Eve, but that does not understand thoroughly, either, what it is doing or why it is doing it.
Vere was not in the mood for the Marchesino.
She had been working, and she had been dreaming, and she wanted to have another talk with Monsieur Emile. Pretty, delicate, yet strong- fibred ambitions were stirring within her, and the curious passion to use life as a material, but not all of life that presented itself to her. With the desire to use that might be greedy arose the fastidious prerogative of rejection.
And that very morning, mentally, Vere had rejected the Marchesino as something not interesting in life, something that was only lively, like the very shallow stream. What a bore it would be having to entertain him, to listen to his compliments, to avoid his glances, to pretend to be at ease with him.
"But Madre can have him for a little first," she said to herself, as she looked into the glass to see that her hair was presentable. "Madre asked him to come. I didn't. I shall have nothing to say to him."
She had quite forgotten her eagerness on the night of the storm, when she heard the cry of the siren that betokened his approach. Again she looked in the glass and gave a pat to her hair. And just as she was doing it she thought of that day after the bathe, when Gaspare had come to tell her that Monsieur Emile was waiting for her. She had run down, then, just as she was, and now --
"Mamma mia! Am I getting vain!" she said to herself.
And she turned from the glass, and reluctantly went to meet their guest.
She had said to herself that it was a bore having the Marchesino to lunch, that he was uninteresting, frivolous, empty-headed. But directly she set eyes upon him, as he stood in the drawing-room by her mother, she felt a change in him. What had happened to him? She could not tell. But she was conscious that he seemed much more definite, much more of a personage, than he had seemed to her before. Even his face looked different, though paler, stronger. She was aware of surprise.
The Marchesino, too, though much less instinctively observant than Vere, noted a change in her. She looked more developed, more grown up. And he said to himself:
"When I told Emile she was a woman I was right."
Their meeting was rather grave and formal, even a little stiff. The Marchesino paid Vere two or three compliments, and she inquired perfunctorily after his health, and expressed regret for his slight illness.
"It was only a chill, Signorina. It was nothing."
"Perhaps you caught it that night," Vere said.
"What night, Signorina?"
Vere had been thinking of the night when he sang for her in vain. Suddenly remembering how she and Monsieur Emile had lain in hiding and slipped surreptitiously home under cover of the darkness, she flushed and said:
"The night of the storm -- you got wet, didn't you?"
"But that was long ago, Signorina," he answered, looking steadily at her, with an expression that was searching and almost hard.
Had he guessed her inadvertence? She feared so, and felt rather guilty, and glad when Giulia came in to announce that lunch was ready.
Hermione, when they sat down, feeling a certain constraint, but not knowing what it sprang from, came to the rescue with an effort. She was really disinclined for talk, and was perpetually remembering that the presence of the Marchesino had prevented Emile from coming to spend a long day. But she remembered also her guest's hospitality at Frisio's, and her social instinct defied her natural reluctance to be lively. She said to herself that she was rapidly developing into a fogey, and must rigorously combat the grievous tendency. By a sheer exertion of will-power she drove herself into a different, and conversational, mood. The Marchesino politely responded. He was perfectly self-possessed, but he was not light-hearted. The unusual effort of being thoughtful had, perhaps, distressed or even outraged his brain. And the worst of it was that he was still thinking -- for him quite profoundly.
However, they talked about risotto, they talked about Vesuvius, they spoke of the delights of summer in the South and of the advantages of living on an island.
"Does it not bore you, Signora, having the sea all round?" asked the Marchesino. "Do you not feel in a prison and that you cannot escape?"
"We don't want to escape, do we, Madre?" said Vere, quickly, before Hermione could answer.
"I am very fond of the island, certainly," said Hermione. "Still, of course, we are rather isolated here."
She was thinking of what she had said to Artois -- that perhaps her instinct to shut out the world was morbid, was bad for Vere. The girl at once caught the sound of hesitation in her mother's voice.
"Madre!" she exclaimed. "You don't mean to say that you are tired of our island life?"
"I do not say that. And you, Vere?"
"I love being here. I dread the thought of the autumn."
"In what month do you go away, Signora?" asked the Marchesino.
"By the end of October we shall have made our flitting, I suppose."
"You will come in to Naples for the winter?"
Hermione hesitated. Then she said:
"I almost think I shall take my daughter to Rome. What do you say, Vere?"
The girls face had become grave, even almost troubled.
"I can't look forward in this weather," she said. "I think it's almost wicked to. Oh, let us live in the moment, Madre, and pretend it will be always summer, and that we shall always be living in our Casa del Mare!"
There was a sound of eager youth in her voice as she spoke, and her eyes suddenly shone. The Marchesino looked at her with an admiration he did not try to conceal.
"You love the sea, Signorina?" he asked.
But Vere's enthusiasm abruptly vanished, as if she feared that he might destroy its completeness by trying to share it.
"Oh yes," she said. "We all do here; Madre, Gaspare, Monsieur Emile -- everybody."
It was the first time the name of Artois had been mentioned among them that day. The Marchesino's full red lips tightened over his large white teeth.
"I have not seen Signor Emilio for some days," he said.
"Nor have we," said Vere, with a touch of childish discontent.
He looked at her closely.
Emilio -- he knew all about Emilio. But the Signorina? What were her feelings towards the "vecchio briccone"? He did not understand the situation, because he did not understand precisely the nature of madness of the English. Had the ladies been Neapolitans, Emilio an Italian, he would have felt on sure ground. But in England, so he had heard, there is a fantastic, cold, sexless something called friendship that can exist between unrelated man and woman.
"Don Emilio writes much," he said, with less than his usual alacrity. "When one goes to see him he has always a pen in his hand."
He tried to speak of Emilio with complete detachment, but could not resist adding:
"When one is an old man one likes to sit, one cannot be forever running to and fro. One gets tired, I suppose."
There was marked satire in the accent with which he said the last words. And the shrug of his shoulders was an almost audible "What can I know of that?"
"Monsieur Emile writes because he has a great brain, not because he has a tired body," said Vere, with sudden warmth.
Her mother was looking at her earnestly.
"Oh, Signorina, I do not mean -- But for a man to be always shut up," began the Marchesino, "it is not life."
"You don't understand, Marchese. One can live in a little room with the door shut as one can never live -- "
Abruptly she stopped. A flush ran over her face and down to her neck. Hermione turned away her eyes. But they had read Vere's secret. She knew what her child was doing in those hours of seclusion. And she remembered her own passionate attempts to stave off despair by work. She remembered her own failure.
"Poor little Vere!" That was her first thought. "But what is Emile doing?" That was the second. He had discouraged her. He had told her the truth. What was he telling Vere? A flood of bitter curiosity seemed to rise in her, drowning many things.
"What I like is life, Signorina," said the Marchesino. "Driving, riding, swimming, sport, fencing, being with beautiful ladies -- that is life."
"Yes, of course, that is life," she said.
What was the good of trying to explain to him the inner life? He had no imagination.
Her youth made her very drastic, very sweeping, in her secret mental assertions.
She labelled the Marchesino "Philistine," and popped him into his drawer.
Lunch was over, and they got up.
"Are you afraid of the heat out-of-doors, Marchese?" Hermione asked, "or shall we have coffee in the garden? There is a trellis, and we shall be out of the sun."
"Signora, I am delighted to go out."
He got his straw hat, and they went into the tiny garden and sat down on basket-work chairs under a trellis, set in the shadow of some fig- trees. Giulia brought them coffee, and the Marchesino lighted a cigarette.
He said to himself that he had never been in love before.
Vere wore a white dress. She had no hat on, but held rather carelessly over her small, dark head a red parasol. It was evident that she was not afraid even of the midday sun. That new look in her face, soft womanhood at the windows gazing at a world more fully, if more sadly, understood, fascinated him, sent the blood up to his head. There was a great change in her. To-day she knew what before she had not known.
As he stared at Vere with adoring eyes suddenly there came into his mind the question: "Who has taught her?"
And then he thought of the night when all in vain he had sung upon the sea, while the Signorina and "un Signore" were hidden somewhere near him.
The blood sang in his head, and something seemed to expand in his brain, to press violently against his temples, as if striving to force its way out. He put down his coffee cup, and the two perpendicular lines appeared above his eyebrows, giving him an odd look, cruel and rather catlike.
"If Emilio -- "
At that moment he longed to put a knife into his friend.
But he was not sure. He only suspected.
Hermione's role in this summer existence puzzled him exceedingly. The natural supposition in a Neapolitan would, of course, have been that Artois was her lover. But when the Marchesino looked at Hermione's eyes he could not tell.
What did it all mean? He felt furious at being puzzled, as if he were deliberately duped.
"Your cigarette has gone out, Marchese," said Hermione. "Have another."
The young man started.
"Vere, run in and get the Marchese a Khali Targa."
The girl got up quickly.
"No, no! I cannot permit -- I have another here."
He opened his case. It was empty.
She went off before he could say another word, and the Marchesino was alone for a moment with Hermione.
"You are fortunate, Signora, in having such a daughter," he said, with a sigh that was boyish.
"Yes," Hermione said.
That bitter curiosity was still with her, and her voice sounded listless, almost cold. The Marchesino looked up. Ah! Was there something here that he could understand? Something really feminine? A creeping jealousy? He was on the qui vive at once.
"And such a good friend as Don Emilio," he added. "You have known Emilio for a long time, Signora?"
"Oh yes, for a very long time."
"He is a strange man," said the Marchesino, with rather elaborate carelessness.
"Do you think so? In what way?"
"He likes to know, but he does not like to be known."
There was a great deal of truth in the remark. Its acuteness surprised Hermione, who thought the Marchesino quick witted but very superficial.
"As he is a writer, I suppose he has to study people a good deal," she said, quietly.
"I do not think I can understand these great people. I think they are too grand for me."
"Oh, but Emile likes you very much. He told me so."
"It is very good of him," said the Marchesino, pulling at his mustaches.
He was longing to warn Hermione against Emilio -- to hint that Emilio was not to be trusted. He believed that Hermione must be very blind, very unfitted to look after a lovely daughter. But when he glanced at her face he did not quite know how to hint what was in his mind. And just then Vere came back and the opportunity was gone. She held out a box to the Marchesino. As he thanked her and took a cigarette he tried to look into her eyes. But she would not let him. And when he struck his match she returned once more to the house, carrying the box with her. Her movement was so swift and unexpected that Hermione had not time to speak before she was gone.
"But -- "
"I should not smoke another, Signora," said the Marchesino, quickly.
"You are sure?"
"Still, Vere might have left the box. She is inhospitable to-day."
Hermione spoke lightly.
"Oh, it is bad for cigarettes to lie in the sun. It ruins them."
"But you should have filled your case. You must do so before you go."
His head was buzzing again. The touch of fever had really weakened him. He knew it now. Never gifted with much self-control, he felt to-day that, with a very slight incentive, he might lose his head. The new atmosphere which Vere diffused around her excited him strangely. He was certain that she was able to understand something of what he was feeling, that on the night of the storm she would not have been able to understand. Again he thought of Emilio, and moved restlessly in his chair, looking sideways at Hermione, then dropping his eyes. Vere did not come back.
Hermione exerted herself to talk, but the task became really a difficult one, for the Marchesino looked perpetually towards the house, and so far forgot himself as to show scarcely even a wavering interest in anything his hostess said. As the minutes ran by a hot sensation of anger began to overcome him. A spot of red appeared on each cheek.
Suddenly he got up.
"Signora, you will want to make the siesta. I must not keep you longer."
"No, really; I love sitting out in the garden, and you will find the glare of the sun intolerable if you go so early."
"On the sea there is always a breeze. Indeed, I must not detain you. All our ladies sleep after the colazione until the bathing hour. Do not you?"
"Yes, we lie down. But to-day -- "
"You must not break the habit. It is a necessity. My boat will be ready, and I must thank you for a delightful entertainment."
His round eyes were fierce, but he commanded his voice.
"A rive -- "
"I will come with you to the house if you really will not stay a little longer."
"Perhaps I may come again?" he said, quickly, with a sudden hardness, a fighting sound in his voice. "One evening in the cool. Or do I bore you?"
"No; do come."
Hermione felt rather guilty, as if they had been inhospitable, she and Vere; though, indeed, only Vere was in fault.
"Come and dine one night, and I shall ask Don Emilio."
As she spoke she looked steadily at her guest.
"He was good enough to introduce us to each other, wasn't he?" she added. "We must all have an evening together, as we did at Frisio's."
The Marchesino bowed.
"With pleasure, Signora."
They came into the house.
As they did so Peppina came down the stairs. When she saw them she murmured a respectful salutation and passed quickly by, averting her wounded cheek. Almost immediately behind her was Vere. The Marchesino looked openly amazed for a moment, then even confused. He stared first at Hermione, then at Vere.
"I am sorry, Madre; I was kept for a moment," the girl said. "Are you coming up-stairs?"
"The Marchese says he must go, Vere. He is determined not to deprive us of our siesta."
"One needs to sleep at this hour in the hot weather," said the Marchesino.
The expression of wonder and confusion was still upon his face, and he spoke slowly.
"Good-bye, Marchese," Vere said, holding out her hand.
He took it and bowed over it and let it go. The girl turned and ran lightly up-stairs.
Directly she was gone the Marchesino said to Hermione:
"Pardon me, Signora, I -- I -- "
He hesitated. His self-possession seemed to have deserted him for the moment. He looked at Hermione swiftly, searchingly, then dropped his eyes.
"What is it, Marchese?" she asked, wondering what was the matter with him.
He still hesitated. Evidently he was much disturbed. At last he said again:
"Pardon me, Signora. I -- as you know, I am Neapolitan. I have always lived in Naples."
"Yes, I know."
"I know Naples like my pocket -- "
He broke off.
Hermione waited for him to go on. She had no idea what was coming.
"Yes?" she said, at length to help him.
"Excuse me, Signora! But that girl -- that girl who passed by just now -- "
"My servant, Peppina."
He stared at her.
"Your servant, Signora?"
"Do you know what she is, where she comes from? But no, it is impossible."
"I know all about Peppina, Marchese," Hermione replied, quietly.
His large round eyes were still fixedly staring at her.
"Good-bye, Signora!" he said. "Thank you for a very charming colazione. And I shall look forward with all my heart to the evening you have kindly suggested."
"I shall write directly I have arranged with Don Emilio."
"Thank you! Thank you! A rivederci, Signora."
He cast upon her one more gravely staring look, and was gone.
When he was outside and alone, he threw up his hands and talked to himself for a moment, uttering many exclamations. In truth, he was utterly amazed. Maria Fortunata had spread abroad diligently the fame of her niece's beauty, and the Marchesino, like the rest of the gay young men of Naples, had known of and had misjudged her. He had read in the papers of the violence done to her, and had at once dismissed her from his mind with a muttered "Povera Ragazza!"
She was no longer beautiful.
And now he discovered her living as a servant with the ladies of the island. Who could have put her there? He thought of Emilio's colloquy with Maria Fortunata. But the Signora? A mother? What did it all mean? Even the madness of the English could scarcely be so pronounced as to make such a proceeding as this quite a commonplace manifestation of the national life and eccentricity. He could not believe that.
He stepped into his boat. As the sailors rowed it out from the Pool -- the wind had gone down and the sails were useless -- he looked earnestly up to the windows of the Casa del Mare, longing to pierce its secrets.
What was Emilio in that house? A lover, a friend, a bad genius? And the Signora? What was she?
The Marchesino was no believer in the virtue of women. But the lack of beauty in Hermione, and her age, rendered him very doubtful as to her role in the life on the island. Vere's gay simplicity had jumped to the eyes. But now she, too, was becoming something of a mystery.
He traced it all to Emilio, and was hot with a curiosity that was linked closely with his passion.
Should he go to see Emilio? He considered the question and resolved not to do so. He would try to be patient until the night of the dinner on the island. He would be birbante, would play the fox, as Emilio surely had done. The Panacci temper should find out that one member of the family could control it, when such control served his purpose.
He was on fire with a lust for action as he made his resolutions. Vere's coolness to him, even avoidance of him, had struck hammer-like blows upon his amour propre. He saw her now -- yes, he saw her -- coming down the stairs behind Peppina. Had they been together? Did they talk together, the cold, the prudish Signorina Inglese -- so he called Vere now in his anger -- and the former decoy of Maria Fortunata?
And then a horrible conception of Emilio's role in all this darted into his mind, and for a moment he thought of Hermione as a blind innocent, like his subservient mother, of Vere as a preordained victim. Then the blood coursed through his veins like fire, and he felt as if he could no longer sit still in the boat.
"Avanti! avanti!" he cried to the sailors. "Dio mio! There is enough breeze to sail. Run up the sail! Madonna Santissima! We shall not be to Naples till it is night. Avanti! avanti!"
Then he lay back, crossed his arms behind his head, and, with an effort, closed his eyes.
He was determined to be calm, not to let himself go. He put his fingers on his pulse.
"That cursed fever! I believe it is coming back," he said to himself.
He wondered how soon the Signora would arrange that dinner on the island. He did not feel as if he could wait long without seeing Vere again. But would it ever be possible to see her alone? Emilio saw her alone. His white hairs brought him privileges. He might take her out upon the sea.
The Marchesino still had his fingers on his pulse. Surely it was fluttering very strangely. Like many young Italians he was a mixture of fearlessness and weakness, of boldness and childishness.
"I must go to mamma! I must have medicine -- the doctor," he thought, anxiously. "There is something wrong with me. Perhaps I have been looked on by the evil eye."
And down he went to the bottom of a gulf of depression.
A Spirit In Prison
by Robert Hichens
Hermione was not going to Mergellina, but to the Scoglio di Frisio. She had only come out of her room late in the afternoon. During her seclusion there she had once been disturbed by Gaspare, who had come to ask her if she wanted him for anything, and, if not, whether he might go over to Mergellina for the rest of the afternoon to see some friends he had made there. She told him he was free till night, and he went away quickly, after one searching, wide-eyed glance at the face of his Padrona.
When he had gone Hermione told herself that she was glad he was away. If he had been on the island she might have been tempted to take one of the boats, to ask him to row her to the Scoglio that evening. But now, of course, she would not go. It was true that she could easily get a boatman from the village on the mainland near by, but without Gaspare's companionship she would not care to go. So that was settled. She would think no more about it. She had tea with Vere, and strove with all her might to be natural, to show no traces in face or manner of the storm that had swept over her that day. She hoped, she believed that she was successful. But what a hateful, what an unnatural effort that was!
A woman who is not at her ease in her own home with her own girl -- where can she be at ease?
It was really the reaction from that effort that sent Hermione from the island that evening. She felt as if she could not face another meal with Vere just then. She felt transparent, as if Vere's eyes would be able to see all that she must hide if they were together in the evening. And she resolved to go away. She made some excuse -- that she wished for a little change, that she was fidgety and felt the confinement of the island.
"I think I'll go over to the village," she said; "and walk up to the road and take the tram."
"Will you, Madre?"
Hermione saw in Vere's eyes that the girl was waiting for something.
"I'll go by myself, Vere," she said. "I should be bad company to-day. The black dog is at my heels."
She laughed, and added:
"If I am late in coming back, have dinner without me."
"Very well, Madre."
Vere waited a moment; then as if desiring to break forcibly through the restraint that bound them put out her hand to her mother's and said:
"Why don't you go to Naples and have dinner with Monsieur Emile? He would cheer you up, and it is ages since we have seen him."
"Only two or three days. No, I won't disturb Emile. He may be working."
Vere felt that somehow her eager suggestion had deepened the constraint. She said no more, and Hermione presently crossed over to the mainland and began her walk to the road that leads from Naples to Bagnoli.
Where was she going? What was she really about to do?
Certainly she would not adopt the suggestion of Vere. Emile was the last person whom she wished to see -- by whom she wished to be seen -- just then.
The narrow path turned away from the sea into the shadow of high banks. She walked very slowly, like one out for a desultory stroll; a lizard slipped across the warm earth in front of her, almost touching her foot, climbed the bank swiftly, and vanished among the dry leaves with a faint rustle.
She felt quite alone to-day in Italy, and far off, as if she had no duties, no ties, as if she were one of those solitary, drifting, middle-aged women who vaguely haunt the beaten tracks of foreign lands. It was sultry in this path away from the sea. She was sharply conscious of the change of climate, the inland sensation, the falling away of the freedom from her, the freedom that seems to exhale from wave and wind of the wave.
She walked on, meeting no one and still undecided what to do. The thought of the Scoglio di Frisio returned to her mind, was dismissed, returned again. She might go and dine there quietly alone. Was she deceiving herself, and had she really made up her mind to go to the Scoglio before she left the island? No, she had come away mainly because she felt the need of solitude, the difficulty of being with Vere just for this one night. To-morrow it would be different. It should be different to-morrow.
She saw a row of houses in the distance, houses of poor people, and knew that she was nearing the road. Clothes were hanging to dry. Children were playing at the edge of a vineyard. Women were washing linen, men sitting on the doorsteps mending nasse. As she went by she nodded to them, and bade them "Buona sera." They answered courteously, some with smiling faces, others with grave and searching looks -- or so she thought.
The tunnel that runs beneath the road at the point where this path joins it came in sight. And still Hermione did not know what she was going to do. As she entered the tunnel she heard above her head the rumble of a tram going towards Naples. This decided her. She hurried on, turned to the right, and came out on the highway before the little lonely ristorante that is set here to command the view of vineyards and of sea.
The tram was already gliding away at some distance down the road.
A solitary waiter came forward in his unsuitable black into the dust to sympathize with the Signora, and to suggest that she should take a seat and drink some lemon water, or gazzosa, while waiting for the next tram. Or would not the Signora dine in the upper room and watch the tramontare del sole. It would be splendid this evening. And he could promise her an excellent risotto, sardines with pomidoro, and a bifteck such as certainly she could not get in the restaurants of Naples.
"Very well," Hermione answered, quickly, "I will dine here, but not directly -- in half an hour or three-quarters."
What Artois was doing at the Ristorante della Stella she was doing at the Trattoria del Giardinetto.
She would dine quietly here, and then walk back to the sea in the cool of the evening.
That was her decision. Yet when evening fell, and her bill was paid, she took the tram that was going down to Naples, and passed presently before the eyes of Artois. The coming of darkness had revived within her much of the mood of the afternoon. She felt that she could not go home without doing something definite, and she resolved to go to the Scoglio di Frisio, have a cup of coffee there, look through the visitors' book, and then take a boat and return by night to the island. The sea wind would cool her, would do her good.
Nothing told her when the eyes of her friend were for an instant fixed upon her, when the mind of her friend for a moment wondered at the strange, new look in her face. She left the tram presently at the doorway above which is Frisio's name, descended to the little terrace from which Vere had run in laughing with the Marchesino, and stood there for a moment hesitating.
The long restaurant was lit up, and from it came the sound of music -- guitars, and a voice singing. She recognized the throaty tenor of the blind man raised in a spurious and sickly rapture:
"Sa-anta-a Lu-u-ci-ia! Santa Luci -- a!"
It recalled her sharply to the night of the storm. For a moment she felt again the strange, the unreasonable sense of fear, indefinable but harsh, which had come upon her then, as fear comes suddenly sometimes upon a child.
Then she stepped into the restaurant.
As on the other night, there were but few people dining there, and they were away at the far end of the big room. Near them stood the musicians under a light -- seedy, depressed; except the blind man, who lifted his big head, rolled his tongue, and swelled and grew scarlet in an effort to be impressive.
Hermione sat down at the first table.
For a moment no one saw her. She heard men's voices talking loudly and gayly, the clatter of plates, the clink of knives and forks. She looked round for the visitors' book. If it were lying near she thought she would open it, search for what Emile had written, and then slip away at once unobserved.
There was a furtive spirit within her to-night.
But she could not see the book; so she sat still, listening to the blind man and gazing at the calm sea just below her. A boat was waiting there. She could see the cushions, which were white and looked ghastly in the darkness, the dim form of the rower standing up to search for clients.
He had seen her.
She drew back a little. As she did so her chair made a grating noise, and instantly the sharp ears of the Padrone caught a sound betokening the presence of a new-comer in his restaurant. It might be a queen, an empress! Who could tell?
With his stiff yet alert military gait, he at once came marching down towards her, staring hard with his big, bright eyes. When he saw who it was he threw up his brown hands.
"The Signora of the storm!" he exclaimed. He moved as if about to turn around. "I must tell -- "
But Hermione stopped him with a quick, decisive gesture.
"One moment, Signore."
The Padrone approached aristocratically.
"The Marchese Isidoro Panacci is here dining with friends, the Duca di -- "
"Yes, yes. But I am only here for a moment, so it is not worth while to tell the Marchese."
"You are not going to dine, Signora! The food of Frisio does not please you!"
He cast up his eyes in deep distress.
"Indeed it does. But I have dined. What I want is a cup of coffee, and -- and a liqueur -- une fine. And may I look over your wonderful visitors' book? To tell the truth, that is what I have come for, to see the marvellous book. I hadn't enough time the other night. May I?"
The Padrone was appeased. He smiled graciously and turned upon his heels.
"At once, Signora."
"And -- not a word to the Marchese! He is with friends. I would rather not disturb him."
The Padrone threw up his chin and clicked his tongue against his teeth. A shrewd, though not at all impudent, expression had come into his face. A Signora alone, at night, in a restaurant! He was a man of the great world. He understood. What a mercy it was to be "educato"!
He came back again almost directly, bearing the book as a sacristan might bear a black-letter Bible.
With a superb gesture he placed it before her.
"The coffee, the fine. Attendez, Signora, pour un petit momento."
He stood to see the effect of his French upon her. She forced into her face a look of pious admiration, and he at once departed. Hermione opened the book rather furtively. She had the unpleasant sensation of doing a surreptitious action, and she was an almost abnormally straightforward woman by nature. The book was large, and contained an immense number of inscriptions and signatures in handwritings that varied as strangely as do the characters of men. She turned the leaves hastily. Where had Emile written? Not at the end of the book. She remembered that his signature had been followed by others, although she had not seen, or tried to see, what he had written. Perhaps his name was near Tolstoy's. They had read together Tolstoy's Vedi Napoli e poi Mori.
But where was Tolstoy's name?
A waiter came with the coffee and the brandy. She thanked him quickly, sipped the coffee without tasting it, and continued the search.
The voice of the blind man died away. The guitars ceased.
She started. She was afraid the musicians would come down and gather round her. Why had she not told the Padrone she wished to be quite alone? She heard the shuffle of feet. They were coming. Feverishly she turned the pages. Ah! here is was! She bent down over the page.
"La conscience, c'est la quantite de science innee que nous avons en nous. EMILE ARTOIS.
"Nuit d'orage. Juin."
The guitars began a prelude. The blind man shifted from one fat leg to another, cast up his sightless eyes, protruded and drew in his tongue, coughed, spat --
Hermione struck upon the table sharply. She had forgotten all about the Marchesino. She was full of the desire to escape, to get away and be out on the sea.
She called more loudly.
A middle-aged waiter came shuffling over the floor.
"The bill, please."
As she spoke she drank the brandy.
He stood beside her.
The blind man burst into song.
"One fifty, Signora."
Hermione gave him a two-lire piece and got up to go.
"Signora -- buona sera! What a pleasure!"
The Marchesino stood before her, smiling, bowing. He took her hand, bent over it, and kissed it.
"What a pleasure!" he repeated, glancing round. "And you are alone! The Signorina is not here?"
He stared suspiciously towards the terrace.
"And our dear friend Emilio?"
"No, no. I am quite alone."
The blind man bawled, as if he wished to drown the sound of speech.
"Please -- could you stop him, Marchese?" said Hermione. "I -- really -- give him this for me."
She gave the Marchese a lira.
"Signora, it isn't necessary. Silenzio! Silenzio! P-sh-sh-sh!"
He hissed sharply, almost furiously. The musicians abruptly stopped, and the blind man made a gurgling sound, as if he were swallowing the unfinished portion of his song.
"No; please pay them."
"It's too much."
The Marchese gave the lire to the blind man, and the musicians went drearily out.
Then Hermione held out her hand at once.
"I must go now. It is late."
"You are going by sea, Signora?"
"I will accompany you."
"No, indeed. I couldn't think of it. You have friends."
"They will understand. Have you your own boat?"
"Then of course I shall come with you."
But Hermione was firm. She knew that to-night the company of this young man would be absolutely unbearable.
"Marchese, indeed I cannot -- I cannot allow it. We Englishwomen are very independent, you know. But you may call me a boat and take me down to it, as you are so kind."
"With pleasure, Signora."
He went to the open window. At once the boatman's cry rose up.
"That is Andrea's voice," said the Marchesino. "I know him. Barca -- si!"
The boat began to glide in towards the land.
As they went out the Marchesino said:
"And how is the Signorina?"
"I have had a touch of fever, Signora, or I should have come over to the island again. I stayed too long in the sea the other day, or -- " He shrugged his shoulders.
"I'm sorry," said Hermione. "You are very pale to-night."
For the first time she looked at him closely, and saw that his face was white, and that his big and boyish eyes held a tired and yet excited expression.
"It is nothing. It has passed. And our friend -- Emilio? How is he?"
A hardness had come into his voice. Hermione noticed it.
"We have not seen him lately. I suppose he has been busy."
"Probably. Emilio has much to do in Naples," said the Marchesino, with an unmistakable sneer. "Do allow me to escort you to the island, Signora."
They had reached the boat. Hermione shook her head and stepped in at once.
"Then when may I come?"
"Whenever you like."
"At what time?"
Hermione suddenly remembered his hospitality and felt that she ought to return it.
"Come to lunch -- half-past twelve. We shall be quite alone."
"Signora, for loneliness with you and the Signorina I would give up every friend I have ever had. I would give up -- "
"Half-past twelve, then, Marchese. Addio!"
"A rivederci, Signora! A demain! Andrea, take care of the Signora. Treat her as you would treat the Madonna. Do you hear?"
The boatman grinned and took off his cap, and the boat glided away across the path of yellow light that was shed from the window of Frisio's.
Hermione leaned back against the white cushions. She was thankful to escape. She felt tired and confused. That dreadful music had distracted her, that -- and something else, her tricked expectation. She knew now that she had been very foolish, perhaps even very fantastic. She had felt so sure that Emile had written in that book -- what?
As the boat went softly on she asked herself exactly what she had expected to find written there, and she realized that her imagination had, as so often before, been galloping like a frightened horse with the reins upon its neck. And then she began to consider what he had written.
"La conscience, c'est la quantite de science innee que nous avons en nous."
She did not know the words. Were they his own or another's? And had he written them simply because they had chanced to come into his mind at the moment, or because they expressed some underthought or feeling that had surged up in him just then? She wished she knew.
It was a fine saying, she thought, but for the moment she was less interested in it than in Emile's mood, his mind, when he had written it. She realized now, on this calm of the sea, how absurd had been the thought that a man so subtle as Emile would flagrantly reveal a passing phase of his nature, a secret irritability, a jealousy, perhaps, or a sudden hatred in a sentence written for any eyes that chose to see. But he might covertly reveal himself to one who understood him well.
She sat still, trying to match her subtlety against his.
From the shore came sounds of changing music, low down or falling to them from the illuminated heights where people were making merry in the night. Now and then a boat passed them. In one, young men were singing, and interrupting their song to shout with laughter. Here and there a fisherman's torch glided like a great fire-fly above the oily darkness of the sea. The distant trees of the gardens climbing up the hill made an ebony blackness beneath the stars, a blackness that suggested impenetrable beauty that lay deep down with hidden face. And the lights dispersed among them, gaining significance by their solitude, seemed to summon adventurous or romantic spirits to come to them by secret paths and learn their revelation. Over the sea lay a delicate warmth, not tropical, not enervating, but softly inspiring. And beyond the circling lamps of Naples Vesuvius lit up the firmament with a torrent of rose-colored fire that glowed and died, and glowed again, constantly as beats a heart.
And to Hermione came a melancholy devoid of all violence, soft almost as the warmth upon this sea, quite as the resignation of the fatalistic East. She felt herself for a moment such a tiny, dark thing caught in the meshes of the great net of the Universe, this Universe that she could never understand. What could she do? She must just sink down upon the breast of this mystery, let it take her, hold her, do with her what it would.
Her subtlety against Emile's! She smiled to herself in the dark. What a combat of midgets! She seemed to see two marionettes battling in the desert.
And yet -- and yet! She remembered a saying of Flaubert's, that man is like a nomad journeying on a camel through the desert; and he is the nomad, and the camel -- and the desert.
How true that was, for even now, as she felt herself to be nothing, she felt herself to be tremendous.
She heard the sound of oars from the darkness before them, and saw the dim outline of a boat, then the eyes of Emile looking straight into hers.
His face was gone. But yielding to her impulse she made Andrea stop, and, turning round, saw that the other boat had also stopped a little way from hers. It began to back, and in a moment was level with them.
"Emile! How strange to meet you! Have -- you haven't been to the island?"
"No. I was tired. I have been working very hard. I dined quietly at Posilipo."
He did not ask her where she had been.
"Yes. I think you look tired," she said. He did not speak, and she added: "I felt restless, so I took the tram from the Trattoria del Giardinetto as far as the Scoglio di Frisio, and am going back, as you see, by boat."
"It is exquisite on the sea to-night," he said.
"Yes, exquisite, it makes one sad."
She remembered all she had been through that day, as she looked at his powerful face.
"Yes," he answered. "It makes one sad."
For a moment she felt that they were in perfect sympathy, as they used to be. Their sadness, born of the dreaming hour, united them.
"Come soon to the island, dear Emile," she said, suddenly and with the impulsiveness that was part of her, forgetting all her jealousy and all her shadowy fears. "I have missed you."
He noticed that she ruled out Vere in that sentence; but the warmth of her voice stirred warmth in him, and he answered:
"Let me come to-morrow."
"Do -- do!"
"In the morning, to lunch, and to spend a long day."
Suddenly she remembered the Marchesino and the sound of his voice when he had spoken of his friend.
"Lunch?" she said.
Instantly he caught her hesitation, her dubiety.
"It isn't convenient, perhaps?"
"Perfectly, only -- only the Marchesino is coming."
"To-morrow -- To lunch?"
The hardness of the Marchesino's voice was echoed now in the voice of Artois. There was antagonism between these men. Hermione realized it.
"Yes. I invited him this evening."
There was a slight pause. Then Artois said:
"I'll come some other day, Hermione. Well, my friend, au revoir, and bon voyage to the island."
His voice had suddenly become cold, and he signed to his boatman.
The boat slipped away and was lost in the darkness.
Hermione had said nothing. Once again -- why, she did not know -- her friend had made her feel guilty.
Andrea, the boatman, still paused. Now she saw him staring into her face, and she felt like a woman publicly deserted, almost humiliated.
"Avanti, Andrea!" she said.
Her voice trembled as she spoke.
He bent to his oars and rowed on.
And man is the nomad, and the camel -- and the desert.
Yes, she carried the desert within her, and she was wandering in it alone. She saw herself, a poor, starved, shrinking figure, travelling through a vast, a burning, a waterless expanse, with an iron sky above her, a brazen land beneath. She was in rags, barefoot, like the poorest nomad of them all.
But even the poorest nomad carries something.
Against her breast, to her heart, she clasped -- a memory -- the sacred memory of him who had loved her, who had taken her to be his, who had given her himself.
That night when Hermione drew near to the island she saw the Saint's light shining, and remembered how, in the storm, she had longed for it -- how, when she had seen it above the roaring sea, she had felt that it was a good omen. To-night it meant nothing to her. It was just a lamp lit, as a lamp might be lit in a street, to give illumination in darkness to any one who passed. She wondered why she had thought of it so strangely.
Gaspare met her at the landing. She noticed at once a suppressed excitement in his manner. He looked at Andrea keenly and suspiciously.
"How late you are, Signora!"
He put out his strong arm to help her to the land.
"Am I, Gaspare? Yes, I suppose I am -- you ought all to be in bed."
"I should not go to bed while you were out, Signora."
Again she linked Gaspare with her memory, saw the nomad not quite alone on the journey.
"Have you been to Naples, Signora?"
"No -- only to -- "
He interrupted her almost sharply.
"No, to the Scoglio di Frisio. Pay the boatman this, Gaspare. Good- night, Andrea."
Gaspare handed the man his money, and at once the boat set out on its return to Posilipo.
Hermione stood at the water's edge watching its departure. It passed below the Saint, and the gleam of his light fell upon it for a moment. In the gleam the black figure of Andrea was visible stooping to the water. He was making the fishermen's sign of the Cross. The cross on Peppina's face -- was it an enemy of the Cross that carried with it San Francesco's blessing? Vere's imagination! She turned to go up to the house.
"Is the Signorina in bed yet, Gaspare?"
"Where is she? Still out?"
"Did she think I was lost?"
"Signora, the Signorina is on the cliff with Ruffo."
They were going up the steps.
"Si, Signora. We have all been together."
Hermione guessed that Gaspare had been playing chaperone, and loved him for it.
"And you heard the boat coming from the cliff?"
"I saw it pass under the Saint's light, Signora. I did not hear it."
"Well, but it might have been a fisherman's boat."
"Si, Signora. And it might have been your boat."
The logic of this faithful watcher was unanswerable. They came up to the house.
"I think I'll go and see Ruffo," said Hermione.
She was close to the door of the house, Gaspare stood immediately before her. He did not move now, but he said:
"I can go and tell the Signorina you are here, Signora. She will come at once."
Again Hermione noticed a curious, almost dogged, excitement in his manner. It recalled to her a night of years ago when he had stood on a terrace beside her in the darkness and had said: "I will go down to the sea. Signora, let me go down to the sea!"
"There's nothing the matter, is there, Gaspare?" she said, quickly. "Nothing wrong?"
"Signora, of course not! What should there be?"
"I don't know."
"I will fetch the Signorina."
On that night, years ago, she had battled with Gaspare. He had been forced to yield to her. Now she yielded to him.
"Very well," she answered. "Go and tell the Signorina I am here."
She turned and went into the house and up to the sitting-room. Vere did not come immediately. To her mother it seemed as if she was a very long time coming; but at last her light step fell on the stairs, and she entered quickly.
"Madre! How late you are! Where have you been?"
"Am I late? I dined at the little restaurant at the top of the hill where the tram passes."
"There? But you haven't been there all this time?"
"No. Afterwards I took the tram to Posilipo and came home by boat. And what have you been doing?"
"Oh, all sorts of things -- what I always do. Just now I've been with Ruffo."
"Gaspare told me he was here."
"Yes. We've been having a talk."
Hermione waited for Vere to say something more, but she was silent. She stood near the window looking out, and the expression on her face had become rather vague, as if her mind had gone on a journey.
"Well," said the mother at last, "and what does Ruffo say for himself, Vere?"
"Ruffo? Oh, I don't know."
She paused, then added:
"I think he has rather a hard time, do you know, Madre?"
Hermione had taken off her hat. She laid it on a table and sat down. She was feeling tired.
"But generally he looks so gay, so strong. Don't you remember that first day you saw him?"
"Ah -- then!"
"Of course, when he had fever -- "
"No, it wasn't that. Any one might be ill. I think he has things at home to make him unhappy sometimes."
"Has he been telling you so?"
"Oh, he doesn't complain," Vere said, quickly, and almost with a touch of heat. "A boy like that couldn't whine, you know, Madre. But one can understand things without hearing them said. There is some trouble. I don't know what it is exactly. But I think his step-father -- his Patrigno, as he calls him -- must have got into some bother, or done something horrible. Ruffo seemed to want to tell me, and yet not to want to tell me. And, of course, I couldn't ask. I think he'll tell me to-morrow, perhaps."
"Is he coming here to-morrow?"
"Oh, in summer I think he comes nearly every night."
"But you haven't said anything about him just lately."
"No. Because he hasn't landed till to-night since the night of the storm."
"I wonder why?" said Hermione.
She was interested; but she still felt tired, and the fatigue crept into her voice.
"So do I," Vere said. "He had a reason, I'm sure. You're tired Madre, so I'll go to bed. Good-night."
She came to her mother and kissed her. Moved by a sudden overwhelming impulse of tenderness, Hermione put her arms round the child's slim body. But even as she did so she remembered Vere's secret, shared with Emile and not with her. She could not abruptly loose her arms without surprising her child. But they seemed to her to stiffen, against her will, and her embrace was surely mechanical. She wondered if Vere noticed this, but she did not look into her eyes to see.
Vere was at the door when Hermione remembered her two meetings of that evening.
"By-the-way," she said, "I met the Marchesino to-night. He was at the Scoglio di Frisio."
"And afterwards on the sea I met Emile."
"Monsieur Emile! Then he isn't quite dead!"
There was a sound almost of irritation in Vere's voice.
"He has been working very hard."
"Oh, I see."
Her voice had softened.
"The Marchesino is coming here to lunch to-morrow."
"Does he bore you? I had to ask him to something after accepting his dinner, Vere."
"Yes, yes, of course. The Marchese is all right."
She stood by the door with her bright, expressive eyes fixed on her mother. Her dark hair had been a little roughened by the breeze from Ischia, and stuck up just above the forehead, giving to her face an odd, almost a boyish look.
"What is it, Vere?"
"And when is Monsieur Emile coming? Didn't he say?"
"No. He suggested to-morrow, but when I told him the Marchese was coming he said he wouldn't."
As Hermione said this she looked very steadily at her child. Vere's eyes did not fall, but met hers simply, fearlessly, yet not quite childishly.
"I don't wonder," she said. "To tell the truth, Madre, I can't see how a man like the Marchesino could interest a man like Monsieur Emile -- at any rate, for long. Well -- " She gave a little sigh, throwing up her pretty chin. "A letto si va!"
And she vanished.
When she had gone Hermione thought she too would go to bed. She was very tired. She ought to go. Yet now she suddenly felt reluctant to go, and as if the doings of the day for her were not yet over. And, besides, she was not going to sleep well. That was certain. The dry, the almost sandy sensation of insomnia was upon her. What was the matter with Gaspare to-night? Perhaps he had had a quarrel with some one at Mergellina. He had a strong temper as well as a loyal heart.
Hermione went to a window. The breeze from Ischia touched her. She opened her lips, shut her eyes, drank it in. It would be delicious to spend the whole night upon the sea, like Ruffo. Had he gone yet? Or was he in the boat asleep, perhaps in the Saint's Pool? How interested Vere was in all the doings of that boy -- how innocently, charmingly interested!
Hermione stood by the window for two or three minutes, then went out of the room, down the stairs, to the front door of the house. It was already locked. Yet Gaspare had not come up to say good-night to her. And he always did that before he went to bed. She unlocked the door, went out, shut it behind her, and stood still.
How strangely beautiful and touching the faint noise of the sea round the island was at night, and how full of meaning not quite to be divined! It came upon her heart like the whisper of a world trying to tell its secret to the darkness. What depths, what subtleties, what unfailing revelations of beauty, and surely, too, of love, there were in Nature! And yet in Nature what terrible indifference there was: a powerful, an almost terrific inattention, like that of the sphinx that gazes at what men cannot see. Hermione moved away from the house. She walked to the brow of the island and sat down on the seat that Vere was fond of. Presently she would go to the bridge and look over into the Pool and listen for the voices of the fishermen. She sat there for some time gaining a certain peace, losing something of her feeling of weary excitement and desolation under the stars. At last she thought that sleep might come if she went to bed. But before doing so she made her way to the bridge and leaned on the rail, looking down into the Pool.
It was very dark, but she saw the shadowy shape of a fishing-boat lying close to the rock. She stood and watched it, and presently she lost herself in a thicket of night thoughts, and forgot where she was and why she had come there. She was recalled by hearing a very faint voice singing, scarcely more than humming, beneath her.
"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."
It was the same song that Artois had heard that day as he leaned on the balcony of the Ristorante della Stella. But this singer of it sang the Italian words, and not the dialetto. The song that wins the prize at the Piedigrotta Festival is on the lips of every one in Naples. In houses, in streets, in the harbor, in every piazza, and upon the sea it is heard incessantly.
And now Ruffo was singing it softly and rather proudly in the Italian, to attract the attention of the dark figure he saw above him. He was not certain who it was, but he thought it was the mother of the Signorina, and -- he did not exactly know why -- he wished her to find out that he was there, squatting on the dry rock with his back against the cliff wall. The ladies of the Casa del Mare had been very kind to him, and to-night he was not very happy, and vaguely he longed for sympathy.
Hermione listened to the pretty, tripping words, the happy, youthful words. And Ruffo sang them again, still very softly.
"Oh, dolce luna bianca de l' Estate -- "
And the poor nomad wandering in the desert? But she had known the rapture of youth, the sweet white moons of summer in the South. She had known them long ago for a little while, and therefore she knew them while she lived. A woman's heart is tenacious, and wide as the world, when it contains that world which is the memory of something perfect that gave it satisfaction.
"Mi destan le dolcissime serate Gli occhi do Rosa e il mar di Mergellina."
Dear happy, lovable youth that can sing to itself like that in the deep night! Like that once Maurice, her sacred possession of youth, sang. She felt a rush of tenderness for Ruffo, just because he was so young, and sang -- and brought back to her the piercing truth of the everlasting renewal that goes hand in hand with the everlasting passing away.
"Ruffo -- Ruffo!"
Almost as Vere had once called "Pescator!" she called. And as Ruffo had once come running up to Vere he came now to Vere's mother.
She was looking at the boy as at a mystery which yet she could understand. And he looked at her simply, with a sort of fearless gentleness, and readiness to receive the kindness which he knew dwealt in her for him to take.
"Are you better?"
"Si, Signora, much better. The fever has gone. I am strong, you know."
"You are so young."
She could not help saying it, and her eyes were tender just then.
"Si, Signora, I am very young."
His simple voice almost made her laugh, stirred in her that sweet humor which has its dwelling at the core of the heart.
"Young and happy," she said.
And as she said it she remembered Vere's words that evening; "I think he has rather a hard time."
"At least, I hope you are happy, Ruffo," she added.
He looked at her. She was not sure which he meant, whether his assent was to her hope or to the fact of his happiness. She wondered which it was.
"Young people ought to be happy," she said.
"Ought they, Signora?"
"You like your life, don't you? You like the sea?"
"Si, Signora. I could not live away from the sea. If I could not see the sea every day I don't know what I should do."
"I love it, too."
"The Signorina loves the sea."
He had ignored her love for it and seized on Vere's. She thought that this was very characteristic of his youth.
"Yes. She loves being here. You talked to her to-night, didn't you?"
"And to Gaspare?"
"Si, Signora. And this afternoon, too. Gaspare was at Mergellina this afternoon."
"And you met there, did you?"
"Si, Signora. I had been with my mamma, and when I left my mamma -- poveretta -- I met Gaspare."
"I hope your mother is well."
"Signora, she is not very well just now. She is a little sad just now."
Hermione felt that the boy had some trouble which, perhaps, he would like to tell her. Perhaps some instinct made him know that she felt tender towards him, very tender that night.
"I am sorry for that," she said -- "very sorry."
"Si, Signora. There is trouble in our house."
"What is it, Ruffo?"
The boy hesitated to answer. He moved his bare feet on the bridge and looked down towards the boat. Hermione did not press him, said nothing.
"Signora," Ruffo said, at last, coming to a decision, "my Patrigno is not a good man. He makes my mamma jealous. He goes after others."
It was the old story of the South, then! Hermione knew something of the persistent infidelities of Neapolitan men. Poor women who had to suffer them!
"I am sorry for your mother," she said, gently. "That must be very hard."
"Si, Signora, it is hard. My mamma was very unhappy to-day. She put her head on the table, and she cried. But that was because my Patrigno is put in prison."
"In prison! What has he done?"
Ruffo looked at her, and she saw that the simple expression had gone out of his eyes.
"Signora, I thought perhaps you knew."
"I? But I have never seen your step-father."
"No, Signora. But -- but you have that girl here in your house."
Suddenly, almost while she was speaking, Hermione understood.
"Peppina!" she said. "It was your Patrigno who wounded Peppina?"
There was a silence between them. Then Hermione said, gently:
"I am very sorry for your poor mother, Ruffo -- very sorry. Tell me, can she manage? About money, I mean?"
"It is not so much the money she was crying about, Signora. But, of course, while Patrigno is in prison he cannot earn money for her. I shall give her my money. But my mamma does not like all the neighbors knowing about that girl. It is a shame for her."
"Yes, of course it is. It is very hard."
She thought a moment. Then she said:
"It must be horrible -- horrible!"
She spoke with all the vehemence of her nature. Again, as long ago, when she knelt before a mountain shrine in the night, she had put herself imaginatively in the place of a woman, this time in the place of Ruffo's mother. She realized how she would have felt if her husband, her "man," had ever been faithless to her.
Ruffo looked at her almost in surprise.
"I wish I could see your poor mother, Ruffo," she said. "I would go to see her, only -- well, you see, I have Peppina here, and -- "
She broke off. Perhaps the boy would not understand what she considered the awkwardness of the situation. She did not quite know how these people regarded certain things.
"Wait here a moment, Ruffo," she said. "I am going to give you something for your mother. I won't be a moment."
Hermione went away to the house. The perfect naturalness and simplicity of the boy appealed to her. She was pleased, too, that he had not told all this to Vere. It showed a true feeling of delicacy. And she was sure he was a good son. She went up to her room, got two ten lira notes, and went quickly back to Ruffo, who was standing upon the bridge.
"There, Ruffo," she said, giving them to him. "These are for your mother."
The boy's brown face flushed, and into his eyes there came an expression of almost melting gentleness.
"Oh, Signora!" he said.
And there was a note of protest in his voice.
"Take them to her, Ruffo. And -- and I want you to promise me something. Will you?"
"Si, Signora. I will do anything -- anything for you."
Hermione put her hand on his shoulder.
"Be very, very kind to your poor mother, Ruffo."
"Signora, I always am good for my poor mamma."
He spoke with warm eagerness.
"I am sure you are. But just now, when she is sad, be very good to her."
She took her hand from the boy's shoulder. He bent to kiss her hand, and again, as he was lifting up his head, she saw the melting look in his eyes. This time it was unmingled with amazement, and it startled her.
"Oh, Ruffo!" she said, and stopped, staring at him in the darkness.
"Signora! What is it? What have you?"
"Nothing. Good-night, Ruffo."
He took off his cap and ran down to the boat. Hermione leaned over the railing, bending down to see the boy reappear below. When he came he looked like a shadow. From this shadow there rose a voice singing very softly.
"Oh, dolce luna bianca de l' Estate -- "
The shadow went over to the boat, and the voice died away.
"Gli occhi di Rosa e il mar di Mergellina."
Hermione still was bending down. And she formed the last words with lips that trembled a little.
"Gli occhi di Rosa e il mar di Mergellina."
Then she said: "Maurice -- Maurice!"
And then she stood trembling.
Yes, it was Maurice whom she had seen again for an instant in the melting look of Ruffo's face. She felt frightened in the dark. Maurice -- when he kissed her for the last time, had looked at her like that. It could not be fancy. It was not.
Was this the very first time she had noticed in Ruffo a likeness to her dead husband? She asked herself if it was. Yes. She had never -- or had there been something? Not in the face, perhaps. But -- the voice? Ruffo's singing? His attitude as he stood up in the boat? Had there not been something? She remembered her conversation with Artois in the cave. She had said to him that -- she did not know why -- the boy, Ruffo, had made her feel, had stirred up within her slumbering desires, slumbering yearnings.
"I have heard a hundred boys sing on the Bay -- and just this one touches some chord, and all the strings of my soul quiver."
She had said that.
Then there was something in the boy, something not merely fleeting like that look of gentleness -- something permanent, subtle, that resembled Maurice.
Now she no longer felt frightened, but she had a passionate wish to go down to the boat, to see Ruffo again, to be with him again, now that she was awake to this strange, and perhaps only faint, imitation by another of the one whom she had lost. No -- not imitation; this fragmentary reproduction of some characteristic, some --
She lifted herself up from the railing. And now she knew that her eyes were wet. She wiped them with her handkerchief, drew a deep breath, and went back to the house. She felt for the handle of the door, and, when she found it, opened the door, went in, and shut it rather heavily, then locked it. As she bent down to push home the bolt at the bottom a voice called out:
She was startled and turned quickly.
He stood before her half dressed, with his hair over his eyes, and a revolver in his hand.
"Signora! It is you!"
"Si. What did you think? That it was a robber?"
Gaspare looked at her almost sternly, went to the door, bent down and bolted it, then he said:
"Signora, I heard a noise in the house a few minutes ago. I listened, but I heard nothing more. Still, I thought it best to get up. I had just put on my clothes when again I heard a noise at the door. I myself had locked it for the night. What should I think?"
"I was outside. I came back for something. That was what you heard. Then I went out again."
He stood there staring at her in a way that seemed, she fancied, to rebuke her. She knew that he wished to know why she had gone out so late, returned to the house, then gone out once more.
"Come up-stairs for a minute, Gaspare," she said. "I want to speak to you."
He looked less stern, but still unlike himself.
"Si, Signora. Shall I put on my jacket?"
"No, no, never mind. Come like that."
She went up-stairs, treading softly, lest she might disturb Vere. He followed. When they were in her sitting-room she said:
"Gaspare, why did you go to bed without coming to say good-night to me?"
He looked rather confused.
"Did I forget, Signora? I was tired. Forgive me."
"I don't know whether you forgot. But you never came."
As Hermione spoke, suddenly she felt as if Gaspare, too, were going, perhaps, to drift from her. She looked at him with an almost sharp intensity which hardened her whole face. Was he, too, being insincere with her, he whom she trusted implicitly?
"Did you forget, Gaspare?" she said.
"Signora," he repeated, with a certain, almost ugly doggedness, "I was tired. Forgive me."
She felt sure that he had chosen deliberately not to come to her for the evening salutation. It was a trifle, yet to-night it hurt her. For a moment she was silent, and he was silent, looking down at the floor. Then she opened her lips to dismiss him. She intended to say a curt "Good-night"; but -- no -- she could not let Gaspare retreat from her behind impenetrable walls of obstinate reserve. And she did know his nature through and through. If he was odd to-night, unlike himself, there was some reason for it; and it could not be a reason that, known to her, would make her think badly of him. She was certain of that.
"Never mind, Gaspare," she said gently. "But I like you to come and say good-night to me. I am accustomed to that, and I miss it if you don't come."
"Si, Signora," he said, in a very low voice.
He turned a little away from her, and made a small noise with his nose as if he had a cold.
"Gaspare," she said, with an impulse to be frank, "I saw Ruffo to-night."
He turned round quickly. She saw moisture in his eyes, but they were shining almost fiercely.
"He told me something about his Patrigno. Did you know it?"
"His Patrigno and Peppina?"
"Si Signora; Ruffo told me."
"I gave the boy something for his mother."
"His mother -- why?"
There was quick suspicion in Gaspare's voice.
"Poor woman! Because of all this trouble. Her husband is in prison."
"Lo so. But he will soon be out again. He is 'protected.' "
"Who protects him?"
But Gaspare evaded the answer, and substituted something that was almost a rebuke.
"Signora," he said, bluntly, if I were you I would not have anything to do with these people. Ruffo's Patrigno is a bad man. Better leave them alone."
"You like him, don't you?"
"Si, Signora. There is no harm in him."
"And the poor mother?"
"I am not friends with his mother, Signora. I do not want to be."
Hermione was surprised by his harshness.
"But why not?"
"There are people at Mergellina who are bad people," he said. "We are not Neapolitan. We had better keep to ourselves. You have too much heart, Signora, a great deal too much heart, and you do not always know what people are."
"Do you think I ought not to have given Ruffo that money for his mother?" Hermione asked, almost meekly.
"Si, Signora. It is not for you to give his mother money. It is not for you."
"Well, Gaspare, it's done now."
"Si, it's done now."
"You don't think Ruffo bad, do you?"
After a pause, Gaspare answered:
"No, Signora. Ruffo is not bad."
Hermione hesitated. She wanted to ask Gaspare something, but she was not sure that the opportunity was a good one. He was odd to-night. His temper had surely been upset. Perhaps it would be better to wait. She decided not to speak of what was in her mind.
"Well, Gaspare, good-night," she said.
She smiled at him.
"You see, after all, you have had to say good-night to me!"
"Signora," he answered, earnestly, "even if I do not come to say good- night to you always, I shall stay with you till death."
Again he made the little noise with his nose, as he turned away and went out of the room.
That night, as she got into bed, Hermione called down on that faithful watch-dog's dark head a blessing, the best that heaven contained for him. Then she put out the light, and lay awake so long that when a boat came round the cliff from the Saint's Pool to the open sea, in the hour before the dawn, she heard the soft splash of the oars in the water and the sound of a boy's voice singing.
"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."
She lifted herself up on her pillow and listened -- listened until across the sea, going towards the dawn, the song was lost.
"Gli occhi di Rosa e il mar di Mergellina."
When the voice was near, had not Maurice seemed near to her? And when it died away, did not he fade with it -- fade until the Ionian waters took him?
She sat up in the darkness until long after the song was hushed. But she heard it still in the whisper of the sea.
A Spirit In Prison
by Robert Hichens
During the last days Artois had not been to the island, nor had he seen the Marchesino. A sudden passion for work had seized him. Since the night of Vere's meeting with Peppina his brain had been in flood with thoughts. Life often acts subtly upon the creative artist, repressing or encouraging his instinct to bring forth, depressing or exciting him when, perhaps, he expects it least. The passing incidents of life frequently have their hidden, their unsuspected part in determining his activities. So it was now with Artois. He had given an impetus to Vere. That was natural, to be expected, considering his knowledge and his fame, his great experience and his understanding of men. But now Vere had given an impetus to him -- and that was surely stranger. Since the conversation among the shadows of the cave, after the vision of the moving men of darkness and of fire, since the sound of Peppina sobbing in the night, and the sight of her passionate face lifted to show its gashed cross to Vere, Artois' brain and head had been alive with a fury of energy that forcibly summoned him to work, that held him working. He even felt within him something that was like a renewal of some part of his vanished youth, and remembered old days of student life, nights in the Quartier Latin, his debut as a writer for the papers, the sensation of joy with which he saw his first article in the Figaro, his dreams of fame, his hopes of love, his baptism of sentiment. How he had worked in those days and nights! How he had hunted experience in the streets and the by-ways of the great city! How passionate and yet how ruthless he had been, as artists often are, governed not only by their quick emotions, but also by the something watchful and dogged underneath, that will not be swept away, that is like a detective hidden by a house door to spy out all the comers in the night. Something, some breath from the former days, swept over him again. In his ears there sounded surely the cries of Paris, urging him to the assault to the barricades of Fame. And he sat down, and he worked with the vehement energy, with the pulsating eagerness of one of "les jeunes." Hour after hour he worked. He took coffee, and wrote through the night. He slept when the dawn came, got up, and toiled again.
He shut out the real world and he forgot it -- until the fit was past. And then he pushed away his paper, he laid down his pen, he stretched himself, and he knew that his great effort had tired him tremendously -- tremendously.
He looked at his right hand. It was cramped. As he held it up he saw that it was shaking. He had drunk a great deal of black coffee during those days, had drunk it recklessly as in the days of youth, when he cared nothing about health because he felt made of iron.
And so there was Naples outside, the waters of the Bay dancing in the sunshine of the bright summer afternoon, people bathing and shouting to one another from the diving platforms and the cabins; people galloping by in the little carriages to eat oysters at Posilipo. Lazy, heedless, pleasure-loving wretches! He thought of Doro as he looked at them.
He had given strict orders that he was not to be disturbed while he was at work, unless Hermione came. And he had not once been disturbed. Now he rang the bell. An Italian waiter, with crooked eyes and a fair beard, stepped softly in.
"Has any one been to see me? Has any one asked for me lately?" he said. "Just go down, will you, and inquire of the concierge."
The waiter departed, and returned to say that no one had been for the Signore.
"Not the Marchese Isidoro Panacci?
"The concierge says that no one has been, Signore."
The man went out.
So Doro had not come even once! Perhaps he was seriously offended. At their last parting in the Villa he had shown a certain irony that had in it a hint of bitterness. Artois did not know of the fisherman's information, that Doro had guessed who was Vere's companion that night upon the sea. He supposed that his friend was angry because he believed himself distrusted. Well, that could soon be put right. He thought of the Marchesino now with lightness, as the worker who has just made a great and prolonged effort is inclined to think of the habitual idler. Doro was like a feather on the warm wind of the South. He, Artois, was not in the mood just then to bother about a feather. Still less was he inclined for companionship. He wanted some hours of complete rest out in the air, with gay and frivolous scenes before his eyes.
He wanted to look on, but not to join in, the merry life that was about him, and that for so long a time he had almost violently ignored.
He resolved to take a carriage, drive slowly to Posilipo, and eat his dinner there in some eyrie above the sea; watching the pageant that unfolds itself on the evenings of summer about the ristoranti and the osterie, round the stalls of the vendors of Fruitti di Mare, and the piano-organs, to the accompaniment of which impudent men sing love songs to the saucy, dark-eyed beauties posed upon balconies, or gathered in knots upon the little terraces that dominate the bathing establishments, and the distant traffic of the Bay. His brain longed for rest, but it longed also for the hum and the stir of men. His heart lusted for the sight of pleasure, and must be appeased.
Catching up his hat, almost with the hasty eagerness of a boy, he went down-stairs. On the opposite side of the road was a smart little carriage in which the coachman was asleep, with his legs cocked up on the driver's seat, displaying a pair of startling orange-and-black socks. By the socks Artois knew his man.
"Pasqualino! Pasqualino!" he cried.
The coachman sprang up, showing a round, rosy face, and a pair of shrewd, rather small dark eyes.
"Take me to Posilipo."
Pasqualino cracked his whip vigorously.
"Ah -- ah! Ah -- ah!" he cried to his gayly bedizened little horse, who wore a long feather on his head, flanked by bunches of artificial roses.
"Not too fast, Pasqualino. I am in no hurry. Keep along by the sea."
The coachman let the reins go loose, and instantly the little horse went slowly, as if all his spirit and agility had suddenly been withdrawn from him.
"I have not seen you for several days, Signore. Have you been ill?"
Pasqualino had turned quite round on his box, and was facing his client.
"No, I've been working."
Pasqualino made a grimace, as he nearly always did when he heard a rich Signore speak of working.
"And you? You have been spending money as usual. All your clothes are new."
Pasqualino smiled, showing rows of splendid teeth under his little twisted-up mustache.
"Si, Signore, all! And I have also new underclothing."
He pulled his trousers up to his knees, showing a pair of pale-blue drawers.
"The suspenders -- they are new, Signore!" He drew attention to the scarlet elastics that kept the orange-and-black socks in place. "My boots!" He put his feet up on the box that Artois might see his lemon- colored boots, then unbuttoned and threw open his waistcoat. "My shirt is new! My cravat is new! Look at the pin!" He flourished his plump, brown, and carefully washed hands. "I have a new ring." He bent his head. "My hat is new."
Artois broke into a roar of laughter that seemed to do him good after his days of work.
"You young dandy! And where do you get the money?"
Pasqualino looked doleful and hung his head.
"Signore, I am in debt. But I say to myself, 'Thank the Madonna, I have a rich and generous Padrone who wishes his coachman to be chic. When he sees my clothes he will be contented, and who knows what he will do?' "
"Per Bacco! And who is this rich and generous Signore?"
"Ma!" Pasqualino passionately flung out the ringed hand that was not holding the reins -- "Ma! -- you, Signore."
"You young rascal! Turn round and attend to your driving!"
But Artois laughed again. The impudent boyishness of Pasqualino, and his childish passion for finery, were refreshing, and seemed to belong to a young and thoughtless world. The sea-breeze was soft as silk, the afternoon sunshine was delicately brilliant. The Bay looked as it often does in summer -- like radiant liberty held in happy arms, alluring, full of promises. And a physical well-being invaded Artois such as he had not known since the day when he had tea with Vere upon the island.
He had been shut in. Now the gates were thrown open, and to what a brilliant world! He issued forth into it with almost joyous expectation.
They went slowly, and presently drew near to the Rotonda. Artois leaned a little forward and saw that the fishermen were at work. They stood in lines upon the pavement pulling at the immense nets which were still a long way out to sea. When the carriage reached them Artois told Pasqualino to draw up, and sat watching the work and the fierce energy of the workers. Half naked, with arms and legs and chests that gleamed in the sun like copper, they toiled, slanting backward, one towards another, laughing, shouting, swearing with a sort of almost angry joy. In their eyes there was a carelessness that was wild, in their gestures a lack of self-consciousness that was savage. But they looked like creatures who must live forever. And to Artois, sedentary for so long, the sight of them brought a feeling almost of triumph, but also a sensation of envy. Their vigor made him pine for movement.
"Drive on slowly, Pasqualino," he said. "I will follow you on foot, and join you at the hill."
He got out, stood for a moment, then strolled on towards the Mergellina. As he approached this part of the town, with its harbor and its population of fisherfolk, the thought of Ruffo came into his mind. He remembered that Ruffo lived here. Perhaps he might see the boy this afternoon.
On the mole that serves as a slight barrier between the open sea and the snug little harbor several boys were fishing. Others were bathing, leaping into the water with shouts from the rocks. Beyond, upon the slope of dingy sand among the drawn-up boats, children were playing, the girls generally separated from the boys. Fishermen, in woolen shirts and white linen trousers, sat smoking in the shadow of their craft, or leaned muscular arms upon them, standing at ease, staring into vacancy or calling to each other. On the still water there was a perpetual movement of boats; and from the distance came a dull but continuous uproar, the yells and the laughter of hundreds of bathers at the Stabilimento di Bagni beyond the opposite limit of the harbor.
Artois enjoyed the open-air gayety, the freedom of the scene; and once again, as often before, found himself thinking that the out-door life, the life loosed from formal restrictions, was the only one really and fully worth living. There was a carelessness, a camaraderie among these people that was of the essence of humanity. Despite their frequent quarrels, their intrigues, their betrayals, their vendettas, they hung together. There was a true and vital companionship among them.
He passed on with deliberation, observing closely, yet half-lazily -- for his brain was slack and needed rest -- the different types about him, musing on the possibilities of their lives, smiling at the gambols of the intent girls, and the impudent frolics of the little boys who seemed the very spawn of sand and sea and sun, till he had nearly passed the harbor, and was opposite to the pathway that leads down to the jetty, to the left of which lie the steam-yachts.
At the entrance to this pathway there is always a knot of people gathered about the shanty where the seamen eat maccaroni and strange messes, and the stands where shell-fish are exposed for sale. On the far side of the tramway, beneath the tall houses which are let out in rooms and apartments for families, there is an open space, and here in summer are set out quantities of strong tables, at which from noon till late into the evening the people of Mergellina, and visitors of the humbler classes from Naples, sit in merry throngs, eating, smoking, drinking coffee, syrups, and red and white wine.
Artois stood still for a minute to watch them, to partake from a distance, and unknown to them, in their boisterous gayety. He had lit a big cigar, and puffed at it as his eyes roved from group to group, resting now on a family party, now on a quartet of lovers, now on two stout men obviously trying to drive a bargain with vigorous rhetoric and emphatic gestures, now on an elderly woman in a shawl spending an hour with her soldier son in placid silence, now on some sailors from a ship in the distant port by the arsenal bent over a game of cards, or a party of workmen talking wages or politics in their shirt-sleeves with flowers above their ears.
What a row they made, these people! Their animation was almost like the animation of a nightmare. Some were ugly, some looked wicked; others mischievous, sympathetic, coarse, artful, seductive, boldly defiant or boisterously excited. But however much they differed, in one quality they were nearly all alike. They nearly all looked vivid. If they lacked anything, at least it was not life. Even their sorrows should be energetic.
As this thought came into his mind Artois' eyes chanced to rest on two people sitting a little apart at a table on which stood a coffee-cup, a thick glass half full of red wine, and a couple of tumblers of water. One was a woman, the other -- yes, the other was Ruffo.
When Artois realized this he kept his eyes upon them. He forgot his interest in the crowd.
At first he could only see Ruffo's side-face. But the woman was exactly opposite to him.
She was neatly dressed in some dark stuff, and wore a thin shawl, purple in color, over her shoulders. She looked middle-aged. Had she been an Englishwoman Artois would have guessed her to be near fifty. But as she was evidently a Southerner it was possible that she was very much younger. Her figure was broad and matronly. Her face, once probably quite pretty was lined, and had the battered and almost corrugated look that the faces of Italian women of the lower classes often reveal when the years begin to increase upon them. The cheek- bones showed harshly in it, by the long and dark eyes, which were surrounded by little puckers of yellow flesh. But Artois' attention was held not by this woman's quite ordinary appearance, but by her manner. Like the people about her she was vivacious, but her vivacity was tragic -- she had not come here to be gay. Evidently she was in the excitement of some great grief or passion. She was speaking vehemently to Ruffo, gesticulating with her dark hands, on which there were two or three cheap rings, catching at her shawl, swaying her body, nodding her head, on which the still black hair was piled in heavy masses. And her face was distorted by an emotion that seemed of sorrow and anger mingled. In her ears, pretty and almost delicate in contrast to the ruggedness of her face, were large gold rings, such as Sicilian women often wear. They swayed in response to her perpetual movements. Artois watched her lips as they opened and shut, were compressed or thrust forward, watched her white teeth gleaming. She lifted her two hands, doubled into fists, till they were on a level with her shoulders, shook them vehemently, then dashed them down on the table. The coffee- cup was overturned. She took no notice of it. She was heedless of everything but the subject which evidently obsessed her.
The boy, Ruffo, sat quite still listening to her. His attitude was calm. Now and then he sipped his wine, and presently he took from his pocket a cigarette, lighted it carefully, and began to smoke. There was something very boyish and happy-go-lucky in his attitude and manner. Evidently, Artois thought, he was very much at home with this middle-aged woman. Probably her vehemence was to him an every-day affair. She laid one hand on his arm and bent forward. He slightly shrugged his shoulders and shook his head. She kept her hand on his arm, went on talking passionately, and suddenly began to weep. Tears rushed out of her eyes. Then the boy took her hand gently, stroked it, and began to speak to her, always keeping her hand in his. The woman, with a despairing movement, laid her face down on the table, with her forehead touching the wood. Then she lifted it up. The paroxysm seemed to have passed. She took out a handkerchief from inside the bodice of her dress and dried her eyes. Ruffo struck the table with his glass. An attendant came. He paid the bill, and the woman and he got up to go. As they did so Ruffo presented for a moment his full face to Artois, and Artois swiftly compared it with the face of the woman, and felt sure that they were mother and son.
Artois moved on towards the hill of Posilipo, but after taking a few steps turned to look back. The woman and Ruffo had come into the road by the tram-line. They stood there for a moment, talking. Then Ruffo crossed over to the path, and the woman went away slowly towards the Rotonda. Seeing Ruffo alone Artois turned to go back, thinking to have a word with the boy. But before he could reach him he saw a man step out from behind the wooden shanty of the fishermen and join him.
This man was Gaspare.
Ruffo and Gaspare strolled slowly away towards the jetty where the yachts lie, and presently disappeared.
Artois found Pasqualino waiting for him rather impatiently not far from the entrance to the Scoglio di Frisio.
"I thought you were dead, Signore," he remarked, as Artois came up.
"I was watching the people."
He got into the carriage.
"They are canaglia," said Pasqualino, with the profound contempt of the Neapolitan coachman for those who get their living by the sea. He lived at Fuorigrotta, and thought Mergellina a place of outer darkness.
"I like them," returned Artois.
"You don't know them, Signore. I say -- they are canaglia. Where shall I drive you?"
Artois hesitated, passing in mental review the various ristoranti on the hill.
"Take me to the Ristorante della Stella," he said, at length.
Pasqualino cracked his whip, and drove once more merrily onward.
When Artois came to the ristorante, which was perched high up on the side of the road farthest from the sea, he had almost all the tables to choose from, as it was still early in the evening, and in the summer the Neapolitans who frequent the more expensive restaurants usually dine late. He sat down at a table in the open air close to the railing, from which he could see a grand view of the Bay, as well as all that was passing on the road beneath, and ordered a dinner to be ready in half an hour. He was in no hurry, and wanted to finish his cigar.
There was a constant traffic below. The tram-bell sounded its reiterated signal to the crowds of dusty pedestrians to clear the way. Donkeys toiled upward, drawing carts loaded with vegetables and fruit. Animated young men, wearing tiny straw hats cocked impertinently to one side, drove frantically by in light gigs that looked like the skeletons of carriages, holding a rein in each hand, pulling violently at their horses' mouths, and shouting "Ah -- ah!" as if possessed of the devil. Smart women made the evening "Passeggiata" in landaus and low victorias, wearing flamboyant hats, and gazing into the eyes of the watching men ranged along the low wall on the sea-side with a cool steadiness that was almost Oriental. Some of them were talking. But by far the greater number leaned back almost immobile against their cushions; and their pale faces showed nothing but the languid consciousness of being observed and, perhaps, desired. Stout Neapolitan fathers, with bulging eyes, immense brown cheeks, and peppery mustaches, were promenading with their children and little dogs, looking lavishly contented with themselves. Young girls went primly past, holding their narrow, well-dressed heads with a certain virginal stiffness that was yet not devoid of grace, and casting down eyes that were supposed not yet to be enlightened. Their governesses and duennas accompanied them. Barefooted brown children darted in and out, dodging pedestrians and horses. Priests and black-robed students chattered vivaciously. School-boys with peaked caps hastened homeward. The orphans from Queen Margherita's Home, higher up the hill, marched sturdily through the dust to the sound of a boyish but desperately martial music. It was a wonderfully vivid world, but the eyes of Artois wandered away from it, over the terraces, the houses, and the tree-tops. Their gaze dropped down to the sea. Far off, Capri rose out of the light mist produced by the heat. And beyond was Sicily.
Why had that woman, Ruffo's mother, wept just now? What was her tragedy? he wondered. Accurately he recalled her face, broad now, and seamed with the wrinkles brought by trouble and the years.
He recalled, too, Ruffo's attitude as the boy listened to her vehement, her almost violent harangue. How boyish, how careless it had been -- yet not unkind or even disrespectful, only wonderfully natural and wonderfully young.
"He was the deathless boy."
Suddenly those words started into Artois' mind. Had he read them somewhere? For a moment he wondered. Or had he heard them? They seemed to suggest speech, a voice whose intonations he knew. His mind was still fatigued by work, and would not be commanded by his will. Keeping his eyes fixed on the ethereal outline of Capri, he strove to remember, to find the book which had contained these words and given them to his eyes, or the voice that had spoken them and given them to his ears.
"He was the deathless boy."
A piano-organ struck up below him, a little way up the hill to the right, and above its hard accompaniment there rose a powerful tenor voice singing. The song must have been struck forcibly upon some part of his brain that was sleeping, must have summoned it to activity. For instantly, ere the voice had sung the first verse, he saw imaginatively a mountain top in Sicily, evening light -- such as was then shining over and transfiguring Capri -- and a woman, Hermione. And he heard her voice, very soft, with a strange depth and stillness in it, saying those words: "He was the deathless boy."
Of course! How could he have forgotten? They had been said of Maurice Delarey. And now idly, strangely, he had recalled them as he thought of Ruffo's young and careless attitude by the table of the ristorante that afternoon.
The waiter, coming presently to bring the French Signore the plate of oysters from Fusaro, which he had ordered as the prelude to his dinner, was surprised by the deep gravity of his face, and said:
"Don't you like 'A Mergellina,' Signore? We are all mad about it. And it won the first prize at last year's festa of Piedigrotta."
"Comment donc?" exclaimed Artois, as if startled. "What? -- no -- yes. I like it. It's a capital song. Lemon? That's right -- and red pepper. Va bene!"
And he bent over his plate rather hurriedly and began to eat.
The piano-organ and the singing voice died away down the hill, going towards Mergellina.
But the effect, curious and surely unreasonable, of the song remained. Often, while he ate, Artois turned his eyes towards the mountain of Capri, and each time that he did so he saw, beyond it and its circling sea, Sicily, Monte Amato, the dying lights on Etna, the evening star above its plume of smoke, the figure of a woman set in the shadow of her sorrow, yet almost terribly serene; and then another woman, sitting at a table, vehemently talking, then bowing down her head passionately as if in angry grief.
When he had finished his dinner the sun had set, and night had dropped down softly over the Bay. Capri had disappeared. The long serpent of lights had uncoiled itself along the sea. Down below, very far down, there was the twang and the thin, acute whine of guitars and mandolines, the throbbing cry of Southern voices. The stars were out in a deep sky of bloomy purple. There was no chill in the air, but a voluptuous, brooding warmth, that shed over the city and the waters a luxurious benediction, giving absolution, surely, to all the sins, to all the riotous follies of the South.
Artois rested his arms on the balustrade.
The ristorante was nearly full now, gay with lights and with a tempest of talk. The waiter came to ask if the Signore would take coffee.
Artois hesitated a moment, then shook his head. He realized that his nerves had been tried enough in these last days and nights. He must let them rest for a while.
The waiter went away, and he turned once more towards the sea. To-night he felt the wonder of Italy, of this part of the land and of its people, as he had not felt it before, in a new and, as it seemed to him, a mysterious way. A very modern man and, in his art, a realist, to-night there was surely something very young alert within him, something of vague sentimentality that was like an echo from Byronic days. He felt over-shadowed, but not unpleasantly, by a dim and exquisite melancholy, in which he thought of nature and of human nature pathetically, linking them together; those singing voices with the stars, the women who leaned on balconies to listen with the sea that was murmuring below them, the fishermen upon that sea with the deep and marvellous sky that watched their labors.
In a beautiful and almost magical sadness he too was one with the night, this night in Italy. It held him softly in its arms. A golden sadness streamed from the stars. The voices below expressed it. The fishermen's torches in the Bay, those travelling lights that are as the eyes of the South searching for charmed things in secret places, lifted the sorrows of earth towards the stars, and they were golden too. There was a joy even in the tears wept on such a night as this.
He loved detail. It was, perhaps, his fault to love it too much. But now he realized that the magician, Night, knew better than he what were the qualities of perfection. She had changed Naples into a diaper of jewels sparkling softly in the void. He knew that behind that lacework of jewels there were hotels, gaunt and discolored houses full of poverty, shame, and wickedness, galleries in which men hunted the things that gratify their lusts, alleys infected with disease and filth indescribable. He knew it, but he no longer felt it. The glamour of the magician was upon him. Perhaps behind the stars there were terrors, too. But who, looking upon them, could believe it? Detail might create a picture; its withdrawal let in upon the soul the spirit light of the true magic.
It was a mistake to search too much, to draw too near, to seek always to see clearly.
The Night taught that in Italy, and many things not to be clothed with words.
Reluctantly at last he lifted his arms from the balcony rail and got up to leave the restaurant. He dreaded the bustle of the street. As he came out into it he heard the sharp "Ting! Ting!" of a tram-bell higher up the hill, and stepped aside to let the tram go by. Idly he looked at it as it approached. He was still in the vague, the almost sentimental mood that had come upon him with the night. The tram came up level with him and slipped slowly by. There was a number of people in it, but on the last seat one woman sat alone. He saw her clearly as she passed, and recognized Hermione.
She did not see him. She was looking straight before her.
A shower of objurgations in the Neapolitan dialect fell upon Artois from the box of a carriage coming up the hill. He jumped back and gained the path. There again he stood still. The sweet and half- melancholy vagueness had quite left him now. The sight of his friend had swept it away. Why was she going to Mergellina at that hour? And why did she look like that?
And he thought of the expression he had seen on her face as the tram slipped by, an expression surely of excitement; but also a furtive expression.
Artois had seen Hermione in all her moods, and hers was a very changeful face. But never before had he seen her look furtive. Nor could he have conceived it possible that she could look so.
Perhaps the lights had deceived him. And he had only seen her for an instant.
But why was she going to Mergellina?
Then suddenly it occurred to him that she might be going to Naples, not to Mergellina at all. He knew no reason why her destination should be Mergellina. He began to walk down the hill rather quickly. Some hundreds of yards below the Ristorante della Stella there is a narrow flight of steps between high walls and houses, which leads eventually down to the sea at a point where there are usually two or three boats waiting for hire. Artois, when he started, had no intention of going to sea that night, but when he reached the steps he paused, and finally turned from the path and began to descend them.
He had realized that he was really in pursuit, and abruptly relinquished his purpose. Why should he wish to interfere with an intention of Hermione's that night?
He would return to Naples by sea.
As he came in sight of the water there rose up to him in a light tenor voice a melodious cry:
He answered the call.
The sailor who was below came gayly to meet him.
"It is a lovely night for the Signore. I could take the Signore to Sorrento or to Capri to-night."
He held Artois by the right arm, gently assisting him into the broad- bottomed boat.
"I only want to go to Naples."
"To which landing, Signore?"
"The Vittoria. But go quietly and keep near the shore. Go round as near as you can to the Mergellina."
"Va bene, Signore."
They slipped out, with a delicious, liquid sound, upon the moving silence of the sea.
A Spirit In Prison
by Robert Hichens
That night the Marchesino failed in his search for Vere, and he returned to Naples not merely disappointed but incensed. He had learned from a fisherman in the Saint's Pool that she was out upon the sea "with a Signore," and he had little difficulty in guessing who this Signore was. Of course it was "Caro Emilio," the patron of Maria Fortunata. He began to consider his friend unfavorably. He remembered how frankly he had always told Emilio of his little escapades, with what enthusiasm, in what copious detail. Always he had trusted Emilio. And now Emilio was trying to play him false -- worse, was making apparently a complete success of the attempt. For Emilio and Vere must have heard his beautiful singing, must have guessed from whom that vibrant voice proceeded, must have deliberately concealed themselves from its possessor. Where had they lain in hiding? His shrewd suspicion fell upon the very place. Virgilio's Grotto had surely been their refuge.
"Ladro! Vigiliacco!" Words of no uncertain meaning flowed from his overcharged heart. His whole hot nature was aroused. His spirit was up in arms. And now, almost for the first time, he drew a comparison between his age and Emilio's. Emilio was an old man. He realized it. Why had he never realized it before? Was he, full of youth, beauty, chivalrous energy and devotion, to be interfered with, set aside, for a man with gray hairs thick upon his head, for a man who spent half his hours bent over a writing-table? Emilio had never wished him to know the ladies of the island. He knew the reason now, and glowed with a fiery lust of battle. Vere had attracted him from the first. But this opposition drove on attraction into something stronger, more determined. He said to himself that he was madly in love. Never yet had he been worsted in an amour by any man. The blood surged to his head at the mere thought of being conquered in the only battle of life worth fighting -- the battle for a woman, and by a man of more than twice his age, a man who ought long ago to have been married and have had children as old as the Signorina Vere.
Well, he had been a good friend to Emilio. Now Emilio should see that the good friend could be the good enemy. Late that night, as he sat alone in front of the Caffe Turco smoking innumerable cigarettes, he resolved to show these foreigners the stuff a Neapolitan was made of. They did not know. Poor, ignorant beings from cold England, drowned forever in perpetual yellow fogs, and from France, country of volatility but not of passion, they did not know what the men of the South, of a volcanic soil, were capable of, once they were roused, once their blood spoke and their whole nature responded! It was time they learned. And he would undertake to teach them. As he drove towards dawn up the dusty hill to Capodimonte he was in a fever of excitement.
There was excitement, too, in the house on the island, but it did not centre round the Marchesino.
That night, for the first time in her young life, Vere did not sleep. She heard the fisherman call, but the enchantment of sea doings did not stir her. She was aware for the first time of the teeming horrors of life. There, in the darkness beneath the cliff, Peppina had sobbed out her story, and Vere, while she listened, had stepped from girlhood into womanhood.
She had come into the house quietly, and found Artois waiting for her alone. Hermione had gone to bed, leaving word that she had a headache. And Vere was glad that night not to see her mother. She wished to see no one, and she bade Artois good-bye at once, telling him nothing, and not meeting his eyes when he touched her hand in adieu. And he had asked nothing. Why should he, when he read the truth in the grave, almost stern face of the child?
The veils that hung before the happy eyes of childhood had been torn away, and those eyes had looked for the first time into the deeps of an unhappy human heart.
And he had thought it possible to preserve, perhaps for a long while, Vere's beautiful ignorance untouched. He had thought of the island as a safe retreat in which her delicate, and as yet childish talent, might gradually mature under his influence and the influence of the sea. She had been like some charming and unusual plant of the sea, shot with sea colors, wet with sea winds, fresh with the freshness of the smooth-backed waves. And now in a moment she was dropped into the filthy dust of city horrors. What would be the result upon her and upon her dawning gift?
The double question was in his mind, and quite honestly. For his interest of the literary man in Vere was very vivid. Never yet had he had a pupil or dreamed of having one. There are writers who found a school, whose fame is carried forward like a banner by young and eager hands. Artois had always stood alone, ardently admired, ardently condemned, but not imitated. And he had been proud of his solitude. But -- lately -- had not underthoughts come into his mind, thoughts of leaving an impress on a vivid young intellect, a soul that was full of life, and the beginnings of energy? Had not he dreamed, however vaguely, of forming, like some sculptor of genius, an exquisite statuette -- poetry, in the slim form of a girl-child singing to the world?
And now Peppina had rushed into Vere's life, with sobs and a tumult of cries to the Madonna and the saints, and, no doubt, with imprecations upon the wickedness of men. And where were the dreams of the sea? And his dreams, where were they?
That night the irony that was in him woke up and smiled bitterly, and he asked himself how he, with his burden of years and of knowledge of life, could have been such a fool as to think it possible to guard any one against the assaults of the facts of life. Hermione, perhaps, had been wiser than he, and yet he could not help feeling something that was almost like anger against her for what he called her quixotism. The woman of passionate impulses -- how dangerous she is, even when her impulses are generous, are noble! Action without thought, though the prompting heart behind it be a heart of gold -- how fatal may it be!
And then he remembered a passionate impulse that had driven a happy woman across a sea to Africa, and he was ashamed.
Yet again the feeling that was almost like hostility returned. He said to himself that Hermione should have learned caution in the passing of so many years, that she ought to have grown older than she had. But there was something unconquerably young, unconquerably naive, in her -- something that, it seemed, would never die. Her cleverness went hand in hand with a short-sightedness that was like a rather beautiful, yet sometimes irritating stupidity. And this latter quality might innocently make victims, might even make a victim of her own child.
And then a strange desire rose up in Artois, a desire to protect Vere against her own mother.
But how could that be done?
Vere, guarded by the beautiful unconsciousness of youth, was unaware of the subtleties that were brought into activity by her. That the Marchesino was, or thought himself, in love with her she realized. But she could not connect any root-sincerity with his feeling. She was accustomed vaguely to think of all young Southern Italians as perpetually sighing for some one's dark eyes. The air of the South was full of love songs that rose and fell without much more meaning than a twitter of birds, that could not be stilled because it was so natural. And the Marchesino was a young aristocrat who did absolutely nothing of any importance to the world. The Northern blood in Vere demanded other things of a man than imitations of a seal, the clever driving of a four-in-hand, light-footed dancing, and songs to the guitar. In Gaspare she saw more reality than she saw as yet in the Marchesino. The dawning intellect of her began to grasp already the nobility of work. Gaspare had his work to do, and did it with loyal efficiency. Ruffo, too, had his profession of the sea. He drew out of the deep his livelihood. Even with the fever almost upon him he had been out by night in the storm. That which she liked and respected in Gaspare, his perfect and natural acceptance of work as a condition of his life, she liked and respected in Ruffo.
On the morning after the incident with Peppina, Vere came down looking strangely grave and tired. Her mother, too, was rather heavy-eyed, and the breakfast passed almost severely. When it was over Hermione, who still conducted Vere's education, but with a much relaxed vigor in the summer months, suggested that they should read French together.
"Let us read one of Monsieur Emile's books, Madre," said Vere, with an awakening of animation. "You know I have never read one, only two or three baby stories, and articles that don't count."
"Yes, but Emile's books are not quite suitable for you yet, Vere."
"They are very fine, but they dive deep into life, and life contains many sad and many cruel things."
"Oughtn't we to prepare ourselves for them, then?"
"Not too soon, I think. I am nearly sure that if you were to read Emile's books just yet you would regret it."
Vere said nothing.
"Don't you think you can trust me to judge for you in this matter, figlia mia? I -- I am almost certain that Emile himself would think as I do."
It was not without an effort, a strong effort, that Hermione was able to speak the last sentence. Vere came nearer to her mother, and stood before her, as if she were going to say something that was decisive or important. But she hesitated.
"What is it, Vere?" Hermione asked, gently.
"I might learn from life itself what Monsieur Emile's books might teach me."
"Some day. And when that time comes neither I nor he would wish to keep them out of your hands."
"I see. Well, Madre dear, let us read whatever you like."
Vere had been on the verge of telling her mother about the previous night and Peppina. But, somehow, at the last moment she could not.
And thus, for the moment at least, Artois and she shared another secret of which Hermione was unaware.
But very soon Hermione noticed that Vere was specially kind always to Peppina. They did not meet, perhaps, very often, but when by chance they did Vere spoke to the disfigured girl with a gentleness, almost a tenderness, that were striking.
"You like Peppina, Vere?" asked her mother one day.
"Yes, because I pity her so much."
There was a sound that was almost like passion in the girl's voice; and, looking up, Hermione saw that her eyes were full of light, as if the spirit had set two lamps in them.
"It is strange," Vere continued, in a quieter tone; "but sometimes I feel as if on the night of the storm I had had a sort of consciousness of her coming -- as if, when I saw the Saint's light shining, and bent down to the water and made the sign of the Cross, I already knew something of Peppina's wound, as if I made the sign to protect our Casa del Mare, to ward off something evil."
"That was coming to us with Peppina, do you mean?"
"I don't know, Madre."
"Are you thinking of Giulia's foolish words about the evil eye?"
"No. It's all vague, Madre. But Peppina's cross sometimes seems to me to be a sign, a warning come into the house. When I see it it seems to say there is a cross to be borne by some one here, by one of us."
"How imaginative you are, Vere!"
"So are you, Madre! But you try to hide it from me."
Hermione was startled. She took Vere's hand, and held it for a moment in silence, pressing it with a force that was nervous. And her luminous, expressive eyes, immensely sensitive, beautiful in their sensitiveness, showed that she was moved. At last she said:
"Perhaps that is true. Yes, I suppose it is."
"Why do you try to hide it?"
"I suppose -- I think because -- because it has brought to me a great deal of pain. And what we hide from others we sometimes seem almost to be destroying by that very act, though of course we are not."
"No. But I think I should like to encourage my imagination."
"Do you encourage it?" the mother asked, looking at her closely.
Again, as Vere had been on the edge of telling her mother all she knew about Peppina, she was on the edge of telling her about the poems of the sea. And again, moved by some sudden, obstinate reluctance, come she knew not why, she withheld the words that were almost on her lips.
And each time the mother was aware of something avoided, of an impulse stifled, and therefore of a secret deliberately kept. The first time Hermione had not allowed her knowledge to appear. But on this second occasion for a moment she lost control of herself, and when, after a perceptible pause, Vere said, "I know I love it," and was silent, she exclaimed:
"Keep your secrets, Vere. Every one has a right to their freedom."
"But, Madre -- " Vere began, startled by her mother's abrupt vehemence.
"No, Vere, no! My child, my dearest one, never tell me anything but of your own accord, out of your own heart and desire. Such a confidence is beautiful. But anything else -- anything else, I could not bear from you."
And she got up and left the room, walking with a strange slowness, as if she put upon herself an embargo not to hasten.
The words and -- specially that -- the way in which they were spoken made Vere suddenly and completely aware of something that perhaps she had already latently known -- that the relation between her mother and herself had, of late, not been quite what once it was. At moments she had felt almost shy of her mother, only at moments. Formerly she had always told her mother everything, and had spoken -- as her mother had just said -- out of her own heart and desire, with eagerness, inevitably. Now -- well, now she could not always do that. Was it because she was growing older? Children are immensely frank. She had been a child. But now -- she thought of the Marchesino, of Peppina, of her conversation with Monsieur Emile in the Grotto of Virgilio, and realized the blooming of her girlhood, was aware that she was changing. And she felt half frightened, then eager, ardently eager. An impulse filled her, the impulse towards a fulness of life that, till now, she had not known. And for a moment she loved those little, innocent secrets that she kept.
But then she thought again of her mother, the most beloved of all her world. There had been in her mother's voice a sound of tragedy.
Vere stood for a long while by the window thinking.
The day was very hot. She longed to bathe, to wash away certain perplexities that troubled her in the sea. But Gaspare was not on the island. He had gone she knew not where. She looked at the sea with longing. When would Gaspare be back? Well, at least she could go out in the small boat. Then she would be near to the water. She ran down the steps and embarked. At first she only rowed a little way out into the Saint's Pool, and then leaned back against the white cushions, and looked up at the blue sky, and let her hand trail in the water. But she was restless to-day. The Pool did not suffice her, and she began to paddle out along the coast towards Naples. She passed a ruined, windowless house named by the fisherfolk "The Palace of the Spirits," and then a tiny hamlet climbing up from a minute harbor to an antique church. Children called to her. A fisherman shouted: "Buon viaggio, Signorina!" She waved her hand to them apathetically and rowed slowly on. Now she had a bourne. A little farther on there was a small inlet of the sea containing two caves, not gloomy and imposing like the Grotto of Virgilio, but cosy, shady, and serene. Into the first of them she ran the boat until its prow touched the sandy bottom. Then she lay down at full length, with her hands behind her head on the cushions, and thought -- and thought.
Figures passed through her mind, a caravan of figures travelling as all are travelling: her mother, Gaspare, Giulia, with her plump and swarthy face; Monsieur Emile, to whom she had drawn so pleasantly, interestingly near in these last days; the Marchesino (strutting from the hips and making his bold eyes round), Peppina, Ruffo. They went by and returned, gathered about her, separated, melted away as people do in our musings. Her eyes were fixed on the low roof of the cave. The lilt of the water seemed to rock her soul in a cradle. "Madre -- Ruffo! Madre -- Ruffo!" The words were in her mind like a refrain. And then the oddity, the promiscuity of life struck her. How many differences there were in this small group of people by whom she was surrounded! What would their fates be, and hers? Would her life be happy? She did not feel afraid. Youth ran in her veins. But -- would it be? She saw the red cross on Peppina's cheek. Why was one singled out for misery, another for joy? Which would be her fate? Ruffo seemed to be standing near her. She had seen him several times in these last days, but only at evening, fugitively, when he came in the boat with the fishermen. He was stronger now. He had saluted her eagerly. She had spoken to him from the shore. But he had not landed again on the island. She felt as if she saw his bright and beaming eyes. And Ruffo -- would he be happy? She hoped so. She wanted him to be happy. He was such a dear, active boy -- such a real boy. What must it be like to have a brother? Gaspare approved of Ruffo now, she thought; and Gaspare did not like everybody, and was fearfully blunt in expressing his opinion. She loved his bluntness. How delightfully his nose twitched when he was pleased! Dear old Gaspare! She could never feel afraid of anything or anybody when he was near. Monsieur Emile -- the poems -- the Marchesino singing. She closed her eyes to think the better.
Vere woke and sat up.
Gaspare was looking at her from his boat.
She began to realize things.
"I was -- I was thinking."
"Si, Signorina. I always think like that when I am in bed."
She laughed. She was wide awake now.
"How did you find me?"
"I met one of the fishermen. He had seen you row into the cave."
She looked at him more steadily. His brown face was hot. Perspiration stood on his forehead just under the thick and waving hair.
"Where have you been, Gaspare? Not to Naples in all this heat?"
"I have been to Mergellina, Signorina."
"Mergellina! Did you see Ruffo?"
There was something very odd about Gaspare to-day, Vere thought. Or was she still not thoroughly awake? His eyes looked excited, surely, as if something unusual had been happening. And they were fixed upon her face with a scrutiny that was strange, almost as if he saw her now for the first time.
"What is it, Gaspare? Why do you look at me like that?"
Gaspare turned his eyes away.
"Like what, Signorina? Why should I not look at you?"
"What have you been doing at Mergellina?"
She spoke rather imperiously.
"Nothing particular, Signorina."
She paused, but he did not speak.
"Where did you see Ruffo?"
"At the harbor, Signorina."
"Tell me, Gaspare, do you like him?"
"I do not dislike him, Signorina. He has never done me any harm."
"Of course not. Why should he?"
"I say -- he has not."
"I like Ruffo."
Again he looked at her with that curious expression in his eyes. Then he said:
"Come, Signorina! It is getting late. We must go to the island."
And they pulled out round the point to the open sea.
During the hot weather the dwellers in the Casa del Mare made the siesta after the mid-day meal. The awnings and blinds were drawn. Silence reigned, and the house was still as the Palace of the Sleeping Beauty. At the foot of the cliffs the sea slept in the sunshine, and it was almost an empty sea, for few boats passed by in those hot, still hours.
To-day the servants were quiet in their quarters. Only Gaspare was outside. And he, in shirt and trousers, with a white linen hat covering his brown face, was stretched under the dwarf trees of the little garden, in the shadow of the wall, resting profoundly after the labors of the morning. In their respective rooms Hermione and Vere were secluded behind shut doors. Hermione was lying down, but not sleeping. Vere was not lying down. Generally she slept at this time for an hour. But to-day, perhaps because of her nap in the cave, she had no desire for sleep.
She was thinking about her mother. And Hermione was thinking of her. Each mind was working in the midst of its desert space, its solitude eternal.
What was growing up between them, and why was it growing?
Hermione was beset by a strange sensation of impotence. She felt as if her child were drifting from her. Was it her fault, or was it no one's, and inevitable? Had Vere been able to divine certain feelings in her, the mother, obscure pains of the soul that had travelled to mind and heart? She did not think it possible. Nor had it been possible for her to kill those pains, although she had made her effort -- to conceal them. Long ago, before she was married to Maurice, Emile had spoken to them of jealousy. At the time she had not understood it. She remembered thinking, even saying, that she could not be jealous.
But then she had not had a child.
Lately she had realized that there were forces in her of which she had not been aware. She had realized her passion for her child. Was it strange that she had not always known how deep and strong it was? Her mutilated life was more vehemently centred upon Vere than she had understood. Of Vere she could be jealous. If Vere put any one before her, trusted any one more than her, confided anything to another rather than to her, she could be frightfully jealous.
Recently she had suspected -- she had imagined --
Restlessly she moved on her bed. A mosquito-curtain protected it. She was glad of that, as if it kept out prying eyes. For sometimes she was ashamed of the vehemence within her.
She thought of her friend Emile, whom she had dragged back from death.
He, too, had he not drifted a little from her in these last days? It seemed to her that it was so. She knew that it was so. Women are so sure of certain things, more almost than men are ever sure of anything. And why should Vere have drifted, Emile have drifted, if there were not some link between them -- some link between the child and the middle-aged man which they would not have her know of?
Vere had told to Emile something that she had kept, that she still kept from her mother. When Vere had been shut up in her room she had not been reading. Emile knew what it was that she did during those long hours when she was alone. Emile knew that, and perhaps other things of Vere that she, Hermione, did not know, was not allowed to know.
Hermione, in their long intimacy, had learned to read Artois more clearly, more certainly than he realized. Although often impulsive, and seemingly unconscious of the thoughts of others, she could be both sharply observant and subtle, especially with those she loved. She had noticed the difference between his manner when first they spoke of Vere's hidden occupation and his manner when last they spoke of it. In the interval he had found out what it was, and that it was not reading. Of that she was positive. She was positive also that he did not wish her to suspect this. Vere must have told him what it was.
It was characteristic of Hermione that at this moment she was free from any common curiosity as to what it was that Vere did during those many hours when she was shut up in her room. The thing that hurt her, that seemed to humiliate her, was the Emile should know what it was and not she, that Vere should have told Emile and not told her.
As she lay there she cowered under the blow a mutual silence can give, and something woke up in her, something fiery, something surely that could act with violence. It startled her, almost as a stranger rushing into her room would have startled her.
For a moment she thought of her child and her loved friend with a bitterness that was cruel.
How long had they shared their secret? She wondered, and began to consider the recent days, searching their hours for those tiny incidents, those small reticences, avoidances, that to women are revelations. When had she first noticed a slight change in Emile's manner to her? When had Vere and he first seemed a little more intimate, a little more confidential than before? When had she, Hermione, first felt a little "out of it," not perfectly at ease with these two dear denizens of her life?
Her mind fastened at once upon the day of the storm. On the night of the storm, when she and Emile had been left alone in the restaurant, she had felt almost afraid of him. But before then, in the afternoon on the island, there had been something. They had not been always at ease. She had been conscious of trying to tide over moments that were almost awkward -- once or twice, only once or twice. But that was the day. Her woman's instinct told her so. That was the day on which Vere had told Emile the secret she had kept from her mother. How excited Vere had been, almost feverishly excited! And Emile had been very strange. When the Marchesino and Vere went out upon the terrace, how restless, how irritable he --
Suddenly Hermione sat up in her bed. The heat, the stillness, the white cage of the mosquito net, the silence had become intolerable to her. She pulled aside the net. Yes, that was better. She felt more free. She would lie down outside the net. But the pillow was hot. She turned it, but its pressure against her cheek almost maddened her, and she got up, went across the room to the wash-stand and bathed her face with cold water. Then she put some eau de Cologne on her forehead, opened a drawer and drew out a fan, went over to an arm-chair near the window and sat down in it.
What had Emile written in the visitors' book at the Scoglio di Frisio? With a strange abruptness, with a flight that was instinctive as that of a homing pigeon, Hermione's mind went to that book as to a book of revelation. Just before he wrote he had been feeling acutely -- something. She had been aware of that at the time. He had not wanted to write. And then suddenly, almost violently, he had written and had closed the book.
She longed to open that book now, at once, to read what he had written. She felt as if it would tell her very much. There was no reason why she should not read it. The book was one that all might see, was kept to be looked over by any chance visitor. She would go one day, one evening, to the restaurant and see what Emile had written. He would not mind. If she had asked him that night of course he would have shown her the words. But she had not asked him. She had been almost afraid of things that night. She remembered how the wind had blown up the white table-cloth, her cold, momentary shiver of fear, her relief when she had seen Gaspare walking sturdily into the room.
And now, at once, this thought of Gaspare brought to her a sense of relief again, of relief so great, so sharp -- piercing down into the very deep of her nature -- that by it she was able to measure something, her inward desolation at this moment. Yes, she clung to Gaspare, because he was loyal, because he loved her, because he had loved Maurice -- but also because she was terribly alone.
Because he had loved Maurice! Had there been a time, really a time, when she had possessed one who belonged utterly to her, who lived only in and for her? Was that possible? To-day, with the fierceness of one starving, she fastened upon this memory, her memory, hers only, shared by no one, never shared by living or dead. That at least she had, and that could never be taken from her. Even if Vere, her child, slipped from her, if Emile, her friend, whose life she had saved, slipped from her, the memory of her Sicilian was forever hers, the memory of his love, his joy in their mutual life, his last kiss. Long ago she had taken that kiss as a gift made to two -- to her and to Vere unborn. To-day, almost savagely, she took it to herself, alone, herself -- alone. Hers it was, hers only, no part of it Vere's.
That she had -- her memory, and Gaspare's loyal, open-hearted devotion. He knew what she had suffered. He loved her as he had loved his dead Padrone. He would always protect her, put her first without hesitation, conceal nothing from her that it was her right -- for surely even the humblest, the least selfish, the least grasping, surely all who love have their rights -- that it was her right to know.
Her cheeks were burning. She felt like one who had been making some physical exertion.
Deeply silent was the house. Her room was full of shadows, yet full of the hidden presence of the sun. There was a glory outside, against which she was protected. But outside, and against assaults that were inglorious, what protection had she? Her own personality must protect her, her own will, the determination, the strength, the courage that belong to all who are worth anything in the world. And she called upon herself. And it seemed to her that there was no voice that answered.
There was a hideous moment of drama.
She sat there quietly in her chair in the pretty room. And she called again, and she listened -- and again there was silence.
Then she was afraid. She had a strange and horrible feeling that she was deserted by herself, by that which, at least, had been herself and on which she had been accustomed to rely. And what was left was surely utterly incapable, full of the flabby wickedness that seems to dwell in weakness. It seemed to her that if any one who knew her well, if Vere, Emile, or even Gaspare, had come into the room just then, the intruder would have paused on the threshold amazed to see a stranger there. She felt afraid to be seen and yet afraid to remain alone. Should she do something definite, something defiant, to prove to herself that she had will and could exercise it?
She got up, resolved to go to Vere. When she was there, with her child, she did not know what she was going to do. She had said to Vere, "Keep your secrets." What if she went now and humbled herself, explained to the child quite simply and frankly a mother's jealousy, a widow's loneliness, made her realize what she was in a life from which the greatest thing had been ruthlessly withdrawn? Vere would understand surely, and all would be well. This shadow between them would pass away. Hermione had her hand on the door. But she did not open it. An imperious reserve, autocrat, tyrant, rose up suddenly within her. She could never make such a confession to Vere. She could never plead for her child's confidence -- a confidence already given to Emile, to a man. And now for the first time the common curiosity to which she had not yet fallen a victim came upon her, flooded her. What was Vere's secret? That it was innocent, probably even childish, Hermione did not question even for a moment. But what was it?
She heard a light step outside and drew back from the door. The step passed on and died away down the paved staircase. Vere had gone out to the terrace, the garden, or the sea.
Hermione again moved forward, then stopped abruptly. Her face was suddenly flooded with red as she realized what she had been going to do, she who had exclaimed that every one has a right to their freedom.
For an instant she had meant to go to Vere's room, to try to find out surreptitiously what Emile knew.
A moment later Vere, coming back swiftly for a pencil she had forgotten, heard the sharp grating of a key in the lock of her mother's door.
She ran on lightly, wondering why her mother was locking herself in, and against whom.
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