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A Spirit In Prison
by Robert Hichens
Artois had intended to go that evening to the island. But he did not fulfil his intention. When the sun began to sink he threw a light coat over his arm and walked down to the harbor of Santa Lucia. A boatman whom he knew met him and said:
"Shall I take you to the island, Signore?"
Artois was there to take a boat. He meant to say yes. Yet when the man spoke he answered no. The fellow turned away and found another customer. Two or three minutes later Artois saw his boat drawing out to sea in the direction of Posilipo. It was a still evening, and very clear after the storm of the preceding night. Artois longed to be in that travelling boat, longed to see the night come from the summit of the island with Hermione and Vere. But he resisted the sea, its wide peace, its subtle summons, called a carriage and drove to the Galleria. Arrived there, he took his seat at a little table outside the "Gran Caffe," ordered a small dinner, and, while he was eating it, watched the people strolling up and down, seeking among them for a figure that he knew.
As the hour drew near for the music to begin, and the girls dressed in white came out one by one to the platform that, surrounded by a white railing edged with red velvet, is built out beyond the caffe to face the crowd, the number of promenaders increased, and many stood still waiting for the first note, and debating the looks of the players. Others thronged around Artois, taking possession of the many little tables, and calling for ices, lemon-water, syrups, and liqueurs. Priests, soldiers, sailors, students, actors -- who assemble in the Galleria to seek engagements -- newsboys, and youths whose faces suggested that they were "ruffiani," mingled with foreigners who had come from the hotels and from the ships in the harbor, and whose demeanor was partly curious and partly suspicious, as of one who longs to probe the psychology of a thief while safely guarding his pockets. The buzz of voices, the tramp of feet, gained a peculiar and vivid sonorousness from the high and vaulted roof; and in the warm air, under the large and winking electric lights, the perpetually moving figures looked strangely capricious, hungry, determined, furtive, ardent, and intent. On their little stands the electric fans whirred as they slowly revolved, casting an artificial breeze upon pallid faces, and around the central dome the angels with gilded wings lifted their right arms as if pointing the unconscious multitude the difficult way to heaven.
A priest sat down with two companions at the table next to Artois. He had a red cord round his shaggy black hat. His face was like a parroquet's, with small, beady eyes full of an unintellectual sharpness. His plump body suggested this world, and his whole demeanor, the movements of his dimpled, dirty hands, and of his protruding lips, the attitude of his extended legs, the pose of his coarse shoulders, seemed hostile to things mystical. He munched an ice, and swallowed hasty draughts of iced water, talking the while with a sort of gluttonous vivacity. Artois looked at him and heard, with his imagination, the sound of the bell at the Elevation, and saw the bowed heads of the crouching worshippers. The irony of life, that is the deepest mystery of life, came upon him like the wave of some Polar sea. He looked up at the gilded angels, then dropped his eyes and saw what he had come to see.
Slowly threading her way through the increasing throng, came the old woman whom he had watched so often and by whom he had been watched. To-night she had on her summer dress, a respectable, rather shiny gown of grayish mauve, a bonnet edged with white ribbon, a pair of white thread gloves. She carried her little bag and a small Japanese fan. Walking in a strange, flat-footed way that was peculiar to her, and glancing narrowly about her, yet keeping her hand almost still, she advanced towards the band-stand. As she came opposite to Artois the orchestra of women struck up the "Valse Noir," and the old woman stood still, impeded by the now dense crowd of listeners. While the demurely sinister music ran its course, she remained absolutely immobile. Artois watched her with a keen interest.
It had come into his mind that she was the aunt of Peppina, the disfigured girl, who perhaps to-night was sleeping in the Casa del Mare with Vere.
Presently, attracted, no doubt, by his gaze, the old woman looked across at Artois and met his eyes. Instantly a sour and malignant expression came into her long, pale face, and she drew up a corner of her upper lip, as a dog sometimes does, showing a tooth that was like a menace.
She was secretly cursing Artois.
He knew why. Encouraged by his former observation of her, she had scented a client in him and had been deceived, and this deception had bred within her an acrid hatred of him. To-night he would chase away that hatred. For he meant to speak to her. The old woman looked away from him, holding her head down as if in cold disdain. Artois read easily what was passing in her mind. She believed him wicked, but nervous in his wickedness, desirous of her services but afraid to invite them. And she held him in the uttermost contempt. Well, to-night he would undeceive her on one point at least. He kept his eyes upon her so firmly that she looked at him again. This time he made a sign of recognition, of understanding. She stared as if in suspicious amazement. He glanced towards the dome, then at her once more. At this moment the waiter came up. Artois paid his bill slowly and ostentatiously. As he counted out the money upon the little tray he looked up once, and saw the eyes in the long, pale face of the venerable temptress glitter while they watched. The music ceased, the crowd before the platform broke up, and began quickly to melt away. Only the woman waited, holding her little bag and her cheap Japanese fan.
Artois drew out a cigar, lit it slowly, then got up, and began to move out among the tables.
The priest looked after him, spoke rapidly to his companions, and burst into a throaty laugh which was loudly echoed.
"Maria Fortunata is in luck to-night!" said some one.
Then the band began again, the waiter came with more ices, and the tall, long-bearded forestiere was forgotten.
Without glancing at the woman, Artois strolled slowly on. Many people looked at him, but none spoke to him, for he was known now, as each stranger who stays long in Naples is known, summed up, labelled, and either ignored or pestered. The touts and the ruffiani were aware that it was no use to pester the Frenchman, and even the decrepit and indescribably seedy old men who hover before the huge plate-glass windows of the photograph shops, or linger near the entrance to the cinematograph, never peeped at him out of the corners of their bloodshot eyes or whispered a word of the white slaves in his ear.
When he was beneath the dome, and could see the light gleaming upon the wings of the pointing angels, Artois seemed to be aware of an individual step among the many feet behind him, a step soft, furtive, and obstinate, that followed him like a fate's. He glanced up at the angels. A melancholy and half-bitter smile came to his lips. Then he turned to the right and made his way still slowly towards the Via Roma, always crowded from the early afternoon until late into the night. As he went, as he pushed through the mob of standing men at the entrance of the Galleria, and crossed the street to the far side, from which innumerable narrow and evil-looking alleys stretch away into the darkness up the hill, the influence of the following old woman increased upon him, casting upon him like a mist her hateful eagerness. He desired to be rid of it, and, quickening his walk, he turned into the first alley he came to, walked a little way up it, until he was in comparative solitude and obscurity, then stopped and abruptly turned.
The shiny, grayish mauve gown and the white-trimmed bonnet were close to him. Between them he faintly perceived a widely smiling face, and from this face broke at once a sickly torrent of speech, half Neapolitan dialect, half bastard French.
"Silenzio!" Artois said, sternly.
The old harridan stopped in surprise, showing her tooth.
"What has become of Peppina?"
"Maria Santissima!" she ejaculated, moving back a step in the darkness.
She paused. Then she said:
"You know Peppina!"
She came forward again, quite up to him, and peered into his face, seeking there for an ugly truth which till now had been hidden from her.
"What had you to do with Peppina?"
"Nothing. Tell me about her, and -- "
He put his hand to the inside pocket of his coat, and showed her the edge of a little case containing paper notes. The woman misunderstood him. He knew that by her face, which for the moment was as a battle- field on which lust fought with a desperate anger of disappointment. Then cunning came to stop the battle.
"You have heard of Peppina, Signore? You have never seen her?"
Artois played with her for a moment.
Her smile widened. She put up her thin hands to her hair, her bonnet, coquettishly.
"There is not a girl in Naples as beautiful as Peppina. Mother of -- "
But the game was too loathsome with such a player.
He laughed, made a gesture of pulling out a knife and smashing his face with it.
"Beautiful! Per Dio!"
The coquetry, the cunning, dropped out of the long, pale face.
"The Signore knows?"
"Ma si! All Naples knows."
The old woman's face became terrible. Her two hands shot up, dropped, shot up again, imprecating, cursing the world, the sky, the whole scheme of the universe, it seemed. She chattered like an ape. Artois soothed her with a ten-lire note.
That night, when he went back to the hotel, he had heard the aunt's version of Peppina, and knew -- that which really he had known before -- that Hermione had taken her to live on the island.
Hermione! What was she? An original, clever and blind, great-hearted and unwise. An enthusiast, one created to be carried away.
Never would she grow really old, never surely would the primal fires within her die down into the gray ashes that litter so many of the hearths by which age sits, a bleak, uncomely shadow.
And Peppina was on the island, a girl from the stews of Naples; not wicked, perhaps, rather wronged, injured by life -- nevertheless, the niece of that horror of the Galleria.
He thought of Vere and shuddered.
Next day towards four o'clock the Marchesino strolled into Artois' room, with a peculiarly impudent look of knowledge upon his face.
"Buon giorno, Caro Emilio," he said. "Are you busy?"
"Will you come with me for a stroll in the Villa? Will you come to see the gathering together of the geese?"
"Che Diavolo! What's that?"
"This summer the Marchesa Pontini has organized a sort of club, which meets in the Villa every day except Sundays. Three days the meeting is in the morning, three days in the afternoon. The silliest people of the aristocracy belong to this club, and the Marchesa is the mother goose. Ecco! Will you come, or -- or have you some appointment?" He smiled in his friend's face.
Artois wondered, but could not divine, what was at the back of his mind.
"No, I had thought of going on the sea."
"Or to the Toledo, perhaps?"
The Marchesino laughed happily.
"The Toledo? Why should I go there?"
"Non lo so. Put on your chapeau and come. Il fait tres beau cet apres- midi."
Doro was very proud of his French, which made Artois secretly shiver, and generally spoke it when he was in specially good spirits, or was feeling unusually mischievous. As they walked along the sea-front a moment later, he continued in Italian:
"You were not at the island yesterday, Emilio?"
"No. Were you?"
"I naturally called to know how the ladies were after that terrible storm. What else could I do?"
"And how were they?"
"The Signora was in Naples, and of course the Signorina could not have received me alone. But the saints were with me, Emilio. I met her on the sea; quite by herself, on the sea of the Saint's pool. She was lying back in a little boat, with no hat on, her hands behind her head -- so, and her eyes -- her beautiful eyes, Emilio, were full of dreams, of dreams of the sea."
"How do you know that?" said Artois, rather sharply.
"How do you know the Signorina was dreaming of the sea? Did she -- did she tell you?"
"No, but I am sure. We walked together from the boats. I told her she was an enchantress of the sea, the spirit of the wave -- I told her!"
He spread out his hands, rejoicing in the remembrance of his graceful compliments.
"The Signorina was delighted, but she could not stay long. She had a slight headache and was a little tired after the storm. But she would have liked to ask me to the house. She was longing to. I could see that."
He seized his mustache.
"She turned her head away, trying to conceal from me her desire, but -- "
"Le donne! Le donne!" he happily exclaimed.
Artois found himself wondering why, until Doro had made the acquaintance of the dwellers on the island, he had never wished to smack his smooth, complacent cheeks.
They turned from the sea into the broad walk of the Villa, and walked towards the kiosk. Near it, on the small, green chairs, were some ladies swathed in gigantic floating-veils, talking to two or three very smart young men in white suits and straw hats, who leaned forward eying them steadily with a determined yet rather vacuous boldness that did not disconcert them. One of the ladies, dressed in black-and-white check, was immensely stout. She seemed to lead the conversation, which was carried on with extreme vivacity in very loud and not melodious voices.
"Ecco the gathering of the geese!" said the Marchesino, touching Artois on the arm. "And that" -- he pointed to the stout lady, who at this moment tossed her head till her veil swung loose like a sail suddenly deserted by the wind -- "is the goose-mother. Buona sera, Marchesa! Buona sera -- molto piacere. Carlo, buona sera -- a rivederci, Contessa! A questa sera."
He showed his splendid teeth in a fixed but winning smile, and, hat in hand, went by, walking from his hips. Then, replacing his hat on his head, he added to his friend:
"The Marchesa is always hoping that the Duchessa d'Aosta will come one day, if only for a moment, to smile upon the geese. But -- well, the Duchessa prefers to climb to the fourth story to see the poor. She has a heart. Let us sit here, Emilio."
They sat down under the trees, and the Marchesino looked at his pointed boots for a moment in silence, pushing forward his under lip until his blond mustache touched the jaunty tip of his nose. Then he began to laugh, still looking before him.
He shook his head repeatedly.
"Emilio mio! And that you should be asking me to show you Naples! It is too good! C'est parfait!"
The Marchesino turned towards Artois.
"And Maria Fortunata! Santa Maria of the Toledo, the white-haired protectress of the strangers! Emilio -- you might have come to me! But you do not trust me. Ecco! You do not -- "
"You saw me last night?"
"Ma si! All Naples saw you. Do you not know that the Galleria is full -- but full -- of eyes?"
"Va bene! But you don't understand."
He shrugged his shoulders, lifted his hands, his eyebrows. His whole being seemed as if it were about to mount ironically towards heaven.
"You don't understand. I repeat it."
Artois spoke quietly, but there was a sound in his voice which caused his frivolous companion to stare at him with an inquiry that was, for a moment, almost sulky.
"You forget, Doro, how old I am."
"What has that to do with it?"
"You forget -- "
Artois was about to allude to his real self, to point out the improbability of a man so mental, so known, so travelled as he was, falling like a school-boy publicly into a sordid adventure. But he stopped, realizing the uselessness of such an explanation. And he could not tell the Marchesino the truth of his shadowy colloquy in a by-street with the old creature from behind the shutter.
"You have made a mistake about me," he said. "But it is of no consequence. Look! There is another goose coming."
He pointed with his cane in the direction of the chatterers near the kiosk.
"It is papa! It is papa!"
"Pardon! I did not recognize -- "
The Marchesino got up.
"Let us go there. The Marchesa with papa -- it is better than the Compagnia Scarpetta! I will present you."
But Artois was in no mood for a cataract of nothingness.
"Not now," he said. "I have -- "
The Marchesino shot a cruel glance of impudent comprehension at him, and touched his left hand in token of farewell.
"I know! I know! The quickest horse to the Toledo. A-ah! A-ah! May the writer's saint go with you! Addio, mio caro!"
There was a hint of real malice in his voice. He cocked his hat and strutted away towards the veils and the piercing voices. Artois stared after him for a moment, then walked across the garden to the sea, and leaned against the low wall looking towards Capri. He was vexed at this little episode -- unreasonably vexed. In his friend Doro he now discerned a possible enemy. An Italian who has trusted does not easily forgive if he is not trusted in return. Artois was conscious of a dawning hostility in the Marchesino. No doubt he could check it. Doro was essentially good-tempered and light-hearted. He could check it by an exhibition of frankness. But this frankness was impossible to him, and as it was impossible he must allow Doro to suspect him of sordid infamies. He knew, of course, the Neapolitan's habitual disbelief in masculine virtue, and did not mind it. Then why should he mind Doro's laughing thought of himself as one of the elderly crew who cling to forbidden pleasures? Why should he feel sore, angry, almost insulted?
Vere rose before him, as one who came softly to bring him the answer to his questionings. And he knew that his vexation arose from the secret apprehension of a future in which he would desire to stand between her and the Marchesino with clean hands, and tell Doro certain truths which are universal, not national. Such truths would come ill from one whom the lectured held unclean.
As he walked home to the hotel his vexation grew.
When he was once more in his room he remembered his remark to Hermione, "We shall have many quiet, happy evenings together this summer, I hope," and her strange and doubtful reply. And because he felt himself invaded by her doubts he resolved to set out for the island. If he took a boat at once he could be there between six and seven o'clock.
And perhaps he would see the new occupant of the Casa del Mare. Perhaps he would see Peppina.
"I have come, you see," said Artois that evening, as he entered Hermione's room, "to have the first of our quiet, happy evenings, about which you were so doubtful."
She smiled at him from her seat between the big windows.
Outside the door he had, almost with a sudden passion, dismissed the vague doubts and apprehensions that beset him. He came with a definite brightness, a strong intimacy, holding out his hands, intent really on forcing Fate to weave her web in accordance with his will.
"We women are full of little fears, even the bravest of us. Chase mine away, Emile."
He sat down.
"What are they?"
She shook her head.
"Formless -- or almost. But perhaps that adds to the uneasiness they inspire. To put them into words would be impossible."
"Away with them!"
Her eyes seemed to be asking him questions, to be not quite satisfied, not quite sure of something.
"What is it?" he asked.
"I wonder if you have it in you to be angry with me."
"Make your confession."
"I have Peppina here."
"You knew -- ?"
"I have known you as an impulsive for -- how many years? Why should you change?"
He looked at her in silence for a moment. Then he continued:
"Sometimes you remind me -- in spots, as it were -- of George Sand."
She laughed, not quite without bitterness.
"In spots, indeed!"
"She described herself once in a book as having 'a great facility' for illusions, a blind benevolence of judgment, a tenderness of heart that was inexhaustible -- "
"Wait! From these qualities, she said, came hurry, mistakes innumerable, heroic devotion to objects that were worthless, much weakness, tremendous disappointments."
Hermione said nothing, but sat still looking grave.
"Well? Don't you recognize something of yourself in the catalogue, my friend?"
"Have I a great facility for illusions? Am I capable of heroic devotion to worthless objects?"
Suddenly Artois remembered all he knew and she did not know.
"At least you act hastily often," he said evasively. "And I think you are often so concentrated upon the person who stands, perhaps suffering, immediately before you, that you forget who is on the right, who is on the left."
"Emile, I asked your advice yesterday, and you would not give it me."
"A fair hit!" he said. "And so Peppina is here. How did the servants receive her?"
"I think they were rather surprised. Of course they don't know the truth."
"They will within -- shall we say twenty-four hours, or less?"
"How can they? Peppina won't tell them."
"You are sure? And when Gaspare goes into Naples to 'fare la spesa'?"
"I told Gaspare last night."
"That was wisdom. You understand your watch-dog's character."
"You grant that Gaspare is not an instance of a worthless object made the recipient of my heroic devotion?"
"Give him all you like," said Artois, with warmth. "You will never repent of that. Was he angry when you told him?"
"I think he was."
"I heard him saying 'Testa della Madonna!' as he was leaving me.
Artois could not help smiling.
"And Vere?" he said, looking directly at her.
"I have not told Vere anything about Peppina's past," Hermione said, rather hastily. "I do not intend to. I explained that Peppina had had a sad life and had been attacked by a man who had fallen in love with her, and for whom she didn't care."
"And Vere was all sympathy and pity?" said Artois, gently.
"She didn't seem much interested, I thought. She scarcely seemed to be listening. I don't believe she has seen Peppina yet. When we arrived she was shut up in her room."
As she spoke she was looking at him, and she saw a slight change come over his face.
"Do you think -- " she began, and paused. "I wonder if she was reading," she added, slowly, after a moment.
"Even the children have their secrets," he answered. As he spoke he turned his head and looked out of the window towards Ischia. "How clear it is to-night! There will be no storm."
"No. We can dine outside. I have told them." Her voice sounded slightly constrained. "I will go and call Vere," she added.
"She is in the house?"
"I think so."
She went out, shutting the door behind her.
So Vere was working. Artois felt sure that her conversation with him had given to her mind, perhaps to her heart, too, an impulse that had caused an outburst of young energy. Ah! the blessed ardors of youth! How beautiful they are, and, even in their occasional absurdity, how sacred. What Hermione had said had made him realize acutely the influence which his celebrity and its cause -- the self that had made it -- must have upon a girl who was striving as Vere was. He felt a thrill of pleasure, even of triumph, that startled him, so seldom now, jealous and careful as he was of his literary reputation, did he draw any definite joy from it. Would Vere ever do something really good? He found himself longing that she might, as the proud godparent longs for his godchild to gain prizes. He remembered the line at the close of Maeterlinck's "Pelleas and Melisande," a line that had gone like a silver shaft into this soul when he first heard it -- "Maintenant c'est au tour de la pauvre petite" (Now it's the child's turn.)
"Now it's the child's turn," he said it to himself, forming the words with his lips. At that moment he was freed entirely from the selfishness of age, and warm with a generous and noble sympathy with youth, its aspirations, its strivings, its winged hopes. He got up from his chair. He had a longing to go to Vere and tell her all he was feeling, a longing to pour into her -- as just then he could have poured it -- inspiration molten in a long-tried furnace. He had no need of any one but Vere.
The doors opened and Hermione came back.
"Vere is coming, Emile," she said.
"You told her I was here?"
She looked at him swiftly, as if the ringing sound in his voice had startled her.
"Yes. She is glad, I know. Dear little Vere!"
Her voice was dull, and she spoke -- or he fancied so -- rather mechanically. He remembered all she did not know and was conscious of her false position. In their intercourse she had so often, so generally, been the enthusiastic sympathizer. More than she knew she had inspired him.
"Dear Hermione! How good it is to be here with you!" he said, turning towards her the current of his sympathy. "As one grows old one clings to the known, the proved. That passion at least increases while so many others fade away, the passion for all that is faithful in a shifting world, for all that is real, that does not suffer corruption, disintegration! How adorable is Time where Time is powerless!"
"Is Time ever powerless?" she said. "Ah, here is Vere!"
They dined outside upon the terrace facing Vesuvius. Artois sat between mother and child. Vere was very quiet. Her excitement, her almost feverish gayety of the evening of the storm had vanished. To-night dreams hung in her eyes. And the sea was quiet as she was, repentant surely of its former furies. There seemed something humble, something pleading in its murmur, as if it asked forgiveness and promised amendment.
The talk was chiefly between Hermione and Artois. It was not very animated. Perhaps the wide peace of the evening influenced their minds. When coffee was carried out Artois lit his pipe, and fell into complete silence, watching the sea. Giulia brought to Hermione a bit of embroidery on which she was working, cleared away the dessert and quietly disappeared. From the house now and then came a sound of voices, of laughter. It died away, and the calm of the coming night, the calm of the silent trio that faced it, seemed to deepen as if in delicate protest against the interference. The stillness of Nature to-night was very natural. But was the human stillness natural? Presently Artois, suddenly roused, he knew not why, to self- consciousness, found himself wondering. Vere lay back in her wicker chair like one at ease. Hermione was leaning forward over her work with her eyes bent steadily upon it. Far off across the sea the smoke from the summit of Vesuvius was dyed at regular intervals by the red fire that issued from the entrails of the mountain. Silently it rose from its hidden world, glowed angrily, menacingly, faded, then glowed again. And the life that is in fire, and that seems to some the most intense of all the forces of life, stirred Artois from his peace. The pulse of the mountain, whose regular beating was surely indicated by the regularly recurring glow of the rising flame, seemed for a moment to be sounding in his ears, and, with it, all the pulses that were beating through the world. And he thought of the calm of their bodies, of Hermione's, of Vere's, of his own, as he had thought of the calm of the steely sky, the steely sea, that had preceded the bursting of the storm that came from Ischia. He thought of it as something unnatural, something almost menacing, a sort of combined lie that strove to conceal, to deny, the leaping fires of the soul.
Suddenly Vere got up and went quietly away. While she had been with them silence had been easy. Directly she was gone Artois felt that it was difficult, in another moment that it was no longer possible.
"Am I to see Peppina to-night?" he asked.
"Do you wish to?"
Hermione's hands moved a little faster about their work when he spoke.
"I feel a certain interest in her, as I should in any new inhabitant of the island. A very confined space seems always to heighten the influence of human personality, I think. On your rock everybody must mean a good deal, perhaps more than you realize, Hermione."
"I am beginning to realize that," she answered, quietly. "Perhaps they mean too much. I wonder if it is wise to live as we do?"
"In such comparative isolation, you mean?"
She laid her work down in her lap.
"I'm afraid that by nature I am a monopolist," she said. "And as I could never descend into the arena of life to struggle to keep what I have, if others desired to take it from me, I am inclined jealously to guard it."
She took up her work again.
"I've been thinking that I am rather like the dog that buries his bone," she added, bending once more over the embroidery.
"Are you thinking of -- of your husband?"
"Yes, and of Vere. I isolated myself with Maurice. Now I am isolating myself with Vere. Perhaps it is unwise, weak, this instinct to keep out the world."
"Are you thinking of changing your mode of life, then?" he asked.
In his voice there was a sound of anxiety which she noticed.
"Perhaps. I don't know."
She glanced at him and away, and he thought that there was something strange in her eyes. After a pause, she said:
"What would you advise?"
"Surely you are happy here. And -- and Vere is happy."
"Vere is happy -- yes."
He realized the thoughtlessness of his first sentence.
"But I must think of Vere's development. Lately, in these last days, I have been realizing that Vere is moving, is beginning to move very fast. Perhaps it is time to bring her into contact with more people. Perhaps -- "
"You once asked my advice," he interrupted. "I give it now. Leave Vere alone. What she needs she will obtain. Have no fear of that."
"You are sure?"
"Quite sure. Sometimes, often, the children know instinctively more than their elders know by experience."
Hermione's lips trembled.
"Sometimes," she said, in a low voice, "I think Vere knows far more than I do. But -- but I often feel that I am very blind, very stupid. You called me an impulsive -- I suppose I am one. But if I don't follow my impulses, what am I to follow? One must have a guide."
"Yes, and reason is often such a dull one, like a verger throwing one over a cathedral and destroying its mystery and its beauty with every word he speaks. When one is young one does not feel that one needs a guide at all."
"Sometimes -- often -- I feel very helpless now," she said.
He was acutely conscious of the passionate longing for sympathy that was alive within her, and more faintly aware of a peculiar depression that companioned her to-night. Yet, for some reason unknown to him, he could not issue from a certain reserve that checked him, could not speak to her as he had spoken not long ago in the cave. Indeed, as she came in her last words a little towards him, as one with hands tremblingly and a little doubtfully held out, he felt that he drew back.
"I think we all feel helpless often when we have passed our first youth," he answered.
He got up and stretched himself, towering above her.
"Shall we stroll about a little?" he added. "I feel quite cramped with sitting."
"You go. I'll finish this flower."
"I'll take a turn and come back."
As he went she dropped her embroidery and sat staring straight before her at the sea.
Artois heard voices in the house, and listened for a new one, the voice of Peppina. But he could not distinguish it. He went down into the tiny garden. No one was there, and he returned, and passing through the house came out on its farther side. Here he met Gaspare coming up from the sea.
"Good-evening, Gaspare," he said.
"I hear there's a new-comer in the house."
"A new servant."
Gaspare lifted his large eyes towards heaven.
"Testa della Madonna?" said Artois.
"Have a cigar, Gaspare?"
"Is she a good sort of girl, do you think?"
"She is in the kitchen, Signore. I have nothing to do with her."
Evidently Gaspare did not mean to talk. Artois decided to change the subject.
"I hear you had that boy, Ruffo, sleeping in the house the other night," he said.
"Si, Signore; the Signorina wished it."
Gaspare's voice sounded rather more promising.
"He seems popular on the island."
"He had been ill, Signore, and it was raining hard. Poveretto! He had had the fever. It was bad for him to be out in the boat."
"So Ruffo's getting hold of you too!" thought Artois.
He pulled at his cigar once or twice. Then he said:
"Do you think he looks like a Sicilian?"
Gaspare's eyes met his steadily.
"A Sicilian, Signore?"
"Signore, he is a Sicilian. How should he not look like one?"
Gaspare's voice sounded rebellious.
"Va bene, Gaspare, va bene. Have you seen the Signorina?"
"I think she is at the wooden seat, Signore. The Signorina likes to look at the sea from there."
"I will go and see if I can find her."
"Va bene, Signore. And I will go to speak with the Signora."
He took off his hat and went into the house. Artois stood for a moment looking after him and pulling at his beard. There was something very forcible in Gaspare's personality. Artois felt it the more because of his knowledge of Gaspare's power of prolonged, perhaps of eternal silence. The Sicilian was both blunt and subtle, therefore not always easily read. To-night he puzzled Artois because he impressed him strongly, yet vaguely. He seemed to be quietly concealing something that was not small. What it was Artois could not divine. Only he felt positive that there was something. In Gaspare's eyes that evening he had seen an expression such as had been in them long ago in Sicily, when Artois rode up after Maurice's death to see Hermione, and Gaspare turned from him and looked over the wall of the ravine: an expression of dogged and impenetrable reserve, that was like a door closing upon unseen, just not seen, vistas.
"Che Diavolo!" muttered Artois.
Then he went up to look for Vere.
A little wind met him on the crest of the cliff, the definite caress of the night, which had now fallen ever so softly. The troop of the stars was posted in the immeasurable deeps of the firmament. There was, there would be, no moon, yet it was not black darkness, but rather a dimly purple twilight which lifted into its breast the wayward songs of the sea. And the songs and the stars seemed twin children of the wedded wave and night. Divinely soft was the wind, divinely dreamy the hour, and bearing something of youth as a galley from the East bears odors. Over the spirit of Artois a magical essence seemed scattered. And the youngness that lives forever, however deeply buried, in the man who is an artist, stirred, lifted itself up, stood erect to salute the night. As he came towards Vere he forgot. The poppy draught was at his lips. The extreme consciousness, which was both his strength and his curse, sank down for a moment and profoundly slept.
"Vere!" he said. "Vere, do I disturb you?"
The girl turned softly on the bench and looked at him.
"No. I often come here. I like to be here at nightfall. Madre knows that. Did she tell you?"
"I met Gaspare."
He stood near her.
"Where is Madre?"
"On the terrace. She preferred to stay quietly there. And so you have been working very hard?"
He spoke gently, half smilingly, but not at all derisively.
"Yes. But how did you know?"
"I gathered it from something your mother said. Do you know, Vere, I think soon she will begin to wonder what you do when you are shut up for so long in your room."
The girl's face looked troubled for a moment.
"She doesn't -- she has no idea."
Vere was silent for a while.
"I wonder if I ought to tell her, Monsieur Emile," she said at length.
"Tell her!" Artois said, hastily. "But I thought -- "
He checked himself, suddenly surprised at the keenness of his own desire to keep their little secret.
"I know. You mean what I said the other day. But -- if Madre should be hurt. I don't think I have ever had a secret from her before, a real secret. But -- it's like this. If Madre knows I shall feel horribly self-conscious, because of what I told you -- her having tried and given it up. I shall feel guilty. Is it absurd?"
"And -- and -- I don't believe I shall be able to go on. Of course some day, if it turns out that I ever can do anything, I must tell. But that would be different. If it's certain that you can do a thing well it seems to me that you have a right to do it. But -- till then -- I'm a little coward, really."
She ended with a laugh that was almost deprecating.
"Don't tell your mother yet, Vere," said Artois, decisively. "It is as you say: if you told her before you have thoroughly tried your wings you might be paralyzed. When, if ever, you can show her something really good she will be the first to encourage you. But -- till then -- I think with you that her influence in that direction would probably be discouraging. Indeed, I feel sure of it."
"But if she should really begin to wonder! Perhaps she will ask. It's absurd, but I can't help feeling as if we, you and I, were conspirators, Monsieur Emile."
He laughed happily.
"What a blessed place this is!" he said. "One is made free of the ocean here. What is that far-away light?"
"Low down? Oh, that must be the light of a fisherman, one of those who seek in the rocks for shell-fish."
"How mysterious it looks, moving to and fro! One feels life there, the doings of unknown men in the darkness."
"I wonder if -- would you hate to go out a little way in the boat? The men look so strange when one is near them, almost like fire-people."
"Hate! Let us go."
"And we'll get Madre to come too."
Vere got up and they went into the house. As they came out upon the terrace Hermione took up her embroidery, and Gaspare, who was standing beside her, picked up the tray with the coffee-cups and went off with it towards the kitchen.
"Madre, we are going out a little way in the boat, and we want you to come with us."
"Where are you going?"
"To see the fishermen, just beyond the grotto of Virgilio. You will come?"
"Do come, my friend," added Artois.
But Hermione sat still.
"I'm a little tired to-night," she answered. "I think I would rather stay quietly here. You won't be long, will you?"
"Oh no, Madre. Only a few minutes. But, really, won't you?" Vere laid her hand on her mother's. "It's so lovely on the sea to-night."
"I know. But honestly, I'm lazy to-night."
Vere looked disappointed. She took away her hand gently.
"Then we'll stay with you, won't we, Monsieur Emile?"
"No, Vere," said her mother quickly, before he could answer. "You two go. I sha'n't be dull. You won't be very long?"
"No, of course. But -- "
"Go, dearest, go. Are you going to row, Emile?"
"I could. Or shall we take Gaspare?"
"It's Gaspare's supper-time," said Vere.
"Hush, then!" said Artois, putting his finger to his lips. "Let us creep down softly, or he will think it his duty to come with us, starving, and that would spoil everything. Au revoir, Hermione," he whispered.
"Good-bye, Madre," whispered Vere.
They glided away, the big man and the light-footed child, going on tiptoe with elaborate precaution.
As Hermione looked after them, she said to herself:
"How young Emile is to-night!"
At that moment she felt as if she were much older than he was.
They slipped down to the sea without attracting the attention of Gaspare, got into the little boat, and rowed gently out towards Nisida.
"I feel like a contrabandista," said Artois, as they stole under the lee of the island towards the open sea -- "as if Gaspare would fire upon us if he heard the sound of oars."
"Quick! Quick! Let us get away. Pull harder, Monsieur Emile! How slow you are!"
Laughingly Artois bent to the oars.
"Vere, you are a baby!" he said.
"And what are you, then, I should like to know?" she answered, with dignity.
"I! I am an old fellow playing the fool."
Suddenly his gayety had evaporated, and he was conscious of his years. He let the boat drift for a moment.
"Check me another time, Vere, if you see me inclined to be buffo," he said.
"Indeed I won't. Why should I? I like you best when you are quite natural."
"Yes. Look! There are the lights! Oh, how strange they are. Go a little nearer, but not too near."
"Tell me, then. Remember, I can't see."
"Yes. One, two, three -- "
She counted. Each time she said a number he pulled. And she, like a little coxswain, bent towards him with each word, giving him a bodily signal for the stroke. Presently she stretched out her hand.
He stopped at once. For a minute the boat glided on. Then the impetus he had given died away from it, and it floated quietly without perceptible movement upon the bosom of the sea.
"Now, Monsieur Emile, you must come and sit by me."
Treading softly he obeyed her, and sat down near her, facing the shadowy coast.
They sat in silence, while the boat drifted on the smooth and oily water almost in the shadow of the cliffs. At some distance beyond them the cliffs sank, and the shore curved sharply in the direction of the island with its fort. There was the enigmatic dimness, though not dense darkness, of the night. Nearer at hand the walls of rock made the night seem more mysterious, more profound, and at their base flickered the flames which had attracted Artois' attention. Fitfully now these flames, rising from some invisible brazier, or from some torch fed by it, fell upon half-naked forms of creatures mysteriously busy about some hidden task. Men they were, yet hardly men they seemed, but rather unknown denizens of rock, or wave, or underworld; now red-bodied against the gleam, now ethereally black as are shadows, and whimsical and shifty, yet always full of meaning that could not be divined. They bent, they crouched. They seemed to die down like a wave that is, then is not. Then rising they towered, lifting brawny arms towards the stars. Silence seemed to flow from them, to exude from their labors. And in the swiftness of their movements there was something that was sad. Or was it, perhaps, only pathetic, wistful with the wistfulness of the sea and of all nocturnal things? Artois did not ask, but his attention, the attention of mind and soul, was held by these distant voiceless beings as by a magic. And Vere was still as he was, tense as he was. All the poetry that lay beneath his realism, all the credulity that slept below his scepticism, all the ignorance that his knowledge strove to dominate, had its wild moment of liberty under the smiling stars. The lights moved and swayed. Now the seamed rock, with its cold veins and slimy crevices was gilded, its nudity clothed with fire. Now on the water a trail of glory fell, and travelled and died. Now the red men were utterly revealed, one watching with an ardor that was surely not of this world, some secret in the blackness, another turning as if to strike in defence of his companion. Then both fell back and were taken by the night. And out of the night came a strong voice across the water.
"Madre di Dio, che splendore!"
Artois got up, turned the boat, and began to row gently away, keeping near the base of the cliffs. He meant to take Vere back at once to the island, leaving the impression made upon her by the men of the fire vivid, and undisturbed by speech. But when they came to the huge mouth of the Grotto of Virgil, Vere said:
"Go in for a moment, please, Monsieur Emile."
He obeyed, thinking that the mother's love for this dark place was echoed by the child. Since his conversation with Hermione on the day of scirocco he had not been here, and as the boat glided under the hollow blackness of the vault, and there lay still, he remembered their conversation, the unloosing of her passion, the strength and tenacity of the nature she had shown to him, gripping the past with hands almost as unyielding as the tragic hands of death.
And he waited in silence, and with a deep expectation, for the revelation of the child. It seemed to him that Vere had her purpose in coming here, as Hermione had had hers. And once more the words of the old man in "Pelleas and Melisande" haunted him. Once more he heard them in his heart.
"Now it's the child's turn."
Vere dropped her right hand over the gunwale till it touched the sea, making a tiny splash.
"Monsieur Emile!" she said.
"Do you believe in the evil eye?"
Artois did not know what he had expected Vere to say, but her question seemed to strike his mind like a soft blow, it was so unforeseen.
"No," he answered.
She was silent. It was too dark for him to see her face at all clearly. He had only a vague general impression of her, of her slightness, vitality, youth, and half-dreamy excitement.
"Why do you ask me?"
"Giulia said to me this evening that she was sure the new servant had the evil eye."
"Yes, that is her name."
"Have you seen her?"
"No, not yet. It's odd, but I feel as if I would rather not."
"Have you any reason for such a feeling?"
"I don't think so. Poor thing! I know she has a dreadful scar. But I don't believe it's that. It's just a feeling I have."
"I dare say it will have gone by the time we get back to the island."
"Perhaps. It's nice and dark here."
"Do you like darkness, Vere?"
"Sometimes. I do now."
"Because I can talk better and be less afraid of you."
"Vere! What nonsense! You are incapable of fear."
She laughed, but the laugh sounded serious, he thought.
"Real fear -- perhaps. But you don't know" -- she paused -- "you don't know how I respect you."
There was a slight pressure on the last words.
"For all you've done, what you are. I never felt it as I have just lately, since -- since -- you know."
Artois was conscious of a movement of his blood.
"I should be a liar if I said I am not pleased. Tell me about the work, Vere -- now we are in the dark."
And then he heard the revelation of the child, there under the weary rock, as he had heard the revelation of the mother. How different it was! Yet in it, too, there was the beating of the pulse of life. But there was no regret, no looking back into the past, no sombre exhibition of force seeking -- as a thing groping, desperately in a gulf -- an object on which to exercise itself. Instead there was aspiration, there was expectation, there was the wonder of bright eyes lifted to the sun. And there was a reverence that for a moment recalled to Artois the reverence of the dead man from whose loins this child had sprung. But Vere's was the reverence of understanding, not of a dim amazement -- more beautiful than Maurice's. When he had been with Hermione under the brooding rock Artois had been impregnated with the passionate despair of humanity, and had seen for a moment the world with out-stretched hands, seeking, surely, for the nonexistent, striving to hold fast the mirage. Now he was impregnated with humanity's passionate hope. He saw life light-footed in a sweet chase for things ideal. And all the blackness of the rock and of the silent sea was irradiated with the light that streamed from a growing soul.
A voice -- an inquiring, searching voice, surely, rose quivering from some distance on the sea, startling Vere and Artois. It was untrained but unshy, and the singer forced it with resolute hardihood that was indifferent to the future. Artois had never heard the Marchesino sing before, but he knew at once that it was he. Some one at the island must surely have told the determined youth that Vere was voyaging, and he was now in quest of her, sending her an amorous summons couched in the dialect of Naples.
Vere moved impatiently.
"Really!" she began.
But she did not continue. The quivering voice began another verse. Artois had said nothing, but, as he sat listening to this fervid protestation, a message illuminated as it were by the vibrato, he began to hate the terrible frankness of the Italian nature which, till now, he had thought he loved. The beauty of reticence appealed to him in a new way. There was savagery in a bellowed passion. The voice was travelling. They heard it moving onward towards Nisida. Artois wondered if Vere knew who was the singer. She did not leave him long in doubt.
"Now's our chance, Monsieur Emile!" she said, suddenly, leaning towards him. "Row to the island for your life, or the Marchesino will catch us!"
Without a word he bent to the oars.
"How absurd the Marchesino is!"
Vere spoke aloud, released from fear.
"Absurd? He is Neapolitan."
"Very well, then! The Neapolitans are absurd!" said Vere, with decision. "And what a voice! Ruffo doesn't sing like that. That shaking sounds -- sounds so artificial."
"And yet I dare say he is very much in earnest."
Artois was almost pleading a cause against his will.
The girl gave almost a little puff that suggested a rather childish indignation.
"I like the people best," she added. "They say what they feel simply, and it means ever so much more. Am I a democrat?"
He could not help laughing.
"Chi lo sa? An Anarchist perhaps."
She laughed too.
"Bella tu si -- Bella tu si! It's too absurd! One would think -- "
"Never mind. Don't be inquisitive, Monsieur Emile."
He rowed on meekly.
"There is San Francesco's light," she said, in a moment. "I wonder if it is late. Have we been away long? I have no idea."
"No more have I."
Nor had he.
When they reached land he made the boat fast and turned to walk up to the house with her. He found her standing very still just behind him at the edge of the sea, with a startled look on her face.
"What is it, Vere?" he asked.
She held up her hand and bent her head a little to one side, as one listening intently.
"I thought I heard -- I did hear -- something -- "
"Yes -- so strange -- I can't hear it now."
"What was it like?"
She looked fixedly at him.
"Like some one crying -- horribly."
"Where? Near us?"
"Not far. Listen again."
He obeyed, holding his breath. But he heard nothing except the very faint lapping of the sea at their feet.
"Perhaps I imagined it," she said at length.
"Let us go up to the house," he said. "Come, Vere."
He had a sudden wish to take her into the house. But she remained where she was.
"Could it have been fancy, Monsieur Emile?"
Her eyes were intensely grave, almost frightened.
"But -- just look, will you? Perhaps there really is somebody."
"Where? It's so dark."
Artois hesitated; but Vere's face was full of resolution, and he turned reluctantly to obey her. As he did so there came to them both through the dark the sound of a woman crying and sobbing convulsively.
"What is it? Oh, who can it be?" Vere cried out.
She went swiftly towards the sound.
Artois followed, and found her bending down over the figure of a girl who was crouching against the cliff, and touching her shoulder.
"What is it? What is the matter? Tell me."
The girl looked up, startled, and showed a passionate face that was horribly disfigured. Upon the right cheek, extending from the temple almost to the line of the jaw, a razor had cut a sign, a brutal sign of the cross. As Vere saw it, showing redly through the darkness, she recoiled. The girl read the meaning of her movement, and shrank backward, putting up her hand to cover the wound. But Vere recovered instantly, and bent down once more, intent only on trying to comfort this sorrow, whose violence seemed to open to her a door into a new and frightful world.
"Vere!" said Artois. "Vere, you had better -- "
The girl turned round to him.
"It must be Peppina!" she said.
"Yes. But -- "
"Please go up to the house, Monsieur Emile. I will come in a moment."
"But I can't leave you -- "
"Please go. Just tell Madre I'm soon coming."
There was something inexorable in her voice. She turned away from him and began to speak softly to Peppina.
Artois obeyed and left her.
He knew that just then she would not acknowledge his authority. As he went slowly up the steps he wondered -- he feared. Peppina had cried with the fury of despair, and the Neapolitan who is desperate knows no reticence.
Was the red sign of passion to be scored already upon Vere's white life? Was she to pass even now, in this night, from her beautiful ignorance to knowledge?
A Spirit In Prison
by Robert Hichens
When, the next day, Artois sat down at his table to work he found it impossible to concentrate his mind. The irritation of the previous evening had passed away. He attributed it to the physical effect made upon him by the disturbed atmosphere. Now the sun shone, the sky was clear, the sea calm. He had just come out of an ice-cold bath, had taken his coffee, and smoked one cigarette. A quiet morning lay before him. Quiet?
He got up and went to the window.
On the wooden roof of the bath establishment opposite rows of towels, hung out to dry, were moving listlessly to and fro in the soft breeze. Capri was almost hidden by haze in the distance. In the sea, just below him, several heads of swimmers moved. One boy was "making death." He floated on his back with his eyes closed and his arms extended. His body, giving itself without resistance to every movement of the water, looked corpselike and ghostly.
A companion shouted to him. He threw up his arms suddenly and shouted a reply in the broadest Neapolitan, then began to swim vigorously towards the slimy rocks at the base of Castel dell' Ovo. Upon the wooden terrace of the baths among green plants in pots stood three women, probably friends of the proprietor. For though it was already hot, the regular bathing season of Naples had not yet begun and the baths were not completed. Only in July, after the festa of the Madonna del Carmine, do the Neapolitans give themselves heart and soul to the sea. Artois knew this, and wondered idly what the women were doing on the terrace. One had a dog. It sat in the sun and began to cough. A long wagon on two wheels went by, drawn by two mules and a thin horse harnessed abreast. It was full of white stone. The driver had bought some green stuff and flung it down upon the white. He wore a handkerchief on his head. His chest was bare. As he passed beneath the window he sang a loud song that sounded Eastern, such a song as the Spanish wagoners sing in Algeria, as they set out by night on their long journeys towards the desert. Upon a tiny platform of wood, fastened to slanting stakes which met together beneath it in a tripod, a stout man in shirt and trousers, with black whiskers, was sitting on a chair fishing with a rod and line. A boy sat beside him dangling his legs over the water. At a little distance a large fishing-smack, with sails set to catch the breeze farther out in the Bay, was being laboriously rowed towards the open sea by half-naked men, who shouted as they toiled at the immense oars.
Artois wondered where they were going. Their skins were a rich orange color. From a distance in the sunlight they looked like men of gold. Their cries and their fierce movements suggested some fantastic quest to lands of mysterious tumult.
Artois wished that Vere could see them.
What were the inhabitants of the island doing?
To-day his mind was beyond his governance, and roamed like a vagrant on a long, white road. Everything that he saw below him in the calm radiance of the morning pushed it from thought to thought. Yet none of these thoughts were valuable. None seemed fully formed. They resembled henids, things seen so far away that one cannot tell what they are, but is only aware that they exist and can attract attention.
He came out upon his balcony. As he did so he looked down into the road, and saw a hired carriage drive up, with Hermione in it.
She glanced up and saw him.
"May I come in for a minute?"
He nodded, smiling, and went out to meet her, glad of this interruption.
They met at the door of the lift. As Hermione stepped out she cast a rather anxious glance at her friend, a glance that seemed to say that she was not quite certain of her welcome. Artois' eyes reassured her.
"I feel guilty," she said.
"Coming at such an hour. Are you working?"
"No. I don't know why, but I am incapable of work. I feel both lazy and restless, an unfruitful combination. Perhaps something in me secretly knew that you were coming."
"Then it is my fault."
They came into his sitting-room. It had four windows, two facing the sea, two looking on the road, and the terraces and garden of the Hotel Hassler. The room scarcely suggested its present occupant. It contained a light-yellow carpet with pink flowers strewn over it, red- and-gold chairs, mirrors, a white marble mantelpiece, a gray-and-pink sofa with a pink cushion. Only the large writing-table, covered with manuscripts, letters, and photographs in frames, said something individual to the visitor. Hermione and Vere were among the photographs.
Hermione sat down on the sofa.
"I have come to consult you about something, Emile."
"What is it?"
"I really meant to ask you last night, but somehow I couldn't"
"I don't know. We -- I -- there seemed to be a sort of barrier between us -- didn't there?"
"I was in a bad humor. I was tired after the journey, and perhaps the weather upset me."
"It's all right -- one can't be always -- Well, this is what I wanted to say. I alluded to it yesterday when I told you about my visit to Naples with Madame Alliani. Do you remember?"
"You hinted you had seen, or heard of, some tragedy."
"Yes. I believe it is a quite ordinary one in Naples. We went to visit a consumptive woman in one of those narrow streets going uphill to the left of the Via Roma, and while there by chance I heard of it. In the same house as the sick woman there is a girl. Not many days ago she was beautiful!"
"Yes? What has happened to her?"
"I'll tell you. Her name is Peppina. She is only nineteen, but she has been one of those who are not given a chance. She was left an orphan very young and went to live with an aunt. This aunt is a horrible old woman. I believe -- they say she goes to the Galleria -- "
"I understand," said Artois.
"She is greedy, wicked, merciless. We had the story from the woman we were visiting, a neighbor. This aunt forced Peppina into sin. Her beauty, which must have been extraordinary, naturally attracted attention and turned people's heads. It seems to have driven one man nearly mad. He is a fisherman, not young, and a married man. It seems that he is notoriously violent and jealous, and thoroughly unscrupulous. He is a member of the Camorra, too. He pestered Peppina with his attentions, coming day after day from Mergellina, where he lives with his wife. One night he entered the house and made a scene. Peppina refused finally to receive his advances, and told him she hated him before all the neighbors. He took out a razor and -- "
"I understand," said Artois. "He disfigured her."
"It is often done here. Sometimes a youth does it simply to show that a girl is his property. But what is it you wish to do for Peppina? I see you have a plan in your head."
"I want to have her on the island."
"In what capacity?"
"As a servant. She can work. She is not a bad girl. She has only -- well, Emile, the aunt only succeeded in forcing one lover on her. That is the truth. He was rich and bribed the aunt. But of course the neighbors all know, and -- the population here has its virtues, but it is not exactly a delicate population."
"And now that the poor girl is disfigured the aunt is going to turn her out-of-doors. She says Peppina must go and earn money for herself. Of course nobody will take her. I want to. I have seen her, talked to her. She would be so thankful. She is in despair. Think of it! Nineteen, and all her beauty gone! Isn't it devilish?"
"And the man?"
"Oh, they say he'll get scarcely anything, if anything. Two or three months, perhaps. He is 'protected.' It makes my blood boil."
Artois was silent, waiting for her to say more, to ask questions.
"The only thing is -- Vere, Emile," she said.
"Yes. You know how friendly she is with the servants. I like her to be. But of course till now they have been all right -- so far as I know."
"You do well to add that proviso."
"Peppina would not wait on us. She would be in the kitchen. Am I justified in taking her? Of course I could help her with money. If I had not seen her, talked to her, that is what I should have done, no doubt. But she wants -- she wants everything, peace, a decent home, pure air. I feel she wants the island."
"And the other servants?"
"They need only know she was attacked. They need not know her past history. But all that does not matter. It is only the question of Vere that troubles me."
"You mean that you are not decided whether you ought to bring into the house with Vere a girl who is not as Vere is?"
"And you want me to advise you?"
"I can't do that, Hermione."
She looked at him almost as if she were startled.
"Why not? I always rely -- "
"No, no. This is not a man's business, my business."
He spoke with an odd brusqueness, and there were traces of agitation in his face. Hermione did not at all understand what feeling was prompting him, but again, as on the previous evening, she felt as if there were a barrier between them -- very slight, perhaps, very shadowy, but definite nevertheless. There was no longer complete frankness in their relations. At moments her friend seemed to be subtly dominated by some secret irritation, or anxiety, which she did not comprehend. She had been aware of it yesterday. She was aware of it now. After his last exclamation she said nothing.
"You are going to this girl now?" he asked.
"I mean to. Yes, I shall go."
She sat still for a minute, looking down at the pink-and-yellow carpet.
"And what will you do?"
She looked up at him.
"I think I shall take her to the island. I am almost sure I shall. Emile, I don't believe in cowardice, and I sometimes think I am inclined to be a coward about Vere. She is growing up. She will be seventeen this year, very soon. There are girls who marry at sixteen, even English girls."
"That is true."
She could gather nothing from his tone; and now his face was perfectly calm.
"My instinct is to keep Vere just as she is, to preserve the loveliness of childhood in her as long as possible, to keep away from her all knowledge of sin, sorrow, the things that distract and torture the world. But I mustn't be selfish about Vere. I mustn't keep her wrapped in cotton wool. That is unwholesome. And, after all, Vere must have her life apart from me. Last night I realized that strongly."
"Yes, from the way in which she treated the Marchese, and later from something else. Last night Vere showed two sides of a woman's nature -- the capacity to hold her own, what is vulgarly called 'to keep her distance,' and the capacity to be motherly."
"Was Vere motherly to the Marchesino, then?" asked Artois, not without irony.
"No -- to Ruffo."
"That boy? But where was he last night?"
"When we got back to the island, and the launch had gone off, Vere and I stood for a minute at the foot of the steps to listen to the roaring of the sea. Vere loves the sea."
"I know that."
As he spoke he thought of something that Hermione did not know.
"The pool was protected, and under the lee of the island it was comparatively calm. But the rain was falling in torrents. There was one fishing-boat in the pool, close to where we were, and as we were standing and listening, Vere said, suddenly, 'Madre, that's Ruffo's boat!' I asked her how she knew -- because he has changed into another boat lately -- she had told me that. 'I saw his head,' she answered. 'He's there and he's not asleep. Poor boy, in all this rain!' Ruffo has been ill with fever, as I told you, and when Vere said that I remembered it at once."
"Had you told Vere yet?" interposed Artois.
"No. But I did then. Emile, she showed an agitation that -- well, it was almost strange, I think. She begged me to make him come into the house and spend the night there, safe from the wind and the rain."
"And you did, of course?"
"Yes. He was looking very pale and shaky. The men let him come. They were nice and sympathetic. I think they are fond of the boy."
"Ruffo seems to know how to attract people to him."
"And so Vere played the mother to Ruffo?"
"Yes. I never saw that side of her before. She was a woman then. Eventually Ruffo slept with Gaspare."
"And how did Gaspare accept the situation?"
"Better than I should have expected. I think he likes Ruffo personally, though he is inclined to be suspicious and jealous of any strangers who come into our lives. But I haven't had time to talk to him this morning."
"Is Ruffo still in the house?"
"Oh no. He went off in the boat. They came for him about eight."
Artois went to the window and looked out. But now he saw nothing, although the three women were still talking and gesticulating on the terrace of the bath-house, more fishing-boats were being towed or rowed out into the Bay, carts were passing by, and people were strolling in the sun.
"You say that Vere showed agitation last night?" he said, turning round after a moment.
"About Ruffo's illness? It really almost amounted to that. But Vere was certainly excited. Didn't you notice it?"
"I think she was."
"Emile," Hermione said, after an instant of hesitation, "you remember my saying to you the other day that Vere was not a stranger to me?"
"Yes, quite well."
"You said nothing -- I don't think you agreed. Well, since that day -- only since then -- I have sometimes felt that there is much in Vere that I do not understand, much that is hidden from me. Has she changed lately?"
"She is at an age when development seems sudden, and is often striking, even startling."
"I don't know why, but -- but I dread something," Hermione said. "I feel as if -- no, I don't know what I feel. But if Vere should ever drift away from me I don't know how I could bear it. A boy -- one expects him to go out into the world. But a girl! I want to keep Vere. I must keep Vere. If anything else were to be taken from me I don't think I could bear it."
"Vere loves you. Be sure of that."
Hermione got up.
"Well, you won't give me your advice?"
He looked at her steadily.
"You must treat Vere as you think best, order her life as you think right. In some things you do wisely to consult me. But in this you must rely on yourself. Let your heart teach you. Do not ask questions of my head."
"Your head!" she exclaimed.
There was a trace of disappointment, even of surprise, in her voice. She looked at him as if she were going to say more, but again she was disconcerted by something in his look, his attitude.
"Well, good-bye, Emile."
"I will come with you to the lift."
He went with her and touched the electric bell. As they waited for a moment he added:
"I should like to have an evening quietly on the island."
"Come to-night, or whenever you like. Don't fix a time. Come when the inclination whispers -- 'I want to be with friends.' "
He pressed her hand.
"Shall I see Peppina?"
"Chi lo sa?"
"The Marchesino, too, perhaps."
"No," said Artois, emphatically. "Disfigured girls and fisher-boys -- as many as you like, but not the alta aristocrazia Napoletana."
"But I thought -- "
"I like Doro, but -- I like him in his place."
"And his place?"
"Is not the island -- when I wish to be quiet there."
The lift descended. Artois went out once more onto the balcony, and watched her get into the carriage and drive away towards Naples. She did not look up again.
"She has gone to fetch that girl Peppina," Artois said to himself, "and I might have prevented it."
He knew very well the reason why he had not interfered. He had not interfered because he had wished too much to interfere. The desire had been strong enough to startle him, to warn him.
An islet! That suggests isolation. Like Hermione, he wished to isolate Vere, to preserve her as she was in character. He did not know when the wish had first been consciously in his mind, but he knew that since he had been consulted by Vere, since she had broken through her reserve and submitted to him her poems, unveiling for him alone what was really to her a holy of holies, the wish had enormously increased. He told himself that Vere was unique, and that he longed to keep her unique, so that the talent he discerned in her might remain unaffected. How great her talent was he did not know. He would not know, perhaps, for a very long time. But it was definite, it was intimate. It was Vere's talent, no one else's.
He had made up his mind very soon about Hermione's incapacity to produce work of value. Although Vere was such a child, so inexperienced, so innocent, so cloistered, he knew at once that he dared not dash her hopes. It was possible that she might eventually become what her mother certainly could never be.
But she must not be interfered with. Her connection with the sea must not be severed. And people were coming into her life -- Ruffo, the Marchesino, and now this wounded girl Peppina.
Artois felt uneasy. He wished Hermione were less generous-hearted, less impulsive. She looked on him as a guide, a check. He knew that. But this time he would not exercise his prerogative. Ruffo he did not mind -- at least he thought he did not. The boy was a sea creature. He might even be an inspiring force to Vere. Something Artois had read had taught him that. And Ruffo interested him, attracted him too.
But he hated Vere's acquaintance with the Marchesino. He knew that the Marchesino would make love to her. And the knowledge was odious to him. Let Vere be loved by the sea, but by no man as yet.
And this girl, Peppina?
He thought of the horrors of Naples, of the things that happen "behind the shutter," of the lives led by some men and women, some boys and girls of the great city beneath the watching volcano. He thought of evenings he had spent in the Galleria. He saw before him an old woman about whom he had often wondered. Always at night, and often in the afternoon, she walked in the Galleria. She was invariably alone. The first time he had seen her he had noticed her because she had a slightly humped back. Her hair was snow white, and was drawn away from her long, pale face and carefully arranged under a modest bonnet. She carried a small umbrella and a tiny bag. Glancing at her casually, he had supposed her to be a respectable widow of the borghese class. But then he had seen her again and again, and by degrees he had come to believe that she was something very different. And then one night in late spring he had seen her in a new light dress with white thread gloves. And she had noticed him watching her, and had cast upon him a look that was unmistakable, a look from the world "behind the shutter"; and he had understood. Then she had followed him persistently. When he sat before the "Gran caffe" sipping his coffee and listening to the orchestra of women that plays on the platform outside the caffe, she had passed and repassed, always casting upon him that glance of sinister understanding, of invitation, of dreary wickedness that sought for, and believed that it had found, an answering wickedness in him.
Terrible old woman! Peppina's aunt might well be like that. And Peppina would sleep, perhaps to-night, in the Casa del Mare, under the same roof as Vere.
He resolved to go that evening to the island, to see Peppina, to see Vere. He wished, too, to have a little talk with Gaspare about Ruffo.
The watch-dog instinct, which dwelt also in Gaspare, was alive in him.
But to-day it was alive to do service for Vere, not for Hermione. He knew that, and said to himself that it was natural. For Hermione was a woman, with experience of life; but Vere was only upon the threshold of the world. She needed protection more than Hermione.
Some time ago, when he was returning to Naples from the island on an evening of scirocco, Artois had in thought transferred certain hopes of his from Hermione to Vere. He had said to himself that he must henceforth hope for Hermione in Vere.
Now was he not transferring something else from the mother to the child?
A Spirit In Prison
by Robert Hichens
The dinner, which was served at a table strewn with red carnations close to an open window, was a gay one, despite Artois. It could hardly have been otherwise with a host so complacent, so attentive, so self-possessed, so hilarious as the Marchesino. And the Padrone of the restaurant warmly seconded the efforts of the giver of the feast. He hovered perpetually, but always discreetly, near, watchfully directing the middle-aged waiters in their duties, smiling to show his teeth, stained with tobacco juice, or drawing delicately close to relate anecdotes connected with the menu.
The soup, a "zuppa di pesce alla marinara" remarkable for its beautiful red color, had been originally invented by the chef of Frisio's for the ex-Queen Natalie of Servia, who had deigned to come, heavily veiled, to lunch at the Scoglio, and had finally thrown off her veil and her incognito, and written her name in the visitors' book for all to see. The Macaroni a l'Imperatrice had been the favorite plat of the dead Empress Elizabeth of Austria, who used to visit Frisio's day after day, and who always demanded two things -- an eruption of Vesuvius and "Funiculi, funicula!" William Ewart Gladstone had deigned to praise the "oeufs a la Gladstone," called henceforth by his name, when he walked over from the Villa Rendel to breakfast; and the delicious punch served before the dolce, and immediately after the "Pollo panato alla Frisio," had been lauded by the late Czar of all the Russias, who was drinking a glass of it -- according to the solemn asseveration of the Padrone -- when the telegram announcing the assassination of his father was put into his hand.
Names of very varied popular and great ones of the earth floated about the table. Here, it appeared, Mario Costa and Paolo Tosti had composed their most celebrated songs between one course and another. Here Zola and Tolstoy had written. Here Sarah Bernhardt had ordered a dozen bottles of famous old wine to be sent to the Avenue Pereire from the cellars of Frisio, and had fallen in love with a cat from Greece. Here Matilde Serao had penned a lasting testimony to the marital fidelity of her husband.
Everything -- everything had happened here, just here, at Frisio's.
Seeing the amused interest of his guests, the Marchesino encouraged the Padrone to talk, called for his most noted wines, and demanded at dessert a jug of Asti Spumante, with snow in it, and strawberries floating on the top.
"You approve of Frisio's, Signorina?" he said, bending towards Vere. "You do not find your evening dull?"
The girl shook her head. A certain excitement was noticeable in her gayety -- had been noticed by her mother all through the evening. It was really due to the afternoon's incident with Artois, succeeded by this unexpected festival, in which the lively homage of the Marchesino was mingled with the long procession of celebrated names introduced by the Padrone. Vere was secretly strung up, had been strung up even before she stepped into the launch. She felt very happy, but in her happiness there was something feverish, which was not customary to any mood of hers. She never drank wine, and had taken none to-night, yet as the evening wore on she was conscious of an effervescence, as if her brain were full of winking bubbles such as rise to the surface of champagne.
Her imagination was almost furiously alive, and as the Padrone talked, waving his hands and striking postures like those of a military dictator, she saw the dead Empress, with her fan before her face, nodding her head to the jig of "Funiculi, funicula," while she watched the red cloud from Vesuvius rising into the starry sky; she saw Sarah Bernhardt taking the Greek cat upon her knee; the newly made Czar reading the telegram with his glass of punch beside him; Tosti tracing lines of music; Gladstone watching the sea; and finally the gaunt figure and the long beard of Tolstoy bending over the book in which he wrote clearly so many years ago, "Vedi Napoli e poi mori."
"Monsieur Emile, you must write in the wonderful book of Frisio's," she exclaimed.
"We will all write, Signorina!" cried the Marchesino. "Bring the book, Signor Masella!"
The Padrone hastened away to fetch it, but Vere shook her head.
"No, no, we must not write! We are nobodies. Monsieur Emile is a great man. Only he is worthy of such a book. Isn't it so, Madre?"
Artois felt the color rising to his face at this unexpected remark of the girl. He had been distrait during the dinner, certainly neither brilliant nor amusing, despite his efforts to seem talkative and cheerful. A depression had weighed upon him, as it had weighed upon him in the launch during the voyage from the island. He had felt as if he were apart, even almost as if he were de trop. Had Vere noticed it? Was that the reason of this sudden and charming demonstration in his favor?
He looked across at her, longing to know. But she was arguing gayly with the Marchesino, who continued to insist that they must all write their names as a souvenir of the occasion.
"We are nobodies," she repeated.
"You dare to say that you are a nobody!" exclaimed the young man, looking at her with ardent eyes. "Ah, Signorina, you do wrong to drink no wine. In wine there is truth, they say. But you -- you drink water, and then you say these dreadful things that are not -- are not true. Emilio" -- he suddenly appealed to Artois -- "would not the Signorina honor any book by writing her name in it? I ask you if -- "
"Marchese, don't be ridiculous!" said Vere, with sudden petulance. "Don't ask Monsieur Emile absurd questions!"
"But he thinks as I do. Emilio, is it not so? Is it not an honor for any book to have the Signorina's name?"
He spoke emphatically and looked really in earnest. Artois felt as if he were listening to a silly boy who understood nothing.
"Let us all write our names," he said. "Here comes the book."
The Padrone bore it proudly down between the mirrors and the windows.
But Vere suddenly got up.
"I won't write my name," she said, sticking out her chin with the little determined air that was sometimes characteristic of her. "I am going to see what Gaspare and the sailors are doing."
And she walked quickly away towards the terrace.
The Marchesino sprang up in despair.
"Shall we all go, Madame?" he said. "I have ordered coffee. It will be brought in a moment to the terrace."
Hermione glanced at Artois.
"I will stay here for a little. I want to look at the book," she said. "We will come in a moment. I don't take coffee."
"Then -- we will be upon the terrace. A rivederci per un momento -- pour un moment, Madame."
He bowed over Hermione's hand, and hurried away after Vere.
The Padrone put his book very carefully down between Hermione and Artois, and left them with a murmured apology that he had to look after another party of guests which had just come into the restaurant.
"I thought you would be glad to get rid of those young things for a minute," said Hermione, in explanation of what she had done.
Artois did not reply, but turned over the leaves of the book mechanically.
"Oh, here is Tolstoy's signature," he said, stopping.
Hermione drew her chair nearer.
"What a clear handwriting!" she said.
"Yes, isn't it? 'Vedi Napoli e poi mori.' "
"Where are you going to write?"
He was looking towards the outer room of the restaurant which led onto the terrace.
He turned the leaves.
"I? -- oh -- here is a space."
He took up a pen the Padrone had brought, dipped it into the ink.
"What's the good?" he said, making a movement as if to push the book away.
"No; do write."
"Why should I?"
"I agree with Vere. Your name will add something worth having to the book."
"Oh, well -- "
A rather bitter expression had come into his face.
"Dead-sea fruit!" he muttered.
But he bent, wrote something quickly, signed his name, blotted and shut the book. Hermione had not been able to see the sentence he had written. She did not ask what it was.
There was a noise of rather shuffling footsteps on the paved floor of the room. Three musicians had come in. They were shabbily dressed. One was very short, stout, and quite blind, with a gaping mouth that had an odd resemblance to an elephant's mouth when it lifts its trunk and shows its rolling tongue. He smiled perpetually. The other two were thin and dreary, middle-aged, and hopeless-looking. They stood not far from the table and began to play on guitars, putting wrong harmonies to a well-known Neapolitan tune, whose name Artois could not recall.
"What a pity it is they never put the right bass!" said Hermione.
"Yes. One would suppose they would hit it sometimes by mistake. But they seldom do."
Except for the thin and uncertain music the restaurant was almost silent. The people who had just come in were sitting down far away at the end of the long room. Hermione and Artois were the only other visitors, now that Vere and the Marchesino were outside on the terrace.
"Famous though it is, Frisio's does not draw the crowd," said Hermione.
To-night she found it oddly difficult to talk to her friend, although she had refused the Marchesino's invitation on purpose to do so.
"Perhaps people were afraid of the storm."
"Well, but it doesn't come."
"It is close," he said. "Don't you feel it? I do."
His voice was heavy with melancholy, and made her feel sad, even apprehensive.
"Where are the stars?" he added.
She followed his example and leaned out of the great window. Not a star was visible in all the sky.
"You are right. It is coming. I feel it now. The sea is like lead, and the sky, too. There is no sense of freedom to-night, no out-of-doors feeling. And the water is horribly calm."
As they both leaned out they heard, away to the left at some distance, the voices of Vere and the Marchesino.
"I stayed because I thought -- I fancied all the chatter was getting a little on your nerves, Emile," Hermione said now. "They are so absurdly young, both of them. Wasn't it so?"
"Am I so old that youth should get upon my nerves?" he returned, with a creeping irritation, which, however, he tried to keep out of his voice.
"No. But of course we can hardly enjoy nonsense that might amuse them immensely. Vere is such a baby, and your friend is a regular boy, in spite of his self-assurance."
"Women often fancy men to be young in ways in which they are not young," said Artois. "Panacci is very much of a man, I can assure you."
"Panacci! I never heard you call him that before."
Her eager brown eyes went to his face curiously for a moment. Artois saw that, and said, rather hastily:
"It's true that nearly every one calls him Doro."
Once more they heard the chattering voices, and then a sound of laughter in the darkness. It made Hermione smile, but Artois moved uneasily. Just then there came to them from the sea, like a blow, a sudden puff of wind. It hit their faces.
"Do you want to avoid the storm?" Artois said.
"Yes. Do you think -- "
"I am sure you can only avoid it by going at once. Look!"
He pointed towards the sea. The blackness before them was cut at some distance off by a long, level line of white.
"What's that?" asked Hermione, peering out.
"Foam! But surely it can't be!"
The wind struck them again. It was like a hot, almost like a sweating hand, coarse and violent, and repugnant.
Hermione drew in.
"There is something disgusting in nature to-night," she said -- "something that seems almost unnatural."
The blind man began to sing behind them. His voice was soft and throaty. The phrasing was sickly. Some notes trembled. As he sang he threw back his head, stared with his sightless eyes at the ceiling, and showed his tongue. The whole of his fat body swayed. His face became scarlet. The two hopeless, middle-aged men on either side of him stared into vacancy as, with dirty hands on which the veins stood out, they played wrong basses to the melody on their guitars.
Suddenly Hermione was seized with a sensation of fear.
"Let us go. We had better go. Ah!"
She cried out. The wind, returning, had caught the white table-cloth. It flew up towards her, then sank down.
"What a fool I am!" she said. "I thought -- I didn't know -- "
She felt that really it was something in Artois which had upset her nerves, but she did not say so. In that moment, when she was startled, she had instinctively put out her hand towards him. But, as instinctively, she drew it back without touching him.
"Oh, here is Gaspare!" she said.
An immense, a really ridiculous sense of relief came to her as she saw Gaspare's sturdy legs marching decisively towards them, his great eyes examining the row of mirrors, the tables, the musicians, then settling comfortably upon his Padrona. Over his arms he carried the cloaks, and his hands grasped the two umbrellas. At that moment, if she had translated her impulse into an action, Hermione would have given Gaspare a good hug -- just for being himself; for being always the same: honest, watchful, perfectly fearless, perfectly natural, and perfectly determined to take care of his Padrona and his Padroncina.
Afterwards she remembered that she had found in his presence relief from something that had distressed her in her friend.
"Signora, the storm is coming. Look at the sea!" said Gaspare. He pointed to the white line which was advancing in the blackness.
"I told the Signorina, and that Signore -- "
A fierce flash of lightning zigzagged across the window-space, and suddenly the sound of the wind was loud upon the sea, and mingled with the growing murmur of waves.
"Ecco!" said Gaspare. "Signora, you ought to start at once. But the Signor Marchese -- "
The thunder followed. Hermione had been waiting for it, and felt almost relieved when it came crashing above the Scoglio di Frisio.
"The Signor Marchese, Gaspare?" she asked, putting on the cloak he was holding for her.
"He only laughs, Signora," said Gaspare, rather contemptuously. "The Signor Marchese thinks only of his pleasure."
"Well, he must think of yours now," said Artois, decisively, to Hermione. "You will have a rough voyage to the island, even as it is."
They were walking towards the entrance. Hermione had noticed the pronoun, and said quietly:
"You will take a carriage to the hotel, or a tram?"
"The tram, I think. It passes the door here."
He glanced at her and added:
"I noticed that the cabin of the launch is very small, and as Gaspare is with you -- "
"Oh, of course!" she said quickly. "It would be ridiculous for you to come all the way back with us. Besides, there is not room in the cabin."
She did not know why, but she felt guilty for a moment. Yet she had done nothing.
"There is the rain," said Artois.
They were just entering the outer room from which the terrace opened.
"Vere!" called Hermione.
As she called the lightning flashed again, and showed her Vere and the Marchesino running in from the darkness. Vere was laughing, and looked more joyous than before.
"Such a storm, Madre! The sea is a mass of foam. It's glorious! Hark at the fishermen!"
From the blackness below rose hoarse shouts and prolonged calls -- some near, some far. Faintly with them mingled the quavering and throaty voice of the blind man, now raised in "Santa Lucia."
"What are we going to do, Monsieur Emile?"
"We must get home at once before it gets worse," said Hermione. "Marchese, I am so sorry, but I am afraid we must ask for the launch."
"But, madame, it is only a squall. By midnight it will be all over. I promise you. I am a Neapolitan."
"Ah, but you promised that there would be no storm at all."
"Sa-a-nta-a Lu-u-ci-i-a! Santa Lu-cia!"
The blind man sounded like one in agony. The thunder crashed again just above him, as if it desired to beat down his sickly voice.
Artois felt a sharp stab of neuralgia over his eyes.
Behind, in the restaurant, the waiters were running over the pavement to shut the great windows. The rush of the rain made a noise like quantities of silk rustling.
The Marchesino laughed, quite unabashed. His cheeks were slightly flushed and his eyes shone.
"Could I tell the truth, Signora? You might have refused to come. But now I speak the solemn truth. By midnight -- "
"I'm afraid we really can't stay so late as that."
"But there is a piano. I will play valses. I will sing." He looked ardently at Vere, who was eagerly watching the sea from the window.
"And we will dance, the Signorina and I."
Artois made a brusque movement towards the terrace, muttering something about the launch. A glare of lightning lit up the shore immediately below the terrace, showing him the launch buffeted by the waves that were now breaking over the sandy beach. There came a summoning call from the sailors.
"If you do stay," Artois said to the Marchesino, turning back to them, "you must send the launch round to Mergellina. I don't believe it can stop here."
"Well, but there are rocks, Caro Emilio. It is protected!"
"Signora," said Gaspare, "we had better go. It will only get worse. The sea is not too bad yet."
"Come along!" Hermione cried, with decision. "Come, Vere! I'm very sorry, Marchese, but we must really get back at once. Good-night, Emile! Gaspare give me your arm."
And she set off at once, clinging to Gaspare, who held an open umbrella over her.
"Good-night, Vere!" said Artois.
The girl was looking at him with surprised eyes.
"You are going -- "
"I shall take the tram."
"Oh -- of course. That is your quickest way."
"Signorina -- the umbrella!"
The Marchesino was offering his arm to conduct Vere to the launch. He cast a challenging look of triumph at Artois.
"I would come in the launch," Artois said hastily. "But -- Good-night!"
He turned away.
"A rivederci, Emilio!" called the Marchesino.
" -- derci!"
The last syllables only came back to them through the wind and the rain.
"Take my arm, Signorina."
"Grazie, it is all right like this."
"Ma -- "
"I am quite covered, really, thank you."
She hurried on, smiling, but not taking his arm. She knew how to be obstinate.
"Ma Signorina -- mais Mademoiselle -- "
"Gaspare! Is Madre all safe in the launch?"
Vere glided from under the Marchesino's umbrella and sought the shade of Gaspare's. Behind, the Marchesino was murmuring to himself Neapolitan street expressions.
Gaspare's face had suddenly lighted up. His Padroncina's little hand was holding tightly to his strong arm.
"Take care, Signorina. That is water!"
"Oh, I was nearly in. I thought -- "
He almost lifted her into the launch, which was rising and falling on the waves.
"Madre! What a night!"
Vere sank down on the narrow seat of the little cabin. The Marchesino jumped aboard. The machine in the stern throbbed. They rushed forward into the blackness of the impenetrable night, the white of the leaping foam, the hissing of the rain, the roaring of the wind. In a blurred and hasty vision the lights of Frisio's ran before them, fell back into the storm like things defeated. Hermione fancied she discerned for a second the blind man's scarlet face and open mouth, the Padrone at a window waving a frantic adieu, having only just become aware of their departure. But if it were so they were gone before she knew -- gone into mystery, with Emile and the world.
The Marchesino inserted himself reproachfully into the cabin. He had turned up the collar of his "smoking," and drawn the silk lapels forward over his soft shirt-front. His white gloves were saturated. He came to sit down by Vere.
"Madame!" he said reproachfully, "we should have waited. The sea is too rough. Really, it is dangerous. And the Signorina and I -- we could have danced together."
Hermione could not help laughing, though she did not feel gay.
"I should not have danced," said Vere. "I could not. I should have had to watch the storm."
She was peering out of the cabin window at the wild foam that leaped up round the little craft and disappeared in the darkness. There was no sensation of fear in her heart, only a passion of interest and an odd feeling of triumph.
To dance with the Marchesino at the Scoglio di Frisio would have been banal in comparison with this glorious progress through the night in the teeth of opposing elements. She envied Gaspare, who was outside with the sailors, and whose form she could dimly see, a blur against the blackness. She longed to take off her smart little hat and her French frock, and be outside too, in the wind and the rain.
"It is ridiculous to be dressed like this!" she said, quickly, taking off the glove she had put on her left hand. "You poor Marchese!"
She looked at his damp "smoking," his soaking gloves and deplorable expression, and could not repress a little rush of laughter.
"Do forgive me! Madre, I know I'm behaving shamefully, but we are all so hopelessly inappropriate. Your diamond broach, Madre! And your hat is all on one side. Gaspare must have knocked it with the umbrella. I am sure we all look like hens in a shower!"
She leaned back against the swaying side of the cabin and laughed till the tears were in her eyes. The sudden coming of the storm had increased the excitement that had been already within her, created by the incidents of the day.
"Vere!" said her mother, but smiling through the protest.
The Marchesino showed his big white teeth. Everything that Vere did seemed to develop his admiration for her. He was delighted with this mood, and forgot his disappointment. But there was a glint of wonder in his eyes, and now he said:
"But the Signorina is not afraid! She does not cry out! She does not call upon the Madonna and the Saints! My mother, my sisters, if they were here -- "
The prow of the launch struck a wave which burst over the bows, scattering spray to the roof of the cabin.
"But I like it, I love it!" said Vere. "Don't you? -- don't you, Madre?"
Before Hermione could reply the Marchesino exclaimed:
"Signorina, in the breast of an angel you have the heart of a lion! The sea will never harm you. How could it? It will treat you as it treats the Saint of your pool, San Francesco. You know what the sailors and the fishermen say? In the wildest storms, when the sea crashes upon the rocks, never, never does it touch San Francesco. Never does it put out the lamp that burns at San Francesco's feet."
"Yes, I have heard them say that," Vere said.
Suddenly her face had become serious. The romance in the belief of the seamen had got hold of her, had touched her. The compliment to herself she ignored. Indeed, she had already forgotten it.
"Only the other night -- " she began.
But she stopped suddenly.
"You know," she said, changing to something else, "that when the fishermen pass under San Francesco's pedestal they bend down, and lift a little water from the sea, and sprinkle it into the boat, and make the sign of the cross. They call it 'acqua benedetta.' I love to see them do that."
Another big wave struck the launch and made it shiver. The Marchesino crossed himself, but quite mechanically. He was intent on Vere.
"I wonder," the girl said, "whether to-night San Francesco will not be beaten by the waves, whether his light will be burning when we reach the island."
She paused, then she added, in a lower voice:
"I do hope it will -- don't you, Madre?"
"Yes, Vere," said her mother.
Something in her mother's voice made the girl look up at her swiftly, then put a hand into hers, a hand that was all sympathy. She felt that just then her mother's imagination was almost, or quite, one with hers. The lights of Naples were gone, swallowed by the blackness of the storm. And the tiny light at the feet of the Saint, of San Francesco, who protected the men of the sea, and the boys -- Ruffo, too! -- would it greet them, star of the sea to their pool, star of the sea to their island, their Casa del Mare, when they had battled through the storm to San Francesco's feet?
"I do hope it will."
Why did Hermione's heart echo Vere's words with such a strenuous and sudden passion, such a deep desire? She scarcely knew then. But she knew that she wanted a light to be shining for her when she neared home -- longed for it, needed it specially that night. If San Francesco's lamp were burning quietly amid the fury of the sea in such a blackness as this about them -- well, it would seem like an omen. She would take it as an omen of happiness.
And if it were not burning?
She, too, longed to be outside with Gaspare and the sailors, staring into the darkness with eyes keen as those of a seaman, looking for the light. Since Vere's last words and her reply they had sat in silence. Even the Marchesino's vivacity was suddenly abated, either by the increasing violence of the storm or by the change in Vere. It would have been difficult to say by which. The lightning flashed. The thunder at moments seemed to split the sky asunder as a charge of gunpowder splits asunder a rock. The head wind rushed by, yet had never passed them, but was forever coming furiously to meet them. On the roof of the little cabin the rain made a noise that was no longer like the rustle of silk, but was like the crackle of musketry.
There was something oppressive, something even almost terrible, in being closely confined, shut in by low roof and narrow walls from such sweeping turbulence, such a clamor of wind and water and the sky.
Hermione looked at her diamond brooch, then at her cloak.
Slowly she lifted her hand and began to button it.
Vere moved and began to button up hers. Hermione glanced at her, and saw a watchful, shining, half-humorous, half-passionate look in her eyes that could not be mistaken.
She dropped her hands.
"Yes, Madre! Yes, yes, yes!"
The Marchesino stared.
"No, I did not -- "
"You did! You did, Madre! It's no use! I understood directly."
She began quickly to take off her hat.
"Marchese, we are going out."
"Vere, this is absurd."
"We are going outside, Marchese. Madre wants air."
The Marchesino, accustomed only to the habits and customs of Neapolitan women, looked frankly as if he thought Hermione mad.
"Poor Madre must have a breath of air."
"I will open the window, Signora!"
"And the rain all over her, and the thunder close above her, and the sea in her face, the sea -- the sea!"
She clapped her hands.
She put her face to the glass. Gaspare, who was standing up in the stern, with his hands holding fast to the rail that edged the cabin roof, bent down till his brown face was on a level with hers, and his big eyes were staring inquiringly into her eyes.
"We are coming out."
On the other side of the glass Gaspare made violently negative gestures. One word only came to those inside the cabin through the uproar of the elements.
"Signorina," said the Marchesino, "you cannot mean it. But you will be washed off. And the water -- you will be drowned. It cannot be."
"Marchese, look at Madre! If she stays inside another minute she will be ill. She is stifling! Quickly! Quickly!"
The Marchesino, whose sense of humor was not of a kind to comprehend this freak of Vere's, was for once really taken aback. There were two sliding doors to the cabin, one opening into the bows of the launch, the other into the stern. He got up, looking very grave and rather confused, and opened the former. The wind rushed in, carrying with it spray from the sea. At the same moment there was a loud tapping on the glass behind them. Vere looked round. Gaspare was crouching down with his face against the pane. She put her ear to the glass by his mouth.
"Signorina, you must not go into the bows," he called. "If you will come out, come here, and I will take care of you."
He knew Vere's love of the sea and understood her desire.
"Go, Vere," said Hermione.
The Marchesino shut the door and stood by it, bending and looking doubtful.
"I will stay here with the Marchese. I am really too old to face such a tempest, and the Marchese has no coat. He simply can't go."
"But, Signora, it does not matter! I am ready."
"Impossible. Your clothes would be ruined. Go along, Vere! Turn up your collar."
She spoke almost as if to a boy, and like a gay boy Vere obeyed her and slipped out to Gaspare.
"You really won't come, Madre?"
"No. But -- tell me if you see the light."
The girl nodded, and the door moved into its place, shutting out the wind.
Then the Marchesino sat down and looked at his damp patent-leather boots.
He really could not comprehend these English ladies. That Vere was greatly attracted by him he thoroughly believed. How could it be otherwise? Her liveliness he considered direct encouragement. And then she had gone out to the terrace after dinner, leaving her mother. That was to make him follow her, of course. She wanted to be alone with him. In a Neapolitan girl such conduct would have been a declaration. A Neapolitan mother would not have allowed them to sit together on the terrace without a chaperon. But the English mother had deliberately remained within and had kept Caro Emilio with her. What could such conduct mean, if not that the Signorina was in love with him, the Marchesino, and that the Signorina's mamma was perfectly willing for him to make love to her child?
And yet -- and yet?
There was something in Vere that puzzled him, that had kept him strangely discreet upon the terrace, that made him silent and thoughtful now. Had she been a typical English girl he might have discerned something of the truth of her. But Vere was lively, daring, passionate, and not without some traces of half-humorous and wholly innocent coquetry. She was not at all what the Neapolitan calls "a lump of snow to cool the wine." In her innocence there was fire. That was what confused the Marchesino.
He stared at the cabin door by which Vere had gone out, and his round eyes became almost pathetic for a moment. Then it occurred to him that perhaps this exit was a second ruse, like Vere's departure to the terrace, and he made a movement as if to go out and brave the storm. But Hermione stopped him decisively.
"No, Marchese," she said, "really I cannot let you expose yourself to the rain and the sea in that airy costume. I might be your mother."
"Signora, but you -- "
"No, compliments apart, I really might be, and you must let me use a mother's authority. Till we reach the island stay here and make the best of me."
Hermione had touched the right note. Metaphorically, the Marchesino cast himself at her feet. With a gallant assumption of undivided adoration he burst into conversation, and, though his eyes often wandered to the blurred glass, against which pressed and swayed a blackness that told of those outside, his sense of his duty as a host gradually prevailed, and he and Hermione were soon talking quite cheerfully together.
Vere had forgotten him as utterly as she had forgotten Naples, swallowed up by the night. Just then only the sea, the night, Gaspare, and the two sailors who were managing the launch were real to her -- besides herself. For a moment even her mother had ceased to exist in her consciousness. As the sea swept the deck of the little craft it swept her mind clear to make more room for itself.
She stood by Gaspare, touching him, and clinging on, as he did, to the rail. Impenetrably black was the night. Only here and there, at distances she could not begin to judge of, shone vaguely lights that seemed to dance and fade and reappear like marsh lights in a world of mist. Were they on sea or land? She could not tell and did not ask. The sailors doubtless knew, but she respected them and their duty too much to speak to them, though she had given them a smile as she came out to join them, and had received two admiring salutes in reply. Gaspare, too, had smiled at her with a pleasure which swiftly conquered the faint reproach in his eloquent eyes. He liked his Padroncina's courage, liked the sailors of the Signor Marchese to see it. He was soaked to the skin, but he, too, was enjoying the adventure, a rare one on this summer sea, which had slept through so many shining days and starry nights like a "bambino in dolce letargo."
To-night it was awake, and woke up others, Vere's nature and his.
"Where is the island, Gaspare?" cried Vere through the wind to him.
"Chi lo sa, Signorina.
He waved one hand to the blackness before them.
"It must be there."
She strained her eyes, then looked away towards where the land must be. At a long distance across the leaping foam she saw one light. As the boat rose and sank on the crests and into the hollows of the waves the light shone and faded, shone and faded. She guessed it to be a light at the Antico Giuseppone. Despite the head wind and the waves that met them the launch travelled bravely, and soon the light was gone. She told herself that it must have been at the Giuseppone, and that now they had got beyond the point, and were opposite to the harbor of the Villa Rosebery. But no lights greeted them from the White Palazzo in the wood, or from the smaller white house low down beside the sea. And again she looked straight forward.
Now she was intent on San Francesco. She was thinking of him, of the Pool, of the island. And she thrilled with joy at the thought of the wonderful wildness of her home. As they drew on towards it the waves were bigger, the wind was stronger. Even on calm nights there was always a breeze when one had passed the Giuseppone going towards Ischia, and beyond the island there was sometimes quite a lively sea. What would it be to-night? Her heart cried out for a crescendo. Within her, at that moment, was a desire like the motorist's for speed. More! more! More wind! More sea! More uproar from the elements!
And San Francesco all alone in this terrific blackness! Had he not been dashed from his pedestal by the waves? Was the light at his feet still burning?
"Il Santo!" she said to Gaspare.
He bent his head till it was close to her lips.
"Il Santo! What has become of him, Gaspare?"
"He will be there, Signorina."
So Gaspare, too, held to the belief of the seamen of the Bay. He had confidence in the obedience of the sea, this sea that roared around them like a tyrant. Suddenly she had no doubt. It would be so. The saint would be untouched. The light would still be burning. She looked for it. And now she remembered her mother. She must tell her mother directly she saw it. But all was blackness still.
And the launch seemed weary, like a live thing whose strength is ebbing, who strains and pants and struggles gallantly, not losing heart but losing physical force. Surely it was going slower. She laid one hand upon the cabin roof as if in encouragement. Her heart was with the launch, as the seaman's is with his boat when it resists, surely for his sake consciously, the assault of the great sea.
She was murmuring the word. Gaspare looked at her. And the word was in his eyes as it should be in all eyes that look at youth. And the launch strove on.
The spray was in her face. Her hair was wet with the rain. Her French frock -- that was probably ruined! But she knew that she had never felt more happy. And now -- it was like a miracle! Suddenly out of the darkness a second darkness shaped itself, a darkness that she knew -- the island. And almost simultaneously there shone out a little steady light.
"Ecco il Santo!"
Vere called out: "Madre! Madre!"
She bent down.
"Madre! The light is burning."
The sailors, too, bent down, right down to the water. They caught at it with their hands, Gaspare, too. Vere understood, and, kneeling on the gunwale, firmly in Gaspare's grasp, she joined in their action.
She sprinkled the boat with the acqua benedetta and made the sign of the cross.
A Spirit In Prison
by Robert Hichens
More than an hour had passed. To Vere it had seemed like five minutes. Her cheeks were hotly flushed. Her eyes shone. With hands that were slightly trembling she gathered together her manuscripts, and carefully arranged them in a neat packet and put a piece of ribbon round them, tying it in a little bow. Meanwhile Artois, standing up, was knocking the shreds of tobacco out of his pipe against the chimney-piece into his hand. He carried them over to the window, dropped them out, then stood for a minute looking at the sea.
"The evening calm is coming, Vere," he said, "bringing with it the wonder of this world."
He heard a soft sigh behind him, and turned round.
"Why was that? Has dejection set in, then?"
"You know the Latin saying: 'Festina lente'? If you want to understand how slowly you must hasten, look at me."
He had been going to add, "Look at these gray hairs," but he did not. Just then he felt suddenly an invincible reluctance to call Vere's attention to the signs of age apparent in him.
"I spoke to you about the admirable incentive of ambition," he continued, after a moment. "But you must understand that I meant the ambition for perfection, not at all the ambition for celebrity. The satisfaction of the former may be a deep and exquisite joy -- the partial satisfaction, for I suppose it can never be anything more than that. But the satisfaction of the other will certainly be Dead-sea fruit -- fruit of the sea unlike that brought up by Ruffo, without lasting savor, without any real value. One should never live for that."
The last words he spoke as if to himself, almost like a warning addressed to himself.
"I don't believe I ever should," Vere said quickly. "I never thought of such a thing."
"The thought will come, though, inevitably."
"How dreadful it must be to know so much about human nature as you do!"
"And yet how little I really know!"
There came up a distant cry from the sea. Vere started.
"There is Madre! Of course, Monsieur Emile, I don't want -- but you understand!"
She hurried out of the room, carrying the packet with her.
Artois felt that the girl was strongly excited. She was revealing more of herself to him, this little Vere whom he had known, and not known, ever since she had been a baby. The gradual revelation interested him intensely -- so intensely that in him, too, there was excitement now. So many truths go to make up the whole round truth of every human soul. Hermione saw some of these truths of Vere, Gaspare others, perhaps; he again others. And even Ruffo and the Marchesino -- he put the Marchesino most definitely last -- even they saw still other truths of Vere, he supposed.
To whom did she reveal the most? The mother ought to know most, and during the years of childhood had doubtless known most. But those years were nearly over. Certainly Vere was approaching, or was on, the threshold of the second period of her life.
And she and he had a secret from Hermione. This secret was a very innocent one. Still, of course, it had the two attributes that belong to every secret: of drawing together those who share it, of setting apart from them those who know it not. And there was another secret, too, connected with it, and known only to Artois: the fact that the child, Vere, possessed the very small but quite definite beginnings, the seed, as it were, of something that had been denied to the mother, Hermione.
"Emile, you have come back! I am glad!"
Hermione came into the room with her eager manner and rather slow gait, holding out both her hands, her hot face and prominent eyes showing forth with ardor the sincerity of her surprise and pleasure.
"Gaspare told me. I nearly gave him a hug. You know his sly look when he has something delightful up his sleeve for one! Bless you!"
She shook both his hands.
"And I had come back in such bad spirits! But now -- "
She took off her hat and put it on a table.
"Why were you in bad spirits, my friend?"
"I had been with Madame Alliani, seeing something of the intense misery and wickedness of Naples. I have seen a girl -- such a tragedy! What devils men can be in these Southern places! What hideous things they will do under the pretence of being driven by love! But -- no, don't let us spoil your arrival. Where is Vere? I thought she was entertaining you."
"We have been having tea together. She has this moment gone out of the room."
She seemed to expect some further explanation. As he gave none she sat down.
"Wasn't she very surprised to see you?"
"I think she was. She had just been bathing, and came running in with her hair all about her, looking like an Undine with a dash of Sicilian blood in her. Here she is!"
"Are you pleased, Madre? You poor, hot Madre!"
Vere sat down by her mother and put one arm round her. Subtly she was trying to make up to her mother for the little secret she was keeping from her for a time.
"Are you very, very pleased?"
"Yes, I think I am."
"Think! You mischievous Madre!"
"But I feel almost jealous of you two sitting here in the cool, and having a quiet tea and a lovely talk while -- Never mind. Here is my tea. And there's another thing. Oh, Emile, I do wish I had known you would arrive to-day!"
"I've committed an unusual crime. I've made -- actually -- an engagement for this evening."
Artois and Vere held up their hands in exaggerated surprise.
"Are you mad, my dear Hermione?" asked Artois.
"I believe I am. It's dangerous to go to Naples. I met a young man."
"The Marchesino!" cried Vere. "The Marchesino! I see him in your eye, Madre."
"C'est cela!" said Artois, "and you mean to say -- !"
"That I accepted an invitation to dine with him to-night, at nine, at the Scoglio di Frisio. There! Why did I? I have no idea. I was hot from a horrible vicolo. He was cool from the sea. What chance had I against him? And then he is through and through Neapolitan, and gives no quarter to a woman, even when she is 'una vecchia.' "
As she finished Hermione broke into a laugh, evidently at some recollection.
"Doro made his eyes very round. I can see that," said Artois.
"Like this!" cried Vere.
And suddenly there appeared in her face a reminiscence of the face of the Marchesino.
"Vere, you must not! Some day you will do it by accident when he is here."
"Is he coming here?"
"In a launch to fetch me -- us."
"Am I invited?" said Vere. "What fun!"
"I could not get out of it," Hermione said to Artois. "But now I insist on your staying here till the Marchesino comes. Then he will ask you, and we shall be a quartet."
"I will stay," said Artois, with a sudden return of his authoritative manner.
"It seems that I am woefully ignorant of the Bay," continued Hermione. "I have never dined at Frisio's. Everybody goes there at least once. Everybody has been there. Emperors, kings, queens, writers, singers, politicians, generals -- they all eat fish at Frisio's."
"You have done it?"
"Yes. The Padrone is worth knowing. He -- but to-night you will know him. Yes, Frisio's is characteristic. Vere will be amused."
With a light tone he hid a faint chagrin.
"What fun!" repeated Vere. "If I had diamonds I should put them on."
She too was hiding something, one sentiment with another very different. But her youth came to her aid, and very soon the second excitement really took the place of the first, and she was joyously alive to the prospect of a novel gayety.
"I must not eat anything more," said Hermione. "I believe the Marchesino is ordering something marvellous for us, all the treasures of the sea. We must be up to the mark. He really is a good fellow."
"Yes," said Artois. "He is. I have a genuine liking for him."
He said it with obvious sincerity.
"I am going," said Vere. "I must think about clothes. And I must undo my hair again and get Maria to dry it thoroughly, or I shall look frightening."
She went out quickly, her eyes sparkling.
"Vere is delighted," said Hermione.
"Yes, indeed she is."
"And you are not. Would you rather avoid the Marchesino to-night, Emile, and not come with us? Perhaps I am selfish. I would so very much rather have you with us."
"If Doro asks me I shall certainly come. It's true that I wish you were not engaged to-night -- I should have enjoyed a quiet evening here. But we shall have many quiet, happy evenings together this summer, I hope."
"I wonder if we shall?" said Hermione, slowly.
"You -- why?"
"I don't know. Oh, I am absurd, probably. One has such strange ideas, houses based on sand, or on air, or perhaps on nothing at all."
She got up, went to her writing-table, opened a drawer, and took out of it a letter.
"Emile," she said, coming back to him with it in her hand, "would you like to explain this to me?"
"What is it?"
"The letter I found from you when I came back from Capri."
"But does it need explanation?"
"It seemed to me as if it did. Read it and see."
He took it from her, opened it and read it.
"Well?" he said.
"Isn't the real meaning between the lines?"
"If it is, cannot you decipher it?"
"I don't know. I don't think so. Somehow it depressed me. Perhaps it was my mood just then. Was it?"
"Perhaps it was merely mine."
"But why -- 'I feel specially this summer I should like to be near you'? What does that mean exactly?"
"I did feel that."
"I don't think I can tell you now. I am not sure that I could even have told you at the time I wrote that letter."
She took it from him and put it away again in the drawer.
"Perhaps we shall both know later on," she said, quietly. "I believe we shall."
He did not say anything.
"I saw that boy, Ruffo, this afternoon," she said, after a moment of silence.
"Did you?" said Artois, with a change of tone, a greater animation. "I forgot to ask Vere about him. I suppose he has been to the island again while I have been away?"
"Not once. Poor boy, I find he has been ill. He has had fever. He was out to-day for the first time after it. We met him close to Mergellina. He was in a boat, but he looked very thin and pulled down. He seemed so delighted to see me. I was quite touched."
"Hasn't Vere been wondering very much why he did not come again?"
"She has never once mentioned him. Vere is a strange child sometimes."
"But you -- haven't you spoken of him to her?"
"No, I don't think so."
"Vere's silence made you silent?"
"I suppose so. I must tell her. She likes the boy very much."
"What is it that attracts her to this boy, do you think?"
The question was ordinary enough, but there was a peculiar intonation in Artois' voice as he asked it, an intonation that awakened surprise in Hermione.
"I don't know. He is an attractive boy."
"You think so too?"
"Why, yes. What do you mean, Emile?"
"I was only wondering. The sea breeds a great many boys like Ruffo, you know. But they don't all get Khali Targa cigarettes given to them, for all that."
"That's true. I have never seen Vere pay any particular attention to the fishermen who come to the island. In a way she loves them all because they belong to the sea, she loves them as a décor. But Ruffo is different. I felt it myself."
He looked at her, then looked out of the window and pulled his beard slowly.
"Yes. In my case, perhaps, the interest was roused partly by what Vere told me. The boy is a Sicilian, you see, and just Vere's age."
"Vere's interest perhaps comes from the same reason."
"Very likely it does."
Hermione spoke the last words without conviction. Perhaps they both felt that they were not talking very frankly -- were not expressing their thoughts to each other with their accustomed sincerity. At any rate, Artois suddenly introduced another topic of conversation, the reason of his hurried visit to Paris, and for the next hour they discussed literary affairs with a gradually increasing vivacity and open- heartedness. The little difficulty between them -- of which both had been sensitive and fully conscious -- passed away, and when at length Hermione got up to go to her bedroom and change her dress for the evening, there was no cloud about them.
When Hermione had gone Artois took up a book, but he sat till the evening was falling and Giulia came smiling to light the lamp, without reading a word of it. Her entry roused him from his reverie, and he took out his watch. It was already past eight. The Marchesino would soon be coming. And then -- the dinner at Frisio's!
He got up and moved about the room, picking up a book here and there, glancing at some pages, then putting it down. He felt restless and uneasy.
"I am tired from the journey," he thought. "Or -- I wonder what the weather is this evening. The heat seems to have become suffocating since Hermione went away."
He went to one of the windows and looked out. Twilight was stealing over the sea, which was so calm that it resembled a huge sheet of steel. The sky over the island was clear. He turned and went to the opposite window. Above Ischia there was a great blackness like a pall. He stood looking at it for some minutes. His erring thoughts, which wandered like things fatigued that cannot rest, went to a mountain village in Sicily, through which he had once ridden at night during a terrific thunder-storm. In a sudden, fierce glare of lightning he had seen upon the great door of a gaunt Palazzo, which looked abandoned, a strip of black cloth. Above it were the words, "Lutto in famiglia."
That was years ago. Yet now he saw again the palace door, the strip of cloth soaked by the pouring rain, the dreary, almost sinister words which he had read by lightning:
"Lutto in famiglia."
He repeated them as he gazed at the blackness above Ischia.
The girl came towards him, a white contrast to what he had been watching.
"I'm all ready. It seems so strange to be going out to a sort of party. I've had such a bother with my hair."
"You have conquered," he said. "Undine has disappeared."
"Come quite close to the lamp."
She came obediently.
"Vere transformed!" he said. "I have seen three Veres to-day already. How many more will greet me to-night?"
She laughed gently, standing quite still. Her dress and her gloves were white, but she had on a small black hat, very French, and at the back of her hair there was a broad black ribbon tied in a big bow. This ribbon marked her exact age clearly, he thought.
"This is a new frock, and my very smartest," she said; "and you dared to abuse Paris!"
"Being a man. I must retract now. You are right, we cannot do without it. But -- have you an umbrella?"
She moved and laughed again, much more gayly.
"I am serious. Come here and look at Ischia."
She went with him quickly to the window.
"That blackness does look wicked. But it's a long way off."
"I think it is coming this way."
"Oh, but" -- and she went to the opposite window -- "the sky is perfectly clear towards Naples. And look how still the sea is."
"Too still. It is like steel."
She held up her hand. They both heard a far-off sound of busy panting on the sea.
"That must be the launch!" she said.
Her eyes were gay and expectant. It was evident that she was in high spirits, that she was looking forward to this unusual gayety.
"Doesn't it sound in a hurry, as if the Marchesino was terribly afraid of being late?"
"Get your umbrella, Vere, and a waterproof. You will want them both."
At that moment Hermione came in.
"Madre, the launch is coming in a frightful hurry, and Monsieur Emile says we must take umbrellas."
"Surely it isn't going to rain?"
"There is a thunder-storm coming up from Ischia, I believe," said Artois.
"Then we will take our cloaks in case. It is fearfully hot. I thought so when I was dressing. No doubt the launch will have a cabin."
A siren hooted.
"That is the Marchesino saluting us!" cried Vere. "Come along, Madre! Maria! Maria!"
She ran out, calling for the cloaks.
"Do you like Vere's frock, Emile?" said Hermione, as they followed.
"Yes. She looks delicious -- but quite like a little woman of the world."
"Ah, you like her best as the Island child. So do I. Oh, Emile!"
"What is it?"
"I can't help it. I hate Vere's growing up."
"Few things can remain unchanged for long. This sea will be unrecognizable before we return."
Gaspare met them on the landing with solemn eyes.
"There is going to be a great storm, Signora," he said. "It is coming from Ischia."
"So Don Emilio thinks. But we will take wraps, and we are going in a launch. It will be all right, Gaspare."
"Shall I come with you, Signora?"
"Well, Gaspare, you see it is the Marchese's launch -- "
"If you would like me to come, I will ask the Signore Marchese."
"We'll see how much room there is."
He went down to receive the launch.
"Emile," Hermione said, as he disappeared, "can you understand what a comfort to me Gaspare is? Ah, if people knew how women love those who are ready to protect them! It's quite absurd, but just because Gaspare said that, I'd fifty times rather have him with us than go without him."
"I understand. I love your watch-dog, too."
She touched his arm.
"No one could ever understand the merits of a watch-dog better than you. That's right, Maria; we shall be safer with these."
The Marchesino stood at the foot of the cliff, bare-headed, to receive them. He was in evening dress, what he called "smoking," with a flower in his button-hole, and a straw hat, and held a pair of white kid gloves in his hand. He looked in rapturous spirits, but ceremonial. When he caught sight of Artois on the steps behind Hermione and Vere, however, he could not repress an exclamation of "Emilio!"
He took Hermione's and Vere's hands, bowed over them and kissed them. Then he turned to his friend.
"Caro Emilio! You are back! You must come with us! You must dine at Frisio's."
"May I?" said Artois.
"You must. This is delightful. See, Madame," he added to Hermione, suddenly breaking into awful French, "we have the English flag! Your Jack! Voila, the great, the only Jack! I salute him! Let me help you!"
As Hermione stepped into the launch she said:
"I see there is plenty of room. I wonder if you would mind my taking my servant, Gaspare, to look after the cloaks and umbrellas. It seems absurd, but he says a storm is coming, and -- "
"A storm!" cried the Marchesino. "Of course your Gaspare must come. Which is he?"
The Marchesino spoke to Gaspare in Italian, telling him to join the two sailors in the stern of the launch. A minute afterwards he went to him and gave him some cigarettes. Then he brought from the cabin two bouquets of flowers, and offered them to Hermione and Vere, who, with Artois, were settling themselves in the bows. The siren sounded. They were off, cutting swiftly through the oily sea.
"A storm, Signora. Cloaks and umbrellas!" said the Marchesino, shooting a glance of triumph at "Cara Emilio," whose presence to witness his success completed his enjoyment of it. "But it is a perfect night. Look at the sea. Signorina, let me put the cushion a little higher behind you. It is not right. You are not perfectly comfortable. And everything must be perfect for you to-night -- everything." He arranged the cushion tenderly. "The weather, too! Why, where is the storm?"
"Over Ischia," said Artois.
"It will stay there. Ischia! It is a volcano. Anything terrible may happen there."
"And Vesuvius?" said Hermione, laughing.
The Marchesino threw up his chin.
"We are not going to Vesuvius. I know Naples, Signora, and I promise you fine weather. We shall take our coffee after dinner outside upon the terrace at the one and only Frisio's."
He chattered on gayly. His eyes were always on Vere, but he talked chiefly to Hermione, with the obvious intention of fascinating the mother in order that she might be favorably disposed towards him, and later on smile indulgently upon his flirtation with the daughter. His proceedings were carried on with a frankness that should have been disarming, and that evidently did disarm Hermione and Vere, who seemed to regard the Marchesino as a very lively boy. But Artois was almost immediately conscious of a secret irritation that threatened to spoil his evening.
The Marchesino was triumphant. Emilio had wished to prevent him from knowing these ladies. Why? Evidently because Emilio considered him dangerous. Now he knew the ladies. He was actually their host. And he meant to prove to Emilio how dangerous he could be. His eyes shot a lively defiance at his friend, then melted as they turned to Hermione, melted still more as they gazed with unwinking sentimentality into the eyes of Vere. He had no inward shyness to contend against, and was perfectly at his ease; and Artois perceived that his gayety and sheer animal spirits were communicating themselves to his companions. Vere said little, but she frequently laughed, and her face lit up with eager animation. And she, too, was quite at her ease. The direct, and desirous, glances of the Marchesino did not upset her innocent self- possession at all, although they began to upset the self-possession of Artois. As he sat, generally in silence, listening to the frivolous and cheerful chatter that never stopped, while the launch cut its way through the solemn, steel-like sea towards the lights of Posilipo. He felt that he was apart because he was clever, as if his cleverness caused loneliness.
They travelled fast. Soon the prow of the launch was directed to a darkness that lay below, and to the right of a line of brilliant lights that shone close to the sea; and a boy dressed in white, holding a swinging lantern, and standing, like a statue, in a small niche of rock almost flush with the water, hailed them, caught the gunwale of the launch with one hand, and brought it close in to the wall that towered above them.
"Do we get out here? But where do we go?" said Hermione.
"There is a staircase. Let me -- "
The Marchesino was out in a moment and helped them all to land. He called to the sailors that he would send down food and wine to them and Gaspare. Then, piloted by the boy with the lantern, they walked up carefully through dark passages and over crumbling stairs, turned to the left, and came out upon a small terrace above the sea and facing the curving lamps of Naples. Just beyond was a long restaurant, lined with great windows on one side and with mirrors on the other, and blazing with light.
"Ecco!" cried the Marchesino. "Ecco lo Scoglio di Frisio! And here is the Padrone!" he added, as a small, bright-eyed man, with a military figure and fierce mustaches, came briskly forward to receive them.
A Spirit In Prison
by Robert Hichens
When she reached her mother's sitting-room Artois was already there speaking to Gaspare by a window. He turned rather quickly as Vere came in, and exclaimed:
"Vere! Why -- "
"Oh!" she cried, "Gaspare hasn't gone!"
A look almost of dread, half pretence but with some reality in it, too, came into her face.
"Gaspare, forgive me! I was in such a hurry. And it is only Don Emilio!"
Her voice was coaxing. Gaspare looked at his Padroncina with an attempt at reprobation; but his nose twitched, and though he tried to compress his lips they began to stretch themselves in a smile.
"Signorina! Signorina!" he exclaimed. "Madonna!"
On that exclamation he went out, trying to make his back look condemnatory.
"Only Don Emilio!" Artois repeated.
Vere went to him, and took and held his hand for a moment.
"Yes -- only! That's my little compliment. Madre would say of you. 'He's such an old shoe!' Such compliments come from the heart, you know."
She still held his hand.
"I should have to put my hair up for anybody else. And Gaspare wanted me to for you."
Artois was looking rather grave and tired. She noticed that now, and dropped his hand and moved towards a bell.
"Tea!" she said, "all alone with me -- for a treat!"
"Isn't your mother in?"
"No. She's gone to Naples. I'm very, very sorry. Make the best of it, Monsieur Emile, for the sake of my amour propre. I said I was sorry -- but that was only for you, and Madre."
"Is an old shoe a worthy object of gross flattery?" he said.
"Then -- "
"Don't be cantankerous, and don't be subtle, because I've been bathing."
"I notice that."
"And I feel so calm and delicious. Tea, please, Giulia."
The plump, dark woman who had opened the door smiled and retreated.
"So calm and so delicious, Monsieur Emile, and as if I were made of friendliness from top to toe."
"The all-the-world feeling. I know."
He sat down, rather heavily.
"You are tired. When did you come?"
"I arrived this morning. It was hot travelling, and I shared my compartment in the wagon-lit with a German gentleman very far advanced in several unaesthetic ailments. Basta! Thank Heaven for this. Calm and delicious!"
His large, piercing eyes were fixed upon Vere.
"And about twelve," he added, "or twelve-and-a-half."
"Yes, you. I am not speaking of myself, though I believe I am calm also."
"I am a woman -- practically."
"Yes; isn't that the word people always put in when they mean 'that's a lie'?"
"You mean you aren't a woman! This afternoon I must agree with you."
"It's the sea! But just now, when you were coming, I was looking at myself in the glass and saying, 'You're a woman' -- solemnly, you know, as if it was a dreadful truth."
Artois had sat down on a sofa. He leaned back now with his hands behind his head. He still looked at Vere, and, as he did so, he heard the faint whisper of the sea.
"Child of nature," he said -- "call yourself that. It covers any age, and it's blessedly true."
Giulia came in at this moment with tea. She smiled again broadly on Artois, and received and returned his greeting with the comfortable and unembarrassed friendliness of the Italian race. As she went out she was still smiling.
"Addio to the German gentleman with the unaesthetic ailments!" said Artois.
An almost boyish sensation of sheer happiness invaded him. It made him feel splendidly, untalkative. And he felt for a moment, too, as if his intellect lay down to sleep.
"Cara Giulia!" he added, after a rapturous silence.
"Yes, Giulia is -- "
"They all are, and the island, and the house upon it, and this clear yellow tea, and this brown toast, and this butter from Lombardy. They all are."
"I believe you are feeling good all over, Monsieur Emile."
"San Gennaro knows I am."
He drank some tea, and ate some toast, spreading the butter upon it with voluptuous deliberation.
"Then I'm sure he's pleased."
"Paris, hateful Paris!"
"Oh, but that's abusive. A person who feels good all over should not say that."
"You are right, Vere. But when are you not right? You ought always to wear your hair down, mon enfant, and always to have just been bathing."
"And you ought always to have just been travelling."
"It is true that a dreadful past can be a blessing as well as a curse. It is profoundly true. Why have I never realized that before?"
"If I am twelve and a half, I think you are about -- about -- "
"For the love of the sea make it under twenty, Vere."
"Were you going to make it under twenty?"
"Yes, I was."
"I don't believe you. Yes, I do, I do! You are an artist. You realize that truth is a question of feeling, not a question of fact. You penetrate beneath the gray hairs as the prosaic never do. This butter is delicious! And to think that there have been moments when I have feared butter, when I have kept an eye upon a corpulent future. Give me some more, plenty more."
Vere stretched out her hand to the tea-table, but it shook. She drew it back, and burst into a peal of laughter.
"What are you laughing at?" said Artois, with burlesque majesty.
"At you. What's the matter with you, Monsieur Emile? How can you be so foolish?"
She lay back in her chair, with her hair streaming about her, and her thin body quivered, as if the sense of fun within her were striving to break through its prison walls.
"This," said Artois, "this is sheer impertinence. I venture to inquire for butter, and -- "
"To inquire! One, two, three, four -- five pats of butter right in front of you! And you inquire -- !"
Artois suddenly sent out a loud roar to join her childish treble.
The tea had swept away his previous sensation of fatigue, even the happy stolidity that had succeeded it for an instant. He felt full of life and gayety, and a challenging mental activity. A similar challenging activity, he thought, shone in the eyes of the girl opposite to him.
"Thank God I can still be foolish!" he exclaimed. "And thank God that there are people in the world devoid of humor. My German friend was without humor. Only that fact enabled me to endure his prodigious collection of ailments. But for the heat I might even have revelled in them. He was asthmatic, without humor; dyspeptic, without humor. He had a bad cold in the head, without humor, and got up into the top berth with two rheumatic legs and a crick in the back, without humor. Had he seen the fun of himself, the fun would have meant much less to me."
"You cruel person!"
"There is often cruelty in humor -- perhaps not in yours, though, yet."
"Why do you say -- yet, like that?"
"The hair is such a kindly veil that I doubt the existence of cruelty behind it."
He spoke with a sort of almost tender and paternal gentleness.
"I don't believe you could ever be really cruel, Monsieur Emile."
"I think you are too intelligent."
"Why should that prevent me?"
"Isn't cruelty stupid, unimaginative?"
"Often. But it can be brilliant, artful, intellectual, full of imagination. It can be religious. It can be passionate. It can be splendid. It can be almost everything."
"Like Napoleon's cruelty to France. But why should I educate you in abominable knowledge?"
"Oh," said the girl, thrusting forward her firm little chin, "I have no faith in mere ignorance."
"Yet it does a great deal for those who are not ignorant."
"It shows them how pretty, how beautiful even, sometimes, was the place from which they started for their journey through the world."
Vere was silent for a moment. The sparkle of fun had died out of her eyes, which had become dark with the steadier fires of imagination. The strands of her thick hair, falling down on each side of her oval face, gave to it a whimsically mediaeval look, suggestive of legend. Her long-fingered, delicate, but strong little hands were clasped in her lap, and did not move. It was evident that she was thinking deeply.
"I believe I know," she said, at last. "Yes, that was my thought, or almost."
She hesitated, looking at him, not altogether doubtfully, but with a shadow of reserve, which might easily, he fancied, grow deeper, or fade entirely away. He saw the resolve to speak come quietly into her mind.
"You know, Monsieur Emile, I love watching the sea," she said, rather slowly and carefully. "Especially at dawn, and in the evening before it is dark. And it always seems to me as if at dawn it is more heavenly than it is after the day has happened, though it is so very lovely then. And sometimes that has made me feel that our dawn is our most beautiful time -- as if we were nearest the truth then. And, of course, that is when we are most ignorant, isn't it? So I suppose I have been thinking a little bit like you. Haven't I?"
She asked it earnestly. Artois had never heard her speak quite like this before, with a curious deliberation that was nevertheless without self-consciousness. Before he could answer she added, abruptly, as if correcting, or even almost condemning herself:
"I can put it much better than that. I have."
Artois leaned forward. Something, he did not quite know what, made him feel suddenly a deep interest in what Vere said -- a strong curiosity even.
"You have put it much better?" he said.
Vere suddenly looked conscious. A faint wave of red went over her face and down to her small neck. Her hands moved and parted. She seemed half ashamed of something for a minute.
"Madre doesn't know," she murmured, as if she were giving him a reason for something. "It isn't interesting," she added. "Except, of course, to me."
Artois was watching her.
"I think you really want to tell me," he said now.
"Oh yes, in a way I do. I have been half wanting to for a long time -- but only half."
She looked at him, but almost instantly looked down again, with a sort of shyness he had never seen in her before. And her eyes had been full of a strange and beautiful sensitiveness.
"Never mind, Vere," he said quickly, obedient to those eyes, and responding to their delicate subtlety. "We all have our righteous secrets, and should all respect the righteous secrets of others."
"Yes, I think we should. And I know you would be the very last, at least Madre and you, to -- I think I'm being rather absurd, really." The last words were said with a sudden change of tone to determination, as if Vere were taking herself to task. "I'm making a lot of almost nothing. You see, if I am a woman, as Gaspare is making out, I'm at any rate a very young one, am I not?"
"The youngest that exists."
As he said that Artois thought, "Mon Dieu! If the Marchesino could only see her now!"
"If humor is cruel, Monsieur Emile," Vere continued, "you will laugh at me. For I am sure, if I tell you -- and I know now I'm going to -- you will think this fuss is as ridiculous as the German's cold in the head, and poor legs, and all. I wrote that about the sea."
She said the last sentence with a sort of childish defiance.
"Wait," said Artois. "Now I begin to understand."
"All those hours spent in your room. Your mother thought you were reading."
"No," she said, still rather defiantly; "I've been writing that, and other things -- about the sea."
"How? In prose?"
"No. That's the worst of it, I suppose."
And again the faint wave of color went over her face to her neck.
"Do you really feel so criminal? Then what ought I to feel?"
"You? Now that is really cruel!" she cried, getting up quickly, almost as if she meant to hurry away.
But she only stood there in front of him, near the window.
"Never mind!" she said. "Only you remember that Madre tried. She had never said much about it to me. But now and then from just a word I know that she feels bad, that she wishes very much she could do something. Only the other day she said to me, 'We have the instinct, men the vocabulary.' She was meaning that you had. She even told me to ask you something that I had asked her, and she said, 'I feel all the things that he can explain.' And there was something in her voice that hurt me -- for her. And Madre is so clever. Isn't she clever?"
"And if Madre can't do things, you can imagine that I feel rather absurd now that I'm telling you."
"Yes, being just as you are, Vere, I can quite imagine that you do. But we can have sweet feelings of absurdity that only arise from something moral within us, a moral delicacy. However, would you like me to look at what you have been writing about the sea?"
"Yes, if you can do it quite seriously."
"I could not do it in any other way."
"Then -- thank you."
She went out of the room, not without a sort of simple dignity that was utterly removed from conceit or pretentiousness.
What a strange end, this, to their laughter!
Vere was away several minutes, during which at first Artois sat quite still, leaning back, with his great frame stretched out, and his hands once more behind his head. His intellect was certainly very much awake now, and he was setting a guard upon it, to watch it carefully, lest it should be ruthless, even with Vere. And was he not setting also another guard to watch the softness of his nature, lest it should betray him into foolish kindness?
Yet, after a minute, he said to himself that he was wasting his time in both these proceedings. For Vere's eyes were surely a touchstone to discover honesty. There is something merciless in the purity of untarnished youth. What can it not divine at moments?
Artois poured out another cup of tea and drank it, considering the little funny situation. Vere and he with a secret from Hermione shared between them! Vere submitting verses to his judgment! He remembered Hermione's half-concealed tragedy, which, of course, had been patent to him in its uttermost nakedness. Even Vere had guessed something of it. Do we ever really hide anything from every one? And yet each one breathes mystery too. The assertive man is the last of fools. Of that at least Artois just then felt certain.
If Vere should really have talent! He did not expect it, although he had said that there was intellectual force in the girl. There was intellectual force in Hermione, but she could not create. And Vere! He smiled as he thought of her rush into the room with her hair streaming down, of her shrieks of laughter over his absurdity. But she was full of changes.
The door opened, and Vere came in holding some manuscript in her hand. She had done up her hair while she had been away. When Artois saw that he heaved himself up from the sofa.
"I must smoke," he said.
"Oh yes. I'll get the Khali Targas."
"No. I must have a pipe. And you prefer that, I know."
"Generally, but -- you do look dreadfully as if you meant business when you are smoking a pipe."
"I do mean business now."
He took his pipe from his pocket, filled it and lit it.
"Now then, Vere!" he said.
She came to sit down on the sofa.
He sat down beside her.
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