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A Spirit In Prison
by Robert Hichens
On the following morning Hermione and Vere went for an excursion to Capri. They were absent from the island for three nights. When they returned they found a card lying upon the table in the little hall -- "Marchese Isidoro Panacci di Torno" -- and Gaspare told them that it had been left by a Signore, who had called on the day of their departure, and had seemed very disappointed to hear that they were gone.
"I do not know this Signore," Gaspare added, rather grimly.
Vere laughed, and suddenly made her eyes look very round, and staring, and impudent.
"He's like that, Gaspare," she said.
"Vere!" said her mother.
Then she added to Gaspare:
"The Marchese is a friend of Don Emilio's. Ah! and here is a letter from Don Emilio."
It was lying beside the Marchese's card with some other letters. Hermione opened it first, and read that Artois had been unexpectedly called away to Paris on business, but intended to return to Naples as soon as possible, and to spend the whole summer on the Bay.
"I feel specially that this summer I should like to be near you," he wrote. "I hope you wish it."
At the end of the letter there was an allusion to the Marchesino, "that gay and admirably characteristic Neapolitan product, the Toledo incarnate."
There was not a word of Vere.
Hermione read the letter aloud to Vere, who was standing beside her, evidently hoping to hear it. When she had finished, Vere said:
"I am glad Monsieur Emile will be here all the summer."
"But why specially this summer, Madre?"
"I am not sure what he means by that," Hermione answered.
But she remembered the conversation in the Grotto of Virgil, and wondered if her friend thought she needed the comfort of his presence.
Vere's bright eyes were fixed upon her mother.
"Well, Vere? What is it?"
"Is there no message for me from Monsieur Emile?"
"How forgetful of him! But never mind!" She went upstairs, looking disappointed.
Hermione re-read the letter. She wondered, perhaps more than Vere, why there was no message for the child. The child -- she was still calling Vere that in her mind, even after the night conversation with Gaspare. Two or three times she re-read that sentence, "I feel specially that this summer I should like to be near you," and considered it; but she finally put the letter away with a strong feeling that most of its meaning lay between the lines, and that she had not, perhaps, the power to interpret it.
Vere had said that Emile was forgetful. He might be many things, but forgetful he was not. One of his most characteristic qualities was his exceptionally sharp consciousness of himself and of others. Hermione knew that he was incapable of writing to her and forgetting Vere while he was doing so.
She did not exactly know why, but the result upon her of this letter was a certain sense of depression, a slight and vague foreboding. And yet she was glad, she was even thankful, to know that her friend, was going to spend the summer on the Bay. She blamed herself for her melancholy, telling herself that there was nothing in the words of Artois to make her feel sad. Yet she continued to feel sad, to feel as if some grievous change were at hand, as if she had returned to the island to confront some untoward fate. It was very absurd of her. She told herself that.
The excursion to Capri had been a cheerful one. She had enjoyed it. But all the time she had been watching Vere, studying her, as she had not watched and studied her before. Something had suddenly made her feel unaccustomed to Vere. It might be the words of Gaspare, the expression in the round eyes of the Marchesino, or something new, or newly apparent, in Vere. She did not know. But she did know that now the omission of Artois to mention Vere in his letter seemed to add to the novelty of the child for her.
That seemed strange, yet it was a fact. How absolutely mysterious are many of the currents of our being, Hermione thought. They flow far off in subterranean channels, unseen by us, and scarcely ever realized, but governing, carrying our lives along upon their deeps towards the appointed end.
Gaspare saw that his Padrona was not quite as usual, and looked at her with large-eyed inquiry, but did not at first say anything. After tea, however, when Hermione was sitting alone in the little garden with a book, he said to her bluntly:
"Che ha Lei?"
Hermione put the book down in her lap.
"That is just what I don't know, Gaspare."
"Perhaps you are not well."
"But I believe I am, perfectly well. You know I am always well. I never even have fever. And you have that sometimes."
He continued to look at her searchingly.
"You have something."
He said it firmly, almost as if he were supplying her with information which she needed and had lacked.
Hermione made a sound that was like a little laugh, behind which there was no mirth.
"I don't know what it is."
Then, after a pause, she added that phrase which is so often upon Sicilian lips:
"Ma forse e il destino."
Gaspare moved his head once as if in acquiescence.
"When we are young, Signora," he said, "we do what we want, but we have to want it. And we think we are very free. And when we are old we don't feel to want anything, but we have to do things just the same. Signora, we are not free. It is all destiny."
And again he moved his head solemnly, making his liquid brown eyes look more enormous than usual.
"It is all destiny," Hermione repeated, almost dreamily.
Just then she felt that it was so -- that each human being, and she most of all, was in the grasp of an inflexible, of an almost fierce guide, who chose the paths, and turned the feet of each traveller, reluctant or not, into the path the will of the guide had selected. And now, still dreamily, she wondered whether she would ever try to rebel if the path selected for her were one that she hated or feared, one that led into any horror of darkness, or any horror of too great light. For light, too, can be terrible, a sudden great light that shines pitilessly upon one's own soul. She was of those who possess force and impulse, and she knew it. She knew, too, that these are often rebellious. But to-day it seemed to her that she might believe so much in destiny, be so entirely certain of the inflexible purpose and power of the guide, that her intellect might forbid her to rebel, because of rebellion's fore-ordained inutility. Nevertheless, she supposed that if it was her instinct to rebel, she would do so at the psychological moment, even against the dictates of her intellect.
Gaspare remained beside her quietly. He often stood near her after they had been talking together, and calmly shared the silence with her. She liked that. It gave her an impression of his perfect confidence in her, his perfect ease in her company.
"Don't you ever think that you can put a knife into destiny, Gaspare," she asked him presently, using an image he would be likely to understand, "as you might put a knife into a man who tried to force you to do something you didn't wish to do?"
"Signora, what would be the use? The knife is no good against Destiny, nor the revolver either. And I have the permesso to carry one," he added, with a smile, as if he realized that he was being whimsical.
"Well, then, we must just hope that Destiny will be very kind to us, be a friend to us, a true comrade. I shall hope that and so must you."
He realized that the conversation was finished, and went quietly away.
Hermione kept the letter of Artois. When he came back to the Bay she wanted to show it to him, to ask him to read for her the meaning between its lines. She put it away in her writing-table drawer, and then resolved to forget the peculiar and disagreeable effect it had made upon her.
A fortnight passed away before Artois' return. June came in upon the Bay, bringing with it a more vivid life in the environs of Naples. As the heat of the sun increased the vitality of the human motes that danced in its beams seemed to increase also, to become more blatant, more persistent. The wild oleander was in flower. The thorny cactus put forth upon the rim of its grotesque leaves pale yellow blossoms to rival the red geraniums that throng about it insolently in Italy. In the streets of the city ragged boys ran by crying, "Fragole!" and holding aloft the shallow baskets in which the rosy fruit made splashes of happy color. The carters wore bright carnations above their dusty ears. The children exposed their bare limbs to the sun, and were proud when they were given morsels of ice wrapped up in vine leaves to suck in the intervals of their endless dances and their play. On the hill of Posilipo the Venetian blinds of the houses, in the gardens clouded by the rounded dusk of the great stone pines, were thrust back, the windows were thrown open, the glad sun-rays fell upon the cool paved floors, over which few feet had trodden since the last summer died. Loud was the call of "Aqua!" along the roads where there were buildings, and all the lemons of Italy seemed to be set forth in bowers to please the eyes with their sharp, yet soothing color, and tempt the lips with their poignant juice. Already in the Galleria, an "avviso" was prominently displayed, stating that Ferdinando Bucci, the famous maker of Sicilian ice-creams, had arrived from Palermo for the season. In the Piazza del Plebiscito, hundreds of chairs were ranged before the bandstand, and before the kiosk where the women sing on the nights of summer near the Caffe Turco. The "Margherita" was shutting up. The "Eldorado" was opening. And all along the sea, from the vegetable gardens protected by brushwood hedges on the outskirts of the city towards Portici, to the balconies of the "Mascotte," under the hill of Posilipo, the wooden bathing establishments were creeping out into the shallow waters, and displaying proudly to the passers-by above their names: "Stabilimento Elena," "Stabilimento Donn' Anna," "Stabilimento delle Sirene," "Il piccolo Paradiso."
And all along the sea by night there was music.
From the Piazza before the Palace the band of the Caffe Gambrinus sent forth its lusty valses. The posturing women of the wooden kiosk caught up the chain of sound, and flung it on with their shrill voices down the hill towards Santa Lucia, where, by the waterside and the crowding white yachts, the itinerant musicians took it into the keeping of their guitars, their mandolins, their squeaky fiddles, and their hot and tremulous voices. The "Valse Bleu," "Santa Lucia," "Addio, mia bella Napoli," "La Frangese," "Sole Mio," "Marechiaro," "Carolina," "La Ciociara"; with the chain of lights the chain of songs was woven round the bay; from the Eldorado, past the Hotel de Vesuve, the Hotel Royal, the Victoria, to the tree-shaded alleys of the Villa Nazionale, to the Mergellina, where the naked urchins of the fisherfolk took their evening bath among the resting boats, to the "Scoglio di Frisio," and upwards to the Ristorante della Stella, and downwards again to the Ristorante del Mare, and so away to the point, to the Antico Giuseppone.
Long and brilliant was the chain of lamps, and long and ardent was the chain of melodies melting one into the other, and stretching to the wide darkness of the night and to the great stillness of the sea. The night was alive with music, with the voices that beat like hearts over-charged with sentimental longings.
But at the point where stood the Antico Giuseppone the lights and the songs died out. And beyond there was the mystery, the stillness of the sea.
And there, beyond the chain of lights, the chain of melodies, the islet lay in its delicate isolation; nevertheless, it, too, was surely not unaware of the coming of summer. For even here, Nature ran up her flag to honor her new festival. High up above the rock on the mainland opposite there was a golden glory of ginestra, the broom plant, an expanse of gold so brilliant, so daring in these bare surroundings, that Vere said, when she saw it:
"There is something cruel even in beauty, Madre. Do you like successful audacity?"
"I think I used to when I was your age," said Hermione. "Anything audacious was attractive to me then. But now I sometimes see through it too easily, and want something quieter and a little more mysterious."
"The difference between the Marchesino and Monsieur Emile?" said the girl, with a little laugh.
Hermione laughed, too.
"Do you think Monsieur Emile mysterious?" she asked.
"Yes -- certainly. Don't you?"
"I have known him so intimately for so many years."
"Well, but that does not change him. Does it?"
"No. But it may make him appear very differently to me from the way in which he shows himself to others."
"I think if I knew Monsieur Emile for centuries I should always wonder about him."
"What is it in Emile that makes you wonder?" asked her mother, with a real curiosity.
"The same thing that makes me wonder when I look at a sleepy lion."
"You call Emile sleepy!" said Hermione.
"Oh, not his intellect, Madre! Of course that is horribly, horribly wide awake."
And Vere ran off to her room, or the garden, or the Saint's Pool -- who knew where? -- leaving her mother to say to herself, as she had already said to herself in these last days of the growing summer, "When I said that to Emile, what a fool I was!" She was thinking of her statement that there was nothing in her child that was hidden from her. As if in answer to that statement, Vere was unconsciously showing to her day by day the folly of it. Emile had said nothing. Hermione remembered that, and realized that his silence had been caused by his disagreement. But why had he not told her she was mistaken? Perhaps because she had just been laying bare to him the pain that was in her heart. Her call had been for sympathy, not merely for truth. She wondered whether she was a coward. Since they had returned from Capri the season and Vere had surely changed. Then, and always afterwards, Hermione thought of those three days in Capri as a definite barrier, a dividing line between two periods. Already, while in Capri, she had begun to watch her child in a new way. But that was, perhaps, because of an uneasiness, partly nervous, within herself. In Capri she might have been imagining. Now she was not imagining, she was realizing.
Over the sea came to the islet the intensity of summer. Their world was changing. And in this changing world Vere was beginning to show forth more clearly than before her movement onward -- whither?
As yet the girl herself was unconscious of her mother's new watchfulness. She was happy in the coming of summer, and in her happiness was quite at ease, like a kitten that stretches itself luxuriously in the sun. To Vere the world never seemed quite awake till the summer came. Only in the hot sunshine did there glow the truthfulness and the fulness of life. She shared it with the ginestra. She saw and felt a certain cruelty in the gold, but she did not fear or condemn it, or wish it away. For she was very young, and though she spoke of cruelty she did not really understand it. In it there was force, and force already appealed to the girl as few things did. As, long ago, her father had gloried in the coming of summer to the South, she gloried in it now. She looked across the Pool of the Saint to the flood of yellow that was like sunlight given a body upon the cliff opposite, and her soul revelled within her, and her heart rose up and danced, alone, and yet as if in a glad company of dancers, all of whom were friends. Her brain, too, sprang to the alert. The sun increased the feeling of intelligence within her.
And then she thought of her room, of the hours she passed shut in there, and she was torn by opposing impulses.
But she told no one of them. Vere could keep her secrets although she was a girl.
How the sea welcomed the summer! To many this home on the island would have seemed an arid, inhospitable place, desolate and lost amid a cruel world of cliffs and waters. It was not so to Vere. For she entered into the life of the sea. She knew all its phases, as one may know all the moods of a person loved. She knew when she would find it intensely calm, at early morning and when the evening approached. At a certain hour, with a curious regularity, the breeze came, generally from Ischia, and turned it to vivacity. A temper that was almost frivolous then possessed it, and it broke into gayeties like a child's. The waves were small, but they were impertinently lively. They made a turmoil such as urchins make at play. Heedless of reverence, but not consciously impious, they flung themselves at the feet of San Francesco, casting up a tiny tribute of spray into the sun.
Then Vere thought that the Saint looked down with pleasure at them, as a good old man looks at a crowd of laughing children who have run against him in the street, remembering his own youth. For even the Saints were young! And, after that, surely the waves were a little less boisterous. She thought she noted a greater calm. But perhaps it was only that the breeze was dying down as the afternoon wore on.
She often sat and wondered which she loved best -- the calm that lay upon the sea at dawn, or the calm that was the prelude to the night. Silvery were these dawns of the summer days. Here and there the waters gleamed like the scales of some lovely fish. Mysterious lights, like those in the breast of the opal, shone in the breast of the sea, stirred, surely travelled as if endowed with life, then sank away to the far-off kingdoms that man may never look on. Those dawns drew away the girl's soul as if she were led by angels, or, like Peter, walked upon the deep at some divine command. She felt that though her body was on the islet the vital part of her, the real "I," was free to roam across the great expanse that lay flat and still and delicately mysterious to the limits of eternity.
She had strange encounters there, the soul of her, as she went towards the East.
The evening calm was different. There was, Vere thought, less of heaven about it, but perhaps more of the wonder of this world. And this made her feel as if she had been nearer to heaven at her birth than she would be at her death. She knew nothing of the defilements of life. Her purity of mind was very perfect; but, taking a parable from Nature, she applied it imaginatively to Man, and she saw him covered with dust because of his journey through the world. Poor man!
And then she pitied herself too. But that passed. For if the sea at evening held most of the wonder of this world, it was worth the holding. Barely would she substitute the heavenly mysteries for it. The fishermen's boats were dreams upon a dream. Each sail was akin to a miracle. A voice that called across the water from a distance brought tears to Vere's eyes when the magic was at its fullest. For it seemed to mean all things that were tender, all things that were wistful, all things that trembled with hope -- that trembled with love.
With summer Vere could give herself up to the sea, and not only imaginatively but by a bodily act.
Every day, and sometimes twice a day, she put on her bathing-dress in the Casa del Mare, threw a thin cloak over her, and ran down to the edge of the sea, where Gaspare was waiting with the boat. Hermione did not bathe. It did not suit her now. And Gaspare was Vere's invariable companion. He had superintended her bathing when she was little. He had taught her to swim. And with no one else would he ever trust his Padroncina when she gave herself to the sea. Sometimes he would row her out to a reef of rocks in the open water not too many yards from the island, and she would dive from them. Sometimes, if it was very hot, he would take her to the Grotto of Virgil. Sometimes they went far out to sea, and then, like her father in the Ionian Sea before the Casa delle Sirene, Vere would swim away and imagine that this was her mode of travel, that she was journeying alone to some distant land, or that she had been taken by the sea forever.
But very soon she would be sure to hear the soft splash of oars following her, and, looking back, would see the large, attentive eyes of the faithful Gaspare cautiously watching her dark head. Then she would lift up one hand, and call to him to go, and say she did not want him, that she wished to be alone, smiling and yet imperious. He only followed quietly and inflexibly. She would dive. She would swim under water. She would swim her fastest, as if really anxious to escape him. It was a game between them now. But always he was there, intent upon her safety.
Vere did not know the memories within Gaspare that made him such a guardian to the child of the Padrone he had loved; but she loved him secretly for his watchfulness, even though now and then she longed to be quite alone with the sea. And this she never was when bathing, for Hermione had exacted a promise from her not to go to bathe without Gaspare. In former days Vere had once or twice begun to protest against this prohibition, but something in her mother's eyes had stopped her. And she had remembered:
"Father was drowned in the sea."
Then, understanding something of what was in her mother's heart, she threw eager arms about her, and anxiously promised to be good.
One afternoon of the summer, towards the middle of June, she prolonged her bathe in the Grotto of Virgil until Gaspare used his authority, and insisted on her coming out of the water.
"One minute more, Gaspare! Only another minute!"
She dived. She came up.
"Ma veramente Signorina!"
She dived again.
Gaspare waited. He was standing up in the boat with the oars in his hands, ready to make a dash at his Padroncina directly she reappeared, but she was wily, and came up behind the boat with a shrill cry that startled him. He looked round reproachfully over his shoulder.
"Signorina," he said, turning the boat round, "you are like a wicked baby to-day."
"What is it, Gaspare?" she asked, this time letting him come towards her.
"I say that you are like a wicked baby. And only the other day I was saying to the Signora -- "
"What were you saying?"
She swam to the boat and got in.
"What?" she repeated, sitting down on the gunwale, while he began to row towards the islet.
"I was saying that you are nearly a woman now."
Vere seemed extraordinarily thin and young as she sat there in her dripping bathing-dress, with her small, bare feet distilling drops into the bottom of the boat, and her two hands, looking drowned, holding lightly to the wood on each side of her. Even Gaspare, as he spoke, was struck by this, and by the intensely youthful expression in the eyes that now regarded him curiously.
Vere asked the question quite seriously.
She looked down, as if considering herself. Her wet face had become thoughtful, and for a moment she said nothing.
"And what did mother say?" she asked, looking up again. "But I know. I am sure she laughed at you."
Gaspare looked rather offended. His expressive face, which always showed what he was feeling, became almost stern, and he began to row faster than before.
"Why should the Signora laugh? Am I an imbecile, Signorina?"
She hastened to correct the impression she had made.
"Why, Gaspare, you are our Providence!"
"Va bene, but -- "
"I only meant that I am sure Madre wouldn't agree with you. She thinks me quite a child. I know that."
She spoke with conviction, nodding her head.
"Perhaps the Signora does not see."
"Gaspare, I believe you are horribly sharp," she said. "I often think you notice everything. You are birbante, I am half afraid of you."
Gaspare smiled, too. He had quite recovered his good humor. It pleased him mightily to fancy he had seen what the Padrona had not seen.
"I am a man, Signorina," he observed, quietly. "And I do not speak till I know. Why should I? And I was at your baptism. When we came back to the house I put five lire on the bed to bring you luck, although you were not a Catholic. But it is just the same. Your Saint will take care of you."
"Well, but if I am almost a woman -- what then, Gaspare?"
"Mustn't I play about any more? Mustn't I do just what I feel inclined to, as I did in the grotto just now?"
"Three is no harm in that, Signorina. I was only joking then. But -- "
He hesitated, looking at her firmly with his unfaltering gaze.
"But what? I believe you want to scold me about something. I am sure you do."
"No, Signorina, never! But women cannot talk to everybody, as children can. Nobody thinks anything of what children say. People only laugh and say 'Ecco, it's a baby talking.' But when we are older it is all different. People pay attention to us. We are of more importance then."
He did not mention Ruffo. He was too delicate to do that, for instinctively he understood how childish his Padroncina still was. And, at that moment, Vere did not think of Ruffo. She wondered a little what Gaspare was thinking. That there was some special thought behind his words, prompting them, she knew. But she did not ask him what it was, for already they were at the islet, and she must run in, and put on her clothes. Gaspare put her cloak carefully over her shoulders, and she hurried lightly up the steps and into her room. Her mother was not in the house. She had gone to Naples that day to see some poor people in whom she was interested. So Vere was alone. She took off her bathing-dress, and began to put on her things rather slowly. Her whole body was deliciously lulled by its long contact with the sea. She felt gloriously calm and gloriously healthy just then, but her mind was working vigorously though quietly.
A woman! The word sounded a little solemn and heavy, and, somehow, dreadfully respectable. And she thought of her recent behavior in the Grotto, and laughed aloud. She was so very slim, too. The word woman suggested to her some one more bulky than she was. But all that was absurd, of course. She was thinking very frivolously to-day.
She put on her dress and fastened it. At the age of sixteen she had put up her hair, but now it was still wet, and she had left it streaming over her shoulders. In a moment she was going out onto the cliff to let the sun dry it thoroughly. The sun was so much better than any towel. With her hair down she really looked like a child, whatever Gaspare thought. She said that to herself, standing for a moment before the glass. Vere was almost as divinely free from self- consciousness as her father had been. But the conversation in the boat had made her think of herself very seriously, and now she considered herself, not without keen interest.
"I am certainly not a wicked baby," she said to herself. "But I don't think I look at all like a woman."
Her dark eyes met the eyes in the glass and smiled.
"And yet I shall be seventeen quite soon. What can have made Gaspare talk like that to Madre? I wonder what he said exactly. And then that about 'women cannot talk to everybody as children can.' Now what -- ?"
Ruffo came into her mind.
"Ah!" she said, aloud.
The figure in the glass made a little gesture. It threw up its hand.
"That's it! That's it! Gaspare thinks -- "
Gaspare's voice was speaking outside the door. And now there came a firm knock. Vere turned round, rather startled. She had been very much absorbed by her colloquy.
"What is it, Gaspare?"
"Signorina, there's a boat coming in from Naples with Don Emilio in it."
"Don Emilio! He's come back! Oh!" There was a pause. Then she cried out, "Capital! Capital!"
She ran to the door and opened it.
"Just think of Don Emilio's being back already, Gaspare. But Madre! She will be sorry."
"Why? What's the matter?"
"Are you coming out like that?"
"What? -- Oh, you mean my hair?"
"Gaspare, you ought to have been a lady's maid! Go and bring in Don Emilio to Madre's room. And -- wait -- you're not to tell him Madre is away. Now mind!"
"Va bene, Signorina."
He went away.
"Shall I put up my hair?"
Vere went again to the glass, and stood considering herself.
"For Monsieur Emile! No, it's too absurd! Gaspare really is . . . I sha'n't!"
And she ran out just as she was to meet Artois.
A Spirit In Prison
by Robert Hichens
"Buona sera, Signorina."
"Buona sera, Ruffo."
She did not feign surprise when he came up to her.
"So you fish at night?" she said. "I thought the divers for frutti di mare did not do that."
"Signorina, I have been taken into the boat of Mandano Giuseppe."
He spoke rather proudly, and evidently thought she would know of whom he was telling her. "I fish for sarde now."
"Is that better for you?"
"Si, Signorina, of course."
"I am glad of that."
He stood beside her quite at his ease. To-night he had on a cap, but it was pushed well off his brow, and showed plenty of his thick, dark hair.
"When did you see me?" she asked.
"Almost directly, Signorina."
"And what made you look up?"
"Why did you look up directly?"
"Non lo so, Signorina."
"I think it was because I made you feel that I was there," she said. "I think you obey me without knowing it. You did the same the other day."
"Have you smoked all the cigarettes?"
She saw him smile, showing his teeth.
"Si, Signorina, long ago. I smoked them the same day."
"You shouldn't. It is bad for a boy, and you are younger than I am, you know."
The smile grew wider.
"What are you laughing at?"
"I don't know, Signorina."
"Do you think it is funny to be younger than I am?"
"I suppose you feel quite as if you were a man?"
"If I could not work as well as a man Giuseppe would not have taken me into his boat. But of course with a lady it is all different. A lady does not have to work. Poor women get old very soon, Signorina."
"Your mother, is she old?"
"My mamma! I don't know. Yes, I suppose she is rather old."
He seemed to be considering.
"Si, Signorina, my mamma is rather old. But then she has had a lot of trouble, my poor mamma!"
"I am sorry. Is she like you?"
"I don't know, Signorina; I have never thought about it. What does it matter?"
"It may not matter, but such things are interesting sometimes."
"Are they, Signorina?"
Then, evidently with a polite desire to please her and carry on the conversation in the direction indicated by her, he added:
"And are you like your Signora Madre, Signorina?"
Vere felt inclined to smile, but she answered, quite seriously.
"I don't believe I am. My mother is very tall, much taller than I am, and not so dark. My eyes are much darker than hers and quite different."
"I think you have the eyes of a Sicilian, Signorina."
Again Vere was conscious of a simple effort on the part of the boy to be gallant. And he had a good memory too. He had not forgotten her three-days'-old claim to Sicilian blood. The night mitigated the blunders of his temperament, it seemed. Vere could not help being pleased. There was something in her that ever turned towards the Sicily she had never seen. And this boy had not seen Sicily either.
"Isn't it odd that you and I have never seen Sicily?" she said, "and that both our mothers have? And mine is all English, you know."
"My mamma would be very glad to kiss the hand of your Signora Mother," replied Ruffo. "I told her about the kind ladies who gave me cigarettes, and that the Signorina had never seen her father. When she heard that the Signorina was born after her father was dead, and that her father had died in Sicily, she said -- my poor mamma! -- 'If ever I see the Signorina's mother, I shall kiss her hand. She was a widow before she was a mother; may the Madonna comfort her.' My mamma spoke just like that, Signorina. And then she cried for a long time. But when Patrigno came in she stopped crying at once."
"Did she? Why was that?"
"I don't know, Signorina."
Vere was silent for a moment. Then she said:
"Is your Patrigno kind to you, Ruffo?"
The boy looked at her, then swiftly looked away.
"Kind enough, Signorina," he answered.
Then they both kept silence. They were standing side by side thus, looking down rather vaguely at the Saint's pool, when another boat floated gently into it, going over to the far side, where already lay the two boats at the feet of San Francesco. Vere saw it with indifference. She was accustomed to the advent of the fishermen at this hour. Ruffo stared at it for a moment with a critical inquiring gaze. The boat drew up near the land and stopped. There was a faint murmur of voices, then silence again.
The Marchesino had told the two sailors that they could have an hour or two of sleep before beginning to fish.
The men lay down, shut their eyes, and seemed to sleep at once. But Artois and the Marchesino, lounging on a pile of rugs deftly arranged in the bottom of the stern of the boat, smoked their cigars in a silence laid upon them by the night silence of the Pool. Neither of them had as yet caught sight of the figures of Vere and Ruffo, which were becoming more clearly relieved as the moon rose and brought a larger world within its radiance, of its light. Artois was satisfied that the members of the Casa del Mare were in bed. As they approached the house he had seen no light from its windows. The silence about the islet was profound, and gave him the impression of being in the very heart of the night. And this impression lasted, and so tricked his mind that he forgot that the hour was not really late. He lay back, lazily smoking his cigar, and drinking in the stark beauty round about him, a beauty delicately and mysteriously fashioned by the night, which, as by a miracle, had laid hold of bareness and barren ugliness, and turned them to its exquisite purposes, shrinking from no material in its certainty of its own power to transform.
The Marchesino, too, lay back, with his great, gray eyes staring about him. While the feelings of his friend had moved towards satisfaction, his had undergone a less pleasant change. His plan seemed to be going awry, and he began to think of himself as of a fool. What had he anticipated? What had he expected of this expedition? He had been, as usual, politely waiting on destiny. He had come to the islet in the hope that Destiny would meet him there and treat him with every kindness and hospitality, forestalling his desires. But lo! He was abandoned in a boat among a lot of taciturn men, while the object of all his thoughts and pains, his plots and hopes, was, doubtless, hermetically sealed in the home on the cliff above him.
Several Neapolitan words, familiar in street circles, ran through his mind, but did not issue from his lips, and his face remained perfectly calm -- almost seraphic in expression.
Out of the corners of his eyes he stole a glance at "caro Emilio." He wished his friend would follow the example of the men and go to sleep. He wanted to feel himself alone in wakefulness and unobserved. For he was not resigned to an empty fate. The voices of the laughing women at the Antico Giuseppone still rang through his memory. He was adventurous by nature. What he would do if Emilio would only slumber he did not know. But it was certain he would do something. The islet, dark and distinct in outline beneath the moon, summoned him. Was he a Neapolitan and not beneath her window? It was absurd. And he was not at all accustomed to control himself or to fight his own impulses. For the moment "caro Emilio" became "maledetto Emilio" in his mind. Sleepless as Providence, Emilio reclined there. A slightly distracted look came into the Marchesino's eyes as he glanced away from his friend and stared once more at the islet, which he longed so ardently to invade.
This time he saw the figures of Vere and Ruffo above him in the moonlight, which now sharply relieved them. He gazed. And as he gazed they moved away from the bridge, going towards the seat where Vere had been before she had seen Ruffo.
Vere had on a white dress.
The heart of the Marchesino leaped. He was sure it was the girl of the white boat. Then the inhabitants of the house on the islet were not asleep, were not even in bed. They -- she at least, and that was all he cared for -- were out enjoying the moon and the sea. How favorable was the night! But who was with her?
The Marchesino had very keen eyes. And now he used them with almost fierce intensity. But Ruffo was on the far side of Vere. It was not possible to discern more than that he was male, and taller than the girl in the white dress.
Jealousy leaped up in the Marchesino, that quick and almost frivolous jealousy which, in the Southerner, can so easily deepen into the deadliness that leads to crime. Not for a moment did he doubt that the man with Vere was a lover. This was a blow which, somehow, he had not expected. The girl in the white boat had looked enchantingly young. When he had played the seal for her she had laughed like a child. He -- even he, who believed in no one's simplicity, made sceptical by his own naughtiness so early developed towards a fine maturity! -- had not expected anything like this. And these English, who pride themselves upon their propriety, their stiffness, their cold respectability! These English misses!
It was out of the Marchesino's mouth before he was aware of it, an exclamation of cynical disgust.
"What's the matter, amico mio?" said Artois, in a low voice.
"Niente!" said the Marchesino, recollecting himself. "Are not you going to sleep?"
"Yes," said Artois, throwing away his cigar end. "I am. And you?"
The Marchesino was surprised by his friend's reply. He did not understand the desire of Artois not to have his sense of the romance of their situation broken in upon by conversation just then. The romance of women was not with Artois, but the romance of Nature was. He wanted to keep it. And now he settled himself a little lower in the boat, under the shadow of its side, and seemed to be giving himself to sleep.
The Marchesino thanked the Madonna, and made his little pretence of slumber too, but he kept his head above the gunwale, leaning it on his arm with a supporting cushion beneath; and though he really did shut both his eyes for a short time, to deceive caro Emilio, he very soon opened them again, and gazed towards the islet. He could not see the two figures now. Rage seized him. First the two men at the Antico Giuseppone, and now this man on the islet! Every one was companioned. Every one was enjoying the night as it was meant to be enjoyed. He -- he alone was the sport of "il maledetto destino." He longed to commit some act of violence. Then he glanced cautiously round without moving.
The two sailors were sleeping. He could hear their regular and rather loud breathing. Artois lay quite still. The Marchesino turned his body very carefully so that he might see the face of his friend. As he did so Artois, who had been looking straight up at the stars, shut his eyes, and simulated sleep. His suspicion of Doro, that this expedition had been undertaken with some hidden motive, was suddenly renewed by this sly and furtive movement, which certainly suggested purpose and the desire to conceal it.
So caro Emilio slept very peacefully, and breathed with the calm regularity of a sucking child. But in this sleep of a child he was presently aware that the boat was moving -- in fact was being very adroitly moved. Though his eyes were shut he felt the moonlight leave his face presently, and knew they were taken by the shadow of the islet. Then the boat stopped.
A moment later Artois was aware that the boat contained three people instead of four.
The Marchesino had left it to take a little stroll on shore.
Artois lay still. He knew how light is the slumber of seamen in a boat with the wide airs about them, and felt sure that the sailors must have been waked by the tour of the boat across the Pool. Yet they had not moved, and they continued apparently to sleep. He guessed that a glance from their "Padrone" had advised them not to wake. And this was the truth.
At the first movement of the boat both the men had looked up and had received their message from the Marchesino's expressive eyes. They realized at once that he had some design which he wished to keep from the knowledge of his friend, the forestiere. Of course it must be connected with a woman. They were not particularly curious. They had always lived in Naples, and knew their aristocracy. So they merely returned the Marchesino's glance with one of comprehension and composed themselves once more to repose.
The Marchesino did not come back, and presently Artois lifted himself up a little, and looked out.
The boat was right under the lee of the islet, almost touching the shore, but the sea was so perfectly still that it scarcely moved, and was not in any danger of striking against the rock. The sailors had seen that, too, before they slept again.
Artois sat quite up. He wondered a good deal what his friend was doing. One thing was certain -- he was trespassing. The islet belonged to Hermione, and no one had any right to be upon it without her invitation. Artois had that right, and was now considering whether or not he should use it, follow the Marchesino and tell him -- what he had not told him -- that the owner of the islet was the English friend of whom he had spoken.
For Artois the romance of the night in which he had been revelling was now thoroughly disturbed. He looked again towards the two sailors, suspecting their sleep. Then he got up quietly, and stepped out of the boat onto the shore. His doing so gave a slight impetus to the boat, which floated out a little way into the Pool. But the men in it seemed to sleep on.
Artois stood still for a moment at the edge of the sea. His great limbs were cramped, and he stretched them. Then he went slowly towards the steps. He reached the plateau before the Casa del Mare. The Marchesino was not there. He looked up at the house. As he did so the front door opened and Hermione came out, wrapped in a white lace shawl.
"Emile?" she said, stopping with her hand on the door. "Why -- how extraordinary!"
She came to him.
"Have you come to pay us a nocturnal visit, or -- there's nothing the matter?"
"No," he said.
For perhaps the first time in his life he felt embarrassed with Hermione. He took her hand.
"I don't believe you meant me to know you were here," she said, guided by the extraordinary intuition of woman.
"To tell the truth," he answered, "I did not expect to see you. I thought you were all in bed."
"Oh no. I have been on the terrace and in the garden. Vere is out somewhere. I was just going to look for her."
There was a distinct question in her prominent eyes as she fixed them on him.
"No, I haven't seen Vere," he said, answering it.
"Are you alone?" she asked, abruptly.
"No. You remember my mentioning my friend, the Marchesino Panacci? Well, he is with me. We were going to fish. The fishermen suggested our sleeping in the Saint's Pool for an hour or two first. I found Doro gone and came to look for him."
There was still a faint embarrassment in his manner.
"I believe you have seen him," he added. "He was bathing the other day when you were passing in the boat, -- I think it was you. Did you see a young man who did some tricks in the water?"
"Oh yes, an impudent young creature. He pretended to be a porpoise and a seal. He made us laugh. Vere was delighted with him. Is that your friend? Where can he be?"
"Where is Vere?" said Artois.
Their eyes met, and suddenly his embarrassment passed away.
"You don't mean that -- ?"
"My friend, you know what these Neapolitans are. Doro came back from his bathe raving about Vere. I did not tell him I knew her. I think -- I am sure he has guessed it, and much more. Let us go and find him. It seems you are to know him. E il destino."
"You don't want me to know him?" she said, as they turned away from the house.
"I don't know that there is any real reason why you should not. But my instinct was against the acquaintance. Where can Vere be? Does she often come out alone at night?"
"Very often. Ah! There she is, beyond the bridge, and -- is that the Marchesino Panacci with her? Why -- no, it's -- "
"It is Ruffo," Artois said.
Vere and the boy were standing near the edge of the cliff and talking earnestly together, but as Hermione and Artois came towards them they turned round as if moved by a mutual impulse. Ruffo took off his cap and Vere cried out:
She came up to him quickly. He noticed that her face looked extraordinarily alive, that her dark eyes were fiery with expression.
"Good-evening, Vere," he said.
He took her small hand.
"Buona sera, Ruffo," he added.
He looked from one to the other, and saw the perfect simplicity of both.
"Tell me, Vere," he said. "Have you seen any one on the islet to-night?"
"Yes, just now. Why? What made you think so?"
"A man -- a gentleman came. I told him he was trespassing."
Artois smiled. Ruffo stood by, his cap in his hand, looking attentively at Vere, who had spoken in French. She glanced at him, and suddenly broke into Italian.
"He was that absurd boy we saw in the sea, Madre, the other day, who pretended to be a seal, and made me laugh. He reminded me of it, and asked me if I didn't recognize him."
"What did you say?"
"I said 'No' and 'Good-night.' "
"And did he go?" asked Artois.
"No, he would not go. I don't know what he wanted. He looked quite odd, as if he were feeling angry inside, and didn't wish to show it. And he began trying to talk. But as I didn't really know him -- after all, laughing at a man because he pretends to be a seal is scarcely knowing him, is it, Monsieur Emile?"
"No," he said, smiling at her smile.
"I said 'good-night' again in such a way that he had to go."
"And so he went!" said Artois.
"Yes. Do you know him, Monsieur Emile?"
"Yes. He came with me to-night."
A little look of penitence came into the girl's face.
"Oh, I am sorry."
"Why should you be?"
"Well, he began saying something about knowing friends of mine, or -- I didn't really listen very much, because Ruffo was telling me all about the sea -- and I thought it was all nonsense. He was absurdly complimentary first, you see! and so, when he began about friends, I only said 'good-night' again. And -- and I'm really afraid I turned my back upon him. And now he's a friend of yours. Monsieur Emile! I am sorry!"
Already the Marchesino had had that lesson of which Artois had thought in Naples. Artois laughed aloud.
"It doesn't matter, Vere. My friend is not too sensitive."
"Buona sera, Signorina! Buona sera, Signora! Buon riposo!"
It was Ruffo preparing to go, feeling that he scarcely belonged to this company, although he looked in no way shy, and had been smiling broadly at Vere's narrative of the discomfiture of the Marchesino.
"Ruffo," said Hermione, "you must wait a moment."
"I am going to give you a few more cigarettes."
Vere sent a silent but brilliant "Thank you" to her mother. They all walked towards the house.
Vere and her mother were in front, Artois and Ruffo behind. Artois looked very closely and even curiously at the boy.
"Have I ever seen you before?" he asked, as they came to the bridge.
"Not the other morning. But have we ever met in Naples?"
"I have seen you pass by sometimes at the Mergellina, Signore."
"That must be it then!" Artois thought, "I have seen you there without consciously noticing you."
"You live there?" he said.
"Si, Signore; I live with my mamma and my Patrigno."
"Your Patrigno," Artois said, merely to continue the conversation. "Then your father is dead?"
"Si, Signore, my Babbo is dead."
They were on the plateau now, before the house.
"If you will wait a moment, Ruffo, I will fetch the cigarettes," said Hermione.
"Let me go, Madre," said Vere, eagerly.
"Very well, dear."
The girl ran into the house. As she disappeared they heard a quick step, and the Marchesino came hurrying up from the sea. He took off his hat when he saw Hermione, and stopped.
"I was looking for you, Emilio."
He kept his hat in his hand. Evidently he had recovered completely from his lesson. He looked gay and handsome. Artois realized how very completely the young rascal's desires were being fulfilled. But of course the introduction must be made. He made it quietly.
"Marchese Isidoro Panacci -- Mrs. Delarey."
The Marchesino bent and kissed Hermione's hand. As he did so Vere came out of the house, her hands full of Khali Targa cigarettes, her face eager at the thought of giving pleasure to Ruffo.
"This is my daughter, Vere," Hermione said. "Vere, this is the Marchese Isidoro Panacci, a friend of Monsieur Emile's."
The Marchesino went to kiss Vere's hand, but she said:
"I'm very sorry -- look!"
She showed him that they were full of cigarettes, and so escaped from the little ceremony. For those watching it was impossible to know whether she wished to avoid the formal salutation of the young man's lips or not.
"Here, Ruffo!" she said. She went up to the boy. "Put your hands together."
Ruffo gladly obeyed. He curved his brown hands into a cup, and Vere filled this cup with the big cigarettes, while Hermione, Artois, and the Marchesino looked on; each one of them with a fixed attention which -- surely -- the action scarcely merited. But there was something about those two, Vere and the boy, which held the eyes and the mind.
"Good-night, Ruffo. You must carry them to the boat. They'll be crushed if you put them into your trousers-pocket."
He waited a moment. He wanted to salute them, but did not know how to. That was evident. His expressive eyes, his whole face told it to them.
Artois suddenly set his lips together in his beard. For an instant it seemed to him that the years had rolled back, that he was in London, in Caminiti's restaurant, that he saw Maurice Delarey, with the reverential expression on his face that had been so pleasing. Yes, the boy Ruffo looked like him in that moment, as he stood there, wishing to do his devoir, to be polite, but not knowing how to.
"Never mind, Ruffo," It was Vere's voice. "We understand! Or -- shall I?" A laughing look came into her face. She went up to the boy and, with a delicious, childish charm and delicacy, that quite removed the action from impertinence, she took his cap off. "There!" She put it gently back on his dark hair. "Now you've been polite to us. Buona notte!"
"Buona notte, Signorina."
The boy ran off, half laughing, and carrying carefully the cigarettes in his hands still held together like a cup.
Hermione and Artois were smiling. Artois felt something for Vere just then that he could hardly have explained, master though he was of explanation of the feelings of man. It seemed to him that all the purity, and the beauty, and the whimsical unselfconsciousness, and the touchingness of youth that is divine, appeared in that little, almost comic action of the girl. He loved her for the action, because she was able to perform it just like that. And something in him, suddenly adored youth in a way that seemed new to his heart.
"Well," said Hermione, when Ruffo had disappeared. "Will you come in? I'm afraid all the servants are in bed, but -- "
"No, indeed it is too late," Artois said.
Without being aware of it he spoke with an authority that was almost stern.
"We must be off to our fishing," he added. "Good-night. Good-night, Vere."
The Marchesino bowed, with his hat in his hand. He kissed Hermione's hand again, but he did not try to take Vere's.
"Good-night," Hermione said.
A glance at Artois had told her much that he was thinking.
"Good-night, Monsieur Emile," said Vere. "Good-night, Marchese. Buona pesca!"
She turned and followed her mother into the house.
It was the Marchesino's voice, breathing the words through a sigh: "Che simpatica Signorina!" Then an idea seemed to occur to him, and he looked at his friend reproachfully. "And you knew the girl with the perfect little nose, Emilio -- all the time you knew her!"
"And all the time you knew I knew her!" retorted Artois.
They looked at each other in the eyes and burst out laughing.
"Emilio, you are the devil! I will never forgive you. You do not trust me."
"Caro amico, I do trust you -- always to fall in love with every girl you meet. But" -- and his voice changed -- "the Signorina is a child. Remember that, Doro."
They were going down the steps to the sea. Almost as Artois spoke they reached the bottom, and saw their boat floating in the moonlight nearly in the centre of the Pool. The Marchesino stood still.
"My dear Emilio," he said, staring at Artois with his great round eyes, "you make me wonder whether you know women."
Artois felt amused.
"Really?" he said.
"Really! And yet you write books."
"Writing books does not always prove that one knows much. But explain to me."
They began to stroll on the narrow space at the sea edge. Close by lay the boat to which Ruffo belonged. The boy was already in it, and they saw him strike a match and light one of the cigarettes. Then he lay back at his ease, smoking, and staring up at the moon.
"A girl of sixteen is not a child, and I am sure the Signorina is sixteen. But that is not all. Emilio, you do not know the Signorina."
Artois repressed a smile. The Marchesino was perfectly in earnest.
"And you -- do you know the Signorina?" Artois asked.
"Certainly I know her," returned the Marchesino with gravity.
They reached Ruffo's boat. As they did so, the Marchesino glanced at it with a certain knowing impudence that was peculiarly Neapolitan.
"When I came to the top of the islet the Signorina was with that boy," the Marchesino continued.
"Well?" said Artois.
"Oh, you need not be angry, Emilio caro."
"I am not angry," said Artois.
Nor was he. It is useless to be angry with racial characteristics, racial points of view. He knew that well. The Marchesino stared at him.
"No, I see you are not."
"The Signorina was with that boy. She has talked to him before. He has dived for her. He has sung for her! She has given him cigarettes, taken from her mother's box, with her mother's consent. Everything the Signorina does her mother knows and approves of. You saw the Signora send the Signorina for more cigarettes to give the boy to-night. Ebbene?"
"Ebbene. They are English!"
And he laughed.
He laughed again, seized his mustaches, twisted them, and went on.
"They are English, but for all that the Signorina is a woman. And as to that boy -- "
"Perhaps he is a man."
"Certainly he is. Dio mio, the boy at least is a Neapolitan."
"No, he isn't."
"He is not?"
"He's a Sicilian."
"How do you know?"
"I was here the other day when he was diving for frutti di mare."
"I have seen him at the Mergellina ever since he was a child."
"He says he is a Sicilian."
"Boys like that say anything if they can get something by it. Perhaps he thought you liked the Sicilians better than the Neapolitans. But anyhow -- Sicilian or Neapolitan, it is all one! He is a Southerner, and at fifteen a Southerner is already a man. I was."
"I know it. But you were proving to me that the Signorina is a woman. The fact that she, an English girl, is good friends with the fisher boy does not prove it."
The Marchesino hesitated.
"I had seen the Signorina before I came to meet you at the house."
"Didn't you know it?"
"Yes, I did."
"I knew she told you."
"She told you! she told you! She is birbante. She is a woman, for she pretended as only a woman can pretend."
"What did she pretend?"
"That she was not pleased at my coming, at my finding out where she lived, and seeking her. Why, Emilio, even when I was in the sea, when I was doing the seal, I could read the Signorina's character. She showed me from the boat that she wanted me to come, that she wished to know me. Ah, che simpatica! Che simpatica ragazza!"
The Marchesino looked once more at Ruffo.
"Come here a minute!" he said, in a low voice, not wishing to wake the still sleeping fishermen.
The boy jumped lightly out and came to them. When he stood still the Marchesino said, in his broadest Neapolitan:
"Now then, tell me the truth! I'm a Neapolitan, not a forestiere. You've seen me for years at the Mergellina."
"You're a Napolitano."
"No, Signore. I am a Sicilian."
There was a sound of pride in the boy's voice.
"I am quite sure he speaks the truth," Artois said, in French.
"Why do you come here?" asked the Marchesino.
"Signore, I come to fish."
"No, Signore, for sarde. Buona notte, Signore."
He turned away from them with decision, and went back to his boat.
"He is a Sicilian," said Artois. "I would swear to it."
"Why? Hark at his accent."
"He is a Sicilian!"
"But why are you so sure?"
Artois only said:
"Are you going to fish?"
"Emilio, I cannot fish to-night. My soul is above such work as fishing. It is indeed. Let us go back to Naples."
Artois was secretly glad. He, too, had no mind -- or was it no heart? -- for fishing that night, after the episode of the islet. They hailed the sailors, who were really asleep this time, and were soon far out on the path of the moonlight setting their course towards Naples.
A Spirit In Prison
by Robert Hichens
Vere was outside under the stars. When she had said good-night and had slipped away, it was with the desire to be alone, to see no one, to speak with no one till next morning. But the desires of the young change quickly, and Vere's presently changed.
She came out of the house, and passing over the bridge that connected together the two cliffs of which the islet was composed, reached the limit of the islet. At the edge of the precipice was a seat, and there she sat down. For some time she rested motionless, absorbing the beauty and the silence of the night. She was looking towards Ischia. She wished to look that way, to forget all about Naples, the great city which lay behind her.
Here were the ancient caves darkening with their mystery the silver wonder of the sea. Here the venerable shore stretched towards lands she did not know. They called to the leaping desires of her heart as the city did not call. They carried her away.
Often, from this seat, on dark and moonless nights, she had watched the fishermen's torches flaring below her in the blackness, and had thrilled at the mystery of their occupation, and had imagined them lifting from the sea strange and wonderful treasures, that must change the current of their lives: pearls such as had never before been given to the breasts of women, caskets that had lain for years beneath the waters, bottles in which were stoppered up magicians who, released, came forth in smoke, as in the Eastern story.
Once she had spoken of this last imagination to Gaspare, and had seen his face suddenly change and look excited, vivid, and then sad. She had asked him why he looked like that, and, after a moment of hesitation, he had told her how, long ago, before she was born, his Padrone had read to him such a tale as they lay together upon a mountain side in Sicily. Vere had eagerly questioned him, and he, speaking with vehemence in the heat of his recollection, had brought before her a picture of that scene in his simple life; had shown her how he lay, and how the Padrone lay, he listening, the Padrone, book in hand, reading about the "mago africano." He had even told Vere of their conversation afterwards, and how he had said that he would always be free, that he would never be "stoppered up," like the "mago africano." And when she had wondered at his memory growing still more excited he had told her many other things of which his Padrone and he had talked together, and had made her feel the life of the past on Monte Amato as no cultured person, she believed, could ever have made her feel it. But when she had sought to question him about her father's death he had become silent, and she had seen that it would be impossible to make him obey her and tell her all the details that she longed to know.
To-night Vere could see no fishermen at work. The silver of the sea below her was unbroken by the black forms of gliding boats, the silence was unbroken by calling voices. And to-night she was glad that it was so; for she was in the mood to be quite alone. As she sat there very still she seemed to herself to be drawing nearer to the sea, and drawing the sea to her. Indeed, she was making some such imaginative attempt as her mother was making in the house -- to become, in fancy at least, one with something outside of her, to be fused with the sea, as her mother desired to be fused with her. But Vere's endeavor was not tragic, like her mother's, but was almost tenderly happy. She thought she felt the sea responding to her as she responded to the sea. And she was very glad in that thought.
Presently she began to wonder about the fishermen.
How did they feel about the sea? To her the sea was romantic and personal. Was it romantic and personal to them? They were romantic to her because of their connection with the sea, which had imprinted upon them something of itself, showed forth in them, by means of them, something surely of its own character; but probably, almost certainly, she supposed, they were unconscious of this. They lived by the sea. Perhaps they thought of it as of a vast money-bag, into which they dipped their hands to get enough to live by. Or perhaps they thought of it as an enemy, against which they lived in perpetual war, from which they wrung, as it were at the sword's point, a poor and precarious booty.
As she sat thinking about this Vere began to change in her desire, to wish there were some fishermen out to-night about the islet, and that she could have speech of them. She would like to find out from one of them how they regarded the sea.
She smiled as she imagined a conversation between herself and some strong, brown, wild Neapolitan, she questioning and he replying. How he would misunderstand her! He would probably think her mad. And yet sometimes the men of the sea in their roughness are imaginative. They are superstitious. But a man -- no, she could not question a man. Her mind went to the boy diver, Ruffo. She had often thought about Ruffo during the last three days. She had expected to see him again. He had said nothing about returning to the islet, but she had felt sure he would return, if only in the hope of being given some more cigarettes. Boys in his position, she knew well, do not get a present of Khali Targa cigarettes every day of the week. How happy he had looked when he was smoking them! She remembered exactly the expression of his brown face now, as she sat watching the empty, moonlit sea. It was not greedy. It was voluptuous. She remembered seeing somewhere a picture of some Sultan of the East reclining on a divan and smoking a chibouk. She thought Ruffo had looked rather like the Sultan, serenely secure of all earthly enjoyment. At that moment the Pool of San Francesco had stood to the boy for the Paradise of Mahomet.
But Ruffo had not come again.
Each morning Vere had listened for his voice, had looked down upon the sea for his boat, but all in vain. On the third day she had felt almost angry with him unreasonably. But then she remembered that he was not his own master, not the owner of the boat. Of course, he could not do what he liked. If he could -- well, then he would have come back. She was positive of that.
If he ever did come back, she said to herself now, she would question him about the sea. She would get at his thoughts about the sea, at his feelings. She wondered if they could possibly be at all like hers. It was unlikely, she supposed. They two were so very different. And yet -- !
She smiled to herself again, imagining question and answer with Ruffo. He would not think her mad, even if she puzzled him. They understood each other. Even her mother had said that they seemed to be in sympathy. And that was true. Difference of rank need not, indeed cannot, destroy the magic chain if it exists, cannot prevent its links from being forged. She knew that her mother was in sympathy with Gaspare, and Gaspare with her mother. So there was no reason why she should not be in sympathy with Ruffo.
If he were here to-night she would begin at once to talk to him about the sea. But of course he would never come at night to the islet.
Vere knew that the Neapolitan fishermen usually keep each to his own special branch of the common profession. By this time of night, no doubt, Ruffo was in his home at the Mergellina, sitting in the midst of his family, or was strolling with lively companions of his own age, or, perhaps, was fast asleep in bed.
Vere felt that it would be horrible to go to bed on such a night, to shut herself in from the moon and the sea. The fishermen who slept in the shelter of the Saint's Pool were enviable. They had the stars above them, the waters about them, the gentle winds to caress them as they lay in the very midst of romance.
She wondered whether there were any boats in the Saint's Pool to-night. She had not been to see. A few steps and she could look over. She got up and went back to the bridge, treading softly because she was thinking of repose. There she stopped and looked down. She saw two boats on the far side of the Pool almost at the feet of the Saint. The men in them must be lying down, for Vere could see only the boats, looking black, and filled with a confused blackness -- of sails probably, and sleeping men. The rest of the pool was empty, part of it bright with the radiance of the moon, part of it shading away to the mysterious dimness of still water at night under the lee of cliffs.
For some time the girl stood, watching. Just at that moment her active brain almost ceased to work, stilled by the reverie that is born of certain night visions. Without these motionless boats the Pool of the Saint would have been calm. With them, its stillness seemed almost ineffably profound. The hint of life bound in the cores of sleep, prisoner to rest, deepened Nature's impression and sent Vere into reverie. There were no trees here. No birds sang, for although it was the month of the nightingales, none ever came to sing to San Francesco. No insects chirped or hummed. All was stark and almost fearfully still as in a world abandoned; and the light fell on the old faces of the rocks faintly, as if it feared to show the ravages made in them by the storms of the long ages they had confronted and defied.
Vere had a sensation of sinking very slowly down into a gulf, as she stood there, not falling, but sinking, down into some world of quiet things, farther and farther down, leaving all the sounds of life far up in light above her. And descent was exquisite, easy and natural, and, indeed, inevitable. Nothing called her from below. For where she was going there were no voices. Yet she felt that at last there would be something to receive her; mystical stillness, mystical peace.
A silky sound -- far off -- checked that imaginative descent that seemed so physical, first merely arrested it, then, always silky, but growing louder, took her swiftly and softly back to the summit she had left. Now she was conscious again of herself and of the night. She was listening. The sound that had broken her reverie was the gentle sweep of big-bladed oars through the calm sea. As she knew this she saw, away to the right, a black shadow stealing across the silver waste beyond the islet. It pushed its way to the water at her very feet, and chose that as its anchorage.
The figure of the rower stood up straight and black for a moment, looking lonely in the night.
Vere could not see his face, but she knew at once that he was Ruffo. Her inclination was to bend down with the soft cry of "Pescator!" which she had sent to him on the sunny morning of their meeting. She checked it, why she scarcely knew, in obedience to some imperious prompting of her nature. But she kept her eyes on him. And they were full of will. She was willing him not to lie down in the bottom of the boat and sleep. She knew that he and his companions must have come to the pool at that hour to rest. There were three other men in the boat. Two had been sitting on the gunwale of it, and now lay down. The third, who was in the bows, exchanged some words with the rower, who replied. Vere could hear the sound of their voices, but not what they said. The conversation continued for two or three minutes, while Ruffo was taking in the oars and laying them one on each side of the boat. When he had done this he stretched up his arms to their full length above his head, and a loud noise of a prolonged yawn came up to Vere, and nearly made her laugh. Long as it was, it seemed to her to end abruptly. The arms dropped down.
She felt sure he had seen her watching, and stayed quite still, wondering what he was going to do. Perhaps he would tell the other man. She found herself quickly hoping that he would not. That she was there ought to be their little secret.
All this that was passing through her mind was utterly foreign to any coquetry. Vere had no more feeling of sex in regard to Ruffo than she would have had if she had been a boy herself. The sympathy she felt with him was otherwise founded, deep down in mysteries beyond the mysteries of sex.
Again Ruffo and the man who had not lain down spoke together. But the man did not look up to Vere. He must have looked if his attention had been drawn to the fact that she was there -- a little spy upon the men of the sea, considering them from her eminence.
Ruffo had not told. She was glad.
Presently the man moved from his place in the bows. She saw him lift a leg to get over into the stern, treading carefully in order not to trample on his sleeping companions. Then his black figure seemed to shut up like a telescope. He had become one with the dimness in the boat, was no longer detached from it. Only Ruffo was still detached. Was he going to sleep, too?
A certain tenseness came into Vere's body. She kept her eyes, which she had opened very wide, fixed upon the black figure. It remained standing. The head moved. He was certainly looking up. She realized that he was not sleepy, despite that yawn, -- that he would like to speak to her -- to let her know that he knew she was there.
Perhaps he did not dare to -- or, not that, perhaps fishermen's etiquette, already enshrined in his nature, did not permit him to come ashore. The boat was so close to the land that he could step on to it easily.
She leaned down.
It was scarcely more than a whisper. But the night was so intensely still that he heard it. Or, if not that, he felt it. His shadow -- so it seemed in the shadow of the cliff -- flitted out of the boat and disappeared.
He was coming -- to have that talk about the sea.
A Spirit In Prison
by Robert Hichens
Three days after Artois' conversation with Hermione in the Grotto of Virgil the Marchesino Isidoro Panacci came smiling into his friend's apartments in the Hotel Royal des Etrangers. He was smartly dressed in the palest possible shade of gray, with a bright pink tie, pink socks, brown shoes of the rather boat-like shape affected by many young Neopolitans, and a round straw hat, with a small brim, that was set slightly on the side of his curly head. In his mouth was a cigarette, and in his buttonhole a pink carnation. He took Artois' hand with his left hand, squeezed it affectionately, murmured "Caro Emilio," and sat down in an easy attitude on the sofa, putting his hat and stick on a table near by.
It was quite evident that he had come for no special reason. He had just dropped in, as he did whenever he felt inclined, to gossip with "Caro Emilio," and it never occurred to him that possibly he might be interrupting an important piece of work. The Marchesino could not realize work. He knew his friend published books. He even saw him sometimes actually engaged in writing them, pen in hand. But he was sure anybody would far rather sit and chatter with him, or hear him play a valse on the piano, or a bit of the "Boheme," than bend over a table all by himself. And Artois always welcomed him. He liked him. But it was not only that which made him complaisant. Doro was a type, and a singularly perfect one.
Now Artois laid down his pen, and pulled forward an arm-chair opposite to the sofa.
"Mon Dieu, Doro! How fresh you look, like a fish just pulled out of the sea!"
The Marchesino showed his teeth in a smile which also shone in his round and boyish eyes.
"I have just come out of the sea. Papa and I have been bathing at the Eldorado. We swam round the Castello until we were opposite your windows, and sang 'Funiculi, funicula!' in the water, to serenade you. Why didn't you hear us? Papa has a splendid voice, almost like Tamagno's in the gramophone, when he sings the 'Addio' from 'Otello.' Of course we kept a little out at sea. Papa is so easily recognized by his red mustaches. But still you might have heard us."
"Then why didn't you come unto the balcony, amico mio?"
"Because I thought you were street singers."
"Davvero? Papa would be angry. And he is in a bad temper to-day anyhow."
"Well, I believe Gilda Mai is going to bring a causa against Viviano. Of course he won't marry her, and she never expected he could. Why, she used to be a milliner in the Toledo. I remember it perfectly, and now Sigismondo -- But it's really Gilda that has made papa angry. You see, he has paid twice for me, once four thousand lire, and the other time three thousand five hundred. And then he has lost a lot at Lotto lately. He has no luck. And then he, too, was in a row yesterday evening."
"Yes, in the Chiaia. He slapped Signora Merani's face twice before every one."
"Diavolo! What! a lady?"
"Well, if you like to call her so," returned Doro, negligently. "Her husband is an impiegato of the Post-office, or something of the kind."
"But why should the Marchese slap her face in the Chiaia?"
"Because she provoked him. They took a flat in the house my father owns in the Strada Chiatamone. After a time they got behind with the rent. He let them stay on for six months without paying, and then he turned them out. What should he do?" Doro began to gesticulate. He held his right hand up on a level with his face, with the fingers all drawn together and pressed against the thumb, and moved it violently backwards and forwards, bringing it close to the bridge of his nose, then throwing it out towards Artois. "What else, I say? Was he to give his beautiful rooms to them for nothing? And she with a face like -- have you, I ask you, Emilio, have you seen her teeth?"
"I have never seen the Signora in my life!"
"You have never seen her teeth? Dio Mio!" He opened his two hands, and, lifting his arms, shook them loosely above his head, shutting his eyes for an instant as if to ward off some dreadful vision. "They are like the keys of a piano from Bordicelli's! Basta!" He dropped his hands and opened his eyes. "Yesterday papa was walking in the Chiaia. He met Signori Merani, and she began to abuse him. She had a red parasol. She shook it at him! She called him vigliacco -- papa, a Panacci, dei Duchi di Vedrano! The parasol -- it was a bright red, it infuriated papa. He told the Signora to stop. She knows his temper. Every one in Naples knows our tempers, every one! I, Viviano, even Sigismondo, we are all the same, we are all exactly like papa. If we are insulted we cannot control ourselves. You know it, Emilio!"
"I am perfectly certain of it," said Artois. "I am positive you none of you can."
"It does not matter whether it is a man or a woman. We must do something with our hands. We have got to. Papa told the Signora he should strike her at once unless she put down the red parasol and was silent. What did she do, the imbecile? She stuck out her face like this," -- he thrust his face forward with the right cheek turned towards Artois -- "and said, 'Strike me! strike me!' Papa obeyed her. Poom! Poom! He gave her a smack on each cheek before every one. 'You want education!' he said to her. 'And I shall give it you.' And now she may bring a processo too. But did you really think we were street singers?" He threw himself back, took the cigarette from his mouth, and laughed. Then he caught hold of his blond mustache with both hands, gave it an upward twist, at the same time pouting his big lips, and added:
"We shall bring a causa against you for that!"
"No, Doro, you and I must never quarrel. By the way, though, I want to see you angry. Every one talks of the Panacci temper, but when I am with you I always see you smiling or laughing. As to the Marchese, he is as lively as a boy. Viviano -- "
"Oh, Viviano is a buffone. Have you ever seen him imitate a monkey from whom another monkey has snatched a nut?"
"It is like this -- "
With extraordinary suddenness he distorted his whole face into the likeness of an angry ape, hunching his shoulders and uttering fierce simian cries.
"No, I can't do it."
With equal suddenness and self-possession he became his smiling self again.
"Viviano has studied in the monkey-house. And the monk looking the other way when he passes along the Marina where the women are bathing in the summer! He shall do that for you on Sunday afternoon when you come to Capodimonte. It makes even mamma die of laughing, and you know how religious she is. But then, of course, men -- that does not matter. Religion is for women, and they understand that quite well."
The Marchesino never made any pretence of piety. One virtue he had in the fullest abundance. He was perfectly sincere with those whom he considered his friends. That there could be any need for hypocrisy never occurred to him.
"Mamma would hate it if we were saints," he continued.
"I am sure the Marchesa can be under no apprehension on that score," said Artois.
"No, I don't think so," returned the Marchesino, quite seriously.
He had a sense of humor, but it did not always serve him. Occasionally it was fitful, and when summoned by irony remained at a distance.
"It is true, Emilio, you have never seen me angry," he continued, reverting to the remark of Artois; "you ought to. Till you have seen a Panacci angry you do not really know him. With you, of course, I could never be angry -- never, never. You are my friend, my comrade. To you I tell everything."
A sudden remembrance seemed to come to him. Evidently a new thought had started into his active mind, for his face suddenly changed, and became serious, even sentimental.
"What is it?" asked Artois.
"To-day, just now in the sea, I have seen a girl -- Madonna! Emilio, she had a little nose that was perfect -- perfect. How she was simpatica! What a beautiful girl!"
His whole face assumed a melting expression, and he pursed his lips in the form of a kiss.
"She was in the sea, too?" asked Artois.
"No. If she had been! But I was with papa. It was just after we had been serenading you. She had heard us, I am sure, for she was laughing. I dived under the boat in which she was. I did all my tricks for her. I did the mermaid and the seal. She was delighted. She never took her eyes from me. As to papa -- she never glanced at him. Poor papa! He was angry. She had her mother with her, I think -- a Signora, tall, flat, ugly, but she was simpatica, too. She had nice eyes, and when I did the seal she could not help laughing, though I think she was rather sad."
"What sort of boat were they in?" Artois asked, with sudden interest.
"A white boat with a green line."
"And they were coming from the direction of Posilipo?"
"Ma si! Emilio, do you know them? Do you know the perfect little nose?"
The Marchesino laid one hand eagerly on the arm of his friend.
"I believe you do! I am sure of it! The mother -- she is flat as a Carabiniere, and quite old, but with nice eyes, sympathetic, intelligent. And the girl is a little brown -- from the sun -- with eyes full of fun and fire, dark eyes. She may be Italian, and yet -- there is something English, too. But she is not blonde, she is not cold. And when she laughs! Her teeth are not like the keys of a piano from Bordicelli's. And she is full of passion, of flame, of sentiment, as I am. And she is young, perhaps sixteen. Do you know her? Present me, Emilio! I have presented you to all my friends."
"Mio caro, you have made me your debtor for life."
"It isn't true!"
"Indeed it is true. But I do not know who these ladies are. They may be Italians. They may be tourists. Perhaps to-morrow they will have left Naples. Or they may come from Sorrento, Capri. How can I tell who they are?"
The Marchesino suddenly changed. His ardor vanished. His gesticulating hands fell to his sides. His expressive face grew melancholy.
"Of course. How can you tell? Directly I was out of the sea and dressed, I went to Santa Lucia. I examined every boat, but the white boat with the green line was not there, Basta!"
He lit a fresh cigarette and was silent for a moment. Then he said:
"Emilio caro, will you come out with me to-night?"
"In the boat. There will be a moon. We will dine at the Antico Giuseppone."
"So far off as that?" Artois said, rather abruptly.
"Why not? To-day I hate the town. I want tranquility. At the Antico Giuseppone there will be scarcely any one. It is early in the season. And afterwards we will fish for sarde, or saraglie. Take me away from Naples, Emilio; take me away! For to-night, if I stay -- well, I feel that I shall not be santo."
Artois burst into his big roaring laugh.
"And why do you want to be santo to-night?" he asked.
"The beautiful girl! I wish to keep her memory, if only for one night."
"Very well, then. We will fish, and you shall be a saint."
"Caro Emilio! Perhaps Viviano will come, too. But I think he will be with Lidia. She is singing to-night at the Teatro Nuovo. Be ready at half-past seven. I will call for you. And now I shall leave you."
He got up, went over to a mirror, carefully arranged his tie, and put on his straw hat at exactly the most impudent angle.
"I shall leave you to write your book while I meet papa at the villa. Do you know why papa is so careful to be always at the villa at four o'clock just now?"
"Nor does mamma! If she did! Povera mamma! But she can always go to Mass. A rivederci, Emilio."
He moved his hat a little more to one side and went out, swinging his walking-stick gently to and fro in a manner that was pensive and almost sentimental.
The Marchesino Panacci was generally very sincere with his friends, and the boyish expression in his eyes was not altogether deceptive, for despite his wide knowledge of certain aspects of life, not wholly admirable, there was really something of the simplicity of a child -- of a child that could be very naughty -- in his disposition. But if he could be naive he could also be mischievous and even subtle, and he was very swift in grasping a situation, very sharp in reading character, very cunning in the pursuit of his pleasure, very adroit in deception, if he thought that publicity of pursuit would be likely to lead to the frustration of his purpose.
He had seen at once that Artois either knew, or suspected, who were the occupants of the white boat with the green line, and he had also seen that, influenced perhaps by one of those second thoughts which lead men into caution, Artois desired to conceal his knowledge, or suspicion. Instantly the Marchesino had, therefore, dropped the subject, and as instantly he had devised a little plan to clear the matter up.
The Marchesino knew that when Artois had arrived in Naples he had had no friends in the town or neighborhood. But he also knew that recently an Englishwoman, an old friend of the novelist, had come upon the scene, that she was living somewhere not far off, and that Artois had been to visit her once or twice by sea. Artois had spoken of her very casually, and the Marchesino's interest in her had not been awakened. He was not an inquisitive man by nature, and was always very busy with his own pursuit of pleasure. But he remembered now that once he had seen his friend being rowed in the direction of Posilipo, and that in the evening of the same day Artois had mentioned having been to visit his English friend. This fact had suggested to the Marchesino that if his suspicion were correct, and the ladies in the white boat with the green line were this English friend and a daughter, they probably lived in some villa as easily reached by sea as by land. Such villas are more numerous towards the point of the Capo di Posilipo than nearer Naples, as the high road, after the Mergellina, mounts the hill and diverges farther and farther from the sea. The Antico Giuseppone is a small waterside ristorante at the point of the Capo di Posilipo, a little below the Villa Rosebery.
The Marchesino's suggestion of a dinner there that evening had been prompted by the desire to draw his friend into the neighborhood of his charmer of the sea. Once there he might either find some pretext for making her acquaintance through Artois -- if Artois did know her -- or, if that were impossible, he might at least find out where she lived. By the manner of Artois when the Antico Giuseppone was mentioned, he knew at once that he was playing his cards well. The occupants of the white boat were known to the novelist. They did live somewhere near the Antico Giuseppone. And certainly Artois had no desire to bring about his -- the Marchesino's -- acquaintance with them.
That this was so, neither surprised nor seriously vexed the Marchesino. He knew a good deal of his friend's character, knew that Artois, despite his geniality and friendliness, was often reserved -- even with him. During their short intimacy he had certainly told Artois a great deal more about his affairs with women than had been told to him in return. This fact was borne in upon him now. But he did not feel angry. A careless good-nature was an essential part of his character. He did not feel angry at his friend's secrecy, but he did feel mischievous. His lively desire to know the girl with "the perfect little nose" was backed up now by another desire -- to teach "Caro Emilio" that it was better to meet complete frankness with complete frankness.
He had strolled out of his friend's room pensively, acting the melancholy youth who had lost all hope of succeeding in his desire; but directly the door was shut his manner changed. Disregarding the lift, he ran lightly down the stairs, made his way swiftly by the revolving door into the street, crossed it, and walked towards the harbor of Santa Lucia, where quantities of pleasure-boats lie waiting for hire, and the boatmen are gathered in knots smoking and gossiping, or are strolling singly up and down near the water's edge, keeping a sharp look-out for possible customers.
As the Marchesino turned on the bridge that leads towards Castel dell' Ovo one of these boatmen met him and saluted him.
"Good-day, Giuseppe," said the Marchesino, addressing him familiarly with a broad Neapolitan accent.
"Good-day, Signorino Marchesino," replied the man. "Do you want a boat? I will take you for -- "
The Marchesino drew out his cigarette case.
"I don't want a boat. But perhaps you can tell me something."
"What is it, Signorino Marchesino?" said the man, looking eagerly at the cigarette case which was now open, and which displayed two tempting rows of fat Egyptian cigarettes reposing side by side.
"Do you know a boat -- white with a green line -- which sometimes comes into the harbor from the direction of Posilipo? It was here this afternoon, or it passed here. I don't know whether it went on to the Arsenal."
"White with a green line?" said the man. "That might be -- who was there in it, Signorino Marchesino?"
"Two ladies, one old and one very young. The young lady -- "
"Those must be the ladies from the island," interrupted the man. "The English ladies who come in the summer to the Casa del Mare as they call it, on the island close to the Grotto of Virgilio by San Francesco's Pool. They were here this afternoon, but they're gone back. Their boat is white with a green line, Signorino Marchesino."
"Grazie, Giuseppe," said the Marchesino, with an immovable countenance. "Do you smoke cigarettes?'
"Signorino Marchesino, I do when I have any soldi to buy them with."
The Marchesino emptied one side of his cigarette case into the boatman's hand, called a hired carriage, and drove off towards the Villa -- the horse going at a frantic trot, while the coachman, holding a rein in each hand, ejaculated, "A -- ah!" every ten seconds, in a voice that was fiercely hortatory.
Artois, from his window, saw the carriage rattle past, and saw his friend leaning back in it, with alert eyes, to scan every woman passing by. He stood on the balcony for a moment till the noise of the wheels on the stone pavement died away. When he returned to his writing-table the mood for work was gone. He sat down in his chair. He took up his pen. But he found himself thinking of two people, the extraordinary difference between whom was the cause of his now linking them together in his mind. He found himself thinking of the Marchesino and of Vere.
Not for a moment did he doubt the identity of the two women in the white boat. They were Hermione and Vere. The Marchesino had read him rightly, but Artois was not aware of it. His friend had deceived him, as almost any sharp-witted Neapolitan can deceive even a clever forestiere. Certainly he did not particularly wish to introduce his friend to Vere. Yet now he was thinking of the two in connection, and not without amusement. What would they be like together? How would Vere's divine innocence receive the amiable seductions of the Marchesino? Artois, in fancy, could see his friend Doro for once completely disarmed by a child. Vere's innocence did not spring from folly, but was backed up by excellent brains. It was that fact which made it so beautiful. The innocence and the brains together might well read Doro a pretty little lesson. And Vere after the lesson -- would she be changed? Would she lose by giving, even if the gift were a lesson?
Artois had certainly felt that his instinct told him not to do what Doro wanted. He had been moved, he supposed now, by a protective sentiment. Vere was delicious as she was. And Doro -- he was delightful as he was. The girl was enchanting in her ignorance. The youth -- to Artois the Marchesino seemed almost a boy, indeed, often quite a boy -- was admirable in his precocity. He embodied Naples, its gay furberia, and yet that was hardly the word -- perhaps rather one should say its sunny naughtiness, its reckless devotion to life purged of thought. And Vere -- what did she embody? Not Sicily, though she was in some ways so Sicilian. Not England; certainly not that!
Suddenly Artois was conscious that he knew Doro much better than he knew Vere. He remembered the statement of an Austrian psychologist, that men are far more mysterious than women, and shook his head over it now. He felt strongly the mystery that lay hidden deep down in the innocence of Vere, in the innocence of every girl-child of Vere's age who had brains, temperament and perfect purity. What a marvellous combination they made! He imagined the clear flame of them burning in the night of the world of men. Vere must be happy.
When he said this to himself he knew that, perhaps for the first time, he was despairing of something that he ardently desired. He was transferring a wish, that was something like a prayer in the heart of one who had seldom prayed. He was giving up hope for Hermione and fastening hope on Vere. For a moment that seemed like treachery, like an abandoning of Hermione. Since their interview on the sea Artois had felt that, for Hermione, all possibility of real happiness was over. She could not detach her love. It had been fastened irrevocably on Maurice. It was now fastened irrevocably on Maurice's memory. Long ago, had she, while he was alive, found out what he had done, her passion for him might have died, and in the course of years she might have been able to love again. But now it was surely too late. She had lived with her memory too long. It was her blessing -- to remember, to recall, how love had blessed her life for a time. And if that memory were desecrated now she would be as one wrecked in the storm of life. Yet with that memory how she suffered!
What could he do for her? His chivalry must exercise itself. He must remain in the lists, if only to fight for Hermione in Vere. And the Marchesino? Artois seemed to divine that he might be an enemy in certain circumstances.
A warmth of sentiment, not very common in Artois, generated within him by such thoughts as these, thoughts that detained him from work, still glowed in his heart when evening fell and the Marchesino came gayly in to take him out upon the sea.
"There's a little wind, Emilio," he said, as they got into the boat in the harbor of Santa Lucia; "we can sail to the Antico Giuseppone. And after dinner we'll fish for sarde. Isn't it warm? One could sleep out on such a night."
They had two men with them. When they got beyond the breakwater the sail was set, the Marchesino took the helm, and the boat slipped through the smooth sea, rounded the rocks on which the old fort stands to stare at Capri, radiant now as a magic isle in the curiously ethereal light of evening, and headed for the distant point of land which hid Ischia from their eyes. The freedom of the Bay of Naples was granted them -- the freedom of the sea. As they ran out into the open water, and Artois saw the round gray eyes of the Marchesino dancing to the merry music of a complete bodily pleasure, he felt like a man escaping. He looked back at the city almost as at a sad life over, and despite his deep and persistent interest in men he understood the joy of the hermit who casts them from him and escapes into the wilds. The radiance of the Bay, one of the most radiant of all the inlets of the sea, bold and glaring in the brilliant daytime, becomes exquisitely delicate towards night. Vesuvius, its fiery watcher, looks like a kindly guardian, until perhaps the darkness shows the flame upon its flanks, the flame bursting forth from the mouth it opens to the sky; and the coast-line by Sorrento, the lifted crest of Capri, even the hill of Posilipo, appear romantic and enticing, calling lands holding wonderful pleasures for men, joys in their rocks and trees, joys in their dim recesses, joys and soft realities fulfilling every dream upon their coasts washed by the whispering waves.
The eyes of the Marchesino were dancing with physical pleasure. Artois wondered how much he felt the beauty of the evening, and how. His friend evidently saw the question in his eyes, for he said:
"The man who knows not Naples knows not pleasure."
"Is that a Neapolitan saying?" asked Artois.
"Yes, and it is true. There is no town like Naples for pleasure. Even your Paris, Emilio, with all its theatres, its cocottes, its restaurants -- no, it is not Naples. No wonder the forestiere come here. In Naples they are free. They can do what they will. They know we shall not mind. We are never shocked."
"And do you think we are easily shocked in Paris?"
"No, but it is not the same. You have not Vesuvius there. You have not the sea, you have not the sun."
Artois began laughingly to protest against the last statement, but the Marchesino would not have it.
"No, no, it shines -- I know that, -- but it is not the sun we have here."
He spoke to the seamen in the Neapolitan dialect. They were brown, muscular fellows. In their eyes were the extraordinary boldness and directness of the sea. Neither of them looked gay. Many of the Neapolitans who are much upon the sea have serious, even grave faces. These were intensely, almost overpoweringly male. They seemed to partake of the essence of the elements of nature, as if blood of the sea ran in their veins, as if they were hot with the grim and inner fires of the sun. When they spoke their faces showed a certain changefulness that denoted intelligence, but never lost the look of force, of an almost tense masculinity ready to battle, perpetually alive to hold its own.
The Marchesino was also very masculine, but in a different way and more consciously than they were. He was not cultured, but such civilization as he had endowed him with a power to catch the moods of others not possessed by these men, in whom persistence was more visible than adroitness, unless indeed any question of money was to the fore.
"We shall get to the Giuseppone by eight, Emilio," the Marchesino said, dropping his conversation with the men, which had been about the best hour and place for their fishing. "Are you hungry?"
"I shall be," said Artois. "This wind brings an appetite with it. How well you steer!"
The Marchesino nodded carelessly.
As the boat drew ever nearer to the point, running swiftly before the light breeze, its occupants were silent. Artois was watching the evening, with the eyes of a lover of nature, but also with the eyes of one who takes notes. The Marchesino seemed to be intent on his occupation of pilot. As to the two sailors, they sat in the accustomed calm and staring silence of seafaring men, with wide eyes looking out over the element that ministered to their wants. They saw it differently, perhaps, from Artois, to whom it gave now an intense aesthetic pleasure, differently from the Marchesino, to whom it was just a path to possible excitement, possible gratification of a new and dancing desire. They connected it with strange superstitions, with gifts, with deprivations, with death. Familiar and mysterious it was purely to them as to all seamen, like a woman possessed whose soul is far away.
Just as the clocks of Posilipo were striking eight the Marchesino steered the boat into the quay of the Antico Guiseppone.
Although it was early in the season a few deal tables were set out by the waterside, and a swarthy waiter, with huge mustaches and a napkin over his arm, came delicately over the stones to ask their wishes.
"Will you let me order dinner, Emilio?" said the Marchesino: "I know what they do best here."
Artois agreed, and while the waiter shuffled to carry out the Marchesino's directions the two friends strolled near the edge of the sea.
The breeze had been kindly. Having served them well it was now dying down to its repose, leaving the evening that was near to night profoundly calm. As Artois walked along the quay he felt the approach of calm like the approach of a potentate, serene in the vast consciousness of power. Peace was invading the sea, irresistible peace. The night was at hand. Already Naples uncoiled its chain of lamps along the Bay. In the gardens of Posilipo the lights of the houses gleamed. Opposite, but very far off across the sea, shone the tiny flames of the houses of Portici, of Torre del Greco, of Torre Annunziata, of Castellamare. Against the gathering darkness Vesuvius belched slowly soft clouds of rose-colored vapor, which went up like a menace into the dim vault of the sky. The sea was without waves. The boats by the wharf, where the road ascends past the villa Rosebery to the village of Posilipo, scarcely moved. Near them, in a group, lounging against the wall and talking rapidly, stood the two sailors from Naples with the boatmen of the Guiseppone. Oil lamps glimmered upon two or three of the deal tables, round one of which was gathered a party consisting of seven large women, three children, and two very thin middle-aged men with bright eyes, all of whom were eating oysters. Farther on, from a small arbor that gave access to a fisherman's house, which seemed to be constructed partially in a cave of the rock, and which was gained by a steep and crumbling stairway of stone, a mother called shrilly to some half-naked little boys who were fishing with tiny hand-nets in the sea. By the table which was destined to the Marchesino and Artois three ambulant musicians were hovering, holding in their broad and dirty hands two shabby mandolins and a guitar. In the distance a cook with a white cap on his head and bare arms was visible, as he moved to and fro in the lighted kitchen of the old ristorante, preparing a "zuppa di pesce" for the gentlemen from Naples.
"Che bella notte!" said the Marchesino, suddenly.
His voice sounded sentimental. He twisted his mustaches and added:
"Emilio, we ought to have brought two beautiful women with us to-night. What are the moon and the sea to men without beautiful women?"
"And the fishing?" said Artois.
"To the devil with the fishing," replied the young man. "Ecco! Our dinner is ready, with thanks to the Madonna!"
They sat down, one on each side of the small table, with a smoking lamp between them.
"I have ordered vino bianco," said the Marchesino, who still looked sentimental. "Cameriere, take away the lamp. Put it on the next table. Va bene. We are going to have 'zuppa di pesce,' gamberi and veal cutlets. The wine is Capri. Now then," he added, with sudden violence and the coarsest imaginable Neapolitan accent, "if you fellows play 'Santa Lucia,' 'Napoli Bella,' or 'Sole mio' you'll have my knife in you. I am not an Inglese. I am a Neapolitan. Remember that!"
He proved it with a string of gutter words and oaths, at which the musicians smiled with pleasure. Then, turning again to Artois, he continued:
"If one doesn't tell them they think one is an imbecile. Emilio caro, do you not love to see the moon with a beautiful girl?"
His curious assumption that Artois and he were contemporaries because they were friends, and his apparently absolute blindness to the fact that a man of sixty and a man of twenty-four are hardly likely to regard the other sex with an exactly similar enthusiasm, always secretly entertained the novelist, who made it his business with this friend to be accommodating, and who seldom, if ever, showed himself authoritative, or revealed any part of his real inner self.
"Ma si!" he replied; "the night and the moon are made for love."
"Everything is made for love," returned the Marchesino. "Take plenty of soaked bread, Emilio. They know how to make this zuppa here. Everything is made for love. -- Look! There is a boat coming with women in it!"
At a short distance from the shore a rowing boat was visible; and from it now came shrill sounds of very common voices, followed by shouts of male laughter.
"Perhaps they are beautiful," said the Marchesino, at once on the alert.
The boat drew in to the quay, and from it there sprang, with much noise and many gesticulations, two over-dressed women -- probably, indeed almost certainly, canzonettiste -- and the two large young men, whose brown fingers and whose chests gleamed with false diamonds. As they passed the table where the two friends were sitting, the Marchesino raked the women with his bold gray eyes. One of them was large and artificially blonde, with a spreading bust, immense hips, a small waist, and a quantity of pale dyed hair, on which was perched a bright blue hat. The other was fiercely dark, with masses of coarse black hair, big, blatant eyes that looked quite black in the dim lamplight, and a figure that suggested a self-conscious snake. Both were young. They returned the Marchesino's stare with vigorous impudence as they swung by.
"What sympathetic creatures!" he murmured. "They are two angels. I believe I have seen one of them at the Margherita. What was her name -- Maria Leoni, I fancy."
He looked enviously at the young men. The arrival of the lobster distracted his attention for the moment; but it was obvious that the appearance of these women had increased the feeling of sentimentality already generated in him by the softness and stillness of the night.
The three musicians, rendered greedy rather than inspired by the presence of more clients, now began to pluck a lively street tune from their instruments; and the waiter, whose mustaches seemed if possible bigger now that night was truly come, poured the white wine into the glasses with the air of one making a libation.
As the Marchesino ate, he frequently looked towards the party at the neighboring table. He was evidently filled with envy of the two men whose jewels glittered as they gesticulated with their big brown hands. But presently their pleasure and success recalled to him something which he had momentarily forgotten, the reason why he had planned this expedition. He was in pursuit. The recollection cheered him up, restored to him the strength of his manhood, put him right with himself. The envy and the almost sickly sentimentality vanished from him, and he broke into the usual gay conversation which seldom failed him, either by day or night.
It was past nine before they had finished their coffee. The two boatmen had been regaled and had drunk a bottle of wine, and the moon was rising and making the oil lamps of the Guiseppone look pitiful. From the table where the canzonettiste were established came peals of laughter, which obviously upset the seven large and respectable women who had been eating oysters, and who now sat staring heavily at the gay revellers, while the two thin middle-aged men with bright eyes began to look furtively cheerful, and even rather younger than they were. The musicians passed round a small leaden tray for soldi, and the waiter brought the Marchesino the bill, and looked inquiringly at Artois, aware that he at least was not a Neapolitan. Artois gave him something and satisfied the musicians, while the Marchesino disputed the bill, not because he minded paying, but merely to prove that he was a Neapolitan and not an imbecile. The matter was settled at last, and they went towards the boat; the Marchesino casting many backward glances towards the two angels, who, with their lovers, were becoming riotous in their gayety as the moon came up.
"Are we going out into the Bay?" said Artois, as they stepped into the boat, and were pushed off.
"Where is the best fishing-ground?" asked the Marchesino of the elder of the two men.
"Towards the islet, Signorino Marchesino," he replied at once, looking his interlocutor full in the face with steady eyes, but remaining perfectly grave.
Artois glanced at the man sharply. For the first time it occurred to him that possibly his friend had arranged this expedition with a purpose other than that which he had put forward. It was not the fisherman's voice which had made Artois wonder, but the voice of the Marchesino.
"There are generally plenty of sarde round the islet," continued the fisherman, "but if the Signori would not be too tired it would be best to stay out the night. We shall get many more fish towards morning, and we can run the boat into the Pool of San Francesco, and have some sleep there, if the Signori like. We others generally take a nap there, and go to work further on in the night. But of course it is as the Signori prefer."
"They want to keep us out all night to get more pay," said the Marchesino to Artois, in bad French.
He had divined the suspicion that had suddenly risen up in his friend, and was resolved to lay it to rest, without, however, abandoning his purpose, which had become much more ardent with the coming of the night. The voices of the laughing women were ringing in his ears. He felt adventurous. The youth in him was rioting, and he was longing to be gay, as the men with those women were being gay.
"What do you think, Emilio caro?" he asked.
Then before Artois could reply, he said:
"After all, what do a few soldi matter? Who could sleep in a room on such a night? It might be August, when one bathes at midnight, and sings canzoni till dawn. Let us do as he says. Let us rest in the -- what is the pool?" he asked of the fishermen, pretending not to know the name.
"The pool of San Francesco, Signorino Marchesino."
"Pool of San Francesco. I remember now. That is the place where all the fishermen along the coast towards Nisida go to sleep. I have slept there many times when I was a boy, and so has Viviano. To-night shall we do as the fishermen, Emilio?"
There was no pressure in his careless voice. His eyes for the moment looked so simple, though as eager as a child's.
"Anything you like, mon ami," said Artois.
He did not want to go to San Francesco's Pool with the Marchesino, but he did not wish to seem reluctant to go. And he said to himself now that his interior hesitation was absurd. Night had fallen. By the time they reached the Pool the inmates of the Case del Mare would probably be asleep. Even if they were not, what did it matter? The boat would lie among the vessels of the fishermen. The Marchesino and he would share the fishermen's repose. And even if Hermione and Vere should chance to be out of doors they would not see him, or, if they did, would not recognize him in the night.
His slight uneasiness, prompted by a vague idea that the Marchesino was secretly mischievous, had possibly some plan in his mind connected with the islet, was surely without foundation.
He told himself so as the fisherman laid hold of their oars and set the boat's prow towards the point of land which conceals the small harbor of the Villa Rosebery.
The shrill voices of the two singers died away from their ears, but lingered in the memory of the Marchesino, as the silence of the sea took the boat to itself, the sea silence and the magic of the moon.
He turned his face towards the silver, beyond which, hidden as yet, was the islet where dwelt the child he meant to know.
Although Hermione had told Artois that she could not find complete rest and happiness in her child, that she could not live again in Vere fully and intensely as she had lived once, as she still had it in her surely to live, she and Vere were in a singularly close relationship. They had never yet been separated for more than a few days. Vere had not been to school, and much of her education had been undertaken by her mother. In Florence she had been to classes and lectures. She had had lessons in languages, French, German, and Italian, in music and drawing. But Hermione had been her only permanent teacher, and until her sixteenth birthday she had never been enthusiastic about anything without carrying her enthusiasm to her mother, for sympathy, explanation, or encouragement.
Sorrow had not quenched the elan of Hermione's nature. What she had told Artois had been true -- she was not a finished woman, nor would she ever be, so long as she was alive and conscious. Her hunger for love, her passionate remembrance of the past, her incapacity to sink herself in any one since her husband's death, her persistent, though concealed, worship of his memory, all these things proved her vitality. Artois was right when he said that she was a force. There was something in her that was red-hot, although she was now a middle- aged woman. She needed much more than most people, because she had much more than most people have to give.
Her failure to express herself in an art had been a tragedy. From this tragedy she turned, not with bitterness, but perhaps with an almost fiercer energy, to Vere. Her intellect, released from fruitless toil, was running loose demanding some employment. She sought that employment in developing the powers of her child. Vere was not specially studious. Such an out-of-door temperament as hers could never belong to a bookworm or a recluse. But she was naturally clever, as her father had not been, and she was enthusiastic not only in pleasure but in work. Long ago Hermione, trying with loving anxiety to educate her boyish husband, to make him understand certain subtleties of her own, had found herself frustrated. When she made such attempts with Vere she was met half way. The girl understood with swiftness even those things with which she was not specially in sympathy. Her father's mind had slipped away, ever so gracefully, from all which it did not love. Vere's could grasp even an unloved subject. There was mental grit in her -- Artois knew it. In all her work until her sixteenth year Vere had consulted her mother. Nothing of her child till then was ever hidden from Hermione, except those things which the human being cannot reveal, and sometimes scarcely knows of. The child drew very much from her mother, responded to her enthusiasm, yet preserved instinctively, and quite without self-consciousness, her own individuality.
Artois had noticed this, and this had led him to say that Vere also was a force.
But when she was sixteen Vere woke up to something. Until now no one but herself knew to what. Sometimes she shut herself up alone in her room for long periods. When she came out she looked lazy, her mother thought, and she liked to go then to some nook of the rocks and sit alone, or to push a boat out into the centre of the Saint's Pool, and lie in it with her hands clasped behind her head looking up at the passing clouds or at the radiance of the blue.
Hermione knew how fond Vere was of reading, and supposed that this love was increasing as the child grew older. She sometimes felt a little lonely, but she was unselfish. Vere's freedom was quite innocent. She, the mother, would not seek to interfere with it. Soon after dinner on the evening of the Marchesino's expedition with Artois, Vere had got up from the sofa, on which she had been sitting with a book of Rossetti's poems in her hand, had gone over to one of the windows, and had stood for two or three minutes looking out over the sea. Then she had turned round, come up to her mother and kissed her tenderly -- more tenderly, Hermione thought, even than usual.
"Good-night, Madre mia," she had said.
And then, without another word, she had gone swiftly out of the room.
After Vere had gone the room seemed very silent. In the evening, if they stayed in the house, they usually sat in Hermione's room up- stairs. They had been sitting there to-night. The shutters were not closed. The window that faced the sea towards Capri was open. A little moonlight began to mingle subtly with the light from the two lamps, to make it whiter, cleaner, suggestive of outdoor things and large spaces. Hermione had been reading when Vere was reading. She did not read now Vere was gone. Laying down her book she sat listening to the silence, realizing the world without. Almost at her feet was the sea, before her a wide-stretching expanse, behind her, confronted by the desolate rocks, the hollow and mysterious caverns. In the night, the Saint, unwearied, watched his Pool. Not very far off, yet delightfully remote, lay Naples with its furious activities, its gayeties, its intensities of sin, of misery, of pleasure. In the Galleria, tourists from the hotels and from the ships were wandering rather vaguely, watched and followed by newspaper sellers, by touts, by greedy, pale- faced boys, and old, worn-out men, all hungry for money and indifferent how it was gained. Along the Marina, with its huge serpent of lights, the street singers and players were making their nightly pilgrimage, pausing, wherever they saw a lighted window or a dark figure on a balcony, to play and sing the tunes of which they were weary long ago. On the wall, high above the sea, were dotted the dilettante fishermen with their long rods and lines. And below, before each stone staircase that descended to the water, was a waiting boat, and in the moonlight rose up the loud cry of "Barca! Barca!" to attract the attention of any casual passer-by.
And here, on this more truly sea-like sea, distant from the great crowd and from the thronging houses, the real fishermen who live by the sea were alert and at work, or were plunged in the quiet sleep that is a preparation for long hours of nocturnal wakefulness.
Hermione thought of it all, was aware of it, felt it, as she sat there opposite to the open window. Then she looked over to her writing- table, on which stood a large photograph of her dead husband, then to the sofa where Vere had been. She saw the volume of Rossetti lying beside the cushion that still showed a shallow dent where the child's head had been resting.
And then she shut her eyes, and asked her imagination to take her away for a moment, over the sea to Messina, and along the curving shore, and up by winding paths to a mountain, and into a little room in a tiny, whitewashed house, not the house of the sea, but of the priest. It still stood there, and the terrace was still before it. And the olive-trees rustled, perhaps, just now in the wind beneath the stars.
Yes, she was there. Lucrezia and Gaspare were in bed. But she and Maurice were sitting in the straw chairs on each side of the table, facing the open French window and the flight of shallow steps that led down to the terrace.
Faintly she heard the whisper of the sea about the islet, but she would not let it hinder her imagination: she translated it by means of her imagination into the whisper of the wind low down there, in the ravine among the trees. And that act made her think of the ravine, seemed presently to set her in the ravine. She was there in the night with Gaspare. They were hurrying down towards the sea. He was behind her, and she could hear his footsteps -- longing to go faster. But she was breathless, her heart was beating, there was terror in her soul. What was that? A rattle of stones in the darkness, and then an old voice muttering "Benedicite!"
She opened her eyes and moved suddenly, like one intolerably stirred. What a foe the imagination can be -- what a foe! She got up and went to the window. She must drive away that memory of the ravine, of all that followed after. Often she lingered with it, but to-night, somehow, she could not, she dared not. She was less brave than usual to-night.
She leaned out of the window.
"Am I a fool?"
That was what she was saying to herself. And she was comparing herself now with other people, other women. Did she know one who could not uproot an old memory, who could suffer, and desire, and internally weep, after more than sixteen years?
"I suppose it is preposterous."
She deliberately chose that ugly word to describe her own condition of soul. But instantly it seemed to her as if far down in that soul something rose up and answered:
"No, it is not. It is beautiful. It is divine. It is more -- it is due. He gave you the greatest gift. He gave you what the whole world is always seeking; even in blindness, even in ignorance, even in terrible vice. He gave you love. How should you forget him?"
Far away on the sea that was faintly silvered by the moon there was a black speck. It was, or seemed from the distance to be, motionless. Hermione's eyes were attracted to it, and again her imagination carried her to Sicily. She stood on the shore by the inlet, she saw the boat coming in from the open sea. Then it stopped midway -- like that boat.
She heard Gaspare furiously weeping.
But the boat moved, and the sound that was in her imagination died away, and she said to herself, "All that was long ago."
The boat out there was no doubt occupied by Neapolitan fishermen, and she was here on the islet in the Sea of Naples, and Sicily was far away across the moonlit waters. As to Gaspare -- she was sure he was not weeping, faithful though he was to the memory of the dead Padrone.
And Vere? Hermione wondered what Vere was doing. She felt sure, though she did not know why, that Vere had not gone to bed. She realized to-night that her child was growing up rapidly, was passing from the stage of childhood to the stage of girlhood, was on the threshold of all the mysterious experiences that life holds for those who have ardent temperaments and eager interests, and passionate desires and fearless hearts.
To-night Hermione felt very strongly the difference between the father and the daughter. There was a gravity in Vere, a firmness that Maurice had lacked. Full of life and warmth as she was, she was not the pure spirit of joy that he had been in those first days in Sicily. She was not irresponsible. She was more keenly aware of others, of just how they were feeling, of just how they were thinking, than Maurice had been.
Vere was very individual.
With that thought there came to Hermione a deeper sense of loneliness. She was conscious now in this moment, as she had never been conscious before, of the independence of her child's character. The knowledge of this independence seemed to come upon her suddenly -- she could not tell why; and she saw Vere apart from her, detached, like a column in a lonely place.
Vere must not escape from her. She must accompany her child step by step. She must not be left alone. She had told Emile that she could not live again in Vere. And that was true. Vere was not enough. But Vere was very much. Without Vere, what would her life be?
A wave of melancholy flowed over her to-night, a tide come from she knew not where. Making an effort to stem it, she recalled her happiness with Maurice after that day of the Tarantella. How groundless had really been her melancholy then! She had imagined him escaping from her, but he had remained with her, and loved her. He had been good to her until the end, tender and faithful. If she had ever had a rival, that rival had been Sicily. Always her imagination was her torturer.
Her failure in art had been a tragedy because of this. If she could have set her imagination free in an art she would have been far safer than she was. Emile Artois was really lonelier than she, for he had not a child. But his art surely saved him securely from her sense of desolation. And then he was a man, and men must need far less than women do. Hermione felt that it was so. She thought of Emile in his most helpless moment, in that period when he was ill in Kairouan before she came. Even then she believed that he could not have felt quite so much alone as she did now; for men never long to be taken care of as women do. And yet she was well, in this tranquil house which was her own -- with Vere, her child, and Gaspare, her devoted servant.
As mentally she recounted her benefits, the strength there was in her arose, protesting. She called herself harsh names: egoist, craven, faineant. But it was no use to attack herself. In the deeps of her poor, eager, passionate, hungry woman's nature something wept, and needed, and could not be comforted, and could not be schooled. It complained as one feeble, but really it must be strong; for it was pitilessly persistent in its grieving. It had a strange endurance. Life, the passing of the years, could not change it, could not still it. Those eternal hungers of which Hermione had spoken to Artois -- they must have their meaning. Somewhere, surely, there are the happy hunting-grounds, dreamed of by the red man -- there are the Elysian Fields where the souls that have longed and suffered will find the ultimate peace.
There came a tap at the door.
Hermione started up from the cushion against which she had pressed her head, and opened her eyes, instinctively laying her hand on Vere's volume of Rossetti, and pretending to read it.
"Avanti!" she said.
The door opened and Gaspare appeared. Hermione felt an immediate sensation of comfort.
"Gaspare," she said, "what is it? I thought you were in bed."
"Ha bisogna Lei?" he said.
It was a most familiar phrase to Hermione. It had been often on Gaspare's lips when he was a boy in Sicily, and she had always loved it, feeling as if it sprang from a nature pleasantly ready to do anything in her service. But to-night it had an almost startling appropriateness, breaking in as if in direct response to her gnawing hunger of the heart. As she looked at Gaspare, standing by the door in his dark-blue clothes, with an earnest expression on his strong, handsome face, she felt as if he must have come just then because he was conscious that she had so much need of help and consolation. And she could not answer "no" to his simple question.
"Come in, Gaspare," she said, "and shut the door. I'm all alone. I should like to have a little talk with you."
He obeyed her, shut the door gently, and came up to her with the comfortable confidence of one safe in his welcome, desired not merely as a servant but as a friend by his Padrona.
"Did you want to say anything particular, Gaspare?" Hermione asked him. "Here -- take a cigarette."
She gave him one. He took it gently, twitching his nose as he did so. This was a little trick he had when he was pleased.
"You can smoke it here, if you like."
He lit it gravely and took a whiff. Then he said:
"The Signorina is outside."
Hermione looked towards the window.
"It is a lovely night."
He took another whiff, and turned his great eyes here and there, looking about the room. Hermione began to wonder what he had to say to her. She was certain that he had come to her for some reason other than just to ask if she had need of him.
"It does the Signorina good to get a breath of air before she goes to bed," Hermione added, after a moment of silence. "It makes her sleep."
He still stood calmly beside her, but now he looked at her with the odd directness which had been characteristic of him as a boy, and which he had not lost as a man.
"The Signorina is getting quite big, Signora," he said. "Have you noticed? Per Dio! In Sicily, if the Signorina was a Sicilian, the giovinotti would be asking to marry her."
"Ah, but, Gaspare, the Signorina is not a Sicilian," she said. "She is English, you know, and English girls do not generally think of such things till they are much older than Sicilians."
"But, Signora," said Gaspare, with the bluntness which in him was never rudeness, but merely the sincerity which he considered due to his Padrona -- due also to himself, "my Padrone was like a real Sicilian, and the Signorina is his daughter. She must be like a Sicilian too, by force."
"Your Padrone, yes, he was a real Sicilian," Hermione said softly. "But, well, the Signorina has much more English blood in her veins than Sicilian. She has only a little Sicilian blood."
"But the Signorina thinks she is almost a Sicilian. She wishes to be a Sicilian."
"How do you know that, Gaspare?" she asked, smiling a little at his firmness and persistence.
"The Signorina said so the other day to the giovinotto who had the cigarettes, Signora. I talked to him, and he told me. He said the Signorina had said to him that she was partly a Sicilian, and that he had said 'no,' that she was English. And when he said that -- he said to me -- the Signorina was quite angry. He could see that she was angry by her face."
"I suppose that is the Sicilian blood, Gaspare. There is some in the Signorina's veins, of course. And then, you know, both her father and I loved your country. I think the Signorina must often long to see Sicily."
"Does she say so?" asked Gaspare, looking rather less calm.
"She has not lately. I think she is very happy here. Don't you?"
"Si, Signora. But the Signorina is growing up now, and she is a little Sicilian anyhow, Signora."
He paused, looking steadily at his Padrona.
"What is it, Gaspare? What do you want to say to me?"
"Signora, perhaps you will say it is not my business, but in my country we do not let girls go about by themselves after they are sixteen. We know it is better not. Ecco!"
Hermione had some difficulty in not smiling. But she knew that if she smiled he might be offended. So she kept her countenance and said:
"What do you mean, Gaspare? The Signorina is nearly always with me."
"No, Signora. The Signorina can go wherever she likes. She can speak to any one she pleases. She is free as a boy is free."
"Certainly she is free. I wish her to be free."
"Va bene, Signora, va bene."
A cloud came over his face, and he moved as if to go. But Hermione stopped him.
"Wait a minute, Gaspare. I want you to understand. I like your care for the Signorina. You know I trust you and depend on you more than on almost any one. But you must remember that I am English, and in England, you know, things in some ways are very different from what they are in Sicily. Any English girl would be allowed the freedom of the Signorina."
"Why not? What harm does it do? The Signorina does not go to Naples alone."
"Per Dio!" he interrupted, in a tone almost of horror.
"Of course I should never allow that. But here on the island -- why, what could happen to her here? Come, Gaspare, tell me what it is you are thinking of. You haven't told me yet. I knew directly you came in that you had something you wanted to say. What is it?"
"I know it is not my business," he said. "And I should never speak to the Signorina, but -- "
"Signora, all sorts of people come here to the island -- men from Naples. We do not know them. We cannot tell who they are. And they can all see the Signorina. And they can even talk to her."
"The fishermen, you mean?"
"Any one who comes in a boat."
"Well, but scarcely any one ever comes but the fishermen. You know that."
"Oh, it was all very well when the Signorina was a little girl, a child, Signora," he said, almost hotly. "But now it is different. It is quite different."
Suddenly Hermione understood. She remembered what Vere had said about Gaspare being jealous. He must certainly be thinking of the boy-diver, of Ruffo.
"You think the Signorina oughtn't to talk to the fishermen?" she said.
"What do we know of the fishermen of Naples, Signora? We are not Neapolitans. We are strangers here. We do not know their habits. We do not know what they think. They are different from us. If we were in Sicily! I am a Sicilian. I can tell. But when men come from Naples saying they are Sicilians, how can I tell whether they are ruffiani or not?"
Gaspare's inner thought stood revealed.
"I see, Gaspare," Hermione said, quietly. "You think I should not have let the Signorina talk to that boy the other day. But I saw him myself, and I gave the Signorina leave to take him some cigarettes. And he dived for her. She told me all about it. She always tells me everything."
"I do not doubt the Signorina," said Gaspare. "But I thought it was my duty to tell you what I thought, Signora. Why should people come here saying they are of my country, saying they are Sicilians, and talking as the Neapolitans talk?"
"Well, but at the time, you didn't doubt that boy was what he said he was, did you?"
"Signora, I did not know. I could not know. But since then I have been thinking."
"Well, Gaspare, you are quite right to tell me. I prefer that. I have much faith in you, and always shall have. But we must not say anything like this to the Signorina. She would not understand what we meant."
"No, Signora. The Signorina is too good."
"She would not understand, and I think she would be hurt" -- Hermione used the word "offesa," -- "as you would be if you fancied I thought something strange about you."
"Good-night, Signora. Buon riposo."
He moved towards the door. When he reached it he stopped and added:
"I am going to bed, Signora."
"Go. Sleep well."
"Grazie, Signora. The Signorina is still outside, I am sure."
"She goes out for a minute nearly every evening, Gaspare. She likes the air and to look at the sea."
"Si, Signora; in a minute I shall go to bed. Buon riposo."
And he went out.
When he had gone Hermione remained at first where she was. But Gaspare had effectually changed her mood, had driven away what she chose to call her egoism, had concentrated all her thoughts on Vere. He had never before spoken like this about the child. It was a sudden waking up on his part to the fact that Vere was growing up to womanhood.
When he chose, Gaspare could always, or nearly always, make his Padrona catch his mood, there was something so definite about him that he made an impression. And, though he was easily inclined to be suspicious of those whom he did not know well, Hermione knew him to be both intelligent and shrewd, especially about those for whom he had affection. She wondered now whether it were possible that Gaspare saw, understood, or even divined intuitively, more clearly than she did -- she, a mother!
It was surely very unlikely.
She remembered that Gaspare had a jealous nature, like most of his countrymen.
Nevertheless he had suddenly made the islet seem different to her. She had thought of it as remote, as pleasantly far away from Naples, isolated in the quiet sea. But it was very easy to reach from Naples, and, as Gaspare had said, what did they know, or understand, of the Neapolitans, they who were strangers in the land?
She wondered whether Vere was still outside. To-night she certainly envisaged Vere newly. Never till to-night had she thought of her as anything but a child; as characteristic, as ardent, as determined sometimes, perhaps as forceful even, but always with a child's mind behind it all.
But to the people of the South Vere was already a woman -- even to Gaspare, who had held her in his arms when she was in long clothes. At least Hermione supposed so now, after wh
A Spirit In Prison
by Robert Hichens
"I can see the boat, Vere," said Hermione, when the girl came back, her eyes still gleaming with memories of the fun of the cigarette game with Ruffo.
She sat down quickly beside her mother on the window-seat, leaning against her confidentially and looking out over the sea. Hermione put her arm round the girl's shoulder.
"There! Don't you see!" She pointed. "It has passed Casa Pantano."
"I see! Yes, that is Gaspare, and Monsieur Emile in the stern. They won't be late for lunch. I almost wish they would, Madre."
"I'm not a bit hungry. Ruffo wouldn't eat the dolce, so I did."
"Ruffo! You seem to have made great friends with that boy."
She did not speak rebukingly, but with a sort of tender amusement.
"I really have," returned Vere.
She put her head against her mother's shoulder.
"Isn't this odd, Madre? Twice in the short time I've known Ruffo, he's obeyed me. The first time he was in the boat. I called out to him to dive in, and he did it instantly. The second time he was under water, at the very bottom of the sea. He looked as if he were dead, and for a minute I felt frightened. So I called out to him to come up, and he came up directly."
"But that only shows that he's a polite boy and does what you wish."
"No, no. He didn't hear me either time. He had no idea I had called. But each time I did, without hearing me he had the sudden wish to do what I wanted. Now, isn't that curious?"
"Madre?" she added.
"You think you influenced him?"
"Don't you think I did?"
"Perhaps so. There's a sympathetic link of youth between you. You are gloriously young, both of you, little daughter. And youth turns naturally to youth, though I'm afraid old age doesn't always turn naturally to old age."
"What do you know about old age, Madre? You haven't a gray hair."
She spoke with anxious encouragement.
"It's true. My hair declines to get gray."
"I don't believe you'll ever be gray."
"Probably not. But there's another grayness -- Life behind one instead of before; the emotional -- "
She stopped herself. This was not for Vere.
"They're close in," she said, looking out of the window.
She waved her hand. The big man in the stern of the boat took off his hat in reply, and waved his hand, too. The rower pulled with the vivacity that comes to men near the end of a task, and the boat shot into the Pool of the Saint, where Ruffo was at that moment enjoying his third cigarette.
"I'll run down and meet Monsieur Emile," said Vere.
And she disappeared as swiftly as she had come.
The big man who got out of the boat could not claim Hermione's immunity from gray hairs. His beard was lightly powdered with them, and though much of the still thick hair on his head was brown, and his figure was erect, and looked strong and athletic -- he seemed what he was, a man of middle age, who had lived, and thought, and observed much. His eyes had the peculiar expression of eyes that have seen very many and very various sights. It was difficult to imagine them not looking keenly intelligent. The vivacity of youth was no longer in them, but the vividness of intellect, of an intellect almost fiercely alive and tenacious of its life, was never absent from them.
As Artois got out, the boat's prow was being held by the Sicilian, Gaspare, now a man of thirty-five, but still young-looking. Many Sicilians grow old quickly -- hard life wears them out. But Gaspare's fate had been easier than that of most of his contemporaries and friends of Marechiaro. Ever since the tragic death of the beloved master, whom he still always spoke of as "mio Padrone," he had been Hermione's faithful attendant and devoted friend. Yes, she knew him to be that -- she wished him to be that. Their stations in life might be different, but they had come to sorrow together. They had suffered together and been in sympathy while they suffered. He had loved what she had loved, lost it when she had lost it, wept for it when she had wept.
And he had been with her when she had waited for the coming of the child.
Hermione really cared for three people: Gaspare was one of them. He knew it. The other two were Vere and Emile Artois.
"Vere," said Artois, taking her two hands closely in his large hands, and gazing into her face with the kind, even affectionate directness that she loved in him: "do you know that to-day you are looking insolent?"
"Insolent!" said the girl. "How dare you!"
She tried to take her hands away.
"Insolently young," he said, keeping them authoritatively.
"But I am young. What do you mean, Monsieur Emile?"
"I? It is your meaning I am searching for."
"I sha'n't let you find it. You are much too curious about people. But -- I've been having a game this morning."
"A game! Who was your playmate?"
But her bright eyes went for the fraction of a second to Ruffo, who close by in the boat was lying at his ease, his head thrown back, and one of the cigarettes between his lips.
"What! That boy there?"
"Nonsense! Come along! Madre has been sitting at the window for ages looking out for the boat. Couldn't you sail at all Gaspare?"
Artois had let go her hands, and now she turned to the Sicilian.
"To Naples, Signorina, and nearly to the Antico Giuseppone coming back."
"But we had to do a lot of tacking," said Artois. "Mon Dieu! That boy is smoking one of my cigarettes! You sacrilegious little creature! You have been robbing my box!"
Gaspare's eyes followed Artois' to Ruffo, who was watching them attentively, but who now looked suddenly sleepy.
"It belongs to Madre."
"It was bought for me."
"I like you better with a pipe. You are too big for cigarettes. And besides, artists always smoke pipes."
"Allow me to forget that I try to be an artist when I come to the island, Vere."
"Yes, yes, I will," she said, with a pretty air of relenting. "You poor thing, here you are a king incognito, and we all treat you quite familiarly. I'll even go first, regardless of etiquette." And she went off to the steps that led upward to the house.
Artois followed her. As he went he said to Ruffo in the Neapolitan dialect:
"It's a good cigarette, isn't it? You are in luck this morning."
"Si, Signore," said the boy, smiling. "The Signorina gave me ten."
And he blew out a happy cloud.
There was something in his welcoming readiness of response, something in his look and voice, that seemed to stir within the tenacious mind of Artois a quivering chord of memory.
"I wonder if I have spoken to that boy in Naples?" he thought, as he mounted the steps behind Vere.
Hermione met him at the door of her room, and they went in almost directly to lunch with Vere. When the meal was over Vere disappeared, without saying why, and Hermione and Artois returned to Hermione's room to have coffee. By this time the day was absolutely windless, the sky had become nearly white, and the sea was a pale gray, flecked here and there with patches of white.
"This is like a June day of scirocco," said Artois, as he lit his pipe with the air of a man thoroughly at home. "I wonder if it will succeed in affecting Vere's spirits. This morning, when I arrived, she looked wildly young. But the day held still some blue then."
Hermione was settling herself slowly in a low chair near the window that faced Capri. The curious, rather ghastly light from the sea fell over her.
"Vere is very sensitive to almost all influences," she said. "You know that, Emile."
"Yes," he said, throwing away the match he had been using; "and the influence of this morning roused her to joy. What was it?"
"She was very excited watching a diver for frutti di mare."
"A boy about seventeen or eighteen, black hair, Arab eyes, bronze skin, a smile difficult to refuse, and a figure almost as perfect as a Nubian's, but rather squarer about the shoulders?"
"You have seen him, then?"
"Smoking ten of my special Khali Targa cigarettes, with his bare toes cocked up, and one hand drooping into the Saint's Pool."
"My cigarettes! They're common property here," she said.
"That boy can't be a pure-bred Neapolitan, surely. And yet he speaks the language. There's no mistaking the blow he gives to the last syllable of a sentence."
"He's a Sicilian, Vere says."
"I don't know."
"I fancy I must have run across him somewhere in or about Naples. It is he who made Vere, as I told her, look so insolently young this morning."
"Ah, you noticed! I, too, thought I had never seen her so full of the inner spirit of youth -- almost as he was in Sicily."
"Yes," Artois said, gravely. "In some things she is very much his daughter."
"In some things only?" asked Hermione.
"Don't you think so? Don't you think she has much of you in her also? I do."
"Has she? I don't know that I see it. I don't know that I want to see it. I always look for him in Vere. You see, I dreamed of having a boy. Vere is instead of the boy I dreamed of, the boy -- who never came, who will never come."
"My friend," said Artois, very seriously and gently, "are you still allowing your mind to dwell upon that old imagination? And with Vere before you, can you regard her merely as a substitute, an understudy?"
An energy that was not free from passion suddenly flamed up in Hermione.
"I love Vere," she said. "She is very close to me. She knows it. She does not doubt me or my love."
"But," he quietly persisted, "you still allow your mind to rove ungoverned among those dangerous ways of the past?"
"Emile," she said, still speaking with vehemence, "it may be very easy to a strong man like you to direct his thoughts, to keep them out of one path and guide them along another. It may be -- I don't know whether it is; but I don't pretend to such strength. I don't believe it is ever given to women. Perhaps even strength has its sex -- I sometimes think so. I have my strength, believe me. But don't require of me the peculiar strength that is male."
"The truth is that you love living in the past as the Bedouin loves living in the desert."
"It was my oasis," she answered, simply.
"And all these years -- they have made no difference?"
"Did you think they would? Did you think they had?"
"I hoped so. I thought -- I had begun to think that you lived again in Vere."
"Emile, you can always stand the truth, can't you? Don't say you can't. That would hurt me horribly. Perhaps you do not know how sometimes I mentally lean on you. And I like to feel that if you knew the absolute truth of me you would still look upon me with the same kind, understanding eyes as now. Perhaps no one else would. Would you, do you think?"
"I hope and believe I could," he said. "You do not live in Vere. Is that it?"
"I know it is considered the right, the perfectly natural thing that a mother, stricken as I have been, should find in time perfect peace and contentment in her child. Even you -- you spoke of 'living again.' It's the consecrated phrase, Emile, isn't it? I ought to be living again in Vere. Well, I'm not doing that. With my nature I could never do that. Is that horrible?"
"Ma pauvre amie!" he said.
He bent down and touched her hand.
"I don't know," she said, more calmly, as if relieved, but still with an undercurrent of passion, "whether I could ever live again in the life of another. But if I did it would be in the life of a man. I am not made to live in a woman's life, really to live, giving out the force that is in me. I know I'm a middle-aged woman -- to these Italians here more than that, an old woman. But I'm not a finished woman, and I never shall be till I die. Vere is my child. I love her tenderly; more than that -- passionately. She has always been close to me, as you know. But no, Emile, my relation to Vere, hers to me, does not satisfy all my need of love, my power to love. No, no, it doesn't. There's something in me that wants more, much more than that. There's something in me that -- I think only a son of his could have satisfied my yearning. A son might have been Maurice come back to me, come back in a different, beautiful, wonderfully pure relation. I prayed for a son. I needed a son. Don't misunderstand me, Emile; in a way a son could never have been so close to me as Vere is, -- but I could have lived in him as I can never live in Vere. I could have lived in him almost as once I lived in Maurice. And to-day I -- "
She got up suddenly from her chair, put her arms on the window-frame, and leaned out to the strange, white day.
"Emile," she said, in a moment, turning round to him, "I want to get away, on to the sea. Will you row me out, into the Grotto of Virgil?[*] It's so dreadfully white here, white and ghastly. I can't talk naturally here. And I should like to go on a little farther, now I've begun. It would do me good to make a clean breast of it, dear brother confessor. Shall we take the little boat and go?"
[*] The grotto described in this book is not really the Grotto of Virgil, but it is often called so by the fishermen along the coast.
"Of course," he said.
"I'll get a hat."
She was away for two or three minutes. During that time Artois stood by the window that looked towards Ischia. The stillness of the day was intense, and gave to his mind a sensation of dream. Far off across the gray-and-white waters, partially muffled in clouds that almost resembled mist, the mountains of Ischia were rather suggested, mysteriously indicated, than clearly seen. The gray cliffs towards Bagnoli went down into motionless water gray as they were, but of a different, more pathetic shade.
There was a luminous whiteness in the sky that affected the eyes, as snow does.
Artois, as he looked, thought this world looked very old, a world arranged for the elderly to dwell in. Was it not, therefore, an appropriate setting for him and for Hermione? As this idea came into his mind it sent a rather bitter smile to his lips, and Hermione, coming in just then, saw the smile and said, --
"What is it, Emile? Why are you smiling?"
"Perhaps I will tell you when we are on the sea," he answered.
He looked at her. She had on a black hat, over which a white veil was fastened. It was tied beneath her chin, and hung down in a cloud over her breast. It made him think of the strange misty clouds which brooded about the breasts of the mountains of Ischia.
"Shall we go?" she said.
"Yes. What is Vere doing?"
"She is in her room."
"What is she doing there?"
"Reading, I suppose. She often shuts herself up. She loves reading almost more than I do."
Hermione led the way down-stairs. When they were outside, on the crest of the islet, the peculiar sickliness of the weather struck them both more forcibly.
"This is the strangest scirocco effect I think I have ever seen," said Artois. "It is as if nature were under the influence of a drug, and had fallen into a morbid dream, with eyes wide open, and pale, inert and folded hands. I should like to see Naples to-day, and notice if this weather has any effect upon that amazing population. I wonder if my young friend, Marchese Isidoro Panacci -- By-the-way, I haven't told you about him?"
"I must. But not now. We will continue our former conversation. Where shall we find the boat, the small one?"
"Gaspare will bring it -- Gaspare! Gaspare!"
"Signora!" cried a strong voice below.
"La piccola barca!"
"Va bene, Signora!"
They descended slowly. It would have been almost impossible to do anything quickly on such a day. The smallest movement, indeed, seemed almost an outrage, likely to disturb the great white dreamer of the sea. When they reached the foot of the cliff Gaspare was there, holding the little craft in which Vere had gone out with Ruffo.
"Do you want me, Signora?"
"No, thank you, Gaspare. Don Emilio will row me. We are only going a very little way."
She stepped in. As Artois followed her he said to Gaspare:
"Those fishermen have gone?"
"Five minutes ago, Signore. There they are!"
He pointed to a boat at some distance, moving slowly in the direction of Posilipo.
"I have been talking with them. One says he is of my country, a Sicilian."
"Si, Signore, the giovinotto. But he cannot speak Sicilian, and he has never been in Sicily, poveretto!"
Gaspare spoke with an accent of pity in which there was almost a hint of contempt.
"A rivederci, Signore," he added, pushing off the little boat.
"A rivederci, Gaspare."
Artois took the oars and paddled very gently out, keeping near to the cliffs of the opposite shore.
"Even San Francesco looks weary to-day," he said, glancing across the pool at the Saint on his pedestal. "I should not be surprised if, when we return, we find that he has laid down his cross and is reclining like the tired fishermen who come here in the night. Where shall we go?"
"To the Grotto of Virgil."
"I wonder if Virgil was ever in his grotto? I wonder if he ever came here on such a day of scirocco as this, and felt that the world was very old, and he was even older than the world?"
"Do you feel like that to-day?"
"I feel that this is a world suitable for the old, for those who have white hairs to accord with the white waters, and whose nights are the white nights of age."
"Was that why you were smiling so strangely just now when I came in?"
He rowed on softly. The boat slipped out of the Pool of the Saint, and then they saw the Capo Coroglio and the Island of Nisida with its fort. On their right, and close to them, rose the weary-looking cliffs, honey-combed with caverns, and seamed with fissures as an old and haggard face is seamed with wrinkles that tell of many cares.
"Here is the grotto," said Hermione, almost directly. "Row in gently."
He obeyed her and turned the boat, sending it in under the mighty roof of rock.
A darkness fell upon them. They had a safe, enclosed sensation in escaping for a moment from the white day, almost as if they had escaped from a white enemy.
Artois let the oars lie still in the water, keeping his hands lightly upon them, and both Hermione and he were silent for a few minutes, listening to the tiny sounds made now and then by drops of moisture which fell from the cavern roof softly into the almost silent sea. At last Artois said:
"You are out of the whiteness now. This is a shadowed place like a confessional, where murmuring lips tell to strangers the stories of their lives. I am not a stranger, but tell me, my friend, about yourself and Vere. Perhaps you scarcely know how deeply the mother and child problem interests me -- that is, when mother and child are two real forces, as you and Vere are."
"Then you think Vere has force?"
"Do not you?"
"What kind of force?"
"You mean physical, intellectual, or moral? Suppose I say she has the force of charm!"
"Indeed she has that, as he had. That is one of the attributes she derives from Maurice."
"Yes. He had a wonderful charm. And then, Vere has passion."
"You think so?"
"I am sure of it. Where does she get that from?"
"He was full of the passion of the South."
"I think Vere has a touch of Northern passion in her, too, combined perhaps with the other. And that, I think, she derives from you. Then I discern in Vere intellectual force, immature, embryonic if you like, but unmistakable."
"That does not come from me," Hermione said, suddenly, almost with bitterness.
"Why -- why will you be unnecessarily humiliated?" Artois exclaimed.
His voice was confusedly echoed by the cavern, which broke into faint, but deep mutterings. Hermione looked up quickly to the mysterious vault which brooded above them, and listened till the chaotic noises died away. Then she said:
"Do you know what they remind me of?"
"My efforts. Those efforts I made long ago to live again in work."
"When you wrote?"
"Yes, when I tried to throw my mind and my heart down upon paper. How strange it was! I had Vere -- but she wasn't enough to still the ache. And I knew what work can be, what a consolation, because I knew you. And I stretched out my hands to it -- I stretched out my soul. And it was no use; I wasn't made to be a successful writer. When I spoke from my heart to try and move men and save myself, my words were seized, as yours were just now by the rock -- seized, and broken, and flung back in confusion. They struck my heart like stones. Emile, I'm one of those people who can only do one thing: I can only feel."
"It is true that you could never be an artist. Perhaps you were made to be an inspiration."
"But that's not enough. The role of starter to those who race -- I haven't the temperament to reconcile myself to that. It's not that I have in me a conceit which demands to be fed. But I have in me a force that clamors to exercise itself. Only when I was living on Monte Amato with Maurice did I feel that the force was being used as God meant it to be used."
"In loving passionately something that was utterly worthy to be loved."
Artois was silent. He knew Hermione's mistake. He knew what had never been told him: that Maurice had been false to her for the love of the peasant girl Maddalena. He knew that Maurice had been done to death by the betrayed girl's father, Salvatore. And Gaspare knew these things, too. But through all these years these two men had so respected silence, the nobility of it, the grand necessity of it in certain circumstances of life, that they had never spoken to each other of the black truth known to them both. Indeed, Artois believed that even now, after more than sixteen years, if he ventured one word against the dead man Gaspare would be ready to fly at his throat in defence of the loved Padrone. For this divined and persistent loyalty Artois had a sensation of absolute love. Between him and Gaspare there must always be the barrier of a great and mutual reserve. Yet that very reserve, because there was something truly delicate, and truly noble in it, was as a link of steel between them. They were watchdogs of Hermione. They had been watchdogs through all these years, guarding her from the knowledge of a truth. And so well had they done her service that now to-day she was able to say, with clasped hands and the light of passion in her eyes:
"Something that was utterly worthy to be loved."
When Artois spoke again he said:
"And that force cannot be fully used in loving Vere?"
"No, Emile. Is that very horrible, very unnatural?"
"Why should it be?"
"I have tried -- I have tried for years, Emile, to make Vere enough. I have even been false with myself. I have said to myself that she was enough. I did that after I knew that I could never produce work of any value. When Vere was a baby I lived only for her. Again, when she was beginning to grow up, I tried to live, I did live only for her. And I remember I used to say, I kept on saying to myself, 'This is enough for me. I do not need any more than this. I have had my life. I am now a middle-aged woman. I must live in my child. This will be my satisfaction. This is my satisfaction. This is using rightly and naturally all that force I feel within me.' I kept on saying this. But there is something within one which rises up and defies a lie -- however beautiful the lie is, however noble it is. And I think even a lie can sometimes be both. Don't you, Emile?"
It almost seemed to him for a moment that she knew his lie and Gaspare's.
"Yes," he said. "I do think so."
"Well, that lie of mine -- it was defied. And it had no more courage."
"I want you to tell me something," he said, quietly. "I want you to tell me what has happened to-day."
"Yes. Something has happened either to-day or very recently -- I am sure of it -- that has stirred up within you this feeling of acute dissatisfaction. It was always there. But something has called it into the open. What has done that?"
"Perhaps you don't know," he said.
"I was wondering -- yes, I do know. I must be truthful with myself -- with you. I do know. But it seems so strange, so almost inexplicable, and even rather absurd."
"Truth often seems absurd."
"It was that boy, that diver for frutti di mare -- Ruffo."
"The boy with the Arab eyes?"
"Yes. Of course I have seen many boys full of life and gayety and music. There are so many in Italy. But -- well, I don't know -- perhaps it was partly Vere."
"How do you mean?"
"Vere was so interested in him. It may have been that. Or perhaps it was something in his look and in his voice when he was singing. I don't really know what it was. But that boy made me feel -- more horribly than I have ever felt before -- that Vere is not enough. Emile, there is some hunger, so persistent, so peculiar, so intense, that one feels as if it must be satisfied eventually, as if it were impossible for it not to be satisfied. I think that human hunger for immortal life is like that, and I think my hunger for a son is like that. I know my hunger can never be satisfied. And yet it lives on in me just as if it knew more than I know, as if it knew that it could and must. After all these years I can't, no, I can't reconcile myself to the fact that Maurice was taken from me so utterly, that he died without stamping himself upon a son. It seems as if it couldn't be. And I feel to-day that I cannot bear that it is."
There were tears standing in her eyes. She had spoken with a force of feeling, with a depth of sincerity, that startled Artois, intimately as he knew her. Till this moment he had not quite realized the wonderful persistence of love in the hearts of certain women, and not only the persistence of love's existence, but of its existence undiminished, unabated by time.
"How am I to bear it?" she said, as he did not speak.
"I cannot tell. I am not worthy to know. And besides, I must say to you, Hermione, that one of the greatest mysteries in human life, at any rate to me, is this: how some human beings do bear the burdens laid upon them. Christ bore His cross. But there has only been, since the beginning of things, one Christ, and it is unthinkable that there can ever be another. But all those who are not Christ, how is it they bear what they do bear? It is easy to talk of bravery, the necessity for it in life. It is always very easy to talk. The thing that is impossible is to understand. How can you come to me to help you, my friend? And suppose I were to try. How could I try, except by saying that I think Vere is very worthy to be loved with all your love?"
"You love Vere, don't you, Emile?"
"And I do. You don't doubt that?"
"After all I have said, the way I have spoken, you might."
"I do not doubt it for a moment."
"I wonder if there is any mother who would not, if I spoke to her as I have spoken to you to-day?"
"I think there is a great deal of untruth spoken of mother's love, a great deal of misconception about it, as there is about most very strange, and very wonderful and beautiful things. But are you so sure that if your husband had stamped himself upon a boy this force within you could have been satisfied?"
"I have believed so."
She was silent. Then she added, quietly, "I do believe so."
He did not speak, but sat looking down at the sea, which was full of dim color in the cave.
"I think you are doubting that it would have been so?" she said, at last.
"Yes, that is true. I am doubting."
"I wonder why?"
"I cannot help feeling that there is passion in you, such passion as could not be satisfied in any strict, maternal relationship."
"But I am old, dear Emile," she said, very simply.
"When I was standing by that window, looking at the mountains of Ischia, I was saying to myself, 'This is an old, tired world, suitable for me -- and for you. We are in our right environment to-day.' I was saying that, Hermione, but was I believing it, really? I don't think I was. And I am ten years older than you, and I have been given a nature that was, I think, always older than yours could ever be."
"I wonder if that is so."
She looked at him very directly, even searchingly, not with eager curiosity, but with deep inquiry.
"You know, Emile," she added, "I tell you very much, but you tell me very little. Not that I wish to ask anything -- no. I respect all your reserve. And about your work: you tell me all that. It is a great thing in my life, your work. Perhaps you don't realize how sometimes I live in the book that you are doing, almost as if I were writing it myself. But your inner life -- "
"But I have been frankness itself with you," said Artois. "To no one have I ever said so much as to you."
"Yes, I know, about many things. But about emotion, love, -- not friendship, the other love -- do you get on without that? When you say your nature has always been older than mine, do you mean that it has always been harder to move by love, that it has had less need of love?"
"I think so. For many years in my life I think that work has filled the place love occupies in many, perhaps in most men's lives. Everything comes second to work. I know that, because if any one attempts to interfere with my work, or to usurp any of the time that should be given to it, any regard I may have for that person turns at once to irritation, almost to hatred."
"I have never done that?"
"You -- no. Of course, I have been like other men. When I was young -- well, Hermione, after all I am a Frenchman, and though I am of Normandy, still I passed many years in Paris, as you know."
"All that I understand. But the real thing? Such as I have known?"
"I have never broken my heart for any one, though I have known agitations. But even those were long ago. And since I was thirty-five I have never felt really dominated by any one. Before that time I occasionally passed under the yoke, I believe, like other men. Why do you fix your eyes on me like that?"
"I was wondering if you could ever pass under the yoke again."
"Honestly, I do not think so. I am not sure. When can one be certain that one will never be, or do, this or that? Surely," -- he smiled, -- "you are not afraid for me?"
"I do not say that. But I think you have forces in you not fully exercised even by your work."
"Possibly. But there the years do really step in and count for something, even for much. There is no doubt that as the years increase, the man who cares at all for intellectual pleasures is able to care for them more, is able to substitute them, without keen regret, without wailing and gnashing of teeth, for certain other pleasures, to which, perhaps, formerly he clung. That is why the man who is mentally and bodily -- you know what I mean?"
"Has such an immense advantage in years of decline over the man who is merely a bodily man."
"I am sure that is true. But -- "
"What is it?"
"The heart? What about that?"
"Perhaps there are some hearts that can fulfil themselves sufficiently in friendship."
As Artois said this his eyes rested upon Hermione with an expression in them that revealed much that he never spoke in words. She put out her hand, and took his, and pressed it, holding hers over it upon the oar.
"Emile," she said, "sometimes you make me feel unworthy and ungrateful because -- because I still need, I dare to need more than I have been given. Without you I don't know how I should have faced it."
"Without me you would never have had to face it."
That was the cry that rose up perpetually in the heart of Artois, the cry that Hermione must never hear. He said to her now:
"Without you, Hermione, I should be dust in the dust of Africa!"
"Perhaps we each owe something to the other," she said. "It is blessed to have a debt to a friend."
"Would to God that I could pay all my debt to you!" Artois exclaimed.
Again the cavern took up his voice and threw it back to the sea in confused and hollow mutterings. They both looked up, as if some one were above them, warning them or rebuking them. At that instant they had the feeling that they were being watched. But there was only the empty gray sea about them, and over their heads the rugged, weary rock that had leaned over the sea for countless years.
"Hark!" said Artois, "it is telling me that my debt to you can never be paid: only in one way could it be partially discharged. If I could show you a path to happiness, the happiness you long for, and need, the passionate happiness of the heart that is giving where it rejoices to give -- for your happiness must always be in generosity -- I should have partially paid my debt to you. But that is impossible."
"I've made you sad to-day by my complaining," she said, with self- rebuke; "I'm sorry. You didn't realize?"
"How it was with you? No, not quite -- I thought you were more at peace than you are."
"Till to-day I believe I was half deceived too."
"That singing boy, that -- what is his name?"
"That Ruffo, I should like to run a knife into him under the left shoulder-blade. How dare he, a ragamuffin from some hovel of Naples, make you know that you are unhappy?"
"How strange it is what outside things, or people who have no connection with us or with our lives, can do to us unconsciously!" she said. "I have heard a hundred boys sing on the Bay, seen a hundred rowing their boats into the Pool -- and just this one touches some chord, and all the strings of my soul quiver."
"Some people act upon us somewhat as nature does sometimes. And Vere paid the boy. There is another irony of unconsciousness. Vere, bone of your bone, flesh of your flesh, rewards your pain-giver. How we hide ourselves from those we love best and live with most intimately! You, her mother, are a stranger to Vere. Does not to-day prove it?"
"Ah, but Vere is not a stranger to me. That is where the mother has the advantage of the child."
Artois did not make any response to this remark. To cover his silence, perhaps, he grasped the oars more firmly and began to back the boat out of the cave. Both felt that it was no longer necessary to stay in this confessional of the rock.
As they came out under the grayness of the sky, Hermione, with a change of tone, said:
"And your friend? The Marchese -- what is his name?"
"Tell me about him."
"He is a very perfect type of a complete Neapolitan of his class. He has scarcely travelled at all, except in Italy. Once he has been in Paris, where I met him, and once to Lucerne for a fortnight. Both his father and mother are Neapolitans. He is a charming fellow, utterly unintellectual, but quite clever; shrewd, sharp at reading character, marvellously able to take care of himself, and hold his own with anybody. A cat to fall on his feet! He is apparently born without any sense of fear, and with a profound belief in destiny. He can drive four-in-hand, swim for any number of hours without tiring, ride -- well, as an Italian cavalry officer can ride, and that is not badly. His accomplishments? He can speak French -- abominably, and pick out all imaginable tunes on the piano, putting instinctively quite tolerable basses. I don't think he ever reads anything, except the Giorno and the Mattino. He doesn't care for politics, and likes cards, but apparently not too much. They're no craze with him. He knows Naples inside out, and is as frank as a child that has never been punished."
"I should think he must be decidedly attractive?"
"Oh, he is. One great attraction he has -- he appears to have no sense at all that difference of age can be a barrier between two men. He is twenty-four, and I am what I am. He is quite unaware that there is any gulf between us. In every way he treats me as if I were twenty-four."
"Is that refreshing or embarrassing?"
"I find it generally refreshing. His family accepts the situation with perfect naivete. I am welcomed as Doro's chum with all the good-will in the world."
Hermione could not help laughing, and Artois echoed her laugh.
"Merely talking about him has made you look years younger," she declared. "The influence of the day has lifted from you."
"It would not have fallen upon Isidoro, I think. And yet he is full of sentiment. He is a curious instance of a very common Neapolitan obsession."
"What is that?"
"He is entirely obsessed by woman. His life centres round woman. You observe I use the singular. I do that because it is so much more plural than the plural in this case. His life is passed in love- affairs, in a sort of chaos of amours."
"How strange that is!"
"You think so, my friend?"
"Yes. I never can understand how human beings can pass from love to love, as many of them do. I never could understand it, even before I -- even before Sicily."
"You are not made to understand such a thing."
"But you do?"
"I? Well, perhaps. But the loves of men are not as your love."
"Yet his was," she answered. "And he was a true Southerner, despite his father.
"Yes, he was a true Southerner," Artois replied.
For once he was off his guard with her, and uttered his real thought of Maurice, not without a touch of the irony that was characteristic of him.
Immediately he had spoken he was aware of his indiscretion. But Hermione had not noticed it. He saw by her eyes that she was far away in Sicily. And when the boat slipped into the Saint's Pool, and Gaspare came to the water's edge to hold the prow while they got out, she rose from her seat slowly, and almost reluctantly, like one disturbed in a dream that she would fain continue.
"Have you seen the Signorina, Gaspare?" she asked him. "Has she been out?"
"No, Signora. She is still in the house."
"Still reading!" said Artois. "Vere must be quite a book-worm!"
"Will you stay to dinner, Emile?"
"Alas, I have promised the Marchesino Isidoro to dine with him. Give me a cup of tea a la Russe, and one of Ruffo's cigarettes, and then I must bid you adieu. I'll take the boat to the Antico Giuseppone, and then get another there as far as the gardens."
"One of Ruffo's cigarettes!" Hermione echoed, as they went up the steps. "That boy seems to have made himself one of the family already."
"Yet I wish, as I said in the cave, that I had put a knife into him under the left shoulder-blade -- before this morning."
They spoke lightly. It seemed as if each desired for the moment to get away from their mood in the confessional of Virgil's Grotto, and from the sadness of the white and silent day.
As to Ruffo, about whom they jested, he was in sight of Naples, and not far from Mergellina, still rowing with tireless young arms, and singing to "Bella Napoli," with a strong resolve in his heart to return to the Saint's Pool on the first opportunity and dive for more cigarettes.
At the Antico Giuseppone, Artois left the boat from the islet and, taking another, was rowed towards the public gardens of Naples, whose trees were faintly visible far off across the Bay. Usually he talked familiarly to any Neapolitan with whom he found himself, but to-day he was taciturn, and sat in the stern of the broad-bottomed craft looking towards the city in silence while the boatman plied his oars. The memory of his conversation with Hermione in the Grotto of Virgil, of her manner, the look in her eyes, the sound of her voice there, gave him food for thought that was deep and serious.
Although Artois had an authoritative, and often an ironical manner that frightened timid people, he was a man capable of much emotion and of great loyalty. He did not easily trust or easily love, but in those whose worth he had thoroughly proved he had a confidence as complete as that of a child. And where he placed his complete confidence he placed also his affection. The one went with the other almost as inevitably as the wave goes with the wind.
In their discussion about the emotion of the heart Artois had spoken the truth to Hermione. As he had grown older he had felt the influence of women less. The pleasures of sentiment had been gradually superceded in his nature -- or so at least he honestly believed -- by the purely intellectual pleasures. More and more completely and contentedly had he lived in his work, and in the life of preparation for it. This life could never be narrow, for Artois was a traveller, and studied many lands.
In the years that had elapsed since the tragedy in Sicily, when the husband of Hermione had met his death suddenly in the sea, almost in sight of the home of the girl he had betrayed, the fame of Artois had grown steadily. And he was jealous of his fame almost as a good woman is jealous of her honor. This jealousy had led him to a certain selfishness of which he was quite aware -- even to a certain hardness such as he had hinted to Hermione. Those who strove, or seemed likely to strive to interrupt him in his work, he pushed out of his life. Even if they were charming women he got rid of them. And the fact that he did so proved to him, and not improbably to them, that he was more wrapped up in the gratification of the mind than in the gratification of the heart, or of the body. It was not that the charm of charming women had ceased to please him, but it seemed to have ceased really to fascinate him.
Long ago, before Hermione married, he had felt for her a warm and intimate friendship. He had even been jealous of Maurice. Without being at all in love, he had cared enough for Hermione to be jealous. Before her marriage he had looked forward in imagination down a vista of long years, and had seen her with a husband, then with children, always more definitely separated from himself.
And he had seen himself exceptionally alone, even almost miserably alone.
Then fate had spun tragedy into her web. He had nearly died in Africa, and had been nursed back to life by this friend of whom he had been jealous. And they had gone together to Sicily, to the husband whose memory Hermione still adored. And then had followed swiftly the murder, the murderer's departure to America, saved by the silence of Gaspare, and the journey of the bereaved woman to Italy, where Artois had left her and returned to France.
Once more Artois had his friend, released from the love of another man. But he wished it were not so. Hermione's generosity met with a full response of generosity from him. All his egotism and selfishness dropped from him then, shaken down like dead leaves by the tempest of a genuine emotion. His knowledge of her grief, his understanding of its depth, brought to him a sorrow that was keen, and even exquisitely painful. For a long while he was preoccupied by an intense desire to assuage it. He strove to do so by acting almost in defiance of his nature, by fostering deception. From the Abetone Hermione had written him letters, human documents -- the tale of the suffering of a woman's heart. Many reserves she had from him and from every one. The most intimate agony was for her alone, and she kept it in her soul as the priest keeps the Sacred Host in its tabernacle. But some of her grief she showed in her letters, and some of her desire for comfort. And without any definite intention, she indicated to her subtle and devoted friend the only way in which he could console her.
For once, driven by his emotion, he took that way.
He allowed Hermione to believe that he agreed with her in the conception she had formed of her husband's love for her. It was difficult for him to do this, for he had an almost cruel passion for truth, and generally a clear insight into human character. Far less than many others would have condemned did he, in his mind, condemn the man who was dead for the sin against love that he had committed. He had understood Maurice as Hermione had not understood him, and knowledge is full of pardon. But though he could pardon easily he could not easily pretend. By pretending he sinned against himself, and helped his friend some steps along the way to peace. He thought he had helped her to go much farther along that way than she had gone. And he thought that Vere had helped her, too.
Now the hollow mutterings of the rock in Virgil's Grotto seemed to be in his heart, as he realized how permanent was the storm in Hermione's nature. Something for her he had done. And something -- much more, no doubt -- Vere had done. But how little it all was!
Their helplessness gave him a new understanding of woman.
Hermione had allowed him great privileges, had allowed him to protect her, had taken his advice. After Vere was born she had wished to go back again to Sicily. The house of the priest, where she had been so happy, and so sad, drew her. She longed for it. She desired to make it her home. He had fought against her in this matter, and had been aided by Gaspare.
There had been a subtle understanding, never expressed, between the boy and him.
Artois had played upon her intellect, had appealed, too, to her mother's heart.
He had not urged her to try to forget, but he had urged her not morbidly to remember, not to cherish and to foster the memory of the tragedy which had broken her life. To go back to that tiny home, solitary in its beautiful situation, in the changed circumstances which were hers, would be, he told her, to court and to summon sorrow. He was even cruel to be kind. When Hermione combated his view, assuring him that to her Monte Amato was like a sacred place, a place hallowed by memories of happiness, he recalled the despair in which that happiness had ended. With all the force at his command, and it was great, he drew the picture of the life that would be in comparison with the life that had been. And he told her finally that what she wished to do was morbid, was unworthy of her strength of character, was even wicked now that she was a mother. He brought before her mind those widows who make a cult of their dead. Would she be one of them? Would she steep a little child in such an atmosphere of memories, casting a young and tender mind backward into a cruel past instead of leading it forward into a joyous present? Maurice had been the very soul of happiness. Vere must be linked with the sunbeams. With his utmost subtlety Artois described and traced the effect upon a tiny and sensitive child of a mother's influence, whether for good or evil, until Hermione, who had a deep reverence for his knowledge of all phases of human nature, at last, almost in despite of the truth within her, of the interior voice which said to her, "With you and Vere it would not be so," caught alarm from his apparent alarm, drew distrust of herself from his apparent distrust of her.
Gaspare, too, played his part. When Hermione spoke to him of returning to the priest's house, almost wildly, and with the hot energy that bursts so readily up in Sicilians, he begged her not to go back to the maledetta casa in which his Padrone's dead body had lain. As he spoke a genuine fear of the cottage came upon him. All the latent superstition that dwells in the contadino was stirred as dust by a wind. In clouds it flew up about his mind. Fear looked out of his great eyes. Dread was eloquent in his gestures. And he, too, referred to the child, to the povera piccola bambina. It would cast ill-luck on the child to bring her up in a chamber of death. Her saint would forsake her. She too would die. The boy worked himself up into a fever. His face was white. Drops of sweat stood on his forehead.
He had set out to be deceptive -- what he would have called un poco birbante, and he had even deceived himself. He knew that it would be dangerous for his Padrona to live again near Marechiaro. Any day a chance scrap of gossip might reach her ears. In time she would be certain almost to hear something of the dead Padrone's close acquaintance with the dwellers in the Casa delle Sirene. She would question him, perhaps. She would suspect something. She would inquire. She would search. She would find out the hideous truth. It was this fear which made him argue on the same side as Artois. But in doing so he caught another fear from his own words. He became really natural, really truthful in his fear. And -- she scarcely knew why -- Hermione was even more governed by him than by Artois. He had lived with them in the Casa del Prete, had been an intimate part of their life there. And he was Sicilian of the soil. The boy had a real power to move, to dominate her, which he did not then suspect.
Again and again he repeated those words, "La povera bambina -- la povera piccola bambina." And at last Hermione was overcome.
"I won't go to Sicily," she said to Artois. "For if I went there I could only go to Monte Amato. I won't go until Vere is old enough to wish to go, to wish to see the house where her father and I were happy."
And she had never gone back. For Artois had not been satisfied with this early victory.
In returning from a tour in North America the following spring, when Vere was nearly two years old, he had paid a visit to Marechiaro, and, while there, had seen the contadino from whom Hermione had rented, and still rented, the house of the priest. The man was middle-aged, ignorant but shrewd, and very greedy. Artois made friends with him, and casually, over a glass of moscato, talked about his affairs and the land question in Sicily. The peasant became communicative and, of course, loud in his complaining. His land yielded nothing. The price of almonds had gone down. The lemon crop had been ruined by the storms. As to the vines -- they were all devoured by the phylloxera, and he had no money to buy and plant vines from America. Artois hinted that he received a good rent from the English lady for the cottage on Monte Amato. The contadino acknowledged that he received a fair price for the cottage and the land about it; but the house, he declared, would go to rack and ruin with no one ever in it, and the land was lying idle, for the English lady would have everything left exactly as it had been when she lived there with her husband. Artois seized upon this hint of what was in the peasant's mind, and bemoaned with him his situation. The house ought to be occupied, the land all about it, up to the very door, and behind upon the sunny mountain-side, planted with American vines. If it belonged to him that was what he would do -- plant American vines, and when the years of yielding came, give a good percentage on all the wine made and sold to the man who had tended the vineyard.
The peasant's love of money awoke. He only let the cottage to Hermione year by year, and had no contract with her extending beyond a twelve- months' lease. Before Artois left Marechiaro the tender treachery was arranged. When the year's lease was up, the contadino wrote to her declining to renew it. She answered, protesting, offering more money. But it was all in vain. The man replied that he had already let the cottage and the land around it to a grower of vines for a long term of years, and that he was getting double the annual price she offered.
Hermione was indignant and bitterly distressed. When this letter reached her she was at Fiesole with Vere in a villa which she had taken. She would probably have started at once for Sicily; but Vere was just then ill with some infantile complaint, and could not be left. Artois, who was in Rome, and had received from her the news of this carefully arranged disaster, offered to go to Sicily on her behalf -- and actually went. He returned to tell her that the house of the priest was already occupied by contadini, and all the land up to the very door in process of being dug up and planted with vines. It was useless to make any further offer. The thing was done.
Hermione said nothing, but Artois saw in her eyes how keenly she was suffering, and turned his own eyes away. He was only trying to preserve her from greater unhappiness, the agony of ever finding out the truth; but he felt guilty at that moment, and as if he had been cruel to the woman who roused all his tenderness, all his protective instinct.
"I shall not go back to Marechiaro now," Hermione said. "I shall not go back even to see the grave. I could never feel that anything of his spirit lingered there. But I did feel, I should have felt again, as if something of him still loved that little house on the mountain, still stayed among the oak-trees. It seemed to me that when I took Vere to the Casa del Prete she would have learned to know something of her father there that she could never have learned to know in another place. But now -- no, I shall not go back. If I did I should even lose my memories, perhaps, and I could not bear that."
And she had not returned. Gaspare went to Marechiaro sometimes, to see his family and his friends. He visited the grave and saw that it was properly kept. But Hermione remained in Italy. For some time she lived near Florence, first at Fiesole, later at Bellosguardo. When the summer heat came she took a villa at the Abetone. Or she spent some months with Vere beside the sea. As the girl grew older she developed a passion for the sea, and seemed to care little for the fascination of the pine forests. Hermione, noting this, gave up going to the Abetone and took a house by the sea for the whole summer. Two years they were at Santa Margherita, one year at Sorrento.
Then, sailing one evening on the sea towards Bagnoli, they saw the house on the islet beyond the Pool of San Francesco. Vere was enchanted by it.
"To live in it," she exclaimed, "would be almost like living in the sea!"
Hermione, too, was fascinated by its situation, the loneliness, the wildness, yet the radiant cheerfulness of it. She made inquiries, found that it was owned by a Neapolitan who scarcely ever went there, and eventually succeeded in getting it on a long lease. For two years now she and Vere had spent the summer there.
Artois had noticed that since Hermione had been in the Casa del Mare an old desire had begun to revive in her. She spoke more frequently of Sicily. Often she stood on the rock and looked across the sea, and he knew that she was thinking of those beloved coasts -- of the Ionian waters, of the blossoming almond-trees among the olives and the rocks, of the scarlet geraniums glowing among the thorny cactus, of the giant watercourses leading up into the mountains. A hunger was awake in her, now that she had a home so near the enchanted island.
He realized it. But he was no longer much afraid. So many years had passed that even if Hermione revisited Marechiaro he believed there would be little or no danger now of her ever learning the truth. It had never been known in the village, and if it had been suspected, all the suspicions must have long ago died down. He had been successful in his protection. He was thankful for that. It was the one thing he had been able to do for the friend who had done so much for him.
The tragedy had occurred because of him. Because of him all knowledge of it had been kept from Hermione, and would now be kept from her forever -- because of him and Gaspare.
This he had been able to do. But how powerless he was, and how powerless was Vere!
Now he looked vaguely at the villas of Posilipo, and he realized this thoroughly.
Something for her he had done, and something Vere had done. But how little it all was!
To-day a new light had been thrown upon Hermione, and he realized what she was as he had never realized it before. No, she was right. She could never live fully in a girl child -- she was not made to do that. Why had he ever thought, hoped that perhaps it might be so, that perhaps Vere might some day completely and happily fill her life? Long ago he had encouraged her to work, to write. Misled by her keen intelligence, her enthusiasm, her sincerity and vitality, by the passion that was in her, the great heart, the power of feeling, the power of criticising and inspiring another which she had freely shown to him, Artois had believed -- as he had once said to her in London -- that she might be an artist, but that she preferred to be simply a woman. But he found it was not so. Hermione had not the peculiar gift of the writer. She could feel, but she could not arrange. She could discern, but she could not expose. A flood of words came to her, but not the inevitable word. She could not take that exquisite leap from the known into the unknown which genius can take with the certainty of alighting on firm ground. In short, she was not formed and endowed to be an artist. About such matters Artois knew only how to be sincere. He was sincere with his friend, and she thanked him for being so.
One possible life was taken from Hermione, the life of the artist who lives in the life of the work.
There remained the life in Vere.
To-day Artois knew from Hermione's own lips that she could not live completely in her child, and he felt that he had been blind as men are often blind about women, are blind because they are secretly selfish. The man lives for himself, but he thinks it natural, even distinctively womanly, that women should live for others -- for him, for some other man, for their children. What man finds his life in his child? But the woman -- she surely ought to, and without difficulty. Hermione had been sincere to-day, and Artois knew his blindness, and knew his secret selfishness.
The gray was lifting a little over Naples, the distant shadowy form of Vesuvius was becoming clearer, more firm in outline. But the boatman rowed slowly, influenced by the scirocco.
How, then, was Hermione to live? How was she to find happiness or peace? It was a problem which he debated with an ardor that had in it something of passion. And he began to wonder how it would have been if he had acted differently, if he had allowed her to find out what he suspected to be the exact truth of the dead man. Long ago he had saved her from suffering. But by doing so had he not dedicated her, not to a greater, but to a longer suffering? He might have defiled a beautiful memory. He must have done so had he acted differently. But if he had defiled it, might not Hermione have been the subject of a great revulsion? Horror can kill, but it can also cure. It can surely root out love. But from such a heart as Hermione's?
Despite all his understanding of women, Artois felt at a loss to-day. He could not make up his mind what would have been the effect upon Hermione if she had learned that her husband had betrayed her.
Presently he left that subject and came to Vere.
When he did this he was conscious at once of a change within him. His tenderness and pity for Hermione were replaced by another tenderness and pity. And these were wholly for Vere. Hermione was suffering because of Maurice. But Vere was surely suffering, subconsciously, because of Hermione.
There were two links in the chain of suffering, that between Maurice and Hermione, and that between Hermione and Vere.
For a moment he felt as if Vere were bereaved, were motherless. The sensation passed directly he realized the exaggeration in his mind. But he still felt as if the girl were deprived of something which she ought to possess, which, till now, he had thought she did possess. It seemed to him that Vere stood quite outside of her mother's life, instead of in it, in its centre, its core; and he pitied the child, almost as he pitied other children from time to time, children to whom their parents were indifferent. And yet Hermione loved Vere, and Vere could not know what he had only known completely to-day -- that the mother often felt lonely with the child.
Vere did not know that, but surely some day she would find it out.
Artois knew her character well, knew that she was very sensitive, very passionate, quick to feel and quick to understand. He discovered in her qualities inherited both from her father and her mother, attributes both English and Sicilian. In appearance she resembled her father. She had "thrown back" to the Sicilian ancestor, as he had. She had the Southern eyes, the Southern grace, the Southern vivacity and warmth that had made him so attractive. But Artois divined a certain stubbornness in Vere that had been lacking in the dead man, a stubbornness that took its rise not in stupidity but in a secret consciousness of force.
Vere, Artois thought, might be violent, but would not be fickle. She had a loyalty in her that was Sicilian in its fervor, a sense of gratitude such as the contadini have, although by many it is denied to them; a quick and lively temper, but a disposition that responded to joy, to brightness, to gayety, to sunlight, with a swiftness, almost a fierceness, that was entirely un-English.
Her father had been the dancing Faun. She had not, could never have his gift of thoughtlessness. For she had intellect, derived from Hermione, and an old truthfulness that was certainly not Sicilian. Often there were what Artois called "Northern Lights" in her sincerity. The strains in her, united, made, he thought, a fascinating blend. But as yet she was undeveloped -- an interesting, a charming child, but only a child. In many ways she was young for her age. Highly intelligent, she was anything rather than "knowing." Her innocence was like clear water in a spring. The graciousness of youth was hers to the full.
As Artois thought of it he was conscious, as of a new thing, of the wonderful beauty of such innocent youth.
It was horrible to connect it with suffering. And yet that link in the chain did exist. Vere had not something that surely she ought to have, and, without consciously missing it, she must sometimes subtly, perhaps vaguely, be aware that there was a lack in her life. Her mother gave her great love. But she was not to her mother what a son would have been. And the love that is mingled with regret has surely something shadowy in it.
Maurice Delarey had been as the embodiment of joy. It was strange that from the fount of joy sorrow was thrown up. But so it was. From him sorrow had come. From him sorrow might still come, even for Vere
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