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A Spirit in Prison by Robert Hichens

Part 10 out of 13

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"I am young and you are old," he said. "And that is all the matter.
You hate me, not because you think I am wicked and might do the
Signorina harm, but because I am young. You try to keep the Signorina
from me because I am young. You do not dare to let her know what youth
is, really, really to know, really, really to feel. Because, if once
she did know, if once she did feel, if she touched the fire"--he
struck his hand down on his breast--"she would be carried away, she
would be gone from you forever. You think, 'Now she looks up to me!
She reverences me! She admires me! She worships me as a great man!'
And if once, only once she touched the fire--ah!"--he flung out both
his arms with a wide gesture, opened his mouth, then shut it, showing
his teeth like an animal.--"Away would go everything--everything. She
would forget your talent, she would forget your fame, she would forget
your thoughts, your books, she would forget you, do you hear?--all,
all of you. She would remember only that you are old and she is young,
and that, because of that, she is not for you. And then"--his voice
dropped, became cold and serious and deadly, like the voice of one
proclaiming a stark truth--"and then, if she understood you, what you
feel, and what you wish, and how you think of her--she would hate you!
How she would hate you!"

He stopped abruptly, staring at Artois, who said nothing.

"Is it not true?" he said.

He got up, taking his hat and stick from the floor.

"You do not know! Well--think! And you will know that it is true. A
rivederci, Emilio!"

His manner had suddenly become almost calm. He turned away and went
towards the door. When he reached it he added:

"To-morrow I shall ask the Signora to allow me to marry the
Signorina."

Then he went out.

The gilt clock on the marble table beneath the mirror struck the half-
hour after one. Artois looked at it and at his watch, comparing them.
The action was mechanical, and unaccompanied by any thought connected
with it. When he put his watch back into his pocket he did not know
whether its hands pointed to half-past one or not. He carried a light
chair on to the balcony, and sat down there, crossing his legs, and
leaning one arm on the rail.

"If she touched the fire." Those words of the Marchesino remained in
the mind of Artois--why, he did not know. He saw before him a vision
of a girl and of a flame. The flame aspired towards the girl, but the
girl hesitated, drew back--then waited.

What had happened during the hours of the Festa? Artois did not know.
The Marchesino had told him nothing, except that he--Artois--was madly
in love with Vere. Monstrous absurdity! What trivial nonsense men
talked in moments of anger, when they desired to wound!

And to-morrow the Marchesino would ask Vere to marry him. Of course
Vere would refuse. She had no feeling for him. She would tell him so.
He would be obliged to understand that for once he could not have his
own way. He would go out of Vere's life, abruptly, as he had come into
it.

He would go. That was certain. But others would come into Vere's life.
Fire would spring up round about her, the fire of love of men for a
girl who has fire within her, the fire of the love of youth for youth.

Youth! Artois was not by nature a sentimentalist--and he was not a
fool. He knew how to accept the inevitable things life cruelly brings
to men, without futile struggling, without contemptible pretence.
Quite calmly, quite serenely, he had accepted the snows of middle age.
He had not secretly groaned or cursed, railed against destiny, striven
to defy it by travesty, as do many men. He had thought himself to be
"above" all that--until lately. But now, as he thought of the fire, he
was conscious of an immense sadness that had in it something of
passion, or a regret that was, for a moment, desperate, bitter, that
seared, that tortured, that was scarcely to be endured. It is terrible
to realize that one is at a permanent disadvantage, which time can
only increase. And just then Artois felt that there was nothing, that
there could never be anything, to compensate any human being for the
loss of youth.

He began to wonder about the people of the island. The Marchesino had
spoken with a strange assurance. He had dared to say:

"You love the Signorina. I know it; the Signora knows it; Gaspare--he
knows it. And now you--you know it."

Was it possible that his deep interest in Vere, his paternal delight
in her talent, in her growing charm, in her grace and sweetness, could
have been mistaken for something else, for the desire of man for
woman? Vere had certainly never for a moment misunderstood him. That
he knew as surely as he knew that he was alive. But Gaspare and
Hermione? He fell into deep thought, and presently he was shaken by an
emotion that was partly disgust and partly anxiety. He got up from his
chair and looked out into the night. The weather was exquisitely
still, the sky absolutely clear. The sea was like the calm that dwells
surely in the breast of God. Naples was sleeping in the silence. But
he was terribly awake, and it began to seem to him as if he had,
perhaps, slept lately, slept too long. He was a lover of truth, and
believed himself to be a discerner of it. The Marchesino was but a
thoughtless, passionate boy, headstrong, Pagan, careless of intellect,
and immensely physical. Yet it was possible that he had been enabled
to see a truth which Artois had neither seen nor suspected. Artois
began to believe it possible, as he remembered many details of the
conduct of Hermione and of Gaspare in these last summer days. There
had been something of condemnation sometimes in the Sicilian's eyes as
they looked into his. He had wondered what it meant. Had it meant--
that? And that night in the garden with Hermione--

With all the force and fixity of purpose he fastened his mind upon
Hermione, letting Gaspare go.

If what the Marchesino had asserted were true--not that--but if
Hermione had believed it to be true, much in her conduct that had
puzzled Artois was made plain. Could she have thought that? Had she
thought it? And if she had--? Always he was looking out to the stars,
and to the ineffable calm of the sea. But now their piercing
brightness, and its large repose, only threw into a sort of blatant
relief in his mind its consciousness of the tumult of humanity. He saw
Hermione involved in that tumult, and he saw himself. And Vere?

Was it possible that in certain circumstances Vere might hate him? It
was strange that to-night Artois found himself for the first time
considering the Marchesino seriously, not as a boy, but as a man who
perhaps knew something of the world and of character better than he
did. The Marchesino had said:

"If she understood you--how she would hate you."

But surely Vere and he understood each other very well.

He looked out over the sea steadily, as he wished, as he meant, to
look now at himself, into his own heart and nature, into his own life.
Upon the sea, to the right and far off, a light was moving near the
blackness of the breakwater. It was the torch of a fisherman--one of
those eyes of the South of which Artois had thought. His eyes became
fascinated by it, and he watched it with intensity. Sometimes it was
still. Then it travelled gently onward, coming towards him. Then it
stopped again. Fire--the fire of youth. He thought of the torch as
that; as youth with its hot strength, its beautiful eagerness, its
intense desires, its spark-like hopes, moving without fear amid the
dark mysteries of the world and of life; seeking treasure in the
blackness, the treasure of an answering soul, of a completing nature,
of the desired and desirous heart, seeking its complement of love--the
other fire.

He looked far over the sea. But there was no other fire upon it.

And still the light came on.

And now he thought of it as Vere.

She was almost a child, but already her fire was being sought, longed
for. And she knew it, and must be searching, too, perhaps without
definite consciousness of what she was doing, instinctively. She was
searching there in the blackness, and in her quest she was approaching
him. But where he stood it was all dark. There was no flame lifting
itself up that could draw her flame to it. The fire that was
approaching would pass before him, would go on, exploring the night,
would vanish away from his eyes. Elsewhere it would seek the fire it
needed, the fire it would surely find at last.

And so it was. The torch came on, passed softly by, slipped from his
sight beneath the bridge of Castel dell' Uovo.

When it had gone Artois felt strangely deserted and alone, strangely
unreconciled with life. And he remembered his conversation with
Hermione in Virgil's Grotto; how he had spoken like one who scarcely
needed love, having ambition and having work to do, and being no
longer young.

To-night he felt that every one needs love first--that all the other
human needs come after that great necessity. He had thought himself a
man full of self-knowledge, full of knowledge of others. But he had
not known himself. Perhaps even now the real man was hiding somewhere,
far down, shrinking away for fear of being known, for fear of being
dragged up into the light.

He sought for this man, almost with violence.

A weariness lay beneath his violence to-night, a physical fatigue such
as he sometimes felt after work. It had been produced, no doubt, by
the secret anger he had so long controlled, the secret but intense
curiosity which was not yet satisfied, and which still haunted him and
tortured him. This curiosity he now strove to expel from his mind,
telling himself that he had no right to it. He had wished to preserve
Vere just as she was, to keep her from all outside influences. And now
he asked the real man why he had wished it? Had it been merely the
desire of the literary godfather to cherish a pretty and promising
talent? Or had something of the jealous spirit so brutally proclaimed
to him that night by the Marchesino really entered into the desire?
This torturing curiosity to know what had happened at the Festa surely
betrayed the existence of some such spirit.

He must get rid of it.

He began to walk slowly up and down the little balcony, turning every
instant like a beast in a cage. It seemed to him that the real man had
indeed lain in hiding, but that he was coming forth reluctantly into
the light.

Possibly he had been drifting without knowing it towards some nameless
folly. He was not sure. To-night he felt uncertain of himself and of
everything, almost like an ignorant child facing the world. And he
felt almost afraid of himself. Was it possible that he, holding within
him so much of the knowledge, so much of pride, could ever draw near
to a crazy absurdity, a thing that the whole world would laugh at and
despise? Had he drawn near to it. Was he near it now?

He thought of all his recent intercourse with Vere, going back
mentally to the day in spring when he arrived in Naples. He followed
the record day by day until he reached that afternoon when he had
returned from Paris, when he came to the island to find Vere alone,
when she read to him her poems. Very pitilessly, despite the
excitement still raging within him, he examined that day, that night,
recalling every incident, recalling every feeling the incidents of
those hours had elicited from his heart. He remembered how vexed he
had been when Hermione told him of the engagement for the evening. He
remembered the moments after the dinner, his sensation of loneliness
when he listened to the gay conversation of Vere and the Marchesino,
his almost irritable anxiety when she had left the restaurant and gone
out to the terrace in the darkness. He had felt angry with Panacci
then. Had he not always felt angry with Panacci for intruding into the
island life?

He followed the record of his intercourse with Vere until he reached
the Festa of that night, until he reached the moment in which he was
pacing the tiny balcony while the night wore on towards dawn.

That was the record of himself with Vere.

He began to think of Hermione. How had all this that he had just been
telling over in his mind affected her? What had she been thinking of
it--feeling about it? And Gaspare?

Even now Artois did not understand himself, did not know whither his
steps might have tended had not the brutality of the Marchesino roused
him abruptly to this self-examination, this self-consideration. He did
not fully understand himself, and he wondered very much how Hermione
and the Sicilian had understood him--judged him.

Artois had a firm belief in the right instincts of sensitive but
untutored natures, especially when linked with strong hearts capable
of deep love and long fidelity. He did not think that Gaspare would
easily misread the character or the desires of one whom he knew well.
Hermione might. She was tremendously emotional and impulsive, and
might be carried away into error. But there was a steadiness in
Gaspare which was impressive, which could not be ignored.

Artois wondered very much what Gaspare had thought.

There was a tap at the door, and Gaspare came in, holding his soft hat
in his hand, and looking tragic and very hot and tired.

"Oh, Gaspare!" said Artois, coming in from the balcony, "they have
come back."

"Lo so, Signore."

"And they are sleeping here for the night."

"Si, Signore."

Gaspare looked at him as if inquiring something of him.

"Sit down a minute," said Artois, "and have something to drink. You
must spend the night here, too. The porter will give you a bed."

"Grazie, Signore."

Gaspare sat down by the table, and Artois gave him some Nocera and
lemon-juice. He would not have brandy or whiskey, though he would not
have refused wine had it been offered to him.

"Where have you been?" Artois asked him.

"Signore, I have been all over the Piazza di Masaniello and the
Mercato. I have been through all the streets near by. I have been down
by the harbor. And the Signorina?"

He stared at Artois searchingly above his glass. His face was covered
with perspiration.

"I only saw her for a moment. She went to bed almost immediately."

"And that Signore?"

"He has gone home."

Gaspare was silent for a minute. Then he said:

"If I had met that Signore--" He lifted his right hand, which was
lying on the table, and moved it towards his belt.

He sighed, and again looked hard at Artois.

"It is better that I did not meet him," he said, with na´ve
conviction. "It is much better. The Signorina is not for him."

Artois was sitting opposite to him, with the table between them.

"The Signorina is not for him," repeated Gaspare, with a dogged
emphasis.

His large eyes were full of a sort of cloudy rebuke and watchfulness.
And as he met them Artois felt that he knew what Gaspare had thought.
He longed to say, "You are wrong. It is not so. It was never so." But
he only said:

"The Signore Marchese will know that to-morrow."

And as he spoke the words he was conscious of an immense sensation of
relief which startled him. He was too glad when he thought of the
final dismissal of the Marchesino.

Gaspare nodded his head and put his glass to his lips. When he set it
down again it was empty. He moved to get up, but Artois detained him.

"And so you met Ruffo to-night?" he said.

Gaspare's expression completely changed. Instead of the almost cruel
watcher, he became the one who felt that he was watched.

"Si, Signore."

"Just when the balloon went up?"

"Si, Signore. They were beside me in the crowd."

"Was he alone with his mother?"

"Si, Signore. Quite alone."

"Gaspare, I have seen Ruffo's mother."

Gaspare looked startled.

"Truly, Signore?"

"Yes. I saw her with him one day at the Mergellina. She was crying."

"Perhaps she is unhappy. Her husband is in prison."

"Because of Peppina."

"Si."

"And to-night you spoke to her for the first time?"

Artois laid a strong emphasis on the final words.

"Signore, I have never met her with Ruffo before."

The two men looked steadily at each other. A question that could not
be evaded, a question that would break like a hammer upon a mutual
silence of years, was almost upon Artois' lips. Perhaps Gaspare saw
it, for he got up with determination.

"I am going to bed now, Signore. I am tired. Buona notte, Signore."

He took up his hat and went out.

Artois had not asked his question. But he felt that it was answered.

Gaspare knew. And he knew.

And Hermione--did Fate intend that she should know?

CHAPTER XXXI

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

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

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

"It doesn't matter, Signorina."

"Did you get back very late?"

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

She looked away from him and out to sea.

"I am very sorry," she repeated.

And he again said:

"It doesn't matter, Signorina."

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

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

"Is the Signorina ill?" he asked.

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

"Va bene, Signora."

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

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

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

"What Signore? The Marchese!"

"Si, Signora."

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

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

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

"Up in her room, Signora."

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

"Si, Signora."

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

"The Signora will see you, Signor Marchese."

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

"The Signora will see you," repeated Gaspare.

"Va bene," said the Marchesino.

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

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

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

But he heard no sound of voices speaking.

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

By Emilio?

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

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

"Good-afternoon, Signora."

Hermione sat down. He followed her example.

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

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

"What is it?"

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

But Hermione interrupted him.

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

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

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

"It is quite useless to talk about it."

"But why, Signora?"

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

An angry fire shone in his eyes.

"Oh no, you are not stupid."

"Then I shall understand."

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

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

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

His tone stung her.

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

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

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

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

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

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

She spoke with a sudden and intense heat.

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

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

"Do you suppose she would come near you?"

"Certainly."

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

"What!"

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

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

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

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

"Very well, Marchese."

Hermione rang the bell. It was answered by Gaspare.

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

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

"Go, Gaspare, please."

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

"Signora, I have told the Signorina."

"What did she say?"

Gaspare looked at the Marchese as he answered.

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

"You can go, Gaspare."

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

"Good-bye, Marchese."

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

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

"Marchese--!"

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

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

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

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

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

"Marchese--"

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

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

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

"Marchese!"

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

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

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

"Marchese--"

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

"Marchese, I must ask you to go!"

"I say--"

"Marchese, I insist upon your going."

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

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

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

"Gaspare! Come here!"

"Signora!" cried a voice from below.

Gaspare came running.

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

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

"Good-bye, Marchese."

She went out, and left him standing with Gaspare.

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

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

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

"No, Signore!"

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

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

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

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

He drew his lips together like one about to whistle.

The sound of the oars died away.

Then he began to whistle softly "La Ciocciara."

CHAPTER XXXII

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

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

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

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

Poor Emile!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Vere!

Hermione sickened. Emile and Vere in that relation!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

She thought of Ruffo.

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

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

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

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

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

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

She stood there. She listened.

Silence.

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

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

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

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

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

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

"Signora, buona sera."

"Buona sera, Ruffo."

"The Signorina is not here to-night?"

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

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

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

"Ma si, Signora."

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

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

"Gaspare said nothing. Did he see you?"

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

"Did he see you, Ruffo?"

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

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

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

"What was that?"

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

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

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

"I understand."

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

"Yes, Ruffo. It was very pretty."

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

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

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

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

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

"Mysterious? Gaspare?"

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

"Nothing, Ruffo. Go on."

"But--"

"Go on, Ruffo."

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

"And you--what did you say?"

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

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

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

"Signora, I do not know."

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

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

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

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

"Signora, do you know what she meant?"

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

"No, Signora."

Again there was a silence. Then Hermione said:

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

"Si, Signora."

"I must see her."

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

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

"Si, Signora."

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

"No, Signora."

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

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

He took off his cap and stood bareheaded.

"Good-night, Signora."

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

Was not that, too, Maurice?

"A rivederci, Signora."

He was gone.

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

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

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

That woman's question!

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

What could it possibly mean?

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

But then--

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Artois had come in that.

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

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

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

CHAPTER XXXIII

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

They were not in there.

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

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

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

"Giulia!" she called.

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

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

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

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

"Don Emilio is here?"

"Si, Signora."

"How long ago did he come?"

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

"Why didn't you tell me?"

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

"I see. And the Signorina?"

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

"No. All right, Gaspare!"

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

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

They were not on the terrace, then!

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

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

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

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

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

"Emile!"

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

"Gaspare told me you were here."

"I have been here about half an hour."

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

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

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

"Of course not."

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

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

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

"Vere! Is anything the matter with you?"

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

"Emile!"

*****

"Emile!"

"Hermione?"

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

"I!"

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

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

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

His voice sounded as if he were deeply moved.

"I must-- Vere! Vere!"

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

"No, leave Vere alone to-night."

"Why?"

"She wishes to be alone to-night."

"But I find her here with you."

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

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

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

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

"What was it?"

Her voice was imperious.

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

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

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

"Now tell me what it was."

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

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

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

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

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

He said nothing.

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

"You do come first with Vere."

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

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

"I do not come first," she said.

Her voice trembled, almost broke.

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

"Hermione!"

His voice was startled.

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

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

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

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

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

"But Hermione--"

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

There was only Ruffo left.

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

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

CHAPTER XXXIV

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

Were they no longer friends?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Could he have fallen?

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

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

Yet that evening he had made her unhappy.

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

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

"No, Monsieur Emile," she had answered.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"Prima di partire
Un bacio ti voglio da!"

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

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

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

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

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

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

Gaspare was there locking up. She came to him.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"Va bene, Signora."

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

"Gaspare!" she called out.

He started violently.

"I am coming, Signora."

"I am waiting for you."

"A moment, Signora!"

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

"Che vuole, Signora?"

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

"Che vuole?" he repeated.

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

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

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

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

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

"Si, Signora, I understand."

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

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