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A Spirit in Prison by Robert Hichens

Part 11 out of 13

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"Why, Signora?"

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

"Si, Signora."

"What?"

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

She felt tears rising again in her eyes.

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

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

"The dark, Signora?"

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

"You are not in the dark, Signora."

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

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

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

"Si, Signora?"

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

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

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

She paused.

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

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

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

"Ruffo?"

"Yes, Gaspare, Ruffo."

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

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

Gaspare said nothing.

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

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

"Ruffo is very fond of you."

She saw Gaspare redden.

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

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

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

Gaspare looked up quickly and his eyes were surely fierce.

"One of the family!" he exclaimed.

Hermione wondered if he were jealous.

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

"Non, Signora."

It came very slowly from his lips.

"Absolutely nothing?"

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

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

Gaspare's face was still flushed.

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

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

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

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

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

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

"What is it?" she said.

"Niente!"

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

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

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

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

"Why not?"

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

"Si?"

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

"Si?" he repeated.

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

"Is that all?"

"No."

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

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

Gaspare said nothing.

"Did you hear, Gaspare?"

"Si, Signora."

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

"Strange?"

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

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

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

"Why should she say that?"

"What?"

"Has Gaspare ever said you were like somebody?"

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"Gaspare, I order you to tell me."

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

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

"You disobey me?"

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

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

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

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

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

"Si, Signora."

"In everything?"

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

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

He did not answer.

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

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

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

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

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

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

"Buona notte, Signora."

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

"Buon riposo, Signora."

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

"Buon riposo."

The door was shut.

"Buon riposo!"

Hermione repeated the words to herself.

"Riposo!"

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

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

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

Hermione stood still.

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

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

"It was when I was in Africa!"

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

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

CHAPTER XXXV

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

Ruffo's boat! Ruffo!

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

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

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

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

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

All that was long ago.

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

Was that Ruffo's boat?

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

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

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

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

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

"To-day I am going to Mergellina."

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

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

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

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

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

"Good-morning, Gaspare."

"Good-morning, Signora."

"How early you are up!"

"And you, too, Signora."

"Couldn't you sleep?"

"Signora, I never want much sleep."

"Where have you been?"

"I have been for a row, Signora."

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

"He has been to Mergellina."

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

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

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

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

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

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

There was to be a conflict between her and Gaspare.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Vere came up listlessly.

"Good-morning, Madre," she said.

She kissed her mother's cheek with cold lips.

"What lovely roses!"

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

"Yes, aren't they?"

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

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

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

"Are you?"

"Yes."

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

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

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

"Oh!"

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

"What will you do, Vere?"

"I don't know."

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

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

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

"Did you sleep well, Vere?"

"Not very well, Madre."

"Are you tired of the island?"

Vere looked up as if startled.

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

"What is it, then?"

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Her voice was rather uneven, almost trembling.

"Oh no, Vere!"

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Quickly, energetically she got ready.

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

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

Vere looked up for a second.

"Good-bye!"

She bent her head and returned to her book.

Hermione felt chilled.

She went down and met Giulia in the passage.

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

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

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

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

"You want the boat, Signora?"

"Yes, Gaspare."

He leaped down the steps and stood beside her.

"Where do you want to go?"

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

"To Mergellina."

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

"Shall I row you there, Signora?"

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

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

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

"No, Signora."

"Did you go far?"

"Not so very far, Signora."

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

Gaspare saw, and perhaps read accurately, her hesitation.

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

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

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

"Va bene, Signora," he answered.

He went to pull in the boat.

CHAPTER XXXVI

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

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

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

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

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

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

The fisherman smiled, but Gaspare said:

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

"Oh yes, I suppose so."

"I will come for you, Signora."

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

"Thank you, Gaspare."

"A rivederci, Signora."

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"Ruffo--Ruffo--Ruffo!"

She was summoning him with her mind.

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

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

She began to despair of finding him.

"Barca! Barca!"

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

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

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

Fabiano looked a little disappointed.

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

"Ruffo Scarla, Signora? The Sicilian?"

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

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

"Do you know where he lives?"

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

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

"Si, Signora! A moment, Signora."

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

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

They walked along together.

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

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

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

Fabiano looked surprised.

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

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

Fabiano paused beside her.

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

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

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

Maddalena!

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

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

"Salvatore and Maddalena, Signora."

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

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

"Salvatore and Maddalena."

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

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

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

"I'm rested now."

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

"Is it this way?"

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

"It's all right. Thank you."

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

"Antonio and Maddalena live here, Signora."

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

"Ruffo! Si, Signora, of course."

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

"Ruffo lives here!" said Hermione.

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

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

Hermione hesitated. Should she go up alone?

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

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

"It is here, Signora!"

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

"Chi e?" cried a female voice.

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

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

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

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

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

"Don Antonio?"

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

"No. Are you expecting him so early?"

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

She shrugged her broad, graceless shoulders.

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

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

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

The old woman began to cry feebly, yet angrily.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Maddalena looked doubtful, yet curious.

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

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

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

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

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

"Yes, I am."

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

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

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

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

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

Hermione walked into Ruffo's home.

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

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

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

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

"Thank you," Hermione said, taking it.

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

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

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

And that fear of hers?

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

"You have nice rooms here," she said.

"Si, Signora."

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

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

"Signora?"

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

Maddalena's broad face grew a dusky red.

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

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

The gulf between them had widened.

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

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

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

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

"Signora, we always keep it open."

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

"Si!"

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

"Please shut that door."

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

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

"Signora, I--"

"Please do sit down."

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

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

Maddalena's face softened.

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

Suddenly she seemed to recollect something.

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

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

"I heard you were in trouble."

"Si, Signora--great trouble."

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

"Those who bring trouble shall have trouble!"

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

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

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

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

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

"Signora!"

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

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

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

Maddalena was silent.

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

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

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

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

"Who says so?"

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

"Do they?"

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

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

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

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

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

"Si!"

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

"Where did you know Gaspare?"

"Who says I know Gaspare?"

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

"Ruffo says so."

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

"Ruffo says so. Ruffo told me so."

"Boys say anything."

"Do you mean it is not true?"

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

"Do you mean that?" repeated Hermione.

"Boys--"

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

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

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

Maddalena shook her head.

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

Maddalena shook her head again.

"You are not?"

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

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

Maddalena was obviously startled. Her face flushed.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Maddalena looked up.

"Yes, I'll tell you."

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

"I'll tell you."

What? What was she going to tell?

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

It was the light in the House of the Sirens.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What had they not told her?

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

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

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

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

"Signora! Signora!"

"Signora!"

A hand touched her, gripped her.

"Signora!"

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

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

And she knew. Ruffo had told her.

CHAPTER XXXVII

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

"Signora, did you see him?"

"Yes."

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

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

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

"Oh!"

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

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

Hermione stood still.

"What are you talking about?"

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

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

"Ma--"

"A rivederci!"

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

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

"Ecco! Antonio!"

"Antonio is coming!"

"I have seen Antonio!"

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

"Mamma mia! But he is thin!"

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"Acqua fresca," she said.

He looked surprised.

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

He looked more surprised.

"Will you have vermouth, Signora?"

"Yes, yes--vermouth."

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ruffo--in his boat.

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

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

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

She was walking up the hill and still crying.

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

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

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

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

She was being addressed.

"Yes."

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

"Not very far."

"And when you get there?"

"I beg your pardon!"

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

"Not so very much."

"Can one lunch there?"

"No doubt."

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

"It would be Italian food."

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

"Tcha! Tcha!"

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

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

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

"Carrozza!"

She got in.

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

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

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

The man drove on, grinning.

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

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

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

"I must go back to the island."

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

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

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

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

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

He lay like one dead.

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

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

She made a determined effort and waved her hand.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"You might take away your arm."

He dropped his arm at once.

Had she already betrayed herself?

She got into the boat and he pushed off.

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

"Have I betrayed myself already?"

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