Part 2 out of 13
husband of Hermione had met his death suddenly in the sea, almost in
sight of the home of the girl he had betrayed, the fame of Artois had
grown steadily. And he was jealous of his fame almost as a good woman
is jealous of her honor. This jealousy had led him to a certain
selfishness of which he was quite aware--even to a certain hardness
such as he had hinted to Hermione. Those who strove, or seemed likely
to strive to interrupt him in his work, he pushed out of his life.
Even if they were charming women he got rid of them. And the fact that
he did so proved to him, and not improbably to them, that he was more
wrapped up in the gratification of the mind than in the gratification
of the heart, or of the body. It was not that the charm of charming
women had ceased to please him, but it seemed to have ceased really to
Long ago, before Hermione married, he had felt for her a warm and
intimate friendship. He had even been jealous of Maurice. Without
being at all in love, he had cared enough for Hermione to be jealous.
Before her marriage he had looked forward in imagination down a vista
of long years, and had seen her with a husband, then with children,
always more definitely separated from himself.
And he had seen himself exceptionally alone, even almost miserably
Then fate had spun tragedy into her web. He had nearly died in Africa,
and had been nursed back to life by this friend of whom he had been
jealous. And they had gone together to Sicily, to the husband whose
memory Hermione still adored. And then had followed swiftly the
murder, the murderer's departure to America, saved by the silence of
Gaspare, and the journey of the bereaved woman to Italy, where Artois
had left her and returned to France.
Once more Artois had his friend, released from the love of another
man. But he wished it were not so. Hermione's generosity met with a
full response of generosity from him. All his egotism and selfishness
dropped from him then, shaken down like dead leaves by the tempest of
a genuine emotion. His knowledge of her grief, his understanding of
its depth, brought to him a sorrow that was keen, and even exquisitely
painful. For a long while he was preoccupied by an intense desire to
assuage it. He strove to do so by acting almost in defiance of his
nature, by fostering deception. From the Abetone Hermione had written
him letters, human documents--the tale of the suffering of a woman's
heart. Many reserves she had from him and from every one. The most
intimate agony was for her alone, and she kept it in her soul as the
priest keeps the Sacred Host in its tabernacle. But some of her grief
she showed in her letters, and some of her desire for comfort. And
without any definite intention, she indicated to her subtle and
devoted friend the only way in which he could console her.
For once, driven by his emotion, he took that way.
He allowed Hermione to believe that he agreed with her in the
conception she had formed of her husband's love for her. It was
difficult for him to do this, for he had an almost cruel passion for
truth, and generally a clear insight into human character. Far less
than many others would have condemned did he, in his mind, condemn the
man who was dead for the sin against love that he had committed. He
had understood Maurice as Hermione had not understood him, and
knowledge is full of pardon. But though he could pardon easily he
could not easily pretend. By pretending he sinned against himself, and
helped his friend some steps along the way to peace. He thought he had
helped her to go much farther along that way than she had gone. And he
thought that Vere had helped her, too.
Now the hollow mutterings of the rock in Virgil's Grotto seemed to be
in his heart, as he realized how permanent was the storm in Hermione's
nature. Something for her he had done. And something--much more, no
doubt--Vere had done. But how little it all was!
Their helplessness gave him a new understanding of woman.
Hermione had allowed him great privileges, had allowed him to protect
her, had taken his advice. After Vere was born she had wished to go
back again to Sicily. The house of the priest, where she had been so
happy, and so sad, drew her. She longed for it. She desired to make it
her home. He had fought against her in this matter, and had been aided
There had been a subtle understanding, never expressed, between the
boy and him.
Artois had played upon her intellect, had appealed, too, to her
He had not urged her to try to forget, but he had urged her not
morbidly to remember, not to cherish and to foster the memory of the
tragedy which had broken her life. To go back to that tiny home,
solitary in its beautiful situation, in the changed circumstances
which were hers, would be, he told her, to court and to summon sorrow.
He was even cruel to be kind. When Hermione combated his view,
assuring him that to her Monte Amato was like a sacred place, a place
hallowed by memories of happiness, he recalled the despair in which
that happiness had ended. With all the force at his command, and it
was great, he drew the picture of the life that would be in comparison
with the life that had been. And he told her finally that what she
wished to do was morbid, was unworthy of her strength of character,
was even wicked now that she was a mother. He brought before her mind
those widows who make a cult of their dead. Would she be one of them?
Would she steep a little child in such an atmosphere of memories,
casting a young and tender mind backward into a cruel past instead of
leading it forward into a joyous present? Maurice had been the very
soul of happiness. Vere must be linked with the sunbeams. With his
utmost subtlety Artois described and traced the effect upon a tiny and
sensitive child of a mother's influence, whether for good or evil,
until Hermione, who had a deep reverence for his knowledge of all
phases of human nature, at last, almost in despite of the truth within
her, of the interior voice which said to her, "With you and Vere it
would not be so," caught alarm from his apparent alarm, drew distrust
of herself from his apparent distrust of her.
Gaspare, too, played his part. When Hermione spoke to him of returning
to the priest's house, almost wildly, and with the hot energy that
bursts so readily up in Sicilians, he begged her not to go back to the
/maledetta casa/ in which his Padrone's dead body had lain. As he
spoke a genuine fear of the cottage came upon him. All the latent
superstition that dwells in the contadino was stirred as dust by a
wind. In clouds it flew up about his mind. Fear looked out of his
great eyes. Dread was eloquent in his gestures. And he, too, referred
to the child, to the /povera piccola bambina/. It would cast ill-luck
on the child to bring her up in a chamber of death. Her saint would
forsake her. She too would die. The boy worked himself up into a
fever. His face was white. Drops of sweat stood on his forehead.
He had set out to be deceptive--what he would have called /un poco
birbante/, and he had even deceived himself. He knew that it would be
dangerous for his Padrona to live again near Marechiaro. Any day a
chance scrap of gossip might reach her ears. In time she would be
certain almost to hear something of the dead Padrone's close
acquaintance with the dwellers in the Casa delle Sirene. She would
question him, perhaps. She would suspect something. She would inquire.
She would search. She would find out the hideous truth. It was this
fear which made him argue on the same side as Artois. But in doing so
he caught another fear from his own words. He became really natural,
really truthful in his fear. And--she scarcely knew why--Hermione was
even more governed by him than by Artois. He had lived with them in
the Casa del Prete, had been an intimate part of their life there. And
he was Sicilian of the soil. The boy had a real power to move, to
dominate her, which he did not then suspect.
Again and again he repeated those words, "/La povera bambina--la
povera piccola bambina/." And at last Hermione was overcome.
"I won't go to Sicily," she said to Artois. "For if I went there I
could only go to Monte Amato. I won't go until Vere is old enough to
wish to go, to wish to see the house where her father and I were
And she had never gone back. For Artois had not been satisfied with
this early victory.
In returning from a tour in North America the following spring, when
Vere was nearly two years old, he had paid a visit to Marechiaro, and,
while there, had seen the contadino from whom Hermione had rented, and
still rented, the house of the priest. The man was middle-aged,
ignorant but shrewd, and very greedy. Artois made friends with him,
and casually, over a glass of /moscato/, talked about his affairs and
the land question in Sicily. The peasant became communicative and, of
course, loud in his complaining. His land yielded nothing. The price
of almonds had gone down. The lemon crop had been ruined by the
storms. As to the vines--they were all devoured by the phylloxera, and
he had no money to buy and plant vines from America. Artois hinted
that he received a good rent from the English lady for the cottage on
Monte Amato. The contadino acknowledged that he received a fair price
for the cottage and the land about it; but the house, he declared,
would go to rack and ruin with no one ever in it, and the land was
lying idle, for the English lady would have everything left exactly as
it had been when she lived there with her husband. Artois seized upon
this hint of what was in the peasant's mind, and bemoaned with him his
situation. The house ought to be occupied, the land all about it, up
to the very door, and behind upon the sunny mountain-side, planted
with American vines. If it belonged to him that was what he would do--
plant American vines, and when the years of yielding came, give a good
percentage on all the wine made and sold to the man who had tended the
The peasant's love of money awoke. He only let the cottage to Hermione
year by year, and had no contract with her extending beyond a twelve-
months' lease. Before Artois left Marechiaro the tender treachery was
arranged. When the year's lease was up, the contadino wrote to her
declining to renew it. She answered, protesting, offering more money.
But it was all in vain. The man replied that he had already let the
cottage and the land around it to a grower of vines for a long term of
years, and that he was getting double the annual price she offered.
Hermione was indignant and bitterly distressed. When this letter
reached her she was at Fiesole with Vere in a villa which she had
taken. She would probably have started at once for Sicily; but Vere
was just then ill with some infantile complaint, and could not be
left. Artois, who was in Rome, and had received from her the news of
this carefully arranged disaster, offered to go to Sicily on her
behalf--and actually went. He returned to tell her that the house of
the priest was already occupied by contadini, and all the land up to
the very door in process of being dug up and planted with vines. It
was useless to make any further offer. The thing was done.
Hermione said nothing, but Artois saw in her eyes how keenly she was
suffering, and turned his own eyes away. He was only trying to
preserve her from greater unhappiness, the agony of ever finding out
the truth; but he felt guilty at that moment, and as if he had been
cruel to the woman who roused all his tenderness, all his protective
"I shall not go back to Marechiaro now," Hermione said. "I shall not
go back even to see the grave. I could never feel that anything of his
spirit lingered there. But I did feel, I should have felt again, as if
something of him still loved that little house on the mountain, still
stayed among the oak-trees. It seemed to me that when I took Vere to
the Casa del Prete she would have learned to know something of her
father there that she could never have learned to know in another
place. But now--no, I shall not go back. If I did I should even lose
my memories, perhaps, and I could not bear that."
And she had not returned. Gaspare went to Marechiaro sometimes, to see
his family and his friends. He visited the grave and saw that it was
properly kept. But Hermione remained in Italy. For some time she lived
near Florence, first at Fiesole, later at Bellosguardo. When the
summer heat came she took a villa at the Abetone. Or she spent some
months with Vere beside the sea. As the girl grew older she developed
a passion for the sea, and seemed to care little for the fascination
of the pine forests. Hermione, noting this, gave up going to the
Abetone and took a house by the sea for the whole summer. Two years
they were at Santa Margherita, one year at Sorrento.
Then, sailing one evening on the sea towards Bagnoli, they saw the
house on the islet beyond the Pool of San Francesco. Vere was
enchanted by it.
"To live in it," she exclaimed, "would be almost like living in the
Hermione, too, was fascinated by its situation, the loneliness, the
wildness, yet the radiant cheerfulness of it. She made inquiries,
found that it was owned by a Neapolitan who scarcely ever went there,
and eventually succeeded in getting it on a long lease. For two years
now she and Vere had spent the summer there.
Artois had noticed that since Hermione had been in the Casa del Mare
an old desire had begun to revive in her. She spoke more frequently of
Sicily. Often she stood on the rock and looked across the sea, and he
knew that she was thinking of those beloved coasts--of the Ionian
waters, of the blossoming almond-trees among the olives and the rocks,
of the scarlet geraniums glowing among the thorny cactus, of the giant
watercourses leading up into the mountains. A hunger was awake in her,
now that she had a home so near the enchanted island.
He realized it. But he was no longer much afraid. So many years had
passed that even if Hermione revisited Marechiaro he believed there
would be little or no danger now of her ever learning the truth. It
had never been known in the village, and if it had been suspected, all
the suspicions must have long ago died down. He had been successful in
his protection. He was thankful for that. It was the one thing he had
been able to do for the friend who had done so much for him.
The tragedy had occurred because of him. Because of him all knowledge
of it had been kept from Hermione, and would now be kept from her
forever--because of him and Gaspare.
This he had been able to do. But how powerless he was, and how
powerless was Vere!
Now he looked vaguely at the villas of Posilipo, and he realized this
Something for her he had done, and something Vere had done. But how
little it all was!
To-day a new light had been thrown upon Hermione, and he realized what
she was as he had never realized it before. No, she was right. She
could never live fully in a girl child--she was not made to do that.
Why had he ever thought, hoped that perhaps it might be so, that
perhaps Vere might some day completely and happily fill her life? Long
ago he had encouraged her to work, to write. Misled by her keen
intelligence, her enthusiasm, her sincerity and vitality, by the
passion that was in her, the great heart, the power of feeling, the
power of criticising and inspiring another which she had freely shown
to him, Artois had believed--as he had once said to her in London--
that she might be an artist, but that she preferred to be simply a
woman. But he found it was not so. Hermione had not the peculiar gift
of the writer. She could feel, but she could not arrange. She could
discern, but she could not expose. A flood of words came to her, but
not the inevitable word. She could not take that exquisite leap from
the known into the unknown which genius can take with the certainty of
alighting on firm ground. In short, she was not formed and endowed to
be an artist. About such matters Artois knew only how to be sincere.
He was sincere with his friend, and she thanked him for being so.
One possible life was taken from Hermione, the life of the artist who
lives in the life of the work.
There remained the life in Vere.
To-day Artois knew from Hermione's own lips that she could not live
completely in her child, and he felt that he had been blind as men are
often blind about women, are blind because they are secretly selfish.
The man lives for himself, but he thinks it natural, even
distinctively womanly, that women should live for others--for him, for
some other man, for their children. What man finds his life in his
child? But the woman--she surely ought to, and without difficulty.
Hermione had been sincere to-day, and Artois knew his blindness, and
knew his secret selfishness.
The gray was lifting a little over Naples, the distant shadowy form of
Vesuvius was becoming clearer, more firm in outline. But the boatman
rowed slowly, influenced by the scirocco.
How, then, was Hermione to live? How was she to find happiness or
peace? It was a problem which he debated with an ardor that had in it
something of passion. And he began to wonder how it would have been if
he had acted differently, if he had allowed her to find out what he
suspected to be the exact truth of the dead man. Long ago he had saved
her from suffering. But by doing so had he not dedicated her, not to a
greater, but to a longer suffering? He might have defiled a beautiful
memory. He must have done so had he acted differently. But if he had
defiled it, might not Hermione have been the subject of a great
revulsion? Horror can kill, but it can also cure. It can surely root
out love. But from such a heart as Hermione's?
Despite all his understanding of women, Artois felt at a loss to-day.
He could not make up his mind what would have been the effect upon
Hermione if she had learned that her husband had betrayed her.
Presently he left that subject and came to Vere.
When he did this he was conscious at once of a change within him. His
tenderness and pity for Hermione were replaced by another tenderness
and pity. And these were wholly for Vere. Hermione was suffering
because of Maurice. But Vere was surely suffering, subconsciously,
because of Hermione.
There were two links in the chain of suffering, that between Maurice
and Hermione, and that between Hermione and Vere.
For a moment he felt as if Vere were bereaved, were motherless. The
sensation passed directly he realized the exaggeration in his mind.
But he still felt as if the girl were deprived of something which she
ought to possess, which, till now, he had thought she did possess. It
seemed to him that Vere stood quite outside of her mother's life,
instead of in it, in its centre, its core; and he pitied the child,
almost as he pitied other children from time to time, children to whom
their parents were indifferent. And yet Hermione loved Vere, and Vere
could not know what he had only known completely to-day--that the
mother often felt lonely with the child.
Vere did not know that, but surely some day she would find it out.
Artois knew her character well, knew that she was very sensitive, very
passionate, quick to feel and quick to understand. He discovered in
her qualities inherited both from her father and her mother,
attributes both English and Sicilian. In appearance she resembled her
father. She had "thrown back" to the Sicilian ancestor, as he had. She
had the Southern eyes, the Southern grace, the Southern vivacity and
warmth that had made him so attractive. But Artois divined a certain
stubbornness in Vere that had been lacking in the dead man, a
stubbornness that took its rise not in stupidity but in a secret
consciousness of force.
Vere, Artois thought, might be violent, but would not be fickle. She
had a loyalty in her that was Sicilian in its fervor, a sense of
gratitude such as the contadini have, although by many it is denied to
them; a quick and lively temper, but a disposition that responded to
joy, to brightness, to gayety, to sunlight, with a swiftness, almost a
fierceness, that was entirely un-English.
Her father had been the dancing Faun. She had not, could never have
his gift of thoughtlessness. For she had intellect, derived from
Hermione, and an old truthfulness that was certainly not Sicilian.
Often there were what Artois called "Northern Lights" in her
sincerity. The strains in her, united, made, he thought, a fascinating
blend. But as yet she was undeveloped--an interesting, a charming
child, but only a child. In many ways she was young for her age.
Highly intelligent, she was anything rather than "knowing." Her
innocence was like clear water in a spring. The graciousness of youth
was hers to the full.
As Artois thought of it he was conscious, as of a new thing, of the
wonderful beauty of such innocent youth.
It was horrible to connect it with suffering. And yet that link in the
chain did exist. Vere had not something that surely she ought to have,
and, without consciously missing it, she must sometimes subtly,
perhaps vaguely, be aware that there was a lack in her life. Her
mother gave her great love. But she was not to her mother what a son
would have been. And the love that is mingled with regret has surely
something shadowy in it.
Maurice Delarey had been as the embodiment of joy. It was strange that
from the fount of joy sorrow was thrown up. But so it was. From him
sorrow had come. From him sorrow might still come, even for Vere.
In the white and silent day Artois again felt the stirring of
intuition, as he had felt it long ago. But now he roused himself, and
resolutely, almost angrily, detached his mind from its excursions
towards the future.
"Do you often think of to-morrow?" he suddenly said to the boatman,
breaking from his silence.
"Do you often wonder what is going to happen to-morrow, what you will
do, whether you will be happy or sad?"
The man threw up his head.
"No, Signore. Whatever comes is destiny. If I have food to-day it is
enough for me. Why should I bother about to-morrow's maccheroni?"
Artois smiled. The boat was close in now to the platform of stone that
projected beneath the wall of the Marina.
As he stepped out he gave the boatman a generous /buonamano/.
"You are quite right, comrade," he said. "It is the greatest mistake
in the world to bother about to-morrow's maccheroni."
Three days after Artois' conversation with Hermione in the Grotto of
Virgil the Marchesino Isidoro Panacci came smiling into his friend's
apartments in the Hotel Royal des Etrangers. He was smartly dressed in
the palest possible shade of gray, with a bright pink tie, pink socks,
brown shoes of the rather boat-like shape affected by many young
Neopolitans, and a round straw hat, with a small brim, that was set
slightly on the side of his curly head. In his mouth was a cigarette,
and in his buttonhole a pink carnation. He took Artois' hand with his
left hand, squeezed it affectionately, murmured "Caro Emilio," and sat
down in an easy attitude on the sofa, putting his hat and stick on a
table near by.
It was quite evident that he had come for no special reason. He had
just dropped in, as he did whenever he felt inclined, to gossip with
"Caro Emilio," and it never occurred to him that possibly he might be
interrupting an important piece of work. The Marchesino could not
realize work. He knew his friend published books. He even saw him
sometimes actually engaged in writing them, pen in hand. But he was
sure anybody would far rather sit and chatter with him, or hear him
play a valse on the piano, or a bit of the "Boheme," than bend over a
table all by himself. And Artois always welcomed him. He liked him.
But it was not only that which made him complaisant. Doro was a type,
and a singularly perfect one.
Now Artois laid down his pen, and pulled forward an arm-chair opposite
to the sofa.
"Mon Dieu, Doro! How fresh you look, like a fish just pulled out of
The Marchesino showed his teeth in a smile which also shone in his
round and boyish eyes.
"I have just come out of the sea. Papa and I have been bathing at the
Eldorado. We swam round the Castello until we were opposite your
windows, and sang 'Funiculi, funicula!' in the water, to serenade you.
Why didn't you hear us? Papa has a splendid voice, almost like
Tamagno's in the gramophone, when he sings the 'Addio' from 'Otello.'
Of course we kept a little out at sea. Papa is so easily recognized by
his red mustaches. But still you might have heard us."
"Then why didn't you come unto the balcony, amico mio?"
"Because I thought you were street singers."
"Davvero? Papa would be angry. And he is in a bad temper to-day
"Well, I believe Gilda Mai is going to bring a /causa/ against
Viviano. Of course he won't marry her, and she never expected he
could. Why, she used to be a milliner in the Toledo. I remember it
perfectly, and now Sigismondo-- But it's really Gilda that has made
papa angry. You see, he has paid twice for me, once four thousand
lire, and the other time three thousand five hundred. And then he has
lost a lot at Lotto lately. He has no luck. And then he, too, was in a
row yesterday evening."
"Yes, in the Chiaia. He slapped Signora Merani's face twice before
"Diavolo! What! a lady?"
"Well, if you like to call her so," returned Doro, negligently. "Her
husband is an impiegato of the Post-office, or something of the kind."
"But why should the Marchese slap her face in the Chiaia?"
"Because she provoked him. They took a flat in the house my father
owns in the Strada Chiatamone. After a time they got behind with the
rent. He let them stay on for six months without paying, and then he
turned them out. What should he do?" Doro began to gesticulate. He
held his right hand up on a level with his face, with the fingers all
drawn together and pressed against the thumb, and moved it violently
backwards and forwards, bringing it close to the bridge of his nose,
then throwing it out towards Artois. "What else, I say? Was he to give
his beautiful rooms to them for nothing? And she with a face like--
have you, I ask you, Emilio, have you seen her teeth?"
"I have never seen the Signora in my life!"
"You have never seen her teeth? Dio Mio!" He opened his two hands,
and, lifting his arms, shook them loosely above his head, shutting his
eyes for an instant as if to ward off some dreadful vision. "They are
like the keys of a piano from Bordicelli's! Basta!" He dropped his
hands and opened his eyes. "Yesterday papa was walking in the Chiaia.
He met Signori Merani, and she began to abuse him. She had a red
parasol. She shook it at him! She called him vigliacco--papa, a
Panacci, dei Duchi di Vedrano! The parasol--it was a bright red, it
infuriated papa. He told the Signora to stop. She knows his temper.
Every one in Naples knows our tempers, every one! I, Viviano, even
Sigismondo, we are all the same, we are all exactly like papa. If we
are insulted we cannot control ourselves. You know it, Emilio!"
"I am perfectly certain of it," said Artois. "I am positive you none
of you can."
"It does not matter whether it is a man or a woman. We must do
something with our hands. We have got to. Papa told the Signora he
should strike her at once unless she put down the red parasol and was
silent. What did she do, the imbecile? She stuck out her face like
this,"--he thrust his face forward with the right cheek turned towards
Artois--"and said, 'Strike me! strike me!' Papa obeyed her. Poom!
Poom! He gave her a smack on each cheek before every one. 'You want
education!' he said to her. 'And I shall give it you.' And now she may
bring a /processo/ too. But did you really think we were street
singers?" He threw himself back, took the cigarette from his mouth,
and laughed. Then he caught hold of his blond mustache with both
hands, gave it an upward twist, at the same time pouting his big lips,
"We shall bring a /causa/ against you for that!"
"No, Doro, you and I must never quarrel. By the way, though, I want to
see you angry. Every one talks of the Panacci temper, but when I am
with you I always see you smiling or laughing. As to the Marchese, he
is as lively as a boy. Viviano--"
"Oh, Viviano is a buffone. Have you ever seen him imitate a monkey
from whom another monkey has snatched a nut?"
"It is like this--"
With extraordinary suddenness he distorted his whole face into the
likeness of an angry ape, hunching his shoulders and uttering fierce
"No, I can't do it."
With equal suddenness and self-possession he became his smiling self
"Viviano has studied in the monkey-house. And the monk looking the
other way when he passes along the Marina where the women are bathing
in the summer! He shall do that for you on Sunday afternoon when you
come to Capodimonte. It makes even mamma die of laughing, and you know
how religious she is. But then, of course, men--that does not matter.
Religion is for women, and they understand that quite well."
The Marchesino never made any pretence of piety. One virtue he had in
the fullest abundance. He was perfectly sincere with those whom he
considered his friends. That there could be any need for hypocrisy
never occurred to him.
"Mamma would hate it if we were saints," he continued.
"I am sure the Marchesa can be under no apprehension on that score,"
"No, I don't think so," returned the Marchesino, quite seriously.
He had a sense of humor, but it did not always serve him. Occasionally
it was fitful, and when summoned by irony remained at a distance.
"It is true, Emilio, you have never seen me angry," he continued,
reverting to the remark of Artois; "you ought to. Till you have seen a
Panacci angry you do not really know him. With you, of course, I could
never be angry--never, never. You are my friend, my comrade. To you I
A sudden remembrance seemed to come to him. Evidently a new thought
had started into his active mind, for his face suddenly changed, and
became serious, even sentimental.
"What is it?" asked Artois.
"To-day, just now in the sea, I have seen a girl--Madonna! Emilio, she
had a little nose that was perfect--perfect. How she was simpatica!
What a beautiful girl!"
His whole face assumed a melting expression, and he pursed his lips in
the form of a kiss.
"She was in the sea, too?" asked Artois.
"No. If she had been! But I was with papa. It was just after we had
been serenading you. She had heard us, I am sure, for she was
laughing. I dived under the boat in which she was. I did all my tricks
for her. I did the mermaid and the seal. She was delighted. She never
took her eyes from me. As to papa--she never glanced at him. Poor
papa! He was angry. She had her mother with her, I think--a Signora,
tall, flat, ugly, but she was simpatica, too. She had nice eyes, and
when I did the seal she could not help laughing, though I think she
was rather sad."
"What sort of boat were they in?" Artois asked, with sudden interest.
"A white boat with a green line."
"And they were coming from the direction of Posilipo?"
"Ma si! Emilio, do you know them? Do you know the perfect little
The Marchesino laid one hand eagerly on the arm of his friend.
"I believe you do! I am sure of it! The mother--she is flat as a
Carabiniere, and quite old, but with nice eyes, sympathetic,
intelligent. And the girl is a little brown--from the sun--with eyes
full of fun and fire, dark eyes. She may be Italian, and yet--there is
something English, too. But she is not blonde, she is not cold. And
when she laughs! Her teeth are not like the keys of a piano from
Bordicelli's. And she is full of passion, of flame, of sentiment, as I
am. And she is young, perhaps sixteen. Do you know her? Present me,
Emilio! I have presented you to all my friends."
"Mio caro, you have made me your debtor for life."
"It isn't true!"
"Indeed it is true. But I do not know who these ladies are. They may
be Italians. They may be tourists. Perhaps to-morrow they will have
left Naples. Or they may come from Sorrento, Capri. How can I tell who
The Marchesino suddenly changed. His ardor vanished. His gesticulating
hands fell to his sides. His expressive face grew melancholy.
"Of course. How can you tell? Directly I was out of the sea and
dressed, I went to Santa Lucia. I examined every boat, but the white
boat with the green line was not there, Basta!"
He lit a fresh cigarette and was silent for a moment. Then he said:
"Emilio caro, will you come out with me to-night?"
"In the boat. There will be a moon. We will dine at the Antico
"So far off as that?" Artois said, rather abruptly.
"Why not? To-day I hate the town. I want tranquility. At the Antico
Giuseppone there will be scarcely any one. It is early in the season.
And afterwards we will fish for sarde, or saraglie. Take me away from
Naples, Emilio; take me away! For to-night, if I stay--well, I feel
that I shall not be santo."
Artois burst into his big roaring laugh.
"And why do you want to be santo to-night?" he asked.
"The beautiful girl! I wish to keep her memory, if only for one
"Very well, then. We will fish, and you shall be a saint."
"Caro Emilio! Perhaps Viviano will come, too. But I think he will be
with Lidia. She is singing to-night at the Teatro Nuovo. Be ready at
half-past seven. I will call for you. And now I shall leave you."
He got up, went over to a mirror, carefully arranged his tie, and put
on his straw hat at exactly the most impudent angle.
"I shall leave you to write your book while I meet papa at the villa.
Do you know why papa is so careful to be always at the villa at four
o'clock just now?"
"Nor does mamma! If she did! Povera mamma! But she can always go to
Mass. A rivederci, Emilio."
He moved his hat a little more to one side and went out, swinging his
walking-stick gently to and fro in a manner that was pensive and
The Marchesino Panacci was generally very sincere with his friends,
and the boyish expression in his eyes was not altogether deceptive,
for despite his wide knowledge of certain aspects of life, not wholly
admirable, there was really something of the simplicity of a child--of
a child that could be very naughty--in his disposition. But if he
could be na´ve he could also be mischievous and even subtle, and he
was very swift in grasping a situation, very sharp in reading
character, very cunning in the pursuit of his pleasure, very adroit in
deception, if he thought that publicity of pursuit would be likely to
lead to the frustration of his purpose.
He had seen at once that Artois either knew, or suspected, who were
the occupants of the white boat with the green line, and he had also
seen that, influenced perhaps by one of those second thoughts which
lead men into caution, Artois desired to conceal his knowledge, or
suspicion. Instantly the Marchesino had, therefore, dropped the
subject, and as instantly he had devised a little plan to clear the
The Marchesino knew that when Artois had arrived in Naples he had had
no friends in the town or neighborhood. But he also knew that recently
an Englishwoman, an old friend of the novelist, had come upon the
scene, that she was living somewhere not far off, and that Artois had
been to visit her once or twice by sea. Artois had spoken of her very
casually, and the Marchesino's interest in her had not been awakened.
He was not an inquisitive man by nature, and was always very busy with
his own pursuit of pleasure. But he remembered now that once he had
seen his friend being rowed in the direction of Posilipo, and that in
the evening of the same day Artois had mentioned having been to visit
his English friend. This fact had suggested to the Marchesino that if
his suspicion were correct, and the ladies in the white boat with the
green line were this English friend and a daughter, they probably
lived in some villa as easily reached by sea as by land. Such villas
are more numerous towards the point of the Capo di Posilipo than
nearer Naples, as the high road, after the Mergellina, mounts the hill
and diverges farther and farther from the sea. The Antico Giuseppone
is a small waterside ristorante at the point of the Capo di Posilipo,
a little below the Villa Rosebery.
The Marchesino's suggestion of a dinner there that evening had been
prompted by the desire to draw his friend into the neighborhood of his
charmer of the sea. Once there he might either find some pretext for
making her acquaintance through Artois--if Artois did know her--or, if
that were impossible, he might at least find out where she lived. By
the manner of Artois when the Antico Giuseppone was mentioned, he knew
at once that he was playing his cards well. The occupants of the white
boat were known to the novelist. They did live somewhere near the
Antico Giuseppone. And certainly Artois had no desire to bring about
his--the Marchesino's--acquaintance with them.
That this was so, neither surprised nor seriously vexed the
Marchesino. He knew a good deal of his friend's character, knew that
Artois, despite his geniality and friendliness, was often reserved--
even with him. During their short intimacy he had certainly told
Artois a great deal more about his affairs with women than had been
told to him in return. This fact was borne in upon him now. But he did
not feel angry. A careless good-nature was an essential part of his
character. He did not feel angry at his friend's secrecy, but he did
feel mischievous. His lively desire to know the girl with "the perfect
little nose" was backed up now by another desire--to teach "Caro
Emilio" that it was better to meet complete frankness with complete
He had strolled out of his friend's room pensively, acting the
melancholy youth who had lost all hope of succeeding in his desire;
but directly the door was shut his manner changed. Disregarding the
lift, he ran lightly down the stairs, made his way swiftly by the
revolving door into the street, crossed it, and walked towards the
harbor of Santa Lucia, where quantities of pleasure-boats lie waiting
for hire, and the boatmen are gathered in knots smoking and gossiping,
or are strolling singly up and down near the water's edge, keeping a
sharp look-out for possible customers.
As the Marchesino turned on the bridge that leads towards Castel dell'
Ovo one of these boatmen met him and saluted him.
"Good-day, Giuseppe," said the Marchesino, addressing him familiarly
with a broad Neapolitan accent.
"Good-day, Signorino Marchesino," replied the man. "Do you want a
boat? I will take you for--"
The Marchesino drew out his cigarette case.
"I don't want a boat. But perhaps you can tell me something."
"What is it, Signorino Marchesino?" said the man, looking eagerly at
the cigarette case which was now open, and which displayed two
tempting rows of fat Egyptian cigarettes reposing side by side.
"Do you know a boat--white with a green line--which sometimes comes
into the harbor from the direction of Posilipo? It was here this
afternoon, or it passed here. I don't know whether it went on to the
"White with a green line?" said the man. "That might be--who was there
in it, Signorino Marchesino?"
"Two ladies, one old and one very young. The young lady--"
"Those must be the ladies from the island," interrupted the man. "The
English ladies who come in the summer to the Casa del Mare as they
call it, on the island close to the Grotto of Virgilio by San
Francesco's Pool. They were here this afternoon, but they're gone
back. Their boat is white with a green line, Signorino Marchesino."
"Grazie, Giuseppe," said the Marchesino, with an immovable
countenance. "Do you smoke cigarettes?'
"Signorino Marchesino, I do when I have any soldi to buy them with."
The Marchesino emptied one side of his cigarette case into the
boatman's hand, called a hired carriage, and drove off towards the
Villa--the horse going at a frantic trot, while the coachman, holding
a rein in each hand, ejaculated, "A--ah!" every ten seconds, in a
voice that was fiercely hortatory.
Artois, from his window, saw the carriage rattle past, and saw his
friend leaning back in it, with alert eyes, to scan every woman
passing by. He stood on the balcony for a moment till the noise of the
wheels on the stone pavement died away. When he returned to his
writing-table the mood for work was gone. He sat down in his chair. He
took up his pen. But he found himself thinking of two people, the
extraordinary difference between whom was the cause of his now linking
them together in his mind. He found himself thinking of the Marchesino
and of Vere.
Not for a moment did he doubt the identity of the two women in the
white boat. They were Hermione and Vere. The Marchesino had read him
rightly, but Artois was not aware of it. His friend had deceived him,
as almost any sharp-witted Neapolitan can deceive even a clever
forestiere. Certainly he did not particularly wish to introduce his
friend to Vere. Yet now he was thinking of the two in connection, and
not without amusement. What would they be like together? How would
Vere's divine innocence receive the amiable seductions of the
Marchesino? Artois, in fancy, could see his friend Doro for once
completely disarmed by a child. Vere's innocence did not spring from
folly, but was backed up by excellent brains. It was that fact which
made it so beautiful. The innocence and the brains together might well
read Doro a pretty little lesson. And Vere after the lesson--would she
be changed? Would she lose by giving, even if the gift were a lesson?
Artois had certainly felt that his instinct told him not to do what
Doro wanted. He had been moved, he supposed now, by a protective
sentiment. Vere was delicious as she was. And Doro--he was delightful
as he was. The girl was enchanting in her ignorance. The youth--to
Artois the Marchesino seemed almost a boy, indeed, often quite a boy--
was admirable in his precocity. He embodied Naples, its gay
/furberia/, and yet that was hardly the word--perhaps rather one
should say its sunny naughtiness, its reckless devotion to life purged
of thought. And Vere--what did she embody? Not Sicily, though she was
in some ways so Sicilian. Not England; certainly not that!
Suddenly Artois was conscious that he knew Doro much better than he
knew Vere. He remembered the statement of an Austrian psychologist,
that men are far more mysterious than women, and shook his head over
it now. He felt strongly the mystery that lay hidden deep down in the
innocence of Vere, in the innocence of every girl-child of Vere's age
who had brains, temperament and perfect purity. What a marvellous
combination they made! He imagined the clear flame of them burning in
the night of the world of men. Vere must be happy.
When he said this to himself he knew that, perhaps for the first time,
he was despairing of something that he ardently desired. He was
transferring a wish, that was something like a prayer in the heart of
one who had seldom prayed. He was giving up hope for Hermione and
fastening hope on Vere. For a moment that seemed like treachery, like
an abandoning of Hermione. Since their interview on the sea Artois had
felt that, for Hermione, all possibility of real happiness was over.
She could not detach her love. It had been fastened irrevocably on
Maurice. It was now fastened irrevocably on Maurice's memory. Long
ago, had she, while he was alive, found out what he had done, her
passion for him might have died, and in the course of years she might
have been able to love again. But now it was surely too late. She had
lived with her memory too long. It was her blessing--to remember, to
recall, how love had blessed her life for a time. And if that memory
were desecrated now she would be as one wrecked in the storm of life.
Yet with that memory how she suffered!
What could he do for her? His chivalry must exercise itself. He must
remain in the lists, if only to fight for Hermione in Vere. And the
Marchesino? Artois seemed to divine that he might be an enemy in
A warmth of sentiment, not very common in Artois, generated within him
by such thoughts as these, thoughts that detained him from work, still
glowed in his heart when evening fell and the Marchesino came gayly in
to take him out upon the sea.
"There's a little wind, Emilio," he said, as they got into the boat in
the harbor of Santa Lucia; "we can sail to the Antico Giuseppone. And
after dinner we'll fish for sarde. Isn't it warm? One could sleep out
on such a night."
They had two men with them. When they got beyond the breakwater the
sail was set, the Marchesino took the helm, and the boat slipped
through the smooth sea, rounded the rocks on which the old fort stands
to stare at Capri, radiant now as a magic isle in the curiously
ethereal light of evening, and headed for the distant point of land
which hid Ischia from their eyes. The freedom of the Bay of Naples was
granted them--the freedom of the sea. As they ran out into the open
water, and Artois saw the round gray eyes of the Marchesino dancing to
the merry music of a complete bodily pleasure, he felt like a man
escaping. He looked back at the city almost as at a sad life over, and
despite his deep and persistent interest in men he understood the joy
of the hermit who casts them from him and escapes into the wilds. The
radiance of the Bay, one of the most radiant of all the inlets of the
sea, bold and glaring in the brilliant daytime, becomes exquisitely
delicate towards night. Vesuvius, its fiery watcher, looks like a
kindly guardian, until perhaps the darkness shows the flame upon its
flanks, the flame bursting forth from the mouth it opens to the sky;
and the coast-line by Sorrento, the lifted crest of Capri, even the
hill of Posilipo, appear romantic and enticing, calling lands holding
wonderful pleasures for men, joys in their rocks and trees, joys in
their dim recesses, joys and soft realities fulfilling every dream
upon their coasts washed by the whispering waves.
The eyes of the Marchesino were dancing with physical pleasure. Artois
wondered how much he felt the beauty of the evening, and how. His
friend evidently saw the question in his eyes, for he said:
"The man who knows not Naples knows not pleasure."
"Is that a Neapolitan saying?" asked Artois.
"Yes, and it is true. There is no town like Naples for pleasure. Even
your Paris, Emilio, with all its theatres, its cocottes, its
restaurants--no, it is not Naples. No wonder the forestiere come here.
In Naples they are free. They can do what they will. They know we
shall not mind. We are never shocked."
"And do you think we are easily shocked in Paris?"
"No, but it is not the same. You have not Vesuvius there. You have not
the sea, you have not the sun."
Artois began laughingly to protest against the last statement, but the
Marchesino would not have it.
"No, no, it shines--I know that,--but it is not the sun we have here."
He spoke to the seamen in the Neapolitan dialect. They were brown,
muscular fellows. In their eyes were the extraordinary boldness and
directness of the sea. Neither of them looked gay. Many of the
Neapolitans who are much upon the sea have serious, even grave faces.
These were intensely, almost overpoweringly male. They seemed to
partake of the essence of the elements of nature, as if blood of the
sea ran in their veins, as if they were hot with the grim and inner
fires of the sun. When they spoke their faces showed a certain
changefulness that denoted intelligence, but never lost the look of
force, of an almost tense masculinity ready to battle, perpetually
alive to hold its own.
The Marchesino was also very masculine, but in a different way and
more consciously than they were. He was not cultured, but such
civilization as he had endowed him with a power to catch the moods of
others not possessed by these men, in whom persistence was more
visible than adroitness, unless indeed any question of money was to
"We shall get to the Giuseppone by eight, Emilio," the Marchesino
said, dropping his conversation with the men, which had been about the
best hour and place for their fishing. "Are you hungry?"
"I shall be," said Artois. "This wind brings an appetite with it. How
well you steer!"
The Marchesino nodded carelessly.
As the boat drew ever nearer to the point, running swiftly before the
light breeze, its occupants were silent. Artois was watching the
evening, with the eyes of a lover of nature, but also with the eyes of
one who takes notes. The Marchesino seemed to be intent on his
occupation of pilot. As to the two sailors, they sat in the accustomed
calm and staring silence of seafaring men, with wide eyes looking out
over the element that ministered to their wants. They saw it
differently, perhaps, from Artois, to whom it gave now an intense
aesthetic pleasure, differently from the Marchesino, to whom it was
just a path to possible excitement, possible gratification of a new
and dancing desire. They connected it with strange superstitions, with
gifts, with deprivations, with death. Familiar and mysterious it was
purely to them as to all seamen, like a woman possessed whose soul is
Just as the clocks of Posilipo were striking eight the Marchesino
steered the boat into the quay of the Antico Guiseppone.
Although it was early in the season a few deal tables were set out by
the waterside, and a swarthy waiter, with huge mustaches and a napkin
over his arm, came delicately over the stones to ask their wishes.
"Will you let me order dinner, Emilio?" said the Marchesino: "I know
what they do best here."
Artois agreed, and while the waiter shuffled to carry out the
Marchesino's directions the two friends strolled near the edge of the
The breeze had been kindly. Having served them well it was now dying
down to its repose, leaving the evening that was near to night
profoundly calm. As Artois walked along the quay he felt the approach
of calm like the approach of a potentate, serene in the vast
consciousness of power. Peace was invading the sea, irresistible
peace. The night was at hand. Already Naples uncoiled its chain of
lamps along the Bay. In the gardens of Posilipo the lights of the
houses gleamed. Opposite, but very far off across the sea, shone the
tiny flames of the houses of Portici, of Torre del Greco, of Torre
Annunziata, of Castellamare. Against the gathering darkness Vesuvius
belched slowly soft clouds of rose-colored vapor, which went up like a
menace into the dim vault of the sky. The sea was without waves. The
boats by the wharf, where the road ascends past the villa Rosebery to
the village of Posilipo, scarcely moved. Near them, in a group,
lounging against the wall and talking rapidly, stood the two sailors
from Naples with the boatmen of the Guiseppone. Oil lamps glimmered
upon two or three of the deal tables, round one of which was gathered
a party consisting of seven large women, three children, and two very
thin middle-aged men with bright eyes, all of whom were eating
oysters. Farther on, from a small arbor that gave access to a
fisherman's house, which seemed to be constructed partially in a cave
of the rock, and which was gained by a steep and crumbling stairway of
stone, a mother called shrilly to some half-naked little boys who were
fishing with tiny hand-nets in the sea. By the table which was
destined to the Marchesino and Artois three ambulant musicians were
hovering, holding in their broad and dirty hands two shabby mandolins
and a guitar. In the distance a cook with a white cap on his head and
bare arms was visible, as he moved to and fro in the lighted kitchen
of the old ristorante, preparing a "zuppa di pesce" for the gentlemen
"Che bella notte!" said the Marchesino, suddenly.
His voice sounded sentimental. He twisted his mustaches and added:
"Emilio, we ought to have brought two beautiful women with us
to-night. What are the moon and the sea to men without beautiful
"And the fishing?" said Artois.
"To the devil with the fishing," replied the young man. "Ecco! Our
dinner is ready, with thanks to the Madonna!"
They sat down, one on each side of the small table, with a smoking
lamp between them.
"I have ordered vino bianco," said the Marchesino, who still looked
sentimental. "Cameriere, take away the lamp. Put it on the next table.
Va bene. We are going to have 'zuppa di pesce,' gamberi and veal
cutlets. The wine is Capri. Now then," he added, with sudden violence
and the coarsest imaginable Neapolitan accent, "if you fellows play
'Santa Lucia,' 'Napoli Bella,' or 'Sole mio' you'll have my knife in
you. I am not an Inglese. I am a Neapolitan. Remember that!"
He proved it with a string of gutter words and oaths, at which the
musicians smiled with pleasure. Then, turning again to Artois, he
"If one doesn't tell them they think one is an imbecile. Emilio caro,
do you not love to see the moon with a beautiful girl?"
His curious assumption that Artois and he were contemporaries because
they were friends, and his apparently absolute blindness to the fact
that a man of sixty and a man of twenty-four are hardly likely to
regard the other sex with an exactly similar enthusiasm, always
secretly entertained the novelist, who made it his business with this
friend to be accommodating, and who seldom, if ever, showed himself
authoritative, or revealed any part of his real inner self.
"Ma si!" he replied; "the night and the moon are made for love."
"Everything is made for love," returned the Marchesino. "Take plenty
of soaked bread, Emilio. They know how to make this zuppa here.
Everything is made for love.--Look! There is a boat coming with women
At a short distance from the shore a rowing boat was visible; and from
it now came shrill sounds of very common voices, followed by shouts of
"Perhaps they are beautiful," said the Marchesino, at once on the
The boat drew in to the quay, and from it there sprang, with much
noise and many gesticulations, two over-dressed women--probably,
indeed almost certainly, /canzonettiste/--and the two large young men,
whose brown fingers and whose chests gleamed with false diamonds. As
they passed the table where the two friends were sitting, the
Marchesino raked the women with his bold gray eyes. One of them was
large and artificially blonde, with a spreading bust, immense hips, a
small waist, and a quantity of pale dyed hair, on which was perched a
bright blue hat. The other was fiercely dark, with masses of coarse
black hair, big, blatant eyes that looked quite black in the dim
lamplight, and a figure that suggested a self-conscious snake. Both
were young. They returned the Marchesino's stare with vigorous
impudence as they swung by.
"What sympathetic creatures!" he murmured. "They are two angels. I
believe I have seen one of them at the Margherita. What was her name--
Maria Leoni, I fancy."
He looked enviously at the young men. The arrival of the lobster
distracted his attention for the moment; but it was obvious that the
appearance of these women had increased the feeling of sentimentality
already generated in him by the softness and stillness of the night.
The three musicians, rendered greedy rather than inspired by the
presence of more clients, now began to pluck a lively street tune from
their instruments; and the waiter, whose mustaches seemed if possible
bigger now that night was truly come, poured the white wine into the
glasses with the air of one making a libation.
As the Marchesino ate, he frequently looked towards the party at the
neighboring table. He was evidently filled with envy of the two men
whose jewels glittered as they gesticulated with their big brown
hands. But presently their pleasure and success recalled to him
something which he had momentarily forgotten, the reason why he had
planned this expedition. He was in pursuit. The recollection cheered
him up, restored to him the strength of his manhood, put him right
with himself. The envy and the almost sickly sentimentality vanished
from him, and he broke into the usual gay conversation which seldom
failed him, either by day or night.
It was past nine before they had finished their coffee. The two
boatmen had been regaled and had drunk a bottle of wine, and the moon
was rising and making the oil lamps of the Guiseppone look pitiful.
From the table where the canzonettiste were established came peals of
laughter, which obviously upset the seven large and respectable women
who had been eating oysters, and who now sat staring heavily at the
gay revellers, while the two thin middle-aged men with bright eyes
began to look furtively cheerful, and even rather younger than they
were. The musicians passed round a small leaden tray for soldi, and
the waiter brought the Marchesino the bill, and looked inquiringly at
Artois, aware that he at least was not a Neapolitan. Artois gave him
something and satisfied the musicians, while the Marchesino disputed
the bill, not because he minded paying, but merely to prove that he
was a Neapolitan and not an imbecile. The matter was settled at last,
and they went towards the boat; the Marchesino casting many backward
glances towards the two angels, who, with their lovers, were becoming
riotous in their gayety as the moon came up.
"Are we going out into the Bay?" said Artois, as they stepped into the
boat, and were pushed off.
"Where is the best fishing-ground?" asked the Marchesino of the elder
of the two men.
"Towards the islet, Signorino Marchesino," he replied at once, looking
his interlocutor full in the face with steady eyes, but remaining
Artois glanced at the man sharply. For the first time it occurred to
him that possibly his friend had arranged this expedition with a
purpose other than that which he had put forward. It was not the
fisherman's voice which had made Artois wonder, but the voice of the
"There are generally plenty of sarde round the islet," continued the
fisherman, "but if the Signori would not be too tired it would be best
to stay out the night. We shall get many more fish towards morning,
and we can run the boat into the Pool of San Francesco, and have some
sleep there, if the Signori like. We others generally take a nap
there, and go to work further on in the night. But of course it is as
the Signori prefer."
"They want to keep us out all night to get more pay," said the
Marchesino to Artois, in bad French.
He had divined the suspicion that had suddenly risen up in his friend,
and was resolved to lay it to rest, without, however, abandoning his
purpose, which had become much more ardent with the coming of the
night. The voices of the laughing women were ringing in his ears. He
felt adventurous. The youth in him was rioting, and he was longing to
be gay, as the men with those women were being gay.
"What do you think, Emilio caro?" he asked.
Then before Artois could reply, he said:
"After all, what do a few soldi matter? Who could sleep in a room on
such a night? It might be August, when one bathes at midnight, and
sings canzoni till dawn. Let us do as he says. Let us rest in the--
what is the pool?" he asked of the fishermen, pretending not to know
"The pool of San Francesco, Signorino Marchesino."
"Pool of San Francesco. I remember now. That is the place where all
the fishermen along the coast towards Nisida go to sleep. I have slept
there many times when I was a boy, and so has Viviano. To-night shall
we do as the fishermen, Emilio?"
There was no pressure in his careless voice. His eyes for the moment
looked so simple, though as eager as a child's.
"Anything you like, mon ami," said Artois.
He did not want to go to San Francesco's Pool with the Marchesino, but
he did not wish to seem reluctant to go. And he said to himself now
that his interior hesitation was absurd. Night had fallen. By the time
they reached the Pool the inmates of the Case del Mare would probably
be asleep. Even if they were not, what did it matter? The boat would
lie among the vessels of the fishermen. The Marchesino and he would
share the fishermen's repose. And even if Hermione and Vere should
chance to be out of doors they would not see him, or, if they did,
would not recognize him in the night.
His slight uneasiness, prompted by a vague idea that the Marchesino
was secretly mischievous, had possibly some plan in his mind connected
with the islet, was surely without foundation.
He told himself so as the fisherman laid hold of their oars and set
the boat's prow towards the point of land which conceals the small
harbor of the Villa Rosebery.
The shrill voices of the two singers died away from their ears, but
lingered in the memory of the Marchesino, as the silence of the sea
took the boat to itself, the sea silence and the magic of the moon.
He turned his face towards the silver, beyond which, hidden as yet,
was the islet where dwelt the child he meant to know.
Although Hermione had told Artois that she could not find complete
rest and happiness in her child, that she could not live again in Vere
fully and intensely as she had lived once, as she still had it in her
surely to live, she and Vere were in a singularly close relationship.
They had never yet been separated for more than a few days. Vere had
not been to school, and much of her education had been undertaken by
her mother. In Florence she had been to classes and lectures. She had
had lessons in languages, French, German, and Italian, in music and
drawing. But Hermione had been her only permanent teacher, and until
her sixteenth birthday she had never been enthusiastic about anything
without carrying her enthusiasm to her mother, for sympathy,
explanation, or encouragement.
Sorrow had not quenched the elan of Hermione's nature. What she had
told Artois had been true--she was not a finished woman, nor would she
ever be, so long as she was alive and conscious. Her hunger for love,
her passionate remembrance of the past, her incapacity to sink herself
in any one since her husband's death, her persistent, though
concealed, worship of his memory, all these things proved her
vitality. Artois was right when he said that she was a force. There
was something in her that was red-hot, although she was now a middle-
aged woman. She needed much more than most people, because she had
much more than most people have to give.
Her failure to express herself in an art had been a tragedy. From this
tragedy she turned, not with bitterness, but perhaps with an almost
fiercer energy, to Vere. Her intellect, released from fruitless toil,
was running loose demanding some employment. She sought that
employment in developing the powers of her child. Vere was not
specially studious. Such an out-of-door temperament as hers could
never belong to a bookworm or a recluse. But she was naturally clever,
as her father had not been, and she was enthusiastic not only in
pleasure but in work. Long ago Hermione, trying with loving anxiety to
educate her boyish husband, to make him understand certain subtleties
of her own, had found herself frustrated. When she made such attempts
with Vere she was met half way. The girl understood with swiftness
even those things with which she was not specially in sympathy. Her
father's mind had slipped away, ever so gracefully, from all which it
did not love. Vere's could grasp even an unloved subject. There was
mental grit in her--Artois knew it. In all her work until her
sixteenth year Vere had consulted her mother. Nothing of her child
till then was ever hidden from Hermione, except those things which the
human being cannot reveal, and sometimes scarcely knows of. The child
drew very much from her mother, responded to her enthusiasm, yet
preserved instinctively, and quite without self-consciousness, her own
Artois had noticed this, and this had led him to say that Vere also
was a force.
But when she was sixteen Vere woke up to something. Until now no one
but herself knew to what. Sometimes she shut herself up alone in her
room for long periods. When she came out she looked lazy, her mother
thought, and she liked to go then to some nook of the rocks and sit
alone, or to push a boat out into the centre of the Saint's Pool, and
lie in it with her hands clasped behind her head looking up at the
passing clouds or at the radiance of the blue.
Hermione knew how fond Vere was of reading, and supposed that this
love was increasing as the child grew older. She sometimes felt a
little lonely, but she was unselfish. Vere's freedom was quite
innocent. She, the mother, would not seek to interfere with it. Soon
after dinner on the evening of the Marchesino's expedition with
Artois, Vere had got up from the sofa, on which she had been sitting
with a book of Rossetti's poems in her hand, had gone over to one of
the windows, and had stood for two or three minutes looking out over
the sea. Then she had turned round, come up to her mother and kissed
her tenderly--more tenderly, Hermione thought, even than usual.
"Good-night, Madre mia," she had said.
And then, without another word, she had gone swiftly out of the room.
After Vere had gone the room seemed very silent. In the evening, if
they stayed in the house, they usually sat in Hermione's room up-
stairs. They had been sitting there to-night. The shutters were not
closed. The window that faced the sea towards Capri was open. A little
moonlight began to mingle subtly with the light from the two lamps, to
make it whiter, cleaner, suggestive of outdoor things and large
spaces. Hermione had been reading when Vere was reading. She did not
read now Vere was gone. Laying down her book she sat listening to the
silence, realizing the world without. Almost at her feet was the sea,
before her a wide-stretching expanse, behind her, confronted by the
desolate rocks, the hollow and mysterious caverns. In the night, the
Saint, unwearied, watched his Pool. Not very far off, yet delightfully
remote, lay Naples with its furious activities, its gayeties, its
intensities of sin, of misery, of pleasure. In the Galleria, tourists
from the hotels and from the ships were wandering rather vaguely,
watched and followed by newspaper sellers, by touts, by greedy, pale-
faced boys, and old, worn-out men, all hungry for money and
indifferent how it was gained. Along the Marina, with its huge serpent
of lights, the street singers and players were making their nightly
pilgrimage, pausing, wherever they saw a lighted window or a dark
figure on a balcony, to play and sing the tunes of which they were
weary long ago. On the wall, high above the sea, were dotted the
dilettante fishermen with their long rods and lines. And below, before
each stone staircase that descended to the water, was a waiting boat,
and in the moonlight rose up the loud cry of "Barca! Barca!" to
attract the attention of any casual passer-by.
And here, on this more truly sea-like sea, distant from the great
crowd and from the thronging houses, the real fishermen who live by
the sea were alert and at work, or were plunged in the quiet sleep
that is a preparation for long hours of nocturnal wakefulness.
Hermione thought of it all, was aware of it, felt it, as she sat there
opposite to the open window. Then she looked over to her writing-
table, on which stood a large photograph of her dead husband, then to
the sofa where Vere had been. She saw the volume of Rossetti lying
beside the cushion that still showed a shallow dent where the child's
head had been resting.
And then she shut her eyes, and asked her imagination to take her away
for a moment, over the sea to Messina, and along the curving shore,
and up by winding paths to a mountain, and into a little room in a
tiny, whitewashed house, not the house of the sea, but of the priest.
It still stood there, and the terrace was still before it. And the
olive-trees rustled, perhaps, just now in the wind beneath the stars.
Yes, she was there. Lucrezia and Gaspare were in bed. But she and
Maurice were sitting in the straw chairs on each side of the table,
facing the open French window and the flight of shallow steps that led
down to the terrace.
Faintly she heard the whisper of the sea about the islet, but she
would not let it hinder her imagination: she translated it by means of
her imagination into the whisper of the wind low down there, in the
ravine among the trees. And that act made her think of the ravine,
seemed presently to set her in the ravine. She was there in the night
with Gaspare. They were hurrying down towards the sea. He was behind
her, and she could hear his footsteps--longing to go faster. But she
was breathless, her heart was beating, there was terror in her soul.
What was that? A rattle of stones in the darkness, and then an old
voice muttering "Benedicite!"
She opened her eyes and moved suddenly, like one intolerably stirred.
What a foe the imagination can be--what a foe! She got up and went to
the window. She must drive away that memory of the ravine, of all that
followed after. Often she lingered with it, but to-night, somehow, she
could not, she dared not. She was less brave than usual to-night.
She leaned out of the window.
"Am I a fool?"
That was what she was saying to herself. And she was comparing herself
now with other people, other women. Did she know one who could not
uproot an old memory, who could suffer, and desire, and internally
weep, after more than sixteen years?
"I suppose it is preposterous."
She deliberately chose that ugly word to describe her own condition of
soul. But instantly it seemed to her as if far down in that soul
something rose up and answered:
"No, it is not. It is beautiful. It is divine. It is more--it is due.
He gave you the greatest gift. He gave you what the whole world is
always seeking; even in blindness, even in ignorance, even in terrible
vice. He gave you love. How should you forget him?"
Far away on the sea that was faintly silvered by the moon there was a
black speck. It was, or seemed from the distance to be, motionless.
Hermione's eyes were attracted to it, and again her imagination
carried her to Sicily. She stood on the shore by the inlet, she saw
the boat coming in from the open sea. Then it stopped midway--like
She heard Gaspare furiously weeping.
But the boat moved, and the sound that was in her imagination died
away, and she said to herself, "All that was long ago."
The boat out there was no doubt occupied by Neapolitan fishermen, and
she was here on the islet in the Sea of Naples, and Sicily was far
away across the moonlit waters. As to Gaspare--she was sure he was not
weeping, faithful though he was to the memory of the dead Padrone.
And Vere? Hermione wondered what Vere was doing. She felt sure, though
she did not know why, that Vere had not gone to bed. She realized
to-night that her child was growing up rapidly, was passing from the
stage of childhood to the stage of girlhood, was on the threshold of
all the mysterious experiences that life holds for those who have
ardent temperaments and eager interests, and passionate desires and
To-night Hermione felt very strongly the difference between the father
and the daughter. There was a gravity in Vere, a firmness that Maurice
had lacked. Full of life and warmth as she was, she was not the pure
spirit of joy that he had been in those first days in Sicily. She was
not irresponsible. She was more keenly aware of others, of just how
they were feeling, of just how they were thinking, than Maurice had
Vere was very individual.
With that thought there came to Hermione a deeper sense of loneliness.
She was conscious now in this moment, as she had never been conscious
before, of the independence of her child's character. The knowledge of
this independence seemed to come upon her suddenly--she could not tell
why; and she saw Vere apart from her, detached, like a column in a
Vere must not escape from her. She must accompany her child step by
step. She must not be left alone. She had told Emile that she could
not live again in Vere. And that was true. Vere was not enough. But
Vere was very much. Without Vere, what would her life be?
A wave of melancholy flowed over her to-night, a tide come from she
knew not where. Making an effort to stem it, she recalled her
happiness with Maurice after that day of the Tarantella. How
groundless had really been her melancholy then! She had imagined him
escaping from her, but he had remained with her, and loved her. He had
been good to her until the end, tender and faithful. If she had ever
had a rival, that rival had been Sicily. Always her imagination was
Her failure in art had been a tragedy because of this. If she could
have set her imagination free in an art she would have been far safer
than she was. Emile Artois was really lonelier than she, for he had
not a child. But his art surely saved him securely from her sense of
desolation. And then he was a man, and men must need far less than
women do. Hermione felt that it was so. She thought of Emile in his
most helpless moment, in that period when he was ill in Kairouan
before she came. Even then she believed that he could not have felt
quite so much alone as she did now; for men never long to be taken
care of as women do. And yet she was well, in this tranquil house
which was her own--with Vere, her child, and Gaspare, her devoted
As mentally she recounted her benefits, the strength there was in her
arose, protesting. She called herself harsh names: egoist, craven,
/faineant/. But it was no use to attack herself. In the deeps of her
poor, eager, passionate, hungry woman's nature something wept, and
needed, and could not be comforted, and could not be schooled. It
complained as one feeble, but really it must be strong; for it was
pitilessly persistent in its grieving. It had a strange endurance.
Life, the passing of the years, could not change it, could not still
it. Those eternal hungers of which Hermione had spoken to Artois--they
must have their meaning. Somewhere, surely, there are the happy
hunting-grounds, dreamed of by the red man--there are the Elysian
Fields where the souls that have longed and suffered will find the
There came a tap at the door.
Hermione started up from the cushion against which she had pressed her
head, and opened her eyes, instinctively laying her hand on Vere's
volume of Rossetti, and pretending to read it.
"Avanti!" she said.
The door opened and Gaspare appeared. Hermione felt an immediate
sensation of comfort.
"Gaspare," she said, "what is it? I thought you were in bed."
"Ha bisogna Lei?" he said.
It was a most familiar phrase to Hermione. It had been often on
Gaspare's lips when he was a boy in Sicily, and she had always loved
it, feeling as if it sprang from a nature pleasantly ready to do
anything in her service. But to-night it had an almost startling
appropriateness, breaking in as if in direct response to her gnawing
hunger of the heart. As she looked at Gaspare, standing by the door in
his dark-blue clothes, with an earnest expression on his strong,
handsome face, she felt as if he must have come just then because he
was conscious that she had so much need of help and consolation. And
she could not answer "no" to his simple question.
"Come in, Gaspare," she said, "and shut the door. I'm all alone. I
should like to have a little talk with you."
He obeyed her, shut the door gently, and came up to her with the
comfortable confidence of one safe in his welcome, desired not merely
as a servant but as a friend by his Padrona.
"Did you want to say anything particular, Gaspare?" Hermione asked
him. "Here--take a cigarette."
She gave him one. He took it gently, twitching his nose as he did so.
This was a little trick he had when he was pleased.
"You can smoke it here, if you like."
He lit it gravely and took a whiff. Then he said:
"The Signorina is outside."
Hermione looked towards the window.
"It is a lovely night."
He took another whiff, and turned his great eyes here and there,
looking about the room. Hermione began to wonder what he had to say to
her. She was certain that he had come to her for some reason other
than just to ask if she had need of him.
"It does the Signorina good to get a breath of air before she goes to
bed," Hermione added, after a moment of silence. "It makes her sleep."
He still stood calmly beside her, but now he looked at her with the
odd directness which had been characteristic of him as a boy, and
which he had not lost as a man.
"The Signorina is getting quite big, Signora," he said. "Have you
noticed? Per Dio! In Sicily, if the Signorina was a Sicilian, the
giovinotti would be asking to marry her."
"Ah, but, Gaspare, the Signorina is not a Sicilian," she said. "She is
English, you know, and English girls do not generally think of such
things till they are much older than Sicilians."
"But, Signora," said Gaspare, with the bluntness which in him was
never rudeness, but merely the sincerity which he considered due to
his Padrona--due also to himself, "my Padrone was like a real
Sicilian, and the Signorina is his daughter. She must be like a
Sicilian too, by force."
"Your Padrone, yes, he was a real Sicilian," Hermione said softly.
"But, well, the Signorina has much more English blood in her veins
than Sicilian. She has only a little Sicilian blood."
"But the Signorina thinks she is almost a Sicilian. She wishes to be a
"How do you know that, Gaspare?" she asked, smiling a little at his
firmness and persistence.
"The Signorina said so the other day to the giovinotto who had the
cigarettes, Signora. I talked to him, and he told me. He said the
Signorina had said to him that she was partly a Sicilian, and that he
had said 'no,' that she was English. And when he said that--he said to
me--the Signorina was quite angry. He could see that she was angry by
"I suppose that is the Sicilian blood, Gaspare. There is some in the
Signorina's veins, of course. And then, you know, both her father and
I loved your country. I think the Signorina must often long to see
"Does she say so?" asked Gaspare, looking rather less calm.
"She has not lately. I think she is very happy here. Don't you?"
"Si, Signora. But the Signorina is growing up now, and she is a little
Sicilian anyhow, Signora."
He paused, looking steadily at his Padrona.
"What is it, Gaspare? What do you want to say to me?"
"Signora, perhaps you will say it is not my business, but in my
country we do not let girls go about by themselves after they are
sixteen. We know it is better not. Ecco!"
Hermione had some difficulty in not smiling. But she knew that if she
smiled he might be offended. So she kept her countenance and said:
"What do you mean, Gaspare? The Signorina is nearly always with me."
"No, Signora. The Signorina can go wherever she likes. She can speak
to any one she pleases. She is free as a boy is free."
"Certainly she is free. I wish her to be free."
"Va bene, Signora, va bene."
A cloud came over his face, and he moved as if to go. But Hermione
"Wait a minute, Gaspare. I want you to understand. I like your care
for the Signorina. You know I trust you and depend on you more than on
almost any one. But you must remember that I am English, and in
England, you know, things in some ways are very different from what
they are in Sicily. Any English girl would be allowed the freedom of
"Why not? What harm does it do? The Signorina does not go to Naples
"Per Dio!" he interrupted, in a tone almost of horror.
"Of course I should never allow that. But here on the island--why,
what could happen to her here? Come, Gaspare, tell me what it is you
are thinking of. You haven't told me yet. I knew directly you came in
that you had something you wanted to say. What is it?"
"I know it is not my business," he said. "And I should never speak to
the Signorina, but--"
"Signora, all sorts of people come here to the island--men from
Naples. We do not know them. We cannot tell who they are. And they can
all see the Signorina. And they can even talk to her."
"The fishermen, you mean?"
"Any one who comes in a boat."
"Well, but scarcely any one ever comes but the fishermen. You know
"Oh, it was all very well when the Signorina was a little girl, a
child, Signora," he said, almost hotly. "But now it is different. It
is quite different."
Suddenly Hermione understood. She remembered what Vere had said about
Gaspare being jealous. He must certainly be thinking of the boy-diver,
"You think the Signorina oughtn't to talk to the fishermen?" she said.
"What do we know of the fishermen of Naples, Signora? We are not
Neapolitans. We are strangers here. We do not know their habits. We do
not know what they think. They are different from us. If we were in
Sicily! I am a Sicilian. I can tell. But when men come from Naples
saying they are Sicilians, how can I tell whether they are ruffiani or
Gaspare's inner thought stood revealed.
"I see, Gaspare," Hermione said, quietly. "You think I should not have
let the Signorina talk to that boy the other day. But I saw him
myself, and I gave the Signorina leave to take him some cigarettes.
And he dived for her. She told me all about it. She always tells me
"I do not doubt the Signorina," said Gaspare. "But I thought it was my
duty to tell you what I thought, Signora. Why should people come here
saying they are of my country, saying they are Sicilians, and talking
as the Neapolitans talk?"
"Well, but at the time, you didn't doubt that boy was what he said he
was, did you?"
"Signora, I did not know. I could not know. But since then I have been
"Well, Gaspare, you are quite right to tell me. I prefer that. I have
much faith in you, and always shall have. But we must not say anything
like this to the Signorina. She would not understand what we meant."
"No, Signora. The Signorina is too good."
"She would not understand, and I think she would be hurt"--Hermione
used the word "/offesa/,"--"as you would be if you fancied I thought
something strange about you."
"Good-night, Signora. Buon riposo."
He moved towards the door. When he reached it he stopped and added:
"I am going to bed, Signora."
"Go. Sleep well."
"Grazie, Signora. The Signorina is still outside, I am sure."
"She goes out for a minute nearly every evening, Gaspare. She likes
the air and to look at the sea."
"Si, Signora; in a minute I shall go to bed. Buon riposo."
And he went out.
When he had gone Hermione remained at first where she was. But Gaspare
had effectually changed her mood, had driven away what she chose to
call her egoism, had concentrated all her thoughts on Vere. He had
never before spoken like this about the child. It was a sudden waking
up on his part to the fact that Vere was growing up to womanhood.
When he chose, Gaspare could always, or nearly always, make his
Padrona catch his mood, there was something so definite about him that
he made an impression. And, though he was easily inclined to be
suspicious of those whom he did not know well, Hermione knew him to be
both intelligent and shrewd, especially about those for whom he had
affection. She wondered now whether it were possible that Gaspare saw,
understood, or even divined intuitively, more clearly than she did--
she, a mother!
It was surely very unlikely.
She remembered that Gaspare had a jealous nature, like most of his
Nevertheless he had suddenly made the islet seem different to her. She
had thought of it as remote, as pleasantly far away from Naples,
isolated in the quiet sea. But it was very easy to reach from Naples,
and, as Gaspare had said, what did they know, or understand, of the
Neapolitans, they who were strangers in the land?
She wondered whether Vere was still outside. To-night she certainly
envisaged Vere newly. Never till to-night had she thought of her as
anything but a child; as characteristic, as ardent, as determined
sometimes, perhaps as forceful even, but always with a child's mind
behind it all.
But to the people of the South Vere was already a woman--even to
Gaspare, who had held her in his arms when she was in long clothes. At
least Hermione supposed so now, after what Gaspare had said about the
giovinotti, who, in Sicily, would have been wishing to marry Vere, had
she been Sicilian. And perhaps even the mind of Vere was more grown-up
than her mother had been ready to suppose.
The mother was conscious of a slight but distinct uneasiness. It was
vague. Had she been asked to explain it she could not, perhaps, have
Presently, after a minute or two of hesitation, she went to the window
that faced north, opened it, and stood by, listening. It was from the
sea on this side that the fishermen who lived in the Mergellina, and
in the town of Naples, came to the islet. It was from this direction
that Ruffo had come three days ago.
Evidently Gaspare had been turning over the boy's acquaintance with
Vere in his mind all that time, disapproving of it, secretly
condemning Hermione for having allowed it. No, not that; Hermione felt
that he was quite incapable of condemning her. But he was a watchdog
who did not bark, but who was ready to bite all those who ventured to
approach his two mistresses unless he was sure of their credentials.
And of this boy's, Ruffo's, he was not sure.
Hermione recalled the boy; his brown healthiness, his laughing eyes
and lips, his strong young body, his careless happy voice. And she
found herself instinctively listening by the window to hear that voice
Now, as she looked out, the loveliness of the night appealed to her
strongly, and she felt sure that Vere must be still outside, somewhere
under the moon.
Just beneath the window was the narrow terrace, on to which she had
stepped out, obedient to Vere's call, three days ago. Perhaps Vere was
there, or in the garden beyond. She extinguished the lamp. She went to
her bedroom to get a lace shawl, which she put over her head and drew
round her shoulders like a mantilla. Then she looked into Vere's room,
and found it empty.
A moment later she was on the terrace bathed in the radiance of the
Vere was outside under the stars. When she had said good-night and had
slipped away, it was with the desire to be alone, to see no one, to
speak with no one till next morning. But the desires of the young
change quickly, and Vere's presently changed.
She came out of the house, and passing over the bridge that connected
together the two cliffs of which the islet was composed, reached the
limit of the islet. At the edge of the precipice was a seat, and there
she sat down. For some time she rested motionless, absorbing the
beauty and the silence of the night. She was looking towards Ischia.
She wished to look that way, to forget all about Naples, the great
city which lay behind her.
Here were the ancient caves darkening with their mystery the silver
wonder of the sea. Here the venerable shore stretched towards lands
she did not know. They called to the leaping desires of her heart as
the city did not call. They carried her away.
Often, from this seat, on dark and moonless nights, she had watched
the fishermen's torches flaring below her in the blackness, and had
thrilled at the mystery of their occupation, and had imagined them
lifting from the sea strange and wonderful treasures, that must change
the current of their lives: pearls such as had never before been given
to the breasts of women, caskets that had lain for years beneath the
waters, bottles in which were stoppered up magicians who, released,
came forth in smoke, as in the Eastern story.
Once she had spoken of this last imagination to Gaspare, and had seen
his face suddenly change and look excited, vivid, and then sad. She
had asked him why he looked like that, and, after a moment of
hesitation, he had told her how, long ago, before she was born, his
Padrone had read to him such a tale as they lay together upon a
mountain side in Sicily. Vere had eagerly questioned him, and he,
speaking with vehemence in the heat of his recollection, had brought
before her a picture of that scene in his simple life; had shown her
how he lay, and how the Padrone lay, he listening, the Padrone, book
in hand, reading about the "mago africano." He had even told Vere of
their conversation afterwards, and how he had said that he would
always be free, that he would never be "stoppered up," like the "mago
africano." And when she had wondered at his memory growing still more
excited he had told her many other things of which his Padrone and he
had talked together, and had made her feel the life of the past on
Monte Amato as no cultured person, she believed, could ever have made
her feel it. But when she had sought to question him about her
father's death he had become silent, and she had seen that it would be
impossible to make him obey her and tell her all the details that she
longed to know.
To-night Vere could see no fishermen at work. The silver of the sea
below her was unbroken by the black forms of gliding boats, the
silence was unbroken by calling voices. And to-night she was glad that
it was so; for she was in the mood to be quite alone. As she sat there
very still she seemed to herself to be drawing nearer to the sea, and
drawing the sea to her. Indeed, she was making some such imaginative
attempt as her mother was making in the house--to become, in fancy at
least, one with something outside of her, to be fused with the sea, as
her mother desired to be fused with her. But Vere's endeavor was not
tragic, like her mother's, but was almost tenderly happy. She thought
she felt the sea responding to her as she responded to the sea. And
she was very glad in that thought.
Presently she began to wonder about the fishermen.
How did they feel about the sea? To her the sea was romantic and
personal. Was it romantic and personal to them? They were romantic to
her because of their connection with the sea, which had imprinted upon
them something of itself, showed forth in them, by means of them,
something surely of its own character; but probably, almost certainly,
she supposed, they were unconscious of this. They lived by the sea.
Perhaps they thought of it as of a vast money-bag, into which they
dipped their hands to get enough to live by. Or perhaps they thought
of it as an enemy, against which they lived in perpetual war, from
which they wrung, as it were at the sword's point, a poor and
As she sat thinking about this Vere began to change in her desire, to
wish there were some fishermen out to-night about the islet, and that
she could have speech of them. She would like to find out from one of
them how they regarded the sea.
She smiled as she imagined a conversation between herself and some
strong, brown, wild Neapolitan, she questioning and he replying. How
he would misunderstand her! He would probably think her mad. And yet
sometimes the men of the sea in their roughness are imaginative. They
are superstitious. But a man--no, she could not question a man. Her
mind went to the boy diver, Ruffo. She had often thought about Ruffo
during the last three days. She had expected to see him again. He had
said nothing about returning to the islet, but she had felt sure he
would return, if only in the hope of being given some more cigarettes.
Boys in his position, she knew well, do not get a present of Khali
Targa cigarettes every day of the week. How happy he had looked when
he was smoking them! She remembered exactly the expression of his
brown face now, as she sat watching the empty, moonlit sea. It was not
greedy. It was voluptuous. She remembered seeing somewhere a picture
of some Sultan of the East reclining on a divan and smoking a chibouk.
She thought Ruffo had looked rather like the Sultan, serenely secure
of all earthly enjoyment. At that moment the Pool of San Francesco had
stood to the boy for the Paradise of Mahomet.
But Ruffo had not come again.
Each morning Vere had listened for his voice, had looked down upon the
sea for his boat, but all in vain. On the third day she had felt
almost angry with him unreasonably. But then she remembered that he
was not his own master, not the owner of the boat. Of course, he could
not do what he liked. If he could--well, then he would have come back.
She was positive of that.
If he ever did come back, she said to herself now, she would question
him about the sea. She would get at his thoughts about the sea, at his
feelings. She wondered if they could possibly be at all like hers. It
was unlikely, she supposed. They two were so very different. And
She smiled to herself again, imagining question and answer with Ruffo.
He would not think her mad, even if she puzzled him. They understood
each other. Even her mother had said that they seemed to be in
sympathy. And that was true. Difference of rank need not, indeed
cannot, destroy the magic chain if it exists, cannot prevent its links
from being forged. She knew that her mother was in sympathy with
Gaspare, and Gaspare with her mother. So there was no reason why she
should not be in sympathy with Ruffo.
If he were here to-night she would begin at once to talk to him about
the sea. But of course he would never come at night to the islet.
Vere knew that the Neapolitan fishermen usually keep each to his own
special branch of the common profession. By this time of night, no
doubt, Ruffo was in his home at the Mergellina, sitting in the midst
of his family, or was strolling with lively companions of his own age,
or, perhaps, was fast asleep in bed.
Vere felt that it would be horrible to go to bed on such a night, to
shut herself in from the moon and the sea. The fishermen who slept in
the shelter of the Saint's Pool were enviable. They had the stars
above them, the waters about them, the gentle winds to caress them as
they lay in the very midst of romance.
She wondered whether there were any boats in the Saint's Pool
to-night. She had not been to see. A few steps and she could look
over. She got up and went back to the bridge, treading softly because
she was thinking of repose. There she stopped and looked down. She saw
two boats on the far side of the Pool almost at the feet of the Saint.
The men in them must be lying down, for Vere could see only the boats,
looking black, and filled with a confused blackness--of sails
probably, and sleeping men. The rest of the pool was empty, part of it
bright with the radiance of the moon, part of it shading away to the
mysterious dimness of still water at night under the lee of cliffs.
For some time the girl stood, watching. Just at that moment her active
brain almost ceased to work, stilled by the reverie that is born of
certain night visions. Without these motionless boats the Pool of the
Saint would have been calm. With them, its stillness seemed almost
ineffably profound. The hint of life bound in the cores of sleep,
prisoner to rest, deepened Nature's impression and sent Vere into
reverie. There were no trees here. No birds sang, for although it was
the month of the nightingales, none ever came to sing to San
Francesco. No insects chirped or hummed. All was stark and almost
fearfully still as in a world abandoned; and the light fell on the old
faces of the rocks faintly, as if it feared to show the ravages made
in them by the storms of the long ages they had confronted and defied.
Vere had a sensation of sinking very slowly down into a gulf, as she
stood there, not falling, but sinking, down into some world of quiet
things, farther and farther down, leaving all the sounds of life far
up in light above her. And descent was exquisite, easy and natural,
and, indeed, inevitable. Nothing called her from below. For where she
was going there were no voices. Yet she felt that at last there would
be something to receive her; mystical stillness, mystical peace.
A silky sound--far off--checked that imaginative descent that seemed
so physical, first merely arrested it, then, always silky, but growing
louder, took her swiftly and softly back to the summit she had left.
Now she was conscious again of herself and of the night. She was
listening. The sound that had broken her reverie was the gentle sweep
of big-bladed oars through the calm sea. As she knew this she saw,
away to the right, a black shadow stealing across the silver waste
beyond the islet. It pushed its way to the water at her very feet, and
chose that as its anchorage.
The figure of the rower stood up straight and black for a moment,
looking lonely in the night.
Vere could not see his face, but she knew at once that he was Ruffo.
Her inclination was to bend down with the soft cry of "Pescator!"
which she had sent to him on the sunny morning of their meeting. She
checked it, why she scarcely knew, in obedience to some imperious
prompting of her nature. But she kept her eyes on him. And they were
full of will. She was willing him not to lie down in the bottom of the
boat and sleep. She knew that he and his companions must have come to
the pool at that hour to rest. There were three other men in the boat.
Two had been sitting on the gunwale of it, and now lay down. The
third, who was in the bows, exchanged some words with the rower, who
replied. Vere could hear the sound of their voices, but not what they
said. The conversation continued for two or three minutes, while Ruffo
was taking in the oars and laying them one on each side of the boat.
When he had done this he stretched up his arms to their full length
above his head, and a loud noise of a prolonged yawn came up to Vere,
and nearly made her laugh. Long as it was, it seemed to her to end
abruptly. The arms dropped down.
She felt sure he had seen her watching, and stayed quite still,
wondering what he was going to do. Perhaps he would tell the other
man. She found herself quickly hoping that he would not. That she was
there ought to be their little secret.
All this that was passing through her mind was utterly foreign to any
coquetry. Vere had no more feeling of sex in regard to Ruffo than she
would have had if she had been a boy herself. The sympathy she felt
with him was otherwise founded, deep down in mysteries beyond the
mysteries of sex.
Again Ruffo and the man who had not lain down spoke together. But the
man did not look up to Vere. He must have looked if his attention had