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A Spirit in Prison by Robert Hichens

Part 3 out of 13

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been drawn to the fact that she was there--a little spy upon the men
of the sea, considering them from her eminence.

Ruffo had not told. She was glad.

Presently the man moved from his place in the bows. She saw him lift a
leg to get over into the stern, treading carefully in order not to
trample on his sleeping companions. Then his black figure seemed to
shut up like a telescope. He had become one with the dimness in the
boat, was no longer detached from it. Only Ruffo was still detached.
Was he going to sleep, too?

A certain tenseness came into Vere's body. She kept her eyes, which
she had opened very wide, fixed upon the black figure. It remained
standing. The head moved. He was certainly looking up. She realized
that he was not sleepy, despite that yawn,--that he would like to
speak to her--to let her know that he knew she was there.

Perhaps he did not dare to--or, not that, perhaps fishermen's
etiquette, already enshrined in his nature, did not permit him to come
ashore. The boat was so close to the land that he could step on to it
easily.

She leaned down.

"Pescator!"

It was scarcely more than a whisper. But the night was so intensely
still that he heard it. Or, if not that, he felt it. His shadow--so it
seemed in the shadow of the cliff--flitted out of the boat and
disappeared.

He was coming--to have that talk about the sea.

CHAPTER IX

"Buona sera, Signorina."

"Buona sera, Ruffo."

She did not feign surprise when he came up to her.

"So you fish at night?" she said. "I thought the divers for /frutti di
mare/ did not do that."

"Signorina, I have been taken into the boat of Mandano Giuseppe."

He spoke rather proudly, and evidently thought she would know of whom
he was telling her. "I fish for sarde now."

"Is that better for you?"

"Si, Signorina, of course."

"I am glad of that."

"Si, Signorina."

He stood beside her quite at his ease. To-night he had on a cap, but
it was pushed well off his brow, and showed plenty of his thick, dark
hair.

"When did you see me?" she asked.

"Almost directly, Signorina."

"And what made you look up?"

"Signorina?"

"Why did you look up directly?"

"Non lo so, Signorina."

"I think it was because I made you feel that I was there," she said.
"I think you obey me without knowing it. You did the same the other
day."

"Perhaps, Signorina."

"Have you smoked all the cigarettes?"

She saw him smile, showing his teeth.

"Si, Signorina, long ago. I smoked them the same day."

"You shouldn't. It is bad for a boy, and you are younger than I am,
you know."

The smile grew wider.

"What are you laughing at?"

"I don't know, Signorina."

"Do you think it is funny to be younger than I am?"

"Si, Signorina."

"I suppose you feel quite as if you were a man?"

"If I could not work as well as a man Giuseppe would not have taken me
into his boat. But of course with a lady it is all different. A lady
does not have to work. Poor women get old very soon, Signorina."

"Your mother, is she old?"

"My mamma! I don't know. Yes, I suppose she is rather old."

He seemed to be considering.

"Si, Signorina, my mamma is rather old. But then she has had a lot of
trouble, my poor mamma!"

"I am sorry. Is she like you?"

"I don't know, Signorina; I have never thought about it. What does it
matter?"

"It may not matter, but such things are interesting sometimes."

"Are they, Signorina?"

Then, evidently with a polite desire to please her and carry on the
conversation in the direction indicated by her, he added:

"And are you like your Signora Madre, Signorina?"

Vere felt inclined to smile, but she answered, quite seriously.

"I don't believe I am. My mother is very tall, much taller than I am,
and not so dark. My eyes are much darker than hers and quite
different."

"I think you have the eyes of a Sicilian, Signorina."

Again Vere was conscious of a simple effort on the part of the boy to
be gallant. And he had a good memory too. He had not forgotten her
three-days'-old claim to Sicilian blood. The night mitigated the
blunders of his temperament, it seemed. Vere could not help being
pleased. There was something in her that ever turned towards the
Sicily she had never seen. And this boy had not seen Sicily either.

"Isn't it odd that you and I have never seen Sicily?" she said, "and
that both our mothers have? And mine is all English, you know."

"My mamma would be very glad to kiss the hand of your Signora Mother,"
replied Ruffo. "I told her about the kind ladies who gave me
cigarettes, and that the Signorina had never seen her father. When she
heard that the Signorina was born after her father was dead, and that
her father had died in Sicily, she said--my poor mamma!--'If ever I
see the Signorina's mother, I shall kiss her hand. She was a widow
before she was a mother; may the Madonna comfort her.' My mamma spoke
just like that, Signorina. And then she cried for a long time. But
when Patrigno came in she stopped crying at once."

"Did she? Why was that?"

"I don't know, Signorina."

Vere was silent for a moment. Then she said:

"Is your Patrigno kind to you, Ruffo?"

The boy looked at her, then swiftly looked away.

"Kind enough, Signorina," he answered.

Then they both kept silence. They were standing side by side thus,
looking down rather vaguely at the Saint's pool, when another boat
floated gently into it, going over to the far side, where already lay
the two boats at the feet of San Francesco. Vere saw it with
indifference. She was accustomed to the advent of the fishermen at
this hour. Ruffo stared at it for a moment with a critical inquiring
gaze. The boat drew up near the land and stopped. There was a faint
murmur of voices, then silence again.

The Marchesino had told the two sailors that they could have an hour
or two of sleep before beginning to fish.

The men lay down, shut their eyes, and seemed to sleep at once. But
Artois and the Marchesino, lounging on a pile of rugs deftly arranged
in the bottom of the stern of the boat, smoked their cigars in a
silence laid upon them by the night silence of the Pool. Neither of
them had as yet caught sight of the figures of Vere and Ruffo, which
were becoming more clearly relieved as the moon rose and brought a
larger world within its radiance, of its light. Artois was satisfied
that the members of the Casa del Mare were in bed. As they approached
the house he had seen no light from its windows. The silence about the
islet was profound, and gave him the impression of being in the very
heart of the night. And this impression lasted, and so tricked his
mind that he forgot that the hour was not really late. He lay back,
lazily smoking his cigar, and drinking in the stark beauty round about
him, a beauty delicately and mysteriously fashioned by the night,
which, as by a miracle, had laid hold of bareness and barren ugliness,
and turned them to its exquisite purposes, shrinking from no material
in its certainty of its own power to transform.

The Marchesino, too, lay back, with his great, gray eyes staring about
him. While the feelings of his friend had moved towards satisfaction,
his had undergone a less pleasant change. His plan seemed to be going
awry, and he began to think of himself as of a fool. What had he
anticipated? What had he expected of this expedition? He had been, as
usual, politely waiting on destiny. He had come to the islet in the
hope that Destiny would meet him there and treat him with every
kindness and hospitality, forestalling his desires. But lo! He was
abandoned in a boat among a lot of taciturn men, while the object of
all his thoughts and pains, his plots and hopes, was, doubtless,
hermetically sealed in the home on the cliff above him.

Several Neapolitan words, familiar in street circles, ran through his
mind, but did not issue from his lips, and his face remained perfectly
calm--almost seraphic in expression.

Out of the corners of his eyes he stole a glance at "caro Emilio." He
wished his friend would follow the example of the men and go to sleep.
He wanted to feel himself alone in wakefulness and unobserved. For he
was not resigned to an empty fate. The voices of the laughing women at
the Antico Giuseppone still rang through his memory. He was
adventurous by nature. What he would do if Emilio would only slumber
he did not know. But it was certain he would do something. The islet,
dark and distinct in outline beneath the moon, summoned him. Was he a
Neapolitan and not beneath her window? It was absurd. And he was not
at all accustomed to control himself or to fight his own impulses. For
the moment "caro Emilio" became "maledetto Emilio" in his mind.
Sleepless as Providence, Emilio reclined there. A slightly distracted
look came into the Marchesino's eyes as he glanced away from his
friend and stared once more at the islet, which he longed so ardently
to invade.

This time he saw the figures of Vere and Ruffo above him in the
moonlight, which now sharply relieved them. He gazed. And as he gazed
they moved away from the bridge, going towards the seat where Vere had
been before she had seen Ruffo.

Vere had on a white dress.

The heart of the Marchesino leaped. He was sure it was the girl of the
white boat. Then the inhabitants of the house on the islet were not
asleep, were not even in bed. They--she at least, and that was all he
cared for--were out enjoying the moon and the sea. How favorable was
the night! But who was with her?

The Marchesino had very keen eyes. And now he used them with almost
fierce intensity. But Ruffo was on the far side of Vere. It was not
possible to discern more than that he was male, and taller than the
girl in the white dress.

Jealousy leaped up in the Marchesino, that quick and almost frivolous
jealousy which, in the Southerner, can so easily deepen into the
deadliness that leads to crime. Not for a moment did he doubt that the
man with Vere was a lover. This was a blow which, somehow, he had not
expected. The girl in the white boat had looked enchantingly young.
When he had played the seal for her she had laughed like a child. He--
even he, who believed in no one's simplicity, made sceptical by his
own naughtiness so early developed towards a fine maturity!--had not
expected anything like this. And these English, who pride themselves
upon their propriety, their stiffness, their cold respectability!
These English misses!

"Ouf!"

It was out of the Marchesino's mouth before he was aware of it, an
exclamation of cynical disgust.

"What's the matter, amico mio?" said Artois, in a low voice.

"Niente!" said the Marchesino, recollecting himself. "Are not you
going to sleep?"

"Yes," said Artois, throwing away his cigar end. "I am. And you?"

"I too!"

The Marchesino was surprised by his friend's reply. He did not
understand the desire of Artois not to have his sense of the romance
of their situation broken in upon by conversation just then. The
romance of women was not with Artois, but the romance of Nature was.
He wanted to keep it. And now he settled himself a little lower in the
boat, under the shadow of its side, and seemed to be giving himself to
sleep.

The Marchesino thanked the Madonna, and made his little pretence of
slumber too, but he kept his head above the gunwale, leaning it on his
arm with a supporting cushion beneath; and though he really did shut
both his eyes for a short time, to deceive caro Emilio, he very soon
opened them again, and gazed towards the islet. He could not see the
two figures now. Rage seized him. First the two men at the Antico
Giuseppone, and now this man on the islet! Every one was companioned.
Every one was enjoying the night as it was meant to be enjoyed. He--he
alone was the sport of "il maledetto destino." He longed to commit
some act of violence. Then he glanced cautiously round without moving.

The two sailors were sleeping. He could hear their regular and rather
loud breathing. Artois lay quite still. The Marchesino turned his body
very carefully so that he might see the face of his friend. As he did
so Artois, who had been looking straight up at the stars, shut his
eyes, and simulated sleep. His suspicion of Doro, that this expedition
had been undertaken with some hidden motive, was suddenly renewed by
this sly and furtive movement, which certainly suggested purpose and
the desire to conceal it.

So caro Emilio slept very peacefully, and breathed with the calm
regularity of a sucking child. But in this sleep of a child he was
presently aware that the boat was moving--in fact was being very
adroitly moved. Though his eyes were shut he felt the moonlight leave
his face presently, and knew they were taken by the shadow of the
islet. Then the boat stopped.

A moment later Artois was aware that the boat contained three people
instead of four.

The Marchesino had left it to take a little stroll on shore.

Artois lay still. He knew how light is the slumber of seamen in a boat
with the wide airs about them, and felt sure that the sailors must
have been waked by the tour of the boat across the Pool. Yet they had
not moved, and they continued apparently to sleep. He guessed that a
glance from their "Padrone" had advised them not to wake. And this was
the truth.

At the first movement of the boat both the men had looked up and had
received their message from the Marchesino's expressive eyes. They
realized at once that he had some design which he wished to keep from
the knowledge of his friend, the forestiere. Of course it must be
connected with a woman. They were not particularly curious. They had
always lived in Naples, and knew their aristocracy. So they merely
returned the Marchesino's glance with one of comprehension and
composed themselves once more to repose.

The Marchesino did not come back, and presently Artois lifted himself
up a little, and looked out.

The boat was right under the lee of the islet, almost touching the
shore, but the sea was so perfectly still that it scarcely moved, and
was not in any danger of striking against the rock. The sailors had
seen that, too, before they slept again.

Artois sat quite up. He wondered a good deal what his friend was
doing. One thing was certain--he was trespassing. The islet belonged
to Hermione, and no one had any right to be upon it without her
invitation. Artois had that right, and was now considering whether or
not he should use it, follow the Marchesino and tell him--what he had
not told him--that the owner of the islet was the English friend of
whom he had spoken.

For Artois the romance of the night in which he had been revelling was
now thoroughly disturbed. He looked again towards the two sailors,
suspecting their sleep. Then he got up quietly, and stepped out of the
boat onto the shore. His doing so gave a slight impetus to the boat,
which floated out a little way into the Pool. But the men in it seemed
to sleep on.

Artois stood still for a moment at the edge of the sea. His great
limbs were cramped, and he stretched them. Then he went slowly towards
the steps. He reached the plateau before the Casa del Mare. The
Marchesino was not there. He looked up at the house. As he did so the
front door opened and Hermione came out, wrapped in a white lace
shawl.

"Emile?" she said, stopping with her hand on the door. "Why--how
extraordinary!"

She came to him.

"Have you come to pay us a nocturnal visit, or--there's nothing the
matter?"

"No," he said.

For perhaps the first time in his life he felt embarrassed with
Hermione. He took her hand.

"I don't believe you meant me to know you were here," she said, guided
by the extraordinary intuition of woman.

"To tell the truth," he answered, "I did not expect to see you. I
thought you were all in bed."

"Oh no. I have been on the terrace and in the garden. Vere is out
somewhere. I was just going to look for her."

There was a distinct question in her prominent eyes as she fixed them
on him.

"No, I haven't seen Vere," he said, answering it.

"Are you alone?" she asked, abruptly.

"No. You remember my mentioning my friend, the Marchesino Panacci?
Well, he is with me. We were going to fish. The fishermen suggested
our sleeping in the Saint's Pool for an hour or two first. I found
Doro gone and came to look for him."

There was still a faint embarrassment in his manner.

"I believe you have seen him," he added. "He was bathing the other day
when you were passing in the boat,--I think it was you. Did you see a
young man who did some tricks in the water?"

"Oh yes, an impudent young creature. He pretended to be a porpoise and
a seal. He made us laugh. Vere was delighted with him. Is that your
friend? Where can he be?"

"Where is Vere?" said Artois.

Their eyes met, and suddenly his embarrassment passed away.

"You don't mean that--?"

"My friend, you know what these Neapolitans are. Doro came back from
his bathe raving about Vere. I did not tell him I knew her. I think--I
am sure he has guessed it, and much more. Let us go and find him. It
seems you are to know him. E il destino."

"You don't want me to know him?" she said, as they turned away from
the house.

"I don't know that there is any real reason why you should not. But my
instinct was against the acquaintance. Where can Vere be? Does she
often come out alone at night?"

"Very often. Ah! There she is, beyond the bridge, and--is that the
Marchesino Panacci with her? Why--no, it's--"

"It is Ruffo," Artois said.

Vere and the boy were standing near the edge of the cliff and talking
earnestly together, but as Hermione and Artois came towards them they
turned round as if moved by a mutual impulse. Ruffo took off his cap
and Vere cried out:

"Monsieur Emile!"

She came up to him quickly. He noticed that her face looked
extraordinarily alive, that her dark eyes were fiery with expression.

"Good-evening, Vere," he said.

He took her small hand.

"Buona sera, Ruffo," he added.

He looked from one to the other, and saw the perfect simplicity of
both.

"Tell me, Vere," he said. "Have you seen any one on the islet
to-night?"

"Yes, just now. Why? What made you think so?"

"Well?"

"A man--a gentleman came. I told him he was trespassing."

Artois smiled. Ruffo stood by, his cap in his hand, looking
attentively at Vere, who had spoken in French. She glanced at him, and
suddenly broke into Italian.

"He was that absurd boy we saw in the sea, Madre, the other day, who
pretended to be a seal, and made me laugh. He reminded me of it, and
asked me if I didn't recognize him."

"What did you say?"

"I said 'No' and 'Good-night.' "

"And did he go?" asked Artois.

"No, he would not go. I don't know what he wanted. He looked quite
odd, as if he were feeling angry inside, and didn't wish to show it.
And he began trying to talk. But as I didn't really know him--after
all, laughing at a man because he pretends to be a seal is scarcely
knowing him, is it, Monsieur Emile?"

"No," he said, smiling at her smile.

"I said 'good-night' again in such a way that he had to go."

"And so he went!" said Artois.

"Yes. Do you know him, Monsieur Emile?"

"Yes. He came with me to-night."

A little look of penitence came into the girl's face.

"Oh, I am sorry."

"Why should you be?"

"Well, he began saying something about knowing friends of mine, or--I
didn't really listen very much, because Ruffo was telling me all about
the sea--and I thought it was all nonsense. He was absurdly
complimentary first, you see! and so, when he began about friends, I
only said 'good-night' again. And--and I'm really afraid I turned my
back upon him. And now he's a friend of yours. Monsieur Emile! I am
sorry!"

Already the Marchesino had had that lesson of which Artois had thought
in Naples. Artois laughed aloud.

"It doesn't matter, Vere. My friend is not too sensitive."

"Buona sera, Signorina! Buona sera, Signora! Buon riposo!"

It was Ruffo preparing to go, feeling that he scarcely belonged to
this company, although he looked in no way shy, and had been smiling
broadly at Vere's narrative of the discomfiture of the Marchesino.

"Ruffo," said Hermione, "you must wait a moment."

"Si, Signora?"

"I am going to give you a few more cigarettes."

Vere sent a silent but brilliant "Thank you" to her mother. They all
walked towards the house.

Vere and her mother were in front, Artois and Ruffo behind. Artois
looked very closely and even curiously at the boy.

"Have I ever seen you before?" he asked, as they came to the bridge.

"Signore?"

"Not the other morning. But have we ever met in Naples?"

"I have seen you pass by sometimes at the Mergellina, Signore."

"That must be it then!" Artois thought, "I have seen you there without
consciously noticing you."

"You live there?" he said.

"Si, Signore; I live with my mamma and my Patrigno."

"Your Patrigno," Artois said, merely to continue the conversation.
"Then your father is dead?"

"Si, Signore, my Babbo is dead."

They were on the plateau now, before the house.

"If you will wait a moment, Ruffo, I will fetch the cigarettes," said
Hermione.

"Let me go, Madre," said Vere, eagerly.

"Very well, dear."

The girl ran into the house. As she disappeared they heard a quick
step, and the Marchesino came hurrying up from the sea. He took off
his hat when he saw Hermione, and stopped.

"I was looking for you, Emilio."

He kept his hat in his hand. Evidently he had recovered completely
from his lesson. He looked gay and handsome. Artois realized how very
completely the young rascal's desires were being fulfilled. But of
course the introduction must be made. He made it quietly.

"Marchese Isidoro Panacci--Mrs. Delarey."

The Marchesino bent and kissed Hermione's hand. As he did so Vere came
out of the house, her hands full of Khali Targa cigarettes, her face
eager at the thought of giving pleasure to Ruffo.

"This is my daughter, Vere," Hermione said. "Vere, this is the
Marchese Isidoro Panacci, a friend of Monsieur Emile's."

The Marchesino went to kiss Vere's hand, but she said:

"I'm very sorry--look!"

She showed him that they were full of cigarettes, and so escaped from
the little ceremony. For those watching it was impossible to know
whether she wished to avoid the formal salutation of the young man's
lips or not.

"Here, Ruffo!" she said. She went up to the boy. "Put your hands
together."

Ruffo gladly obeyed. He curved his brown hands into a cup, and Vere
filled this cup with the big cigarettes, while Hermione, Artois, and
the Marchesino looked on; each one of them with a fixed attention
which--surely--the action scarcely merited. But there was something
about those two, Vere and the boy, which held the eyes and the mind.

"Good-night, Ruffo. You must carry them to the boat. They'll be
crushed if you put them into your trousers-pocket."

"Si, Signorina!"

He waited a moment. He wanted to salute them, but did not know how to.
That was evident. His expressive eyes, his whole face told it to them.

Artois suddenly set his lips together in his beard. For an instant it
seemed to him that the years had rolled back, that he was in London,
in Caminiti's restaurant, that he saw Maurice Delarey, with the
reverential expression on his face that had been so pleasing. Yes, the
boy Ruffo looked like him in that moment, as he stood there, wishing
to do his devoir, to be polite, but not knowing how to.

"Never mind, Ruffo," It was Vere's voice. "We understand! Or--shall
I?" A laughing look came into her face. She went up to the boy and,
with a delicious, childish charm and delicacy, that quite removed the
action from impertinence, she took his cap off. "There!" She put it
gently back on his dark hair. "Now you've been polite to us. Buona
notte!"

"Buona notte, Signorina."

The boy ran off, half laughing, and carrying carefully the cigarettes
in his hands still held together like a cup.

Hermione and Artois were smiling. Artois felt something for Vere just
then that he could hardly have explained, master though he was of
explanation of the feelings of man. It seemed to him that all the
purity, and the beauty, and the whimsical unselfconsciousness, and the
touchingness of youth that is divine, appeared in that little, almost
comic action of the girl. He loved her for the action, because she was
able to perform it just like that. And something in him, suddenly
adored youth in a way that seemed new to his heart.

"Well," said Hermione, when Ruffo had disappeared. "Will you come in?
I'm afraid all the servants are in bed, but--"

"No, indeed it is too late," Artois said.

Without being aware of it he spoke with an authority that was almost
stern.

"We must be off to our fishing," he added. "Good-night. Good-night,
Vere."

"Good-night, Signora."

The Marchesino bowed, with his hat in his hand. He kissed Hermione's
hand again, but he did not try to take Vere's.

"Good-night," Hermione said.

A glance at Artois had told her much that he was thinking.

"Good-night, Monsieur Emile," said Vere. "Good-night, Marchese. Buona
pesca!"

She turned and followed her mother into the house.

"Che simpatica!"

It was the Marchesino's voice, breathing the words through a sigh:
"Che simpatica Signorina!" Then an idea seemed to occur to him, and he
looked at his friend reproachfully. "And you knew the girl with the
perfect little nose, Emilio--all the time you knew her!"

"And all the time you knew I knew her!" retorted Artois.

They looked at each other in the eyes and burst out laughing.

"Emilio, you are the devil! I will never forgive you. You do not trust
me."

"Caro amico, I do trust you--always to fall in love with every girl
you meet. But"--and his voice changed--"the Signorina is a child.
Remember that, Doro."

They were going down the steps to the sea. Almost as Artois spoke they
reached the bottom, and saw their boat floating in the moonlight
nearly in the centre of the Pool. The Marchesino stood still.

"My dear Emilio," he said, staring at Artois with his great round
eyes, "you make me wonder whether you know women."

Artois felt amused.

"Really?" he said.

"Really! And yet you write books."

"Writing books does not always prove that one knows much. But explain
to me."

They began to stroll on the narrow space at the sea edge. Close by lay
the boat to which Ruffo belonged. The boy was already in it, and they
saw him strike a match and light one of the cigarettes. Then he lay
back at his ease, smoking, and staring up at the moon.

"A girl of sixteen is not a child, and I am sure the Signorina is
sixteen. But that is not all. Emilio, you do not know the Signorina."

Artois repressed a smile. The Marchesino was perfectly in earnest.

"And you--do you know the Signorina?" Artois asked.

"Certainly I know her," returned the Marchesino with gravity.

They reached Ruffo's boat. As they did so, the Marchesino glanced at
it with a certain knowing impudence that was peculiarly Neapolitan.

"When I came to the top of the islet the Signorina was with that boy,"
the Marchesino continued.

"Well?" said Artois.

"Oh, you need not be angry, Emilio caro."

"I am not angry," said Artois.

Nor was he. It is useless to be angry with racial characteristics,
racial points of view. He knew that well. The Marchesino stared at
him.

"No, I see you are not."

"The Signorina was with that boy. She has talked to him before. He has
dived for her. He has sung for her! She has given him cigarettes,
taken from her mother's box, with her mother's consent. Everything the
Signorina does her mother knows and approves of. You saw the Signora
send the Signorina for more cigarettes to give the boy to-night.
Ebbene?"

"Ebbene. They are English!"

And he laughed.

"Madre mia!"

He laughed again, seized his mustaches, twisted them, and went on.

"They are English, but for all that the Signorina is a woman. And as
to that boy--"

"Perhaps he is a man."

"Certainly he is. Dio mio, the boy at least is a Neapolitan."

"No, he isn't."

"He is not?"

"He's a Sicilian."

"How do you know?"

"I was here the other day when he was diving for /frutti di mare/."

"I have seen him at the Mergellina ever since he was a child."

"He says he is a Sicilian."

"Boys like that say anything if they can get something by it. Perhaps
he thought you liked the Sicilians better than the Neapolitans. But
anyhow--Sicilian or Neapolitan, it is all one! He is a Southerner, and
at fifteen a Southerner is already a man. I was."

"I know it. But you were proving to me that the Signorina is a woman.
The fact that she, an English girl, is good friends with the fisher
boy does not prove it."

"Ah, well!"

The Marchesino hesitated.

"I had seen the Signorina before I came to meet you at the house."

"Had you?"

"Didn't you know it?"

"Yes, I did."

"I knew she told you."

"What?"

"She told you! she told you! She is birbante. She is a woman, for she
pretended as only a woman can pretend."

"What did she pretend?"

"That she was not pleased at my coming, at my finding out where she
lived, and seeking her. Why, Emilio, even when I was in the sea, when
I was doing the seal, I could read the Signorina's character. She
showed me from the boat that she wanted me to come, that she wished to
know me. Ah, che simpatica! Che simpatica ragazza!"

The Marchesino looked once more at Ruffo.

"Come here a minute!" he said, in a low voice, not wishing to wake the
still sleeping fishermen.

The boy jumped lightly out and came to them. When he stood still the
Marchesino said, in his broadest Neapolitan:

"Now then, tell me the truth! I'm a Neapolitan, not a forestiere.
You've seen me for years at the Mergellina."

"Si, Signore."

"You're a Napolitano."

"No, Signore. I am a Sicilian."

There was a sound of pride in the boy's voice.

"I am quite sure he speaks the truth," Artois said, in French.

"Why do you come here?" asked the Marchesino.

"Signore, I come to fish."

"For cigarettes?"

"No, Signore, for sarde. Buona notte, Signore."

He turned away from them with decision, and went back to his boat.

"He is a Sicilian," said Artois. "I would swear to it."

"Why? Hark at his accent."

"He is a Sicilian!"

"But why are you so sure?"

Artois only said:

"Are you going to fish?"

"Emilio, I cannot fish to-night. My soul is above such work as
fishing. It is indeed. Let us go back to Naples."

"Va bene."

Artois was secretly glad. He, too, had no mind--or was it no heart?--
for fishing that night, after the episode of the islet. They hailed
the sailors, who were really asleep this time, and were soon far out
on the path of the moonlight setting their course towards Naples.

CHAPTER X

On the following morning Hermione and Vere went for an excursion to
Capri. They were absent from the island for three nights. When they
returned they found a card lying upon the table in the little hall--
"Marchese Isidoro Panacci di Torno"--and Gaspare told them that it had
been left by a Signore, who had called on the day of their departure,
and had seemed very disappointed to hear that they were gone.

"I do not know this Signore," Gaspare added, rather grimly.

Vere laughed, and suddenly made her eyes look very round, and staring,
and impudent.

"He's like that, Gaspare," she said.

"Vere!" said her mother.

Then she added to Gaspare:

"The Marchese is a friend of Don Emilio's. Ah! and here is a letter
from Don Emilio."

It was lying beside the Marchese's card with some other letters.
Hermione opened it first, and read that Artois had been unexpectedly
called away to Paris on business, but intended to return to Naples as
soon as possible, and to spend the whole summer on the Bay.

"I feel specially that this summer I should like to be near you," he
wrote. "I hope you wish it."

At the end of the letter there was an allusion to the Marchesino,
"that gay and admirably characteristic Neapolitan product, the Toledo
incarnate."

There was not a word of Vere.

Hermione read the letter aloud to Vere, who was standing beside her,
evidently hoping to hear it. When she had finished, Vere said:

"I am glad Monsieur Emile will be here all the summer."

"Yes."

"But why specially this summer, Madre?"

"I am not sure what he means by that," Hermione answered.

But she remembered the conversation in the Grotto of Virgil, and
wondered if her friend thought she needed the comfort of his presence.

"Well, Madre?"

Vere's bright eyes were fixed upon her mother.

"Well, Vere? What is it?"

"Is there no message for me from Monsieur Emile?"

"No, Vere."

"How forgetful of him! But never mind!" She went upstairs, looking
disappointed.

Hermione re-read the letter. She wondered, perhaps more than Vere, why
there was no message for the child. The child--she was still calling
Vere that in her mind, even after the night conversation with Gaspare.
Two or three times she re-read that sentence, "I feel specially that
this summer I should like to be near you," and considered it; but she
finally put the letter away with a strong feeling that most of its
meaning lay between the lines, and that she had not, perhaps, the
power to interpret it.

Vere had said that Emile was forgetful. He might be many things, but
forgetful he was not. One of his most characteristic qualities was his
exceptionally sharp consciousness of himself and of others. Hermione
knew that he was incapable of writing to her and forgetting Vere while
he was doing so.

She did not exactly know why, but the result upon her of this letter
was a certain sense of depression, a slight and vague foreboding. And
yet she was glad, she was even thankful, to know that her friend, was
going to spend the summer on the Bay. She blamed herself for her
melancholy, telling herself that there was nothing in the words of
Artois to make her feel sad. Yet she continued to feel sad, to feel as
if some grievous change were at hand, as if she had returned to the
island to confront some untoward fate. It was very absurd of her. She
told herself that.

The excursion to Capri had been a cheerful one. She had enjoyed it.
But all the time she had been watching Vere, studying her, as she had
not watched and studied her before. Something had suddenly made her
feel unaccustomed to Vere. It might be the words of Gaspare, the
expression in the round eyes of the Marchesino, or something new, or
newly apparent, in Vere. She did not know. But she did know that now
the omission of Artois to mention Vere in his letter seemed to add to
the novelty of the child for her.

That seemed strange, yet it was a fact. How absolutely mysterious are
many of the currents of our being, Hermione thought. They flow far off
in subterranean channels, unseen by us, and scarcely ever realized,
but governing, carrying our lives along upon their deeps towards the
appointed end.

Gaspare saw that his Padrona was not quite as usual, and looked at her
with large-eyed inquiry, but did not at first say anything. After tea,
however, when Hermione was sitting alone in the little garden with a
book, he said to her bluntly:

"Che ha Lei?"

Hermione put the book down in her lap.

"That is just what I don't know, Gaspare."

"Perhaps you are not well."

"But I believe I am, perfectly well. You know I am always well. I
never even have fever. And you have that sometimes."

He continued to look at her searchingly.

"You have something."

He said it firmly, almost as if he were supplying her with information
which she needed and had lacked.

Hermione made a sound that was like a little laugh, behind which there
was no mirth.

"I don't know what it is."

Then, after a pause, she added that phrase which is so often upon
Sicilian lips:

"Ma forse e il destino."

Gaspare moved his head once as if in acquiescence.

"When we are young, Signora," he said, "we do what we want, but we
have to want it. And we think we are very free. And when we are old we
don't feel to want anything, but we have to do things just the same.
Signora, we are not free. It is all destiny."

And again he moved his head solemnly, making his liquid brown eyes
look more enormous than usual.

"It is all destiny," Hermione repeated, almost dreamily.

Just then she felt that it was so--that each human being, and she most
of all, was in the grasp of an inflexible, of an almost fierce guide,
who chose the paths, and turned the feet of each traveller, reluctant
or not, into the path the will of the guide had selected. And now,
still dreamily, she wondered whether she would ever try to rebel if
the path selected for her were one that she hated or feared, one that
led into any horror of darkness, or any horror of too great light. For
light, too, can be terrible, a sudden great light that shines
pitilessly upon one's own soul. She was of those who possess force and
impulse, and she knew it. She knew, too, that these are often
rebellious. But to-day it seemed to her that she might believe so much
in destiny, be so entirely certain of the inflexible purpose and power
of the guide, that her intellect might forbid her to rebel, because of
rebellion's fore-ordained inutility. Nevertheless, she supposed that
if it was her instinct to rebel, she would do so at the psychological
moment, even against the dictates of her intellect.

Gaspare remained beside her quietly. He often stood near her after
they had been talking together, and calmly shared the silence with
her. She liked that. It gave her an impression of his perfect
confidence in her, his perfect ease in her company.

"Don't you ever think that you can put a knife into destiny, Gaspare,"
she asked him presently, using an image he would be likely to
understand, "as you might put a knife into a man who tried to force
you to do something you didn't wish to do?"

"Signora, what would be the use? The knife is no good against Destiny,
nor the revolver either. And I have the permesso to carry one," he
added, with a smile, as if he realized that he was being whimsical.

"Well, then, we must just hope that Destiny will be very kind to us,
be a friend to us, a true comrade. I shall hope that and so must you."

"Si, Signora."

He realized that the conversation was finished, and went quietly away.

Hermione kept the letter of Artois. When he came back to the Bay she
wanted to show it to him, to ask him to read for her the meaning
between its lines. She put it away in her writing-table drawer, and
then resolved to forget the peculiar and disagreeable effect it had
made upon her.

A fortnight passed away before Artois' return. June came in upon the
Bay, bringing with it a more vivid life in the environs of Naples. As
the heat of the sun increased the vitality of the human motes that
danced in its beams seemed to increase also, to become more blatant,
more persistent. The wild oleander was in flower. The thorny cactus
put forth upon the rim of its grotesque leaves pale yellow blossoms to
rival the red geraniums that throng about it insolently in Italy. In
the streets of the city ragged boys ran by crying, "Fragole!" and
holding aloft the shallow baskets in which the rosy fruit made
splashes of happy color. The carters wore bright carnations above
their dusty ears. The children exposed their bare limbs to the sun,
and were proud when they were given morsels of ice wrapped up in vine
leaves to suck in the intervals of their endless dances and their
play. On the hill of Posilipo the Venetian blinds of the houses, in
the gardens clouded by the rounded dusk of the great stone pines, were
thrust back, the windows were thrown open, the glad sun-rays fell upon
the cool paved floors, over which few feet had trodden since the last
summer died. Loud was the call of "Aqua!" along the roads where there
were buildings, and all the lemons of Italy seemed to be set forth in
bowers to please the eyes with their sharp, yet soothing color, and
tempt the lips with their poignant juice. Already in the Galleria, an
"avviso" was prominently displayed, stating that Ferdinando Bucci, the
famous maker of Sicilian ice-creams, had arrived from Palermo for the
season. In the Piazza del Plebiscito, hundreds of chairs were ranged
before the bandstand, and before the kiosk where the women sing on the
nights of summer near the Caffe Turco. The "Margherita" was shutting
up. The "Eldorado" was opening. And all along the sea, from the
vegetable gardens protected by brushwood hedges on the outskirts of
the city towards Portici, to the balconies of the "Mascotte," under
the hill of Posilipo, the wooden bathing establishments were creeping
out into the shallow waters, and displaying proudly to the passers-by
above their names: "Stabilimento Elena," "Stabilimento Donn' Anna,"
"Stabilimento delle Sirene," "Il piccolo Paradiso."

And all along the sea by night there was music.

From the Piazza before the Palace the band of the Caffe Gambrinus sent
forth its lusty valses. The posturing women of the wooden kiosk caught
up the chain of sound, and flung it on with their shrill voices down
the hill towards Santa Lucia, where, by the waterside and the crowding
white yachts, the itinerant musicians took it into the keeping of
their guitars, their mandolins, their squeaky fiddles, and their hot
and tremulous voices. The "Valse Bleu," "Santa Lucia," "Addio, mia
bella Napoli," "La Frangese," "Sole Mio," "Marechiaro," "Carolina,"
"La Ciociara"; with the chain of lights the chain of songs was woven
round the bay; from the Eldorado, past the Hotel de Vesuve, the Hotel
Royal, the Victoria, to the tree-shaded alleys of the Villa Nazionale,
to the Mergellina, where the naked urchins of the fisherfolk took
their evening bath among the resting boats, to the "Scoglio di
Frisio," and upwards to the Ristorante della Stella, and downwards
again to the Ristorante del Mare, and so away to the point, to the
Antico Giuseppone.

Long and brilliant was the chain of lamps, and long and ardent was the
chain of melodies melting one into the other, and stretching to the
wide darkness of the night and to the great stillness of the sea. The
night was alive with music, with the voices that beat like hearts
over-charged with sentimental longings.

But at the point where stood the Antico Giuseppone the lights and the
songs died out. And beyond there was the mystery, the stillness of the
sea.

And there, beyond the chain of lights, the chain of melodies, the
islet lay in its delicate isolation; nevertheless, it, too, was surely
not unaware of the coming of summer. For even here, Nature ran up her
flag to honor her new festival. High up above the rock on the mainland
opposite there was a golden glory of ginestra, the broom plant, an
expanse of gold so brilliant, so daring in these bare surroundings,
that Vere said, when she saw it:

"There is something cruel even in beauty, Madre. Do you like
successful audacity?"

"I think I used to when I was your age," said Hermione. "Anything
audacious was attractive to me then. But now I sometimes see through
it too easily, and want something quieter and a little more
mysterious."

"The difference between the Marchesino and Monsieur Emile?" said the
girl, with a little laugh.

Hermione laughed, too.

"Do you think Monsieur Emile mysterious?" she asked.

"Yes--certainly. Don't you?"

"I have known him so intimately for so many years."

"Well, but that does not change him. Does it?"

"No. But it may make him appear very differently to me from the way in
which he shows himself to others."

"I think if I knew Monsieur Emile for centuries I should always wonder
about him."

"What is it in Emile that makes you wonder?" asked her mother, with a
real curiosity.

"The same thing that makes me wonder when I look at a sleepy lion."

"You call Emile sleepy!" said Hermione.

"Oh, not his intellect, Madre! Of course that is horribly, horribly
wide awake."

And Vere ran off to her room, or the garden, or the Saint's Pool--who
knew where?--leaving her mother to say to herself, as she had already
said to herself in these last days of the growing summer, "When I said
that to Emile, what a fool I was!" She was thinking of her statement
that there was nothing in her child that was hidden from her. As if in
answer to that statement, Vere was unconsciously showing to her day by
day the folly of it. Emile had said nothing. Hermione remembered that,
and realized that his silence had been caused by his disagreement. But
why had he not told her she was mistaken? Perhaps because she had just
been laying bare to him the pain that was in her heart. Her call had
been for sympathy, not merely for truth. She wondered whether she was
a coward. Since they had returned from Capri the season and Vere had
surely changed. Then, and always afterwards, Hermione thought of those
three days in Capri as a definite barrier, a dividing line between two
periods. Already, while in Capri, she had begun to watch her child in
a new way. But that was, perhaps, because of an uneasiness, partly
nervous, within herself. In Capri she might have been imagining. Now
she was not imagining, she was realizing.

Over the sea came to the islet the intensity of summer. Their world
was changing. And in this changing world Vere was beginning to show
forth more clearly than before her movement onward--whither?

As yet the girl herself was unconscious of her mother's new
watchfulness. She was happy in the coming of summer, and in her
happiness was quite at ease, like a kitten that stretches itself
luxuriously in the sun. To Vere the world never seemed quite awake
till the summer came. Only in the hot sunshine did there glow the
truthfulness and the fulness of life. She shared it with the ginestra.
She saw and felt a certain cruelty in the gold, but she did not fear
or condemn it, or wish it away. For she was very young, and though she
spoke of cruelty she did not really understand it. In it there was
force, and force already appealed to the girl as few things did. As,
long ago, her father had gloried in the coming of summer to the South,
she gloried in it now. She looked across the Pool of the Saint to the
flood of yellow that was like sunlight given a body upon the cliff
opposite, and her soul revelled within her, and her heart rose up and
danced, alone, and yet as if in a glad company of dancers, all of whom
were friends. Her brain, too, sprang to the alert. The sun increased
the feeling of intelligence within her.

And then she thought of her room, of the hours she passed shut in
there, and she was torn by opposing impulses.

But she told no one of them. Vere could keep her secrets although she
was a girl.

How the sea welcomed the summer! To many this home on the island would
have seemed an arid, inhospitable place, desolate and lost amid a
cruel world of cliffs and waters. It was not so to Vere. For she
entered into the life of the sea. She knew all its phases, as one may
know all the moods of a person loved. She knew when she would find it
intensely calm, at early morning and when the evening approached. At a
certain hour, with a curious regularity, the breeze came, generally
from Ischia, and turned it to vivacity. A temper that was almost
frivolous then possessed it, and it broke into gayeties like a
child's. The waves were small, but they were impertinently lively.
They made a turmoil such as urchins make at play. Heedless of
reverence, but not consciously impious, they flung themselves at the
feet of San Francesco, casting up a tiny tribute of spray into the
sun.

Then Vere thought that the Saint looked down with pleasure at them, as
a good old man looks at a crowd of laughing children who have run
against him in the street, remembering his own youth. For even the
Saints were young! And, after that, surely the waves were a little
less boisterous. She thought she noted a greater calm. But perhaps it
was only that the breeze was dying down as the afternoon wore on.

She often sat and wondered which she loved best--the calm that lay
upon the sea at dawn, or the calm that was the prelude to the night.
Silvery were these dawns of the summer days. Here and there the waters
gleamed like the scales of some lovely fish. Mysterious lights, like
those in the breast of the opal, shone in the breast of the sea,
stirred, surely travelled as if endowed with life, then sank away to
the far-off kingdoms that man may never look on. Those dawns drew away
the girl's soul as if she were led by angels, or, like Peter, walked
upon the deep at some divine command. She felt that though her body
was on the islet the vital part of her, the real "I," was free to roam
across the great expanse that lay flat and still and delicately
mysterious to the limits of eternity.

She had strange encounters there, the soul of her, as she went towards
the East.

The evening calm was different. There was, Vere thought, less of
heaven about it, but perhaps more of the wonder of this world. And
this made her feel as if she had been nearer to heaven at her birth
than she would be at her death. She knew nothing of the defilements of
life. Her purity of mind was very perfect; but, taking a parable from
Nature, she applied it imaginatively to Man, and she saw him covered
with dust because of his journey through the world. Poor man!

And then she pitied herself too. But that passed. For if the sea at
evening held most of the wonder of this world, it was worth the
holding. Barely would she substitute the heavenly mysteries for it.
The fishermen's boats were dreams upon a dream. Each sail was akin to
a miracle. A voice that called across the water from a distance
brought tears to Vere's eyes when the magic was at its fullest. For it
seemed to mean all things that were tender, all things that were
wistful, all things that trembled with hope--that trembled with love.

With summer Vere could give herself up to the sea, and not only
imaginatively but by a bodily act.

Every day, and sometimes twice a day, she put on her bathing-dress in
the Casa del Mare, threw a thin cloak over her, and ran down to the
edge of the sea, where Gaspare was waiting with the boat. Hermione did
not bathe. It did not suit her now. And Gaspare was Vere's invariable
companion. He had superintended her bathing when she was little. He
had taught her to swim. And with no one else would he ever trust his
Padroncina when she gave herself to the sea. Sometimes he would row
her out to a reef of rocks in the open water not too many yards from
the island, and she would dive from them. Sometimes, if it was very
hot, he would take her to the Grotto of Virgil. Sometimes they went
far out to sea, and then, like her father in the Ionian Sea before the
Casa delle Sirene, Vere would swim away and imagine that this was her
mode of travel, that she was journeying alone to some distant land, or
that she had been taken by the sea forever.

But very soon she would be sure to hear the soft splash of oars
following her, and, looking back, would see the large, attentive eyes
of the faithful Gaspare cautiously watching her dark head. Then she
would lift up one hand, and call to him to go, and say she did not
want him, that she wished to be alone, smiling and yet imperious. He
only followed quietly and inflexibly. She would dive. She would swim
under water. She would swim her fastest, as if really anxious to
escape him. It was a game between them now. But always he was there,
intent upon her safety.

Vere did not know the memories within Gaspare that made him such a
guardian to the child of the Padrone he had loved; but she loved him
secretly for his watchfulness, even though now and then she longed to
be quite alone with the sea. And this she never was when bathing, for
Hermione had exacted a promise from her not to go to bathe without
Gaspare. In former days Vere had once or twice begun to protest
against this prohibition, but something in her mother's eyes had
stopped her. And she had remembered:

"Father was drowned in the sea."

Then, understanding something of what was in her mother's heart, she
threw eager arms about her, and anxiously promised to be good.

One afternoon of the summer, towards the middle of June, she prolonged
her bathe in the Grotto of Virgil until Gaspare used his authority,
and insisted on her coming out of the water.

"One minute more, Gaspare! Only another minute!"

"Ma Signorina!"

She dived. She came up.

"Ma veramente Signorina!"

She dived again.

Gaspare waited. He was standing up in the boat with the oars in his
hands, ready to make a dash at his Padroncina directly she reappeared,
but she was wily, and came up behind the boat with a shrill cry that
startled him. He looked round reproachfully over his shoulder.

"Signorina," he said, turning the boat round, "you are like a wicked
baby to-day."

"What is it, Gaspare?" she asked, this time letting him come towards
her.

"I say that you are like a wicked baby. And only the other day I was
saying to the Signora--"

"What were you saying?"

She swam to the boat and got in.

"What?" she repeated, sitting down on the gunwale, while he began to
row towards the islet.

"I was saying that you are nearly a woman now."

Vere seemed extraordinarily thin and young as she sat there in her
dripping bathing-dress, with her small, bare feet distilling drops
into the bottom of the boat, and her two hands, looking drowned,
holding lightly to the wood on each side of her. Even Gaspare, as he
spoke, was struck by this, and by the intensely youthful expression in
the eyes that now regarded him curiously.

"Really, Gaspare?"

Vere asked the question quite seriously.

"Si, Signorina."

"A woman!"

She looked down, as if considering herself. Her wet face had become
thoughtful, and for a moment she said nothing.

"And what did mother say?" she asked, looking up again. "But I know. I
am sure she laughed at you."

Gaspare looked rather offended. His expressive face, which always
showed what he was feeling, became almost stern, and he began to row
faster than before.

"Why should the Signora laugh? Am I an imbecile, Signorina?"

"You?"

She hastened to correct the impression she had made.

"Why, Gaspare, you are our Providence!"

"Va bene, but--"

"I only meant that I am sure Madre wouldn't agree with you. She thinks
me quite a child. I know that."

She spoke with conviction, nodding her head.

"Perhaps the Signora does not see."

Vere smiled.

"Gaspare, I believe you are horribly sharp," she said. "I often think
you notice everything. You are birbante, I am half afraid of you."

Gaspare smiled, too. He had quite recovered his good humor. It pleased
him mightily to fancy he had seen what the Padrona had not seen.

"I am a man, Signorina," he observed, quietly. "And I do not speak
till I know. Why should I? And I was at your baptism. When we came
back to the house I put five lire on the bed to bring you luck,
although you were not a Catholic. But it is just the same. Your Saint
will take care of you."

"Well, but if I am almost a woman--what then, Gaspare?"

"Signorina?"

"Mustn't I play about any more? Mustn't I do just what I feel inclined
to, as I did in the grotto just now?"

"Three is no harm in that, Signorina. I was only joking then. But--"

He hesitated, looking at her firmly with his unfaltering gaze.

"But what? I believe you want to scold me about something. I am sure
you do."

"No, Signorina, never! But women cannot talk to everybody, as children
can. Nobody thinks anything of what children say. People only laugh
and say 'Ecco, it's a baby talking.' But when we are older it is all
different. People pay attention to us. We are of more importance
then."

He did not mention Ruffo. He was too delicate to do that, for
instinctively he understood how childish his Padroncina still was.
And, at that moment, Vere did not think of Ruffo. She wondered a
little what Gaspare was thinking. That there was some special thought
behind his words, prompting them, she knew. But she did not ask him
what it was, for already they were at the islet, and she must run in,
and put on her clothes. Gaspare put her cloak carefully over her
shoulders, and she hurried lightly up the steps and into her room. Her
mother was not in the house. She had gone to Naples that day to see
some poor people in whom she was interested. So Vere was alone. She
took off her bathing-dress, and began to put on her things rather
slowly. Her whole body was deliciously lulled by its long contact with
the sea. She felt gloriously calm and gloriously healthy just then,
but her mind was working vigorously though quietly.

A woman! The word sounded a little solemn and heavy, and, somehow,
dreadfully respectable. And she thought of her recent behavior in the
Grotto, and laughed aloud. She was so very slim, too. The word woman
suggested to her some one more bulky than she was. But all that was
absurd, of course. She was thinking very frivolously to-day.

She put on her dress and fastened it. At the age of sixteen she had
put up her hair, but now it was still wet, and she had left it
streaming over her shoulders. In a moment she was going out onto the
cliff to let the sun dry it thoroughly. The sun was so much better
than any towel. With her hair down she really looked like a child,
whatever Gaspare thought. She said that to herself, standing for a
moment before the glass. Vere was almost as divinely free from self-
consciousness as her father had been. But the conversation in the boat
had made her think of herself very seriously, and now she considered
herself, not without keen interest.

"I am certainly not a wicked baby," she said to herself. "But I don't
think I look at all like a woman."

Her dark eyes met the eyes in the glass and smiled.

"And yet I shall be seventeen quite soon. What can have made Gaspare
talk like that to Madre? I wonder what he said exactly. And then that
about 'women cannot talk to everybody as children can.' Now what--?"

Ruffo came into her mind.

"Ah!" she said, aloud.

The figure in the glass made a little gesture. It threw up its hand.

"That's it! That's it! Gaspare thinks--"

"Signorina! Signorina!"

Gaspare's voice was speaking outside the door. And now there came a
firm knock. Vere turned round, rather startled. She had been very much
absorbed by her colloquy.

"What is it, Gaspare?"

"Signorina, there's a boat coming in from Naples with Don Emilio in
it."

"Don Emilio! He's come back! Oh!" There was a pause. Then she cried
out, "Capital! Capital!"

She ran to the door and opened it.

"Just think of Don Emilio's being back already, Gaspare. But Madre!
She will be sorry."

"Signorina?"

"Why? What's the matter?"

"Are you coming out like that?"

"What?--Oh, you mean my hair?"

"Si, Signorina."

"Gaspare, you ought to have been a lady's maid! Go and bring in Don
Emilio to Madre's room. And--wait--you're not to tell him Madre is
away. Now mind!"

"Va bene, Signorina."

He went away.

"Shall I put up my hair?"

Vere went again to the glass, and stood considering herself.

"For Monsieur Emile! No, it's too absurd! Gaspare really is . . . I
sha'n't!"

And she ran out just as she was to meet Artois.

CHAPTER XI

When she reached her mother's sitting-room Artois was already there
speaking to Gaspare by a window. He turned rather quickly as Vere came
in, and exclaimed:

"Vere! Why--"

"Oh!" she cried, "Gaspare hasn't gone!"

A look almost of dread, half pretence but with some reality in it,
too, came into her face.

"Gaspare, forgive me! I was in such a hurry. And it is only Don
Emilio!"

Her voice was coaxing. Gaspare looked at his Padroncina with an
attempt at reprobation; but his nose twitched, and though he tried to
compress his lips they began to stretch themselves in a smile.

"Signorina! Signorina!" he exclaimed. "Madonna!"

On that exclamation he went out, trying to make his back look
condemnatory.

"Only Don Emilio!" Artois repeated.

Vere went to him, and took and held his hand for a moment.

"Yes--only! That's my little compliment. Madre would say of you. 'He's
such an old shoe!' Such compliments come from the heart, you know."

She still held his hand.

"I should have to put my hair up for anybody else. And Gaspare wanted
me to for you."

Artois was looking rather grave and tired. She noticed that now, and
dropped his hand and moved towards a bell.

"Tea!" she said, "all alone with me--for a treat!"

"Isn't your mother in?"

"No. She's gone to Naples. I'm very, very sorry. Make the best of it,
Monsieur Emile, for the sake of my /amour propre/. I said I was sorry
--but that was only for you, and Madre."

Artois smiled.

"Is an old shoe a worthy object of gross flattery?" he said.

"No."

"Then--"

"Don't be cantankerous, and don't be subtle, because I've been
bathing."

"I notice that."

"And I feel so calm and delicious. Tea, please, Giulia."

The plump, dark woman who had opened the door smiled and retreated.

"So calm and so delicious, Monsieur Emile, and as if I were made of
friendliness from top to toe."

"The all-the-world feeling. I know."

He sat down, rather heavily.

"You are tired. When did you come?"

"I arrived this morning. It was hot travelling, and I shared my
compartment in the wagon-lit with a German gentleman very far advanced
in several unaesthetic ailments. Basta! Thank Heaven for this. Calm
and delicious!"

His large, piercing eyes were fixed upon Vere.

"And about twelve," he added, "or twelve-and-a-half."

"I?"

"Yes, you. I am not speaking of myself, though I believe I am calm
also."

"I am a woman--practically."

"Practically?"

"Yes; isn't that the word people always put in when they mean 'that's
a lie'?"

"You mean you aren't a woman! This afternoon I must agree with you."

"It's the sea! But just now, when you were coming, I was looking at
myself in the glass and saying, 'You're a woman'--solemnly, you know,
as if it was a dreadful truth."

Artois had sat down on a sofa. He leaned back now with his hands
behind his head. He still looked at Vere, and, as he did so, he heard
the faint whisper of the sea.

"Child of nature," he said--"call yourself that. It covers any age,
and it's blessedly true."

Giulia came in at this moment with tea. She smiled again broadly on
Artois, and received and returned his greeting with the comfortable
and unembarrassed friendliness of the Italian race. As she went out
she was still smiling.

"Addio to the German gentleman with the unaesthetic ailments!" said
Artois.

An almost boyish sensation of sheer happiness invaded him. It made him
feel splendidly, untalkative. And he felt for a moment, too, as if his
intellect lay down to sleep.

"Cara Giulia!" he added, after a rapturous silence.

"What?"

"Carissima Giulia!"

"Yes, Giulia is--"

"They all are, and the island, and the house upon it, and this clear
yellow tea, and this brown toast, and this butter from Lombardy. They
all are."

"I believe you are feeling good all over, Monsieur Emile."

"San Gennaro knows I am."

He drank some tea, and ate some toast, spreading the butter upon it
with voluptuous deliberation.

"Then I'm sure he's pleased."

"Paris, hateful Paris!"

"Oh, but that's abusive. A person who feels good all over should not
say that."

"You are right, Vere. But when are you not right? You ought always to
wear your hair down, mon enfant, and always to have just been
bathing."

"And you ought always to have just been travelling."

"It is true that a dreadful past can be a blessing as well as a curse.
It is profoundly true. Why have I never realized that before?"

"If I am twelve and a half, I think you are about--about--"

"For the love of the sea make it under twenty, Vere."

"Nineteen, then."

"Were you going to make it under twenty?"

"Yes, I was."

"I don't believe you. Yes, I do, I do! You are an artist. You realize
that truth is a question of feeling, not a question of fact. You
penetrate beneath the gray hairs as the prosaic never do. This butter
is delicious! And to think that there have been moments when I have
feared butter, when I have kept an eye upon a corpulent future. Give
me some more, plenty more."

Vere stretched out her hand to the tea-table, but it shook. She drew
it back, and burst into a peal of laughter.

"What are you laughing at?" said Artois, with burlesque majesty.

"At you. What's the matter with you, Monsieur Emile? How can you be so
foolish?"

She lay back in her chair, with her hair streaming about her, and her
thin body quivered, as if the sense of fun within her were striving to
break through its prison walls.

"This," said Artois, "this is sheer impertinence. I venture to inquire
for butter, and--"

"To inquire! One, two, three, four--five pats of butter right in front
of you! And you inquire--!"

Artois suddenly sent out a loud roar to join her childish treble.

The tea had swept away his previous sensation of fatigue, even the
happy stolidity that had succeeded it for an instant. He felt full of
life and gayety, and a challenging mental activity. A similar
challenging activity, he thought, shone in the eyes of the girl
opposite to him.

"Thank God I can still be foolish!" he exclaimed. "And thank God that
there are people in the world devoid of humor. My German friend was
without humor. Only that fact enabled me to endure his prodigious
collection of ailments. But for the heat I might even have revelled in
them. He was asthmatic, without humor; dyspeptic, without humor. He
had a bad cold in the head, without humor, and got up into the top
berth with two rheumatic legs and a crick in the back, without humor.
Had he seen the fun of himself, the fun would have meant much less to
me."

"You cruel person!"

"There is often cruelty in humor--perhaps not in yours, though, yet."

"Why do you say--yet, like that?"

"The hair is such a kindly veil that I doubt the existence of cruelty
behind it."

He spoke with a sort of almost tender and paternal gentleness.

"I don't believe you could ever be really cruel, Monsieur Emile."

"Why not?"

"I think you are too intelligent."

"Why should that prevent me?"

"Isn't cruelty stupid, unimaginative?"

"Often. But it can be brilliant, artful, intellectual, full of
imagination. It can be religious. It can be passionate. It can be
splendid. It can be almost everything."

"Splendid!"

"Like Napoleon's cruelty to France. But why should I educate you in
abominable knowledge?"

"Oh," said the girl, thrusting forward her firm little chin, "I have
no faith in mere ignorance."

"Yet it does a great deal for those who are not ignorant."

"How?"

"It shows them how pretty, how beautiful even, sometimes, was the
place from which they started for their journey through the world."

Vere was silent for a moment. The sparkle of fun had died out of her
eyes, which had become dark with the steadier fires of imagination.
The strands of her thick hair, falling down on each side of her oval
face, gave to it a whimsically mediaeval look, suggestive of legend.
Her long-fingered, delicate, but strong little hands were clasped in
her lap, and did not move. It was evident that she was thinking
deeply.

"I believe I know," she said, at last. "Yes, that was my thought, or
almost."

"When?"

She hesitated, looking at him, not altogether doubtfully, but with a
shadow of reserve, which might easily, he fancied, grow deeper, or
fade entirely away. He saw the resolve to speak come quietly into her
mind.

"You know, Monsieur Emile, I love watching the sea," she said, rather
slowly and carefully. "Especially at dawn, and in the evening before
it is dark. And it always seems to me as if at dawn it is more
heavenly than it is after the day has happened, though it is so very
lovely then. And sometimes that has made me feel that our dawn is our
most beautiful time--as if we were nearest the truth then. And, of
course, that is when we are most ignorant, isn't it? So I suppose I
have been thinking a little bit like you. Haven't I?"

She asked it earnestly. Artois had never heard her speak quite like
this before, with a curious deliberation that was nevertheless without
self-consciousness. Before he could answer she added, abruptly, as if
correcting, or even almost condemning herself:

"I can put it much better than that. I have."

Artois leaned forward. Something, he did not quite know what, made him
feel suddenly a deep interest in what Vere said--a strong curiosity
even.

"You have put it much better?" he said.

Vere suddenly looked conscious. A faint wave of red went over her face
and down to her small neck. Her hands moved and parted. She seemed
half ashamed of something for a minute.

"Madre doesn't know," she murmured, as if she were giving him a reason
for something. "It isn't interesting," she added. "Except, of course,
to me."

Artois was watching her.

"I think you really want to tell me," he said now.

"Oh yes, in a way I do. I have been half wanting to for a long time--
but only half."

"And now?"

She looked at him, but almost instantly looked down again, with a sort
of shyness he had never seen in her before. And her eyes had been full
of a strange and beautiful sensitiveness.

"Never mind, Vere," he said quickly, obedient to those eyes, and
responding to their delicate subtlety. "We all have our righteous
secrets, and should all respect the righteous secrets of others."

"Yes, I think we should. And I know you would be the very last, at
least Madre and you, to--I think I'm being rather absurd, really." The
last words were said with a sudden change of tone to determination, as
if Vere were taking herself to task. "I'm making a lot of almost
nothing. You see, if I am a woman, as Gaspare is making out, I'm at
any rate a very young one, am I not?"

"The youngest that exists."

As he said that Artois thought, "Mon Dieu! If the Marchesino could
only see her now!"

"If humor is cruel, Monsieur Emile," Vere continued, "you will laugh
at me. For I am sure, if I tell you--and I know now I'm going to--you
will think this fuss is as ridiculous as the German's cold in the
head, and poor legs, and all. I wrote that about the sea."

She said the last sentence with a sort of childish defiance.

"Wait," said Artois. "Now I begin to understand."

"What?"

"All those hours spent in your room. Your mother thought you were
reading."

"No," she said, still rather defiantly; "I've been writing that, and
other things--about the sea."

"How? In prose?"

"No. That's the worst of it, I suppose."

And again the faint wave of color went over her face to her neck.

"Do you really feel so criminal? Then what ought I to feel?"

"You? Now that is really cruel!" she cried, getting up quickly, almost
as if she meant to hurry away.

But she only stood there in front of him, near the window.

"Never mind!" she said. "Only you remember that Madre tried. She had
never said much about it to me. But now and then from just a word I
know that she feels bad, that she wishes very much she could do
something. Only the other day she said to me, 'We have the instinct,
men the vocabulary.' She was meaning that you had. She even told me to
ask you something that I had asked her, and she said, 'I feel all the
things that he can explain.' And there was something in her voice that
hurt me--for her. And Madre is so clever. Isn't she clever?"

"Yes."

"And if Madre can't do things, you can imagine that I feel rather
absurd now that I'm telling you."

"Yes, being just as you are, Vere, I can quite imagine that you do.
But we can have sweet feelings of absurdity that only arise from
something moral within us, a moral delicacy. However, would you like
me to look at what you have been writing about the sea?"

"Yes, if you can do it quite seriously."

"I could not do it in any other way."

"Then--thank you."

She went out of the room, not without a sort of simple dignity that
was utterly removed from conceit or pretentiousness.

What a strange end, this, to their laughter!

Vere was away several minutes, during which at first Artois sat quite
still, leaning back, with his great frame stretched out, and his hands
once more behind his head. His intellect was certainly very much awake
now, and he was setting a guard upon it, to watch it carefully, lest
it should be ruthless, even with Vere. And was he not setting also
another guard to watch the softness of his nature, lest it should
betray him into foolish kindness?

Yet, after a minute, he said to himself that he was wasting his time
in both these proceedings. For Vere's eyes were surely a touchstone to
discover honesty. There is something merciless in the purity of
untarnished youth. What can it not divine at moments?

Artois poured out another cup of tea and drank it, considering the
little funny situation. Vere and he with a secret from Hermione shared
between them! Vere submitting verses to his judgment! He remembered
Hermione's half-concealed tragedy, which, of course, had been patent
to him in its uttermost nakedness. Even Vere had guessed something of
it. Do we ever really hide anything from every one? And yet each one
breathes mystery too. The assertive man is the last of fools. Of that
at least Artois just then felt certain.

If Vere should really have talent! He did not expect it, although he
had said that there was intellectual force in the girl. There was
intellectual force in Hermione, but she could not create. And Vere! He
smiled as he thought of her rush into the room with her hair streaming
down, of her shrieks of laughter over his absurdity. But she was full
of changes.

The door opened, and Vere came in holding some manuscript in her hand.
She had done up her hair while she had been away. When Artois saw that
he heaved himself up from the sofa.

"I must smoke," he said.

"Oh yes. I'll get the Khali Targas."

"No. I must have a pipe. And you prefer that, I know."

"Generally, but--you do look dreadfully as if you meant business when
you are smoking a pipe."

"I do mean business now."

He took his pipe from his pocket, filled it and lit it.

"Now then, Vere!" he said.

She came to sit down on the sofa.

He sat down beside her.

CHAPTER XII

More than an hour had passed. To Vere it had seemed like five minutes.
Her cheeks were hotly flushed. Her eyes shone. With hands that were
slightly trembling she gathered together her manuscripts, and
carefully arranged them in a neat packet and put a piece of ribbon
round them, tying it in a little bow. Meanwhile Artois, standing up,
was knocking the shreds of tobacco out of his pipe against the
chimney-piece into his hand. He carried them over to the window,
dropped them out, then stood for a minute looking at the sea.

"The evening calm is coming, Vere," he said, "bringing with it the
wonder of this world."

"Yes."

He heard a soft sigh behind him, and turned round.

"Why was that? Has dejection set in, then?"

"No, no."

"You know the Latin saying: 'Festina lente'? If you want to understand
how slowly you must hasten, look at me."

He had been going to add, "Look at these gray hairs," but he did not.
Just then he felt suddenly an invincible reluctance to call Vere's
attention to the signs of age apparent in him.

"I spoke to you about the admirable incentive of ambition," he
continued, after a moment. "But you must understand that I meant the
ambition for perfection, not at all the ambition for celebrity. The
satisfaction of the former may be a deep and exquisite joy--the
partial satisfaction, for I suppose it can never be anything more than
that. But the satisfaction of the other will certainly be Dead-sea
fruit--fruit of the sea unlike that brought up by Ruffo, without
lasting savor, without any real value. One should never live for
that."

The last words he spoke as if to himself, almost like a warning
addressed to himself.

"I don't believe I ever should," Vere said quickly. "I never thought
of such a thing."

"The thought will come, though, inevitably."

"How dreadful it must be to know so much about human nature as you
do!"

"And yet how little I really know!"

There came up a distant cry from the sea. Vere started.

"There is Madre! Of course, Monsieur Emile, I don't want--but you
understand!"

She hurried out of the room, carrying the packet with her.

Artois felt that the girl was strongly excited. She was revealing more
of herself to him, this little Vere whom he had known, and not known,

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