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A Spirit in Prison by Robert Hichens

Part 4 out of 13

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ever since she had been a baby. The gradual revelation interested him
intensely--so intensely that in him, too, there was excitement now. So
many truths go to make up the whole round truth of every human soul.
Hermione saw some of these truths of Vere, Gaspare others, perhaps; he
again others. And even Ruffo and the Marchesino--he put the Marchesino
most definitely last--even they saw still other truths of Vere, he
supposed.

To whom did she reveal the most? The mother ought to know most, and
during the years of childhood had doubtless known most. But those
years were nearly over. Certainly Vere was approaching, or was on, the
threshold of the second period of her life.

And she and he had a secret from Hermione. This secret was a very
innocent one. Still, of course, it had the two attributes that belong
to every secret: of drawing together those who share it, of setting
apart from them those who know it not. And there was another secret,
too, connected with it, and known only to Artois: the fact that the
child, Vere, possessed the very small but quite definite beginnings,
the seed, as it were, of something that had been denied to the mother,
Hermione.

"Emile, you have come back! I am glad!"

Hermione came into the room with her eager manner and rather slow
gait, holding out both her hands, her hot face and prominent eyes
showing forth with ardor the sincerity of her surprise and pleasure.

"Gaspare told me. I nearly gave him a hug. You know his sly look when
he has something delightful up his sleeve for one! Bless you!"

She shook both his hands.

"And I had come back in such bad spirits! But now--"

She took off her hat and put it on a table.

"Why were you in bad spirits, my friend?"

"I had been with Madame Alliani, seeing something of the intense misery
and wickedness of Naples. I have seen a girl--such a tragedy! What
devils men can be in these Southern places! What hideous things they
will do under the pretence of being driven by love! But--no, don't let
us spoil your arrival. Where is Vere? I thought she was entertaining
you."

"We have been having tea together. She has this moment gone out of the
room."

"Oh!"

She seemed to expect some further explanation. As he gave none she sat
down.

"Wasn't she very surprised to see you?"

"I think she was. She had just been bathing, and came running in with
her hair all about her, looking like an Undine with a dash of Sicilian
blood in her. Here she is!"

"Are you pleased, Madre? You poor, hot Madre!"

Vere sat down by her mother and put one arm round her. Subtly she was
trying to make up to her mother for the little secret she was keeping
from her for a time.

"Are you very, very pleased?"

"Yes, I think I am."

"Think! You mischievous Madre!"

Hermione laughed.

"But I feel almost jealous of you two sitting here in the cool, and
having a quiet tea and a lovely talk while-- Never mind. Here is my
tea. And there's another thing. Oh, Emile, I do wish I had known you
would arrive to-day!"

"Why specially?"

"I've committed an unusual crime. I've made--actually--an engagement
for this evening."

Artois and Vere held up their hands in exaggerated surprise.

"Are you mad, my dear Hermione?" asked Artois.

"I believe I am. It's dangerous to go to Naples. I met a young man."

"The Marchesino!" cried Vere. "The Marchesino! I see him in your eye,
Madre."

"C'est cela!" said Artois, "and you mean to say--!"

"That I accepted an invitation to dine with him to-night, at nine, at
the Scoglio di Frisio. There! Why did I? I have no idea. I was hot from
a horrible vicolo. He was cool from the sea. What chance had I against
him? And then he is through and through Neapolitan, and gives no
quarter to a woman, even when she is 'una vecchia.' "

As she finished Hermione broke into a laugh, evidently at some
recollection.

"Doro made his eyes very round. I can see that," said Artois.

"Like this!" cried Vere.

And suddenly there appeared in her face a reminiscence of the face of
the Marchesino.

"Vere, you must not! Some day you will do it by accident when he is
here."

"Is he coming here?"

"In a launch to fetch me--us."

"Am I invited?" said Vere. "What fun!"

"I could not get out of it," Hermione said to Artois. "But now I insist
on your staying here till the Marchesino comes. Then he will ask you,
and we shall be a quartet."

"I will stay," said Artois, with a sudden return of his authoritative
manner.

"It seems that I am woefully ignorant of the Bay," continued Hermione.
"I have never dined at Frisio's. Everybody goes there at least once.
Everybody has been there. Emperors, kings, queens, writers, singers,
politicians, generals--they all eat fish at Frisio's."

"It's true."

"You have done it?"

"Yes. The Padrone is worth knowing. He--but to-night you will know him.
Yes, Frisio's is characteristic. Vere will be amused."

With a light tone he hid a faint chagrin.

"What fun!" repeated Vere. "If I had diamonds I should put them on."

She too was hiding something, one sentiment with another very
different. But her youth came to her aid, and very soon the second
excitement really took the place of the first, and she was joyously
alive to the prospect of a novel gayety.

"I must not eat anything more," said Hermione. "I believe the
Marchesino is ordering something marvellous for us, all the treasures
of the sea. We must be up to the mark. He really is a good fellow."

"Yes," said Artois. "He is. I have a genuine liking for him."

He said it with obvious sincerity.

"I am going," said Vere. "I must think about clothes. And I must undo
my hair again and get Maria to dry it thoroughly, or I shall look
frightening."

She went out quickly, her eyes sparkling.

"Vere is delighted," said Hermione.

"Yes, indeed she is."

"And you are not. Would you rather avoid the Marchesino to-night,
Emile, and not come with us? Perhaps I am selfish. I would so very much
rather have you with us."

"If Doro asks me I shall certainly come. It's true that I wish you were
not engaged to-night--I should have enjoyed a quiet evening here. But
we shall have many quiet, happy evenings together this summer, I hope."

"I wonder if we shall?" said Hermione, slowly.

"You--why?"

"I don't know. Oh, I am absurd, probably. One has such strange ideas,
houses based on sand, or on air, or perhaps on nothing at all."

She got up, went to her writing-table, opened a drawer, and took out of
it a letter.

"Emile," she said, coming back to him with it in her hand, "would you
like to explain this to me?"

"What is it?"

"The letter I found from you when I came back from Capri."

"But does it need explanation?"

"It seemed to me as if it did. Read it and see."

He took it from her, opened it and read it.

"Well?" he said.

"Isn't the real meaning between the lines?"

"If it is, cannot you decipher it?"

"I don't know. I don't think so. Somehow it depressed me. Perhaps it
was my mood just then. Was it?"

"Perhaps it was merely mine."

"But why--'I feel specially this summer I should like to be near you'?
What does that mean exactly?"

"I did feel that."

"Why?"

"I don't think I can tell you now. I am not sure that I could even have
told you at the time I wrote that letter."

She took it from him and put it away again in the drawer.

"Perhaps we shall both know later on," she said, quietly. "I believe we
shall."

He did not say anything.

"I saw that boy, Ruffo, this afternoon," she said, after a moment of
silence.

"Did you?" said Artois, with a change of tone, a greater animation. "I
forgot to ask Vere about him. I suppose he has been to the island again
while I have been away?"

"Not once. Poor boy, I find he has been ill. He has had fever. He was
out to-day for the first time after it. We met him close to Mergellina.
He was in a boat, but he looked very thin and pulled down. He seemed so
delighted to see me. I was quite touched."

"Hasn't Vere been wondering very much why he did not come again?"

"She has never once mentioned him. Vere is a strange child sometimes."

"But you--haven't you spoken of him to her?"

"No, I don't think so."

"Vere's silence made you silent?"

"I suppose so. I must tell her. She likes the boy very much."

"What is it that attracts her to this boy, do you think?"

The question was ordinary enough, but there was a peculiar intonation
in Artois' voice as he asked it, an intonation that awakened surprise
in Hermione.

"I don't know. He is an attractive boy."

"You think so too?"

"Why, yes. What do you mean, Emile?"

"I was only wondering. The sea breeds a great many boys like Ruffo, you
know. But they don't all get Khali Targa cigarettes given to them, for
all that."

"That's true. I have never seen Vere pay any particular attention to
the fishermen who come to the island. In a way she loves them all
because they belong to the sea, she loves them as a décor. But Ruffo is
different. I felt it myself."

"Did you?"

He looked at her, then looked out of the window and pulled his beard
slowly.

"Yes. In my case, perhaps, the interest was roused partly by what Vere
told me. The boy is a Sicilian, you see, and just Vere's age."

"Vere's interest perhaps comes from the same reason."

"Very likely it does."

Hermione spoke the last words without conviction. Perhaps they both
felt that they were not talking very frankly--were not expressing their
thoughts to each other with their accustomed sincerity. At any rate,
Artois suddenly introduced another topic of conversation, the reason of
his hurried visit to Paris, and for the next hour they discussed
literary affairs with a gradually increasing vivacity and open-
heartedness. The little difficulty between them--of which both had been
sensitive and fully conscious--passed away, and when at length Hermione
got up to go to her bedroom and change her dress for the evening, there
was no cloud about them.

When Hermione had gone Artois took up a book, but he sat till the
evening was falling and Giulia came smiling to light the lamp, without
reading a word of it. Her entry roused him from his reverie, and he
took out his watch. It was already past eight. The Marchesino would
soon be coming. And then--the dinner at Frisio's!

He got up and moved about the room, picking up a book here and there,
glancing at some pages, then putting it down. He felt restless and
uneasy.

"I am tired from the journey," he thought. "Or--I wonder what the
weather is this evening. The heat seems to have become suffocating
since Hermione went away."

He went to one of the windows and looked out. Twilight was stealing
over the sea, which was so calm that it resembled a huge sheet of
steel. The sky over the island was clear. He turned and went to the
opposite window. Above Ischia there was a great blackness like a pall.
He stood looking at it for some minutes. His erring thoughts, which
wandered like things fatigued that cannot rest, went to a mountain
village in Sicily, through which he had once ridden at night during a
terrific thunder-storm. In a sudden, fierce glare of lightning he had
seen upon the great door of a gaunt Palazzo, which looked abandoned, a
strip of black cloth. Above it were the words, "Lutto in famiglia."

That was years ago. Yet now he saw again the palace door, the strip of
cloth soaked by the pouring rain, the dreary, almost sinister words
which he had read by lightning:

"Lutto in famiglia."

He repeated them as he gazed at the blackness above Ischia.

"Monsieur Emile!"

"Vere!"

The girl came towards him, a white contrast to what he had been
watching.

"I'm all ready. It seems so strange to be going out to a sort of party.
I've had such a bother with my hair."

"You have conquered," he said. "Undine has disappeared."

"What?"

"Come quite close to the lamp."

She came obediently.

"Vere transformed!" he said. "I have seen three Veres to-day already.
How many more will greet me to-night?"

She laughed gently, standing quite still. Her dress and her gloves were
white, but she had on a small black hat, very French, and at the back
of her hair there was a broad black ribbon tied in a big bow. This
ribbon marked her exact age clearly, he thought.

"This is a new frock, and my very smartest," she said; "and you dared
to abuse Paris!"

"Being a man. I must retract now. You are right, we cannot do without
it. But--have you an umbrella?"

"An umbrella?"

She moved and laughed again, much more gayly.

"I am serious. Come here and look at Ischia."

She went with him quickly to the window.

"That blackness does look wicked. But it's a long way off."

"I think it is coming this way."

"Oh, but"--and she went to the opposite window--"the sky is perfectly
clear towards Naples. And look how still the sea is."

"Too still. It is like steel."

"Hush! Listen!"

She held up her hand. They both heard a far-off sound of busy panting
on the sea.

"That must be the launch!" she said.

Her eyes were gay and expectant. It was evident that she was in high
spirits, that she was looking forward to this unusual gayety.

"Yes."

"Doesn't it sound in a hurry, as if the Marchesino was terribly afraid
of being late?"

"Get your umbrella, Vere, and a waterproof. You will want them both."

At that moment Hermione came in.

"Madre, the launch is coming in a frightful hurry, and Monsieur Emile
says we must take umbrellas."

"Surely it isn't going to rain?"

"There is a thunder-storm coming up from Ischia, I believe," said
Artois.

"Then we will take our cloaks in case. It is fearfully hot. I thought
so when I was dressing. No doubt the launch will have a cabin."

A siren hooted.

"That is the Marchesino saluting us!" cried Vere. "Come along, Madre!
Maria! Maria!"

She ran out, calling for the cloaks.

"Do you like Vere's frock, Emile?" said Hermione, as they followed.

"Yes. She looks delicious--but quite like a little woman of the world."

"Ah, you like her best as the Island child. So do I. Oh, Emile!"

"What is it?"

"I can't help it. I hate Vere's growing up."

"Few things can remain unchanged for long. This sea will be
unrecognizable before we return."

Gaspare met them on the landing with solemn eyes.

"There is going to be a great storm, Signora," he said. "It is coming
from Ischia."

"So Don Emilio thinks. But we will take wraps, and we are going in a
launch. It will be all right, Gaspare."

"Shall I come with you, Signora?"

"Well, Gaspare, you see it is the Marchese's launch--"

"If you would like me to come, I will ask the Signore Marchese."

"We'll see how much room there is."

"Si, Signora."

He went down to receive the launch.

"Emile," Hermione said, as he disappeared, "can you understand what a
comfort to me Gaspare is? Ah, if people knew how women love those who
are ready to protect them! It's quite absurd, but just because Gaspare
said that, I'd fifty times rather have him with us than go without
him."

"I understand. I love your watch-dog, too."

She touched his arm.

"No one could ever understand the merits of a watch-dog better than
you. That's right, Maria; we shall be safer with these."

The Marchesino stood at the foot of the cliff, bare-headed, to receive
them. He was in evening dress, what he called "smoking," with a flower
in his button-hole, and a straw hat, and held a pair of white kid
gloves in his hand. He looked in rapturous spirits, but ceremonial.
When he caught sight of Artois on the steps behind Hermione and Vere,
however, he could not repress an exclamation of "Emilio!"

He took Hermione's and Vere's hands, bowed over them and kissed them.
Then he turned to his friend.

"Caro Emilio! You are back! You must come with us! You must dine at
Frisio's."

"May I?" said Artois.

"You must. This is delightful. See, Madame," he added to Hermione,
suddenly breaking into awful French, "we have the English flag! Your
Jack! Voila, the great, the only Jack! I salute him! Let me help you!"

As Hermione stepped into the launch she said:

"I see there is plenty of room. I wonder if you would mind my taking my
servant, Gaspare, to look after the cloaks and umbrellas. It seems
absurd, but he says a storm is coming, and--"

"A storm!" cried the Marchesino. "Of course your Gaspare must come.
Which is he?"

"There."

The Marchesino spoke to Gaspare in Italian, telling him to join the two
sailors in the stern of the launch. A minute afterwards he went to him
and gave him some cigarettes. Then he brought from the cabin two
bouquets of flowers, and offered them to Hermione and Vere, who, with
Artois, were settling themselves in the bows. The siren sounded. They
were off, cutting swiftly through the oily sea.

"A storm, Signora. Cloaks and umbrellas!" said the Marchesino, shooting
a glance of triumph at "Cara Emilio," whose presence to witness his
success completed his enjoyment of it. "But it is a perfect night. Look
at the sea. Signorina, let me put the cushion a little higher behind
you. It is not right. You are not perfectly comfortable. And everything
must be perfect for you to-night--everything." He arranged the cushion
tenderly. "The weather, too! Why, where is the storm?"

"Over Ischia," said Artois.

"It will stay there. Ischia! It is a volcano. Anything terrible may
happen there."

"And Vesuvius?" said Hermione, laughing.

The Marchesino threw up his chin.

"We are not going to Vesuvius. I know Naples, Signora, and I promise
you fine weather. We shall take our coffee after dinner outside upon
the terrace at the one and only Frisio's."

He chattered on gayly. His eyes were always on Vere, but he talked
chiefly to Hermione, with the obvious intention of fascinating the
mother in order that she might be favorably disposed towards him, and
later on smile indulgently upon his flirtation with the daughter. His
proceedings were carried on with a frankness that should have been
disarming, and that evidently did disarm Hermione and Vere, who seemed
to regard the Marchesino as a very lively boy. But Artois was almost
immediately conscious of a secret irritation that threatened to spoil
his evening.

The Marchesino was triumphant. Emilio had wished to prevent him from
knowing these ladies. Why? Evidently because Emilio considered him
dangerous. Now he knew the ladies. He was actually their host. And he
meant to prove to Emilio how dangerous he could be. His eyes shot a
lively defiance at his friend, then melted as they turned to Hermione,
melted still more as they gazed with unwinking sentimentality into the
eyes of Vere. He had no inward shyness to contend against, and was
perfectly at his ease; and Artois perceived that his gayety and sheer
animal spirits were communicating themselves to his companions. Vere
said little, but she frequently laughed, and her face lit up with eager
animation. And she, too, was quite at her ease. The direct, and
desirous, glances of the Marchesino did not upset her innocent self-
possession at all, although they began to upset the self-possession of
Artois. As he sat, generally in silence, listening to the frivolous and
cheerful chatter that never stopped, while the launch cut its way
through the solemn, steel-like sea towards the lights of Posilipo. He
felt that he was apart because he was clever, as if his cleverness
caused loneliness.

They travelled fast. Soon the prow of the launch was directed to a
darkness that lay below, and to the right of a line of brilliant lights
that shone close to the sea; and a boy dressed in white, holding a
swinging lantern, and standing, like a statue, in a small niche of rock
almost flush with the water, hailed them, caught the gunwale of the
launch with one hand, and brought it close in to the wall that towered
above them.

"Do we get out here? But where do we go?" said Hermione.

"There is a staircase. Let me--"

The Marchesino was out in a moment and helped them all to land. He
called to the sailors that he would send down food and wine to them and
Gaspare. Then, piloted by the boy with the lantern, they walked up
carefully through dark passages and over crumbling stairs, turned to
the left, and came out upon a small terrace above the sea and facing
the curving lamps of Naples. Just beyond was a long restaurant, lined
with great windows on one side and with mirrors on the other, and
blazing with light.

"Ecco!" cried the Marchesino. "Ecco lo Scoglio di Frisio! And here is
the Padrone!" he added, as a small, bright-eyed man, with a military
figure and fierce mustaches, came briskly forward to receive them.

CHAPTER XIII

The dinner, which was served at a table strewn with red carnations
close to an open window, was a gay one, despite Artois. It could
hardly have been otherwise with a host so complacent, so attentive, so
self-possessed, so hilarious as the Marchesino. And the Padrone of the
restaurant warmly seconded the efforts of the giver of the feast. He
hovered perpetually, but always discreetly, near, watchfully directing
the middle-aged waiters in their duties, smiling to show his teeth,
stained with tobacco juice, or drawing delicately close to relate
anecdotes connected with the menu.

The soup, a "zuppa di pesce alla marinara" remarkable for its
beautiful red color, had been originally invented by the chef of
Frisio's for the ex-Queen Natalie of Servia, who had deigned to come,
heavily veiled, to lunch at the Scoglio, and had finally thrown off
her veil and her incognito, and written her name in the visitors' book
for all to see. The Macaroni a l'Imperatrice had been the favorite
/plat/ of the dead Empress Elizabeth of Austria, who used to visit
Frisio's day after day, and who always demanded two things--an
eruption of Vesuvius and "Funiculi, funicula!" William Ewart Gladstone
had deigned to praise the "oeufs a la Gladstone," called henceforth by
his name, when he walked over from the Villa Rendel to breakfast; and
the delicious punch served before the dolce, and immediately after the
"Pollo panato alla Frisio," had been lauded by the late Czar of all
the Russias, who was drinking a glass of it--according to the solemn
asseveration of the Padrone--when the telegram announcing the
assassination of his father was put into his hand.

Names of very varied popular and great ones of the earth floated about
the table. Here, it appeared, Mario Costa and Paolo Tosti had composed
their most celebrated songs between one course and another. Here Zola
and Tolstoy had written. Here Sarah Bernhardt had ordered a dozen
bottles of famous old wine to be sent to the Avenue Pereire from the
cellars of Frisio, and had fallen in love with a cat from Greece. Here
Matilde Serao had penned a lasting testimony to the marital fidelity
of her husband.

Everything--everything had happened here, just here, at Frisio's.

Seeing the amused interest of his guests, the Marchesino encouraged
the Padrone to talk, called for his most noted wines, and demanded at
dessert a jug of Asti Spumante, with snow in it, and strawberries
floating on the top.

"You approve of Frisio's, Signorina?" he said, bending towards Vere.
"You do not find your evening dull?"

The girl shook her head. A certain excitement was noticeable in her
gayety--had been noticed by her mother all through the evening. It was
really due to the afternoon's incident with Artois, succeeded by this
unexpected festival, in which the lively homage of the Marchesino was
mingled with the long procession of celebrated names introduced by the
Padrone. Vere was secretly strung up, had been strung up even before
she stepped into the launch. She felt very happy, but in her happiness
there was something feverish, which was not customary to any mood of
hers. She never drank wine, and had taken none to-night, yet as the
evening wore on she was conscious of an effervescence, as if her brain
were full of winking bubbles such as rise to the surface of champagne.

Her imagination was almost furiously alive, and as the Padrone talked,
waving his hands and striking postures like those of a military
dictator, she saw the dead Empress, with her fan before her face,
nodding her head to the jig of "Funiculi, funicula," while she watched
the red cloud from Vesuvius rising into the starry sky; she saw Sarah
Bernhardt taking the Greek cat upon her knee; the newly made Czar
reading the telegram with his glass of punch beside him; Tosti tracing
lines of music; Gladstone watching the sea; and finally the gaunt
figure and the long beard of Tolstoy bending over the book in which he
wrote clearly so many years ago, "Vedi Napoli e poi mori."

"Monsieur Emile, you must write in the wonderful book of Frisio's,"
she exclaimed.

"We will all write, Signorina!" cried the Marchesino. "Bring the book,
Signor Masella!"

The Padrone hastened away to fetch it, but Vere shook her head.

"No, no, we must not write! We are nobodies. Monsieur Emile is a great
man. Only he is worthy of such a book. Isn't it so, Madre?"

Artois felt the color rising to his face at this unexpected remark of
the girl. He had been distrait during the dinner, certainly neither
brilliant nor amusing, despite his efforts to seem talkative and
cheerful. A depression had weighed upon him, as it had weighed upon
him in the launch during the voyage from the island. He had felt as if
he were apart, even almost as if he were /de trop/. Had Vere noticed
it? Was that the reason of this sudden and charming demonstration in
his favor?

He looked across at her, longing to know. But she was arguing gayly
with the Marchesino, who continued to insist that they must all write
their names as a souvenir of the occasion.

"We are nobodies," she repeated.

"You dare to say that you are a nobody!" exclaimed the young man,
looking at her with ardent eyes. "Ah, Signorina, you do wrong to drink
no wine. In wine there is truth, they say. But you--you drink water,
and then you say these dreadful things that are not--are not true.
Emilio"--he suddenly appealed to Artois--"would not the Signorina
honor any book by writing her name in it? I ask you if--"

"Marchese, don't be ridiculous!" said Vere, with sudden petulance.
"Don't ask Monsieur Emile absurd questions!"

"But he thinks as I do. Emilio, is it not so? Is it not an honor for
any book to have the Signorina's name?"

He spoke emphatically and looked really in earnest. Artois felt as if
he were listening to a silly boy who understood nothing.

"Let us all write our names," he said. "Here comes the book."

The Padrone bore it proudly down between the mirrors and the windows.

But Vere suddenly got up.

"I won't write my name," she said, sticking out her chin with the
little determined air that was sometimes characteristic of her. "I am
going to see what Gaspare and the sailors are doing."

And she walked quickly away towards the terrace.

The Marchesino sprang up in despair.

"Shall we all go, Madame?" he said. "I have ordered coffee. It will be
brought in a moment to the terrace."

Hermione glanced at Artois.

"I will stay here for a little. I want to look at the book," she said.
"We will come in a moment. I don't take coffee."

"Then--we will be upon the terrace. A rivederci per un momento--pour
un moment, Madame."

He bowed over Hermione's hand, and hurried away after Vere.

The Padrone put his book very carefully down between Hermione and
Artois, and left them with a murmured apology that he had to look
after another party of guests which had just come into the restaurant.

"I thought you would be glad to get rid of those young things for a
minute," said Hermione, in explanation of what she had done.

Artois did not reply, but turned over the leaves of the book
mechanically.

"Oh, here is Tolstoy's signature," he said, stopping.

Hermione drew her chair nearer.

"What a clear handwriting!" she said.

"Yes, isn't it? 'Vedi Napoli e poi mori.' "

"Where are you going to write?"

He was looking towards the outer room of the restaurant which led onto
the terrace.

He turned the leaves.

"I?--oh--here is a space."

He took up a pen the Padrone had brought, dipped it into the ink.

"What's the good?" he said, making a movement as if to push the book
away.

"No; do write."

"Why should I?"

"I agree with Vere. Your name will add something worth having to the
book."

"Oh, well--"

A rather bitter expression had come into his face.

"Dead-sea fruit!" he muttered.

But he bent, wrote something quickly, signed his name, blotted and
shut the book. Hermione had not been able to see the sentence he had
written. She did not ask what it was.

There was a noise of rather shuffling footsteps on the paved floor of
the room. Three musicians had come in. They were shabbily dressed. One
was very short, stout, and quite blind, with a gaping mouth that had
an odd resemblance to an elephant's mouth when it lifts its trunk and
shows its rolling tongue. He smiled perpetually. The other two were
thin and dreary, middle-aged, and hopeless-looking. They stood not far
from the table and began to play on guitars, putting wrong harmonies
to a well-known Neapolitan tune, whose name Artois could not recall.

"What a pity it is they never put the right bass!" said Hermione.

"Yes. One would suppose they would hit it sometimes by mistake. But
they seldom do."

Except for the thin and uncertain music the restaurant was almost
silent. The people who had just come in were sitting down far away at
the end of the long room. Hermione and Artois were the only other
visitors, now that Vere and the Marchesino were outside on the
terrace.

"Famous though it is, Frisio's does not draw the crowd," said
Hermione.

To-night she found it oddly difficult to talk to her friend, although
she had refused the Marchesino's invitation on purpose to do so.

"Perhaps people were afraid of the storm."

"Well, but it doesn't come."

"It is close," he said. "Don't you feel it? I do."

His voice was heavy with melancholy, and made her feel sad, even
apprehensive.

"Where are the stars?" he added.

She followed his example and leaned out of the great window. Not a
star was visible in all the sky.

"You are right. It is coming. I feel it now. The sea is like lead, and
the sky, too. There is no sense of freedom to-night, no out-of-doors
feeling. And the water is horribly calm."

As they both leaned out they heard, away to the left at some distance,
the voices of Vere and the Marchesino.

"I stayed because I thought--I fancied all the chatter was getting a
little on your nerves, Emile," Hermione said now. "They are so
absurdly young, both of them. Wasn't it so?"

"Am I so old that youth should get upon my nerves?" he returned, with
a creeping irritation, which, however, he tried to keep out of his
voice.

"No. But of course we can hardly enjoy nonsense that might amuse them
immensely. Vere is such a baby, and your friend is a regular boy, in
spite of his self-assurance."

"Women often fancy men to be young in ways in which they are not
young," said Artois. "Panacci is very much of a man, I can assure
you."

"Panacci! I never heard you call him that before."

Her eager brown eyes went to his face curiously for a moment. Artois
saw that, and said, rather hastily:

"It's true that nearly every one calls him Doro."

Once more they heard the chattering voices, and then a sound of
laughter in the darkness. It made Hermione smile, but Artois moved
uneasily. Just then there came to them from the sea, like a blow, a
sudden puff of wind. It hit their faces.

"Do you want to avoid the storm?" Artois said.

"Yes. Do you think--"

"I am sure you can only avoid it by going at once. Look!"

He pointed towards the sea. The blackness before them was cut at some
distance off by a long, level line of white.

"What's that?" asked Hermione, peering out.

"Foam."

"Foam! But surely it can't be!"

The wind struck them again. It was like a hot, almost like a sweating
hand, coarse and violent, and repugnant.

Hermione drew in.

"There is something disgusting in nature to-night," she said--
"something that seems almost unnatural."

The blind man began to sing behind them. His voice was soft and
throaty. The phrasing was sickly. Some notes trembled. As he sang he
threw back his head, stared with his sightless eyes at the ceiling,
and showed his tongue. The whole of his fat body swayed. His face
became scarlet. The two hopeless, middle-aged men on either side of
him stared into vacancy as, with dirty hands on which the veins stood
out, they played wrong basses to the melody on their guitars.

Suddenly Hermione was seized with a sensation of fear.

"Let us go. We had better go. Ah!"

She cried out. The wind, returning, had caught the white table-cloth.
It flew up towards her, then sank down.

"What a fool I am!" she said. "I thought--I didn't know--"

She felt that really it was something in Artois which had upset her
nerves, but she did not say so. In that moment, when she was startled,
she had instinctively put out her hand towards him. But, as
instinctively, she drew it back without touching him.

"Oh, here is Gaspare!" she said.

An immense, a really ridiculous sense of relief came to her as she saw
Gaspare's sturdy legs marching decisively towards them, his great eyes
examining the row of mirrors, the tables, the musicians, then settling
comfortably upon his Padrona. Over his arms he carried the cloaks, and
his hands grasped the two umbrellas. At that moment, if she had
translated her impulse into an action, Hermione would have given
Gaspare a good hug--just for being himself; for being always the same:
honest, watchful, perfectly fearless, perfectly natural, and perfectly
determined to take care of his Padrona and his Padroncina.

Afterwards she remembered that she had found in his presence relief
from something that had distressed her in her friend.

"Signora, the storm is coming. Look at the sea!" said Gaspare. He
pointed to the white line which was advancing in the blackness.

"I told the Signorina, and that Signore--"

A fierce flash of lightning zigzagged across the window-space, and
suddenly the sound of the wind was loud upon the sea, and mingled with
the growing murmur of waves.

"Ecco!" said Gaspare. "Signora, you ought to start at once. But the
Signor Marchese--"

The thunder followed. Hermione had been waiting for it, and felt
almost relieved when it came crashing above the Scoglio di Frisio.

"The Signor Marchese, Gaspare?" she asked, putting on the cloak he was
holding for her.

"He only laughs, Signora," said Gaspare, rather contemptuously. "The
Signor Marchese thinks only of his pleasure."

"Well, he must think of yours now," said Artois, decisively, to
Hermione. "You will have a rough voyage to the island, even as it is."

They were walking towards the entrance. Hermione had noticed the
pronoun, and said quietly:

"You will take a carriage to the hotel, or a tram?"

"The tram, I think. It passes the door here."

He glanced at her and added:

"I noticed that the cabin of the launch is very small, and as Gaspare
is with you--"

"Oh, of course!" she said quickly. "It would be ridiculous for you to
come all the way back with us. Besides, there is not room in the
cabin."

She did not know why, but she felt guilty for a moment. Yet she had
done nothing.

"There is the rain," said Artois.

They were just entering the outer room from which the terrace opened.

"Vere!" called Hermione.

As she called the lightning flashed again, and showed her Vere and the
Marchesino running in from the darkness. Vere was laughing, and looked
more joyous than before.

"Such a storm, Madre! The sea is a mass of foam. It's glorious! Hark
at the fishermen!"

From the blackness below rose hoarse shouts and prolonged calls--some
near, some far. Faintly with them mingled the quavering and throaty
voice of the blind man, now raised in "Santa Lucia."

"What are we going to do, Monsieur Emile?"

"We must get home at once before it gets worse," said Hermione.
"Marchese, I am so sorry, but I am afraid we must ask for the launch."

"But, madame, it is only a squall. By midnight it will be all over. I
promise you. I am a Neapolitan."

"Ah, but you promised that there would be no storm at all."

"Sa-a-nta-a Lu-u-ci-i-a! Santa Lu-cia!"

The blind man sounded like one in agony. The thunder crashed again
just above him, as if it desired to beat down his sickly voice.

Artois felt a sharp stab of neuralgia over his eyes.

Behind, in the restaurant, the waiters were running over the pavement
to shut the great windows. The rush of the rain made a noise like
quantities of silk rustling.

The Marchesino laughed, quite unabashed. His cheeks were slightly
flushed and his eyes shone.

"Could I tell the truth, Signora? You might have refused to come. But
now I speak the solemn truth. By midnight--"

"I'm afraid we really can't stay so late as that."

"But there is a piano. I will play valses. I will sing." He looked
ardently at Vere, who was eagerly watching the sea from the window.

"And we will dance, the Signorina and I."

Artois made a brusque movement towards the terrace, muttering
something about the launch. A glare of lightning lit up the shore
immediately below the terrace, showing him the launch buffeted by the
waves that were now breaking over the sandy beach. There came a
summoning call from the sailors.

"If you do stay," Artois said to the Marchesino, turning back to them,
"you must send the launch round to Mergellina. I don't believe it can
stop here."

"Well, but there are rocks, Caro Emilio. It is protected!"

"Not enough."

"Signora," said Gaspare, "we had better go. It will only get worse.
The sea is not too bad yet."

"Come along!" Hermione cried, with decision. "Come, Vere! I'm very
sorry, Marchese, but we must really get back at once. Good-night,
Emile! Gaspare give me your arm."

And she set off at once, clinging to Gaspare, who held an open
umbrella over her.

"Good-night, Vere!" said Artois.

The girl was looking at him with surprised eyes.

"You are going--"

"I shall take the tram."

"Oh--of course. That is your quickest way."

"Signorina--the umbrella!"

The Marchesino was offering his arm to conduct Vere to the launch. He
cast a challenging look of triumph at Artois.

"I would come in the launch," Artois said hastily. "But-- Good-night!"

He turned away.

"A rivederci, Emilio!" called the Marchesino.

"--derci!"

The last syllables only came back to them through the wind and the
rain.

"Take my arm, Signorina."

"Grazie, it is all right like this."

"Ma--"

"I am quite covered, really, thank you."

She hurried on, smiling, but not taking his arm. She knew how to be
obstinate.

"Ma Signorina--mais Mademoiselle--"

"Gaspare! Is Madre all safe in the launch?"

Vere glided from under the Marchesino's umbrella and sought the shade
of Gaspare's. Behind, the Marchesino was murmuring to himself
Neapolitan street expressions.

"Si, Signorina."

Gaspare's face had suddenly lighted up. His Padroncina's little hand
was holding tightly to his strong arm.

"Take care, Signorina. That is water!"

"Oh, I was nearly in. I thought--"

He almost lifted her into the launch, which was rising and falling on
the waves.

"Madre! What a night!"

Vere sank down on the narrow seat of the little cabin. The Marchesino
jumped aboard. The machine in the stern throbbed. They rushed forward
into the blackness of the impenetrable night, the white of the leaping
foam, the hissing of the rain, the roaring of the wind. In a blurred
and hasty vision the lights of Frisio's ran before them, fell back
into the storm like things defeated. Hermione fancied she discerned
for a second the blind man's scarlet face and open mouth, the Padrone
at a window waving a frantic adieu, having only just become aware of
their departure. But if it were so they were gone before she knew--
gone into mystery, with Emile and the world.

The Marchesino inserted himself reproachfully into the cabin. He had
turned up the collar of his "smoking," and drawn the silk lapels
forward over his soft shirt-front. His white gloves were saturated. He
came to sit down by Vere.

"Madame!" he said reproachfully, "we should have waited. The sea is
too rough. Really, it is dangerous. And the Signorina and I--we could
have danced together."

Hermione could not help laughing, though she did not feel gay.

"I should not have danced," said Vere. "I could not. I should have had
to watch the storm."

She was peering out of the cabin window at the wild foam that leaped
up round the little craft and disappeared in the darkness. There was
no sensation of fear in her heart, only a passion of interest and an
odd feeling of triumph.

To dance with the Marchesino at the Scoglio di Frisio would have been
banal in comparison with this glorious progress through the night in
the teeth of opposing elements. She envied Gaspare, who was outside
with the sailors, and whose form she could dimly see, a blur against
the blackness. She longed to take off her smart little hat and her
French frock, and be outside too, in the wind and the rain.

"It is ridiculous to be dressed like this!" she said, quickly, taking
off the glove she had put on her left hand. "You poor Marchese!"

She looked at his damp "smoking," his soaking gloves and deplorable
expression, and could not repress a little rush of laughter.

"Do forgive me! Madre, I know I'm behaving shamefully, but we are all
so hopelessly inappropriate. Your diamond broach, Madre! And your hat
is all on one side. Gaspare must have knocked it with the umbrella. I
am sure we all look like hens in a shower!"

She leaned back against the swaying side of the cabin and laughed till
the tears were in her eyes. The sudden coming of the storm had
increased the excitement that had been already within her, created by
the incidents of the day.

"Vere!" said her mother, but smiling through the protest.

The Marchesino showed his big white teeth. Everything that Vere did
seemed to develop his admiration for her. He was delighted with this
mood, and forgot his disappointment. But there was a glint of wonder
in his eyes, and now he said:

"But the Signorina is not afraid! She does not cry out! She does not
call upon the Madonna and the Saints! My mother, my sisters, if they
were here--"

The prow of the launch struck a wave which burst over the bows,
scattering spray to the roof of the cabin.

"But I like it, I love it!" said Vere. "Don't you?--don't you, Madre?"

Before Hermione could reply the Marchesino exclaimed:

"Signorina, in the breast of an angel you have the heart of a lion!
The sea will never harm you. How could it? It will treat you as it
treats the Saint of your pool, San Francesco. You know what the
sailors and the fishermen say? In the wildest storms, when the sea
crashes upon the rocks, never, never does it touch San Francesco.
Never does it put out the lamp that burns at San Francesco's feet."

"Yes, I have heard them say that," Vere said.

Suddenly her face had become serious. The romance in the belief of the
seamen had got hold of her, had touched her. The compliment to herself
she ignored. Indeed, she had already forgotten it.

"Only the other night--" she began.

But she stopped suddenly.

"You know," she said, changing to something else, "that when the
fishermen pass under San Francesco's pedestal they bend down, and lift
a little water from the sea, and sprinkle it into the boat, and make
the sign of the cross. They call it 'acqua benedetta.' I love to see
them do that."

Another big wave struck the launch and made it shiver. The Marchesino
crossed himself, but quite mechanically. He was intent on Vere.

"I wonder," the girl said, "whether to-night San Francesco will not be
beaten by the waves, whether his light will be burning when we reach
the island."

She paused, then she added, in a lower voice:

"I do hope it will--don't you, Madre?"

"Yes, Vere," said her mother.

Something in her mother's voice made the girl look up at her swiftly,
then put a hand into hers, a hand that was all sympathy. She felt that
just then her mother's imagination was almost, or quite, one with
hers. The lights of Naples were gone, swallowed by the blackness of
the storm. And the tiny light at the feet of the Saint, of San
Francesco, who protected the men of the sea, and the boys--Ruffo, too!
--would it greet them, star of the sea to their pool, star of the sea
to their island, their Casa del Mare, when they had battled through
the storm to San Francesco's feet?

"I do hope it will."

Why did Hermione's heart echo Vere's words with such a strenuous and
sudden passion, such a deep desire? She scarcely knew then. But she
knew that she wanted a light to be shining for her when she neared
home--longed for it, needed it specially that night. If San
Francesco's lamp were burning quietly amid the fury of the sea in such
a blackness as this about them--well, it would seem like an omen. She
would take it as an omen of happiness.

And if it were not burning?

She, too, longed to be outside with Gaspare and the sailors, staring
into the darkness with eyes keen as those of a seaman, looking for the
light. Since Vere's last words and her reply they had sat in silence.
Even the Marchesino's vivacity was suddenly abated, either by the
increasing violence of the storm or by the change in Vere. It would
have been difficult to say by which. The lightning flashed. The
thunder at moments seemed to split the sky asunder as a charge of
gunpowder splits asunder a rock. The head wind rushed by, yet had
never passed them, but was forever coming furiously to meet them. On
the roof of the little cabin the rain made a noise that was no longer
like the rustle of silk, but was like the crackle of musketry.

There was something oppressive, something even almost terrible, in
being closely confined, shut in by low roof and narrow walls from such
sweeping turbulence, such a clamor of wind and water and the sky.

Hermione looked at her diamond brooch, then at her cloak.

Slowly she lifted her hand and began to button it.

Vere moved and began to button up hers. Hermione glanced at her, and
saw a watchful, shining, half-humorous, half-passionate look in her
eyes that could not be mistaken.

She dropped her hands.

"No, Vere!"

"Yes, Madre! Yes, yes, yes!"

The Marchesino stared.

"No, I did not--"

"You did! You did, Madre! It's no use! I understood directly."

She began quickly to take off her hat.

"Marchese, we are going out."

"Vere, this is absurd."

"We are going outside, Marchese. Madre wants air."

The Marchesino, accustomed only to the habits and customs of
Neapolitan women, looked frankly as if he thought Hermione mad.

"Poor Madre must have a breath of air."

"I will open the window, Signora!"

"And the rain all over her, and the thunder close above her, and the
sea in her face, the sea--the sea!"

She clapped her hands.

"Gaspare! Gaspare!"

She put her face to the glass. Gaspare, who was standing up in the
stern, with his hands holding fast to the rail that edged the cabin
roof, bent down till his brown face was on a level with hers, and his
big eyes were staring inquiringly into her eyes.

"We are coming out."

On the other side of the glass Gaspare made violently negative
gestures. One word only came to those inside the cabin through the
uproar of the elements.

"Impossible!"

"Signorina," said the Marchesino, "you cannot mean it. But you will be
washed off. And the water--you will be drowned. It cannot be."

"Marchese, look at Madre! If she stays inside another minute she will
be ill. She is stifling! Quickly! Quickly!"

The Marchesino, whose sense of humor was not of a kind to comprehend
this freak of Vere's, was for once really taken aback. There were two
sliding doors to the cabin, one opening into the bows of the launch,
the other into the stern. He got up, looking very grave and rather
confused, and opened the former. The wind rushed in, carrying with it
spray from the sea. At the same moment there was a loud tapping on the
glass behind them. Vere looked round. Gaspare was crouching down with
his face against the pane. She put her ear to the glass by his mouth.

"Signorina, you must not go into the bows," he called. "If you will
come out, come here, and I will take care of you."

He knew Vere's love of the sea and understood her desire.

"Go, Vere," said Hermione.

The Marchesino shut the door and stood by it, bending and looking
doubtful.

"I will stay here with the Marchese. I am really too old to face such
a tempest, and the Marchese has no coat. He simply can't go."

"But, Signora, it does not matter! I am ready."

"Impossible. Your clothes would be ruined. Go along, Vere! Turn up
your collar."

She spoke almost as if to a boy, and like a gay boy Vere obeyed her
and slipped out to Gaspare.

"You really won't come, Madre?"

"No. But--tell me if you see the light."

The girl nodded, and the door moved into its place, shutting out the
wind.

Then the Marchesino sat down and looked at his damp patent-leather
boots.

He really could not comprehend these English ladies. That Vere was
greatly attracted by him he thoroughly believed. How could it be
otherwise? Her liveliness he considered direct encouragement. And then
she had gone out to the terrace after dinner, leaving her mother. That
was to make him follow her, of course. She wanted to be alone with
him. In a Neapolitan girl such conduct would have been a declaration.
A Neapolitan mother would not have allowed them to sit together on the
terrace without a chaperon. But the English mother had deliberately
remained within and had kept Caro Emilio with her. What could such
conduct mean, if not that the Signorina was in love with him, the
Marchesino, and that the Signorina's mamma was perfectly willing for
him to make love to her child?

And yet--and yet?

There was something in Vere that puzzled him, that had kept him
strangely discreet upon the terrace, that made him silent and
thoughtful now. Had she been a typical English girl he might have
discerned something of the truth of her. But Vere was lively, daring,
passionate, and not without some traces of half-humorous and wholly
innocent coquetry. She was not at all what the Neapolitan calls "a
lump of snow to cool the wine." In her innocence there was fire. That
was what confused the Marchesino.

He stared at the cabin door by which Vere had gone out, and his round
eyes became almost pathetic for a moment. Then it occurred to him that
perhaps this exit was a second ruse, like Vere's departure to the
terrace, and he made a movement as if to go out and brave the storm.
But Hermione stopped him decisively.

"No, Marchese," she said, "really I cannot let you expose yourself to
the rain and the sea in that airy costume. I might be your mother."

"Signora, but you--"

"No, compliments apart, I really might be, and you must let me use a
mother's authority. Till we reach the island stay here and make the
best of me."

Hermione had touched the right note. Metaphorically, the Marchesino
cast himself at her feet. With a gallant assumption of undivided
adoration he burst into conversation, and, though his eyes often
wandered to the blurred glass, against which pressed and swayed a
blackness that told of those outside, his sense of his duty as a host
gradually prevailed, and he and Hermione were soon talking quite
cheerfully together.

Vere had forgotten him as utterly as she had forgotten Naples,
swallowed up by the night. Just then only the sea, the night, Gaspare,
and the two sailors who were managing the launch were real to her--
besides herself. For a moment even her mother had ceased to exist in
her consciousness. As the sea swept the deck of the little craft it
swept her mind clear to make more room for itself.

She stood by Gaspare, touching him, and clinging on, as he did, to the
rail. Impenetrably black was the night. Only here and there, at
distances she could not begin to judge of, shone vaguely lights that
seemed to dance and fade and reappear like marsh lights in a world of
mist. Were they on sea or land? She could not tell and did not ask.
The sailors doubtless knew, but she respected them and their duty too
much to speak to them, though she had given them a smile as she came
out to join them, and had received two admiring salutes in reply.
Gaspare, too, had smiled at her with a pleasure which swiftly
conquered the faint reproach in his eloquent eyes. He liked his
Padroncina's courage, liked the sailors of the Signor Marchese to see
it. He was soaked to the skin, but he, too, was enjoying the
adventure, a rare one on this summer sea, which had slept through so
many shining days and starry nights like a "bambino in dolce letargo."

To-night it was awake, and woke up others, Vere's nature and his.

"Where is the island, Gaspare?" cried Vere through the wind to him.

"Chi lo sa, Signorina.

He waved one hand to the blackness before them.

"It must be there."

She strained her eyes, then looked away towards where the land must
be. At a long distance across the leaping foam she saw one light. As
the boat rose and sank on the crests and into the hollows of the waves
the light shone and faded, shone and faded. She guessed it to be a
light at the Antico Giuseppone. Despite the head wind and the waves
that met them the launch travelled bravely, and soon the light was
gone. She told herself that it must have been at the Giuseppone, and
that now they had got beyond the point, and were opposite to the
harbor of the Villa Rosebery. But no lights greeted them from the
White Palazzo in the wood, or from the smaller white house low down
beside the sea. And again she looked straight forward.

Now she was intent on San Francesco. She was thinking of him, of the
Pool, of the island. And she thrilled with joy at the thought of the
wonderful wildness of her home. As they drew on towards it the waves
were bigger, the wind was stronger. Even on calm nights there was
always a breeze when one had passed the Giuseppone going towards
Ischia, and beyond the island there was sometimes quite a lively sea.
What would it be to-night? Her heart cried out for a crescendo. Within
her, at that moment, was a desire like the motorist's for speed. More!
more! More wind! More sea! More uproar from the elements!

And San Francesco all alone in this terrific blackness! Had he not
been dashed from his pedestal by the waves? Was the light at his feet
still burning?

"Il Santo!" she said to Gaspare.

He bent his head till it was close to her lips.

"Il Santo! What has become of him, Gaspare?"

"He will be there, Signorina."

So Gaspare, too, held to the belief of the seamen of the Bay. He had
confidence in the obedience of the sea, this sea that roared around
them like a tyrant. Suddenly she had no doubt. It would be so. The
saint would be untouched. The light would still be burning. She looked
for it. And now she remembered her mother. She must tell her mother
directly she saw it. But all was blackness still.

And the launch seemed weary, like a live thing whose strength is
ebbing, who strains and pants and struggles gallantly, not losing
heart but losing physical force. Surely it was going slower. She laid
one hand upon the cabin roof as if in encouragement. Her heart was
with the launch, as the seaman's is with his boat when it resists,
surely for his sake consciously, the assault of the great sea.

"Coraggio!"

She was murmuring the word. Gaspare looked at her. And the word was in
his eyes as it should be in all eyes that look at youth. And the
launch strove on.

"Coraggio! Coraggio!"

The spray was in her face. Her hair was wet with the rain. Her French
frock--that was probably ruined! But she knew that she had never felt
more happy. And now--it was like a miracle! Suddenly out of the
darkness a second darkness shaped itself, a darkness that she knew--
the island. And almost simultaneously there shone out a little steady
light.

"Ecco il Santo!"

"Ecco! Ecco!"

Vere called out: "Madre! Madre!"

She bent down.

"Madre! The light is burning."

The sailors, too, bent down, right down to the water. They caught at
it with their hands, Gaspare, too. Vere understood, and, kneeling on
the gunwale, firmly in Gaspare's grasp, she joined in their action.

She sprinkled the boat with the acqua benedetta and made the sign of
the cross.

CHAPTER XIV

When, the next day, Artois sat down at his table to work he found it
impossible to concentrate his mind. The irritation of the previous
evening had passed away. He attributed it to the physical effect made
upon him by the disturbed atmosphere. Now the sun shone, the sky was
clear, the sea calm. He had just come out of an ice-cold bath, had
taken his coffee, and smoked one cigarette. A quiet morning lay before
him. Quiet?

He got up and went to the window.

On the wooden roof of the bath establishment opposite rows of towels,
hung out to dry, were moving listlessly to and fro in the soft breeze.
Capri was almost hidden by haze in the distance. In the sea, just
below him, several heads of swimmers moved. One boy was "making
death." He floated on his back with his eyes closed and his arms
extended. His body, giving itself without resistance to every movement
of the water, looked corpselike and ghostly.

A companion shouted to him. He threw up his arms suddenly and shouted
a reply in the broadest Neapolitan, then began to swim vigorously
towards the slimy rocks at the base of Castel dell' Ovo. Upon the
wooden terrace of the baths among green plants in pots stood three
women, probably friends of the proprietor. For though it was already
hot, the regular bathing season of Naples had not yet begun and the
baths were not completed. Only in July, after the festa of the Madonna
del Carmine, do the Neapolitans give themselves heart and soul to the
sea. Artois knew this, and wondered idly what the women were doing on
the terrace. One had a dog. It sat in the sun and began to cough. A
long wagon on two wheels went by, drawn by two mules and a thin horse
harnessed abreast. It was full of white stone. The driver had bought
some green stuff and flung it down upon the white. He wore a
handkerchief on his head. His chest was bare. As he passed beneath the
window he sang a loud song that sounded Eastern, such a song as the
Spanish wagoners sing in Algeria, as they set out by night on their
long journeys towards the desert. Upon a tiny platform of wood,
fastened to slanting stakes which met together beneath it in a tripod,
a stout man in shirt and trousers, with black whiskers, was sitting on
a chair fishing with a rod and line. A boy sat beside him dangling his
legs over the water. At a little distance a large fishing-smack, with
sails set to catch the breeze farther out in the Bay, was being
laboriously rowed towards the open sea by half-naked men, who shouted
as they toiled at the immense oars.

Artois wondered where they were going. Their skins were a rich orange
color. From a distance in the sunlight they looked like men of gold.
Their cries and their fierce movements suggested some fantastic quest
to lands of mysterious tumult.

Artois wished that Vere could see them.

What were the inhabitants of the island doing?

To-day his mind was beyond his governance, and roamed like a vagrant
on a long, white road. Everything that he saw below him in the calm
radiance of the morning pushed it from thought to thought. Yet none of
these thoughts were valuable. None seemed fully formed. They resembled
henids, things seen so far away that one cannot tell what they are,
but is only aware that they exist and can attract attention.

He came out upon his balcony. As he did so he looked down into the
road, and saw a hired carriage drive up, with Hermione in it.

She glanced up and saw him.

"May I come in for a minute?"

He nodded, smiling, and went out to meet her, glad of this
interruption.

They met at the door of the lift. As Hermione stepped out she cast a
rather anxious glance at her friend, a glance that seemed to say that
she was not quite certain of her welcome. Artois' eyes reassured her.

"I feel guilty," she said.

"Why?"

"Coming at such an hour. Are you working?"

"No. I don't know why, but I am incapable of work. I feel both lazy
and restless, an unfruitful combination. Perhaps something in me
secretly knew that you were coming."

"Then it is my fault."

They came into his sitting-room. It had four windows, two facing the
sea, two looking on the road, and the terraces and garden of the Hotel
Hassler. The room scarcely suggested its present occupant. It
contained a light-yellow carpet with pink flowers strewn over it, red-
and-gold chairs, mirrors, a white marble mantelpiece, a gray-and-pink
sofa with a pink cushion. Only the large writing-table, covered with
manuscripts, letters, and photographs in frames, said something
individual to the visitor. Hermione and Vere were among the
photographs.

Hermione sat down on the sofa.

"I have come to consult you about something, Emile."

"What is it?"

"I really meant to ask you last night, but somehow I couldn't"

"Why?"

"I don't know. We--I--there seemed to be a sort of barrier between us
--didn't there?"

"I was in a bad humor. I was tired after the journey, and perhaps the
weather upset me."

"It's all right--one can't be always-- Well, this is what I wanted to
say. I alluded to it yesterday when I told you about my visit to
Naples with Madame Alliani. Do you remember?"

"You hinted you had seen, or heard of, some tragedy."

"Yes. I believe it is a quite ordinary one in Naples. We went to visit
a consumptive woman in one of those narrow streets going uphill to the
left of the Via Roma, and while there by chance I heard of it. In the
same house as the sick woman there is a girl. Not many days ago she
was beautiful!"

"Yes? What has happened to her?"

"I'll tell you. Her name is Peppina. She is only nineteen, but she has
been one of those who are not given a chance. She was left an orphan
very young and went to live with an aunt. This aunt is a horrible old
woman. I believe--they say she goes to the Galleria--"

Hermione paused.

"I understand," said Artois.

"She is greedy, wicked, merciless. We had the story from the woman we
were visiting, a neighbor. This aunt forced Peppina into sin. Her
beauty, which must have been extraordinary, naturally attracted
attention and turned people's heads. It seems to have driven one man
nearly mad. He is a fisherman, not young, and a married man. It seems
that he is notoriously violent and jealous, and thoroughly
unscrupulous. He is a member of the Camorra, too. He pestered Peppina
with his attentions, coming day after day from Mergellina, where he
lives with his wife. One night he entered the house and made a scene.
Peppina refused finally to receive his advances, and told him she
hated him before all the neighbors. He took out a razor and--"

Hermione stopped.

"I understand," said Artois. "He disfigured her."

"Dreadfully."

"It is often done here. Sometimes a youth does it simply to show that
a girl is his property. But what is it you wish to do for Peppina? I
see you have a plan in your head."

"I want to have her on the island."

"In what capacity?"

"As a servant. She can work. She is not a bad girl. She has only--
well, Emile, the aunt only succeeded in forcing one lover on her. That
is the truth. He was rich and bribed the aunt. But of course the
neighbors all know, and--the population here has its virtues, but it
is not exactly a delicate population."

"Per Bacco!"

"And now that the poor girl is disfigured the aunt is going to turn
her out-of-doors. She says Peppina must go and earn money for herself.
Of course nobody will take her. I want to. I have seen her, talked to
her. She would be so thankful. She is in despair. Think of it!
Nineteen, and all her beauty gone! Isn't it devilish?"

"And the man?"

"Oh, they say he'll get scarcely anything, if anything. Two or three
months, perhaps. He is 'protected.' It makes my blood boil."

Artois was silent, waiting for her to say more, to ask questions.

"The only thing is--Vere, Emile," she said.

"Vere?"

"Yes. You know how friendly she is with the servants. I like her to
be. But of course till now they have been all right--so far as I
know."

"You do well to add that proviso."

"Peppina would not wait on us. She would be in the kitchen. Am I
justified in taking her? Of course I could help her with money. If I
had not seen her, talked to her, that is what I should have done, no
doubt. But she wants--she wants everything, peace, a decent home, pure
air. I feel she wants the island."

"And the other servants?"

"They need only know she was attacked. They need not know her past
history. But all that does not matter. It is only the question of Vere
that troubles me."

"You mean that you are not decided whether you ought to bring into the
house with Vere a girl who is not as Vere is?"

"Yes."

"And you want me to advise you?"

"Yes."

"I can't do that, Hermione."

She looked at him almost as if she were startled.

"Why not? I always rely--"

"No, no. This is not a man's business, my business."

He spoke with an odd brusqueness, and there were traces of agitation
in his face. Hermione did not at all understand what feeling was
prompting him, but again, as on the previous evening, she felt as if
there were a barrier between them--very slight, perhaps, very shadowy,
but definite nevertheless. There was no longer complete frankness in
their relations. At moments her friend seemed to be subtly dominated
by some secret irritation, or anxiety, which she did not comprehend.
She had been aware of it yesterday. She was aware of it now. After his
last exclamation she said nothing.

"You are going to this girl now?" he asked.

"I mean to. Yes, I shall go."

She sat still for a minute, looking down at the pink-and-yellow
carpet.

"And what will you do?"

She looked up at him.

"I think I shall take her to the island. I am almost sure I shall.
Emile, I don't believe in cowardice, and I sometimes think I am
inclined to be a coward about Vere. She is growing up. She will be
seventeen this year, very soon. There are girls who marry at sixteen,
even English girls."

"That is true."

She could gather nothing from his tone; and now his face was perfectly
calm.

"My instinct is to keep Vere just as she is, to preserve the
loveliness of childhood in her as long as possible, to keep away from
her all knowledge of sin, sorrow, the things that distract and torture
the world. But I mustn't be selfish about Vere. I mustn't keep her
wrapped in cotton wool. That is unwholesome. And, after all, Vere must
have her life apart from me. Last night I realized that strongly."

"Last night?"

"Yes, from the way in which she treated the Marchese, and later from
something else. Last night Vere showed two sides of a woman's nature--
the capacity to hold her own, what is vulgarly called 'to keep her
distance,' and the capacity to be motherly."

"Was Vere motherly to the Marchesino, then?" asked Artois, not without
irony.

"No--to Ruffo."

"That boy? But where was he last night?"

"When we got back to the island, and the launch had gone off, Vere and
I stood for a minute at the foot of the steps to listen to the roaring
of the sea. Vere loves the sea."

"I know that."

As he spoke he thought of something that Hermione did not know.

"The pool was protected, and under the lee of the island it was
comparatively calm. But the rain was falling in torrents. There was
one fishing-boat in the pool, close to where we were, and as we were
standing and listening, Vere said, suddenly, 'Madre, that's Ruffo's
boat!' I asked her how she knew--because he has changed into another
boat lately--she had told me that. 'I saw his head,' she answered.
'He's there and he's not asleep. Poor boy, in all this rain!' Ruffo
has been ill with fever, as I told you, and when Vere said that I
remembered it at once."

"Had you told Vere yet?" interposed Artois.

"No. But I did then. Emile, she showed an agitation that--well, it was
almost strange, I think. She begged me to make him come into the house
and spend the night there, safe from the wind and the rain."

"And you did, of course?"

"Yes. He was looking very pale and shaky. The men let him come. They
were nice and sympathetic. I think they are fond of the boy."

"Ruffo seems to know how to attract people to him."

"Yes."

"And so Vere played the mother to Ruffo?"

"Yes. I never saw that side of her before. She was a woman then.
Eventually Ruffo slept with Gaspare."

"And how did Gaspare accept the situation?"

"Better than I should have expected. I think he likes Ruffo
personally, though he is inclined to be suspicious and jealous of any
strangers who come into our lives. But I haven't had time to talk to
him this morning."

"Is Ruffo still in the house?"

"Oh no. He went off in the boat. They came for him about eight."

"Ah!"

Artois went to the window and looked out. But now he saw nothing,
although the three women were still talking and gesticulating on the
terrace of the bath-house, more fishing-boats were being towed or
rowed out into the Bay, carts were passing by, and people were
strolling in the sun.

"You say that Vere showed agitation last night?" he said, turning
round after a moment.

"About Ruffo's illness? It really almost amounted to that. But Vere
was certainly excited. Didn't you notice it?"

"I think she was."

"Emile," Hermione said, after an instant of hesitation, "you remember
my saying to you the other day that Vere was not a stranger to me?"

"Yes, quite well."

"You said nothing--I don't think you agreed. Well, since that day--
only since then--I have sometimes felt that there is much in Vere that
I do not understand, much that is hidden from me. Has she changed
lately?"

"She is at an age when development seems sudden, and is often
striking, even startling."

"I don't know why, but--but I dread something," Hermione said. "I feel
as if--no, I don't know what I feel. But if Vere should ever drift
away from me I don't know how I could bear it. A boy--one expects him
to go out into the world. But a girl! I want to keep Vere. I must keep
Vere. If anything else were to be taken from me I don't think I could
bear it."

"Vere loves you. Be sure of that."

"Yes."

Hermione got up.

"Well, you won't give me your advice?"

"No, Hermione."

He looked at her steadily.

"You must treat Vere as you think best, order her life as you think
right. In some things you do wisely to consult me. But in this you
must rely on yourself. Let your heart teach you. Do not ask questions
of my head."

"Your head!" she exclaimed.

There was a trace of disappointment, even of surprise, in her voice.
She looked at him as if she were going to say more, but again she was
disconcerted by something in his look, his attitude.

"Well, good-bye, Emile."

"I will come with you to the lift."

He went with her and touched the electric bell. As they waited for a
moment he added:

"I should like to have an evening quietly on the island."

"Come to-night, or whenever you like. Don't fix a time. Come when the
inclination whispers--'I want to be with friends.' "

He pressed her hand.

"Shall I see Peppina?"

"Chi lo sa?"

"And Ruffo?"

She laughed.

"The Marchesino, too, perhaps."

"No," said Artois, emphatically. "Disfigured girls and fisher-boys--as
many as you like, but not the alta aristocrazia Napoletana."

"But I thought--"

"I like Doro, but--I like him in his place."

"And his place?"

"Is not the island--when I wish to be quiet there."

The lift descended. Artois went out once more onto the balcony, and
watched her get into the carriage and drive away towards Naples. She
did not look up again.

"She has gone to fetch that girl Peppina," Artois said to himself,
"and I might have prevented it."

He knew very well the reason why he had not interfered. He had not
interfered because he had wished too much to interfere. The desire had
been strong enough to startle him, to warn him.

An islet! That suggests isolation. Like Hermione, he wished to isolate
Vere, to preserve her as she was in character. He did not know when
the wish had first been consciously in his mind, but he knew that
since he had been consulted by Vere, since she had broken through her
reserve and submitted to him her poems, unveiling for him alone what
was really to her a holy of holies, the wish had enormously increased.
He told himself that Vere was unique, and that he longed to keep her
unique, so that the talent he discerned in her might remain
unaffected. How great her talent was he did not know. He would not
know, perhaps, for a very long time. But it was definite, it was
intimate. It was Vere's talent, no one else's.

He had made up his mind very soon about Hermione's incapacity to
produce work of value. Although Vere was such a child, so
inexperienced, so innocent, so cloistered, he knew at once that he
dared not dash her hopes. It was possible that she might eventually
become what her mother certainly could never be.

But she must not be interfered with. Her connection with the sea must
not be severed. And people were coming into her life--Ruffo, the
Marchesino, and now this wounded girl Peppina.

Artois felt uneasy. He wished Hermione were less generous-hearted,
less impulsive. She looked on him as a guide, a check. He knew that.
But this time he would not exercise his prerogative. Ruffo he did not
mind--at least he thought he did not. The boy was a sea creature. He
might even be an inspiring force to Vere. Something Artois had read
had taught him that. And Ruffo interested him, attracted him too.

But he hated Vere's acquaintance with the Marchesino. He knew that the
Marchesino would make love to her. And the knowledge was odious to
him. Let Vere be loved by the sea, but by no man as yet.

And this girl, Peppina?

He thought of the horrors of Naples, of the things that happen "behind
the shutter," of the lives led by some men and women, some boys and
girls of the great city beneath the watching volcano. He thought of
evenings he had spent in the Galleria. He saw before him an old woman
about whom he had often wondered. Always at night, and often in the
afternoon, she walked in the Galleria. She was invariably alone. The
first time he had seen her he had noticed her because she had a
slightly humped back. Her hair was snow white, and was drawn away from
her long, pale face and carefully arranged under a modest bonnet. She
carried a small umbrella and a tiny bag. Glancing at her casually, he
had supposed her to be a respectable widow of the borghese class. But
then he had seen her again and again, and by degrees he had come to
believe that she was something very different. And then one night in
late spring he had seen her in a new light dress with white thread
gloves. And she had noticed him watching her, and had cast upon him a
look that was unmistakable, a look from the world "behind the
shutter"; and he had understood. Then she had followed him
persistently. When he sat before the "Gran caffe" sipping his coffee
and listening to the orchestra of women that plays on the platform
outside the caffe, she had passed and repassed, always casting upon
him that glance of sinister understanding, of invitation, of dreary
wickedness that sought for, and believed that it had found, an
answering wickedness in him.

Terrible old woman! Peppina's aunt might well be like that. And
Peppina would sleep, perhaps to-night, in the Casa del Mare, under the
same roof as Vere.

He resolved to go that evening to the island, to see Peppina, to see
Vere. He wished, too, to have a little talk with Gaspare about Ruffo.

The watch-dog instinct, which dwelt also in Gaspare, was alive in him.

But to-day it was alive to do service for Vere, not for Hermione. He
knew that, and said to himself that it was natural. For Hermione was a
woman, with experience of life; but Vere was only upon the threshold
of the world. She needed protection more than Hermione.

Some time ago, when he was returning to Naples from the island on an
evening of scirocco, Artois had in thought transferred certain hopes
of his from Hermione to Vere. He had said to himself that he must
henceforth hope for Hermione in Vere.

Now was he not transferring something else from the mother to the
child?

CHAPTER XV

Artois had intended to go that evening to the island. But he did not
fulfil his intention. When the sun began to sink he threw a light coat
over his arm and walked down to the harbor of Santa Lucia. A boatman
whom he knew met him and said:

"Shall I take you to the island, Signore?"

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