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A Spirit in Prison by Robert Hichens

Part 5 out of 13

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Artois was there to take a boat. He meant to say yes. Yet when the man
spoke he answered no. The fellow turned away and found another
customer. Two or three minutes later Artois saw his boat drawing out
to sea in the direction of Posilipo. It was a still evening, and very
clear after the storm of the preceding night. Artois longed to be in
that travelling boat, longed to see the night come from the summit of
the island with Hermione and Vere. But he resisted the sea, its wide
peace, its subtle summons, called a carriage and drove to the
Galleria. Arrived there, he took his seat at a little table outside
the "Gran Caffe," ordered a small dinner, and, while he was eating it,
watched the people strolling up and down, seeking among them for a
figure that he knew.

As the hour drew near for the music to begin, and the girls dressed in
white came out one by one to the platform that, surrounded by a white
railing edged with red velvet, is built out beyond the caffe to face
the crowd, the number of promenaders increased, and many stood still
waiting for the first note, and debating the looks of the players.
Others thronged around Artois, taking possession of the many little
tables, and calling for ices, lemon-water, syrups, and liqueurs.
Priests, soldiers, sailors, students, actors--who assemble in the
Galleria to seek engagements--newsboys, and youths whose faces
suggested that they were "ruffiani," mingled with foreigners who had
come from the hotels and from the ships in the harbor, and whose
demeanor was partly curious and partly suspicious, as of one who longs
to probe the psychology of a thief while safely guarding his pockets.
The buzz of voices, the tramp of feet, gained a peculiar and vivid
sonorousness from the high and vaulted roof; and in the warm air,
under the large and winking electric lights, the perpetually moving
figures looked strangely capricious, hungry, determined, furtive,
ardent, and intent. On their little stands the electric fans whirred
as they slowly revolved, casting an artificial breeze upon pallid
faces, and around the central dome the angels with gilded wings lifted
their right arms as if pointing the unconscious multitude the
difficult way to heaven.

A priest sat down with two companions at the table next to Artois. He
had a red cord round his shaggy black hat. His face was like a
parroquet's, with small, beady eyes full of an unintellectual
sharpness. His plump body suggested this world, and his whole
demeanor, the movements of his dimpled, dirty hands, and of his
protruding lips, the attitude of his extended legs, the pose of his
coarse shoulders, seemed hostile to things mystical. He munched an
ice, and swallowed hasty draughts of iced water, talking the while
with a sort of gluttonous vivacity. Artois looked at him and heard,
with his imagination, the sound of the bell at the Elevation, and saw
the bowed heads of the crouching worshippers. The irony of life, that
is the deepest mystery of life, came upon him like the wave of some
Polar sea. He looked up at the gilded angels, then dropped his eyes
and saw what he had come to see.

Slowly threading her way through the increasing throng, came the old
woman whom he had watched so often and by whom he had been watched.
To-night she had on her summer dress, a respectable, rather shiny gown
of grayish mauve, a bonnet edged with white ribbon, a pair of white
thread gloves. She carried her little bag and a small Japanese fan.
Walking in a strange, flat-footed way that was peculiar to her, and
glancing narrowly about her, yet keeping her hand almost still, she
advanced towards the band-stand. As she came opposite to Artois the
orchestra of women struck up the "Valse Noir," and the old woman stood
still, impeded by the now dense crowd of listeners. While the demurely
sinister music ran its course, she remained absolutely immobile.
Artois watched her with a keen interest.

It had come into his mind that she was the aunt of Peppina, the
disfigured girl, who perhaps to-night was sleeping in the Casa del
Mare with Vere.

Presently, attracted, no doubt, by his gaze, the old woman looked
across at Artois and met his eyes. Instantly a sour and malignant
expression came into her long, pale face, and she drew up a corner of
her upper lip, as a dog sometimes does, showing a tooth that was like
a menace.

She was secretly cursing Artois.

He knew why. Encouraged by his former observation of her, she had
scented a client in him and had been deceived, and this deception had
bred within her an acrid hatred of him. To-night he would chase away
that hatred. For he meant to speak to her. The old woman looked away
from him, holding her head down as if in cold disdain. Artois read
easily what was passing in her mind. She believed him wicked, but
nervous in his wickedness, desirous of her services but afraid to
invite them. And she held him in the uttermost contempt. Well,
to-night he would undeceive her on one point at least. He kept his
eyes upon her so firmly that she looked at him again. This time he
made a sign of recognition, of understanding. She stared as if in
suspicious amazement. He glanced towards the dome, then at her once
more. At this moment the waiter came up. Artois paid his bill slowly
and ostentatiously. As he counted out the money upon the little tray
he looked up once, and saw the eyes in the long, pale face of the
venerable temptress glitter while they watched. The music ceased, the
crowd before the platform broke up, and began quickly to melt away.
Only the woman waited, holding her little bag and her cheap Japanese
fan.

Artois drew out a cigar, lit it slowly, then got up, and began to move
out among the tables.

The priest looked after him, spoke rapidly to his companions, and
burst into a throaty laugh which was loudly echoed.

"Maria Fortunata is in luck to-night!" said some one.

Then the band began again, the waiter came with more ices, and the
tall, long-bearded forestiere was forgotten.

Without glancing at the woman, Artois strolled slowly on. Many people
looked at him, but none spoke to him, for he was known now, as each
stranger who stays long in Naples is known, summed up, labelled, and
either ignored or pestered. The touts and the ruffiani were aware that
it was no use to pester the Frenchman, and even the decrepit and
indescribably seedy old men who hover before the huge plate-glass
windows of the photograph shops, or linger near the entrance to the
cinematograph, never peeped at him out of the corners of their
bloodshot eyes or whispered a word of the white slaves in his ear.

When he was beneath the dome, and could see the light gleaming upon
the wings of the pointing angels, Artois seemed to be aware of an
individual step among the many feet behind him, a step soft, furtive,
and obstinate, that followed him like a fate's. He glanced up at the
angels. A melancholy and half-bitter smile came to his lips. Then he
turned to the right and made his way still slowly towards the Via
Roma, always crowded from the early afternoon until late into the
night. As he went, as he pushed through the mob of standing men at the
entrance of the Galleria, and crossed the street to the far side, from
which innumerable narrow and evil-looking alleys stretch away into the
darkness up the hill, the influence of the following old woman
increased upon him, casting upon him like a mist her hateful
eagerness. He desired to be rid of it, and, quickening his walk, he
turned into the first alley he came to, walked a little way up it,
until he was in comparative solitude and obscurity, then stopped and
abruptly turned.

The shiny, grayish mauve gown and the white-trimmed bonnet were close
to him. Between them he faintly perceived a widely smiling face, and
from this face broke at once a sickly torrent of speech, half
Neapolitan dialect, half bastard French.

"Silenzio!" Artois said, sternly.

The old harridan stopped in surprise, showing her tooth.

"What has become of Peppina?"

"Maria Santissima!" she ejaculated, moving back a step in the
darkness.

She paused. Then she said:

"You know Peppina!"

She came forward again, quite up to him, and peered into his face,
seeking there for an ugly truth which till now had been hidden from
her.

"What had you to do with Peppina?"

"Nothing. Tell me about her, and--"

He put his hand to the inside pocket of his coat, and showed her the
edge of a little case containing paper notes. The woman misunderstood
him. He knew that by her face, which for the moment was as a battle-
field on which lust fought with a desperate anger of disappointment.
Then cunning came to stop the battle.

"You have heard of Peppina, Signore? You have never seen her?"

Artois played with her for a moment.

"Never."

Her smile widened. She put up her thin hands to her hair, her bonnet,
coquettishly.

"There is not a girl in Naples as beautiful as Peppina. Mother of--"

But the game was too loathsome with such a player.

"Beautiful! Macche!"

He laughed, made a gesture of pulling out a knife and smashing his
face with it.

"Beautiful! Per Dio!"

The coquetry, the cunning, dropped out of the long, pale face.

"The Signore knows?"

"Ma si! All Naples knows."

The old woman's face became terrible. Her two hands shot up, dropped,
shot up again, imprecating, cursing the world, the sky, the whole
scheme of the universe, it seemed. She chattered like an ape. Artois
soothed her with a ten-lire note.

That night, when he went back to the hotel, he had heard the aunt's
version of Peppina, and knew--that which really he had known before--
that Hermione had taken her to live on the island.

Hermione! What was she? An original, clever and blind, great-hearted
and unwise. An enthusiast, one created to be carried away.

Never would she grow really old, never surely would the primal fires
within her die down into the gray ashes that litter so many of the
hearths by which age sits, a bleak, uncomely shadow.

And Peppina was on the island, a girl from the stews of Naples; not
wicked, perhaps, rather wronged, injured by life--nevertheless, the
niece of that horror of the Galleria.

He thought of Vere and shuddered.

Next day towards four o'clock the Marchesino strolled into Artois'
room, with a peculiarly impudent look of knowledge upon his face.

"Buon giorno, Caro Emilio," he said. "Are you busy?"

"Not specially."

"Will you come with me for a stroll in the Villa? Will you come to see
the gathering together of the geese?"

"Che Diavolo! What's that?"

"This summer the Marchesa Pontini has organized a sort of club, which
meets in the Villa every day except Sundays. Three days the meeting is
in the morning, three days in the afternoon. The silliest people of
the aristocracy belong to this club, and the Marchesa is the mother
goose. Ecco! Will you come, or--or have you some appointment?" He
smiled in his friend's face.

Artois wondered, but could not divine, what was at the back of his
mind.

"No, I had thought of going on the sea."

"Or to the Toledo, perhaps?"

The Marchesino laughed happily.

"The Toledo? Why should I go there?"

"Non lo so. Put on your chapeau and come. Il fait tres beau cet apres-
midi."

Doro was very proud of his French, which made Artois secretly shiver,
and generally spoke it when he was in specially good spirits, or was
feeling unusually mischievous. As they walked along the sea-front a
moment later, he continued in Italian:

"You were not at the island yesterday, Emilio?"

"No. Were you?"

"I naturally called to know how the ladies were after that terrible
storm. What else could I do?"

"And how were they?"

"The Signora was in Naples, and of course the Signorina could not have
received me alone. But the saints were with me, Emilio. I met her on
the sea; quite by herself, on the sea of the Saint's pool. She was
lying back in a little boat, with no hat on, her hands behind her head
--so, and her eyes--her beautiful eyes, Emilio, were full of dreams,
of dreams of the sea."

"How do you know that?" said Artois, rather sharply.

"Cosa?"

"How do you know the Signorina was dreaming of the sea? Did she--did
she tell you?"

"No, but I am sure. We walked together from the boats. I told her she
was an enchantress of the sea, the spirit of the wave--I told her!"

He spread out his hands, rejoicing in the remembrance of his graceful
compliments.

"The Signorina was delighted, but she could not stay long. She had a
slight headache and was a little tired after the storm. But she would
have liked to ask me to the house. She was longing to. I could see
that."

He seized his mustache.

"She turned her head away, trying to conceal from me her desire,
but--"

He laughed.

"Le donne! Le donne!" he happily exclaimed.

Artois found himself wondering why, until Doro had made the
acquaintance of the dwellers on the island, he had never wished to
smack his smooth, complacent cheeks.

They turned from the sea into the broad walk of the Villa, and walked
towards the kiosk. Near it, on the small, green chairs, were some
ladies swathed in gigantic floating-veils, talking to two or three
very smart young men in white suits and straw hats, who leaned forward
eying them steadily with a determined yet rather vacuous boldness that
did not disconcert them. One of the ladies, dressed in black-and-white
check, was immensely stout. She seemed to lead the conversation, which
was carried on with extreme vivacity in very loud and not melodious
voices.

"Ecco the gathering of the geese!" said the Marchesino, touching
Artois on the arm. "And that"--he pointed to the stout lady, who at
this moment tossed her head till her veil swung loose like a sail
suddenly deserted by the wind--"is the goose-mother. Buona sera,
Marchesa! Buona sera--molto piacere. Carlo, buona sera--a rivederci,
Contessa! A questa sera."

He showed his splendid teeth in a fixed but winning smile, and, hat in
hand, went by, walking from his hips. Then, replacing his hat on his
head, he added to his friend:

"The Marchesa is always hoping that the Duchessa d'Aosta will come one
day, if only for a moment, to smile upon the geese. But--well, the
Duchessa prefers to climb to the fourth story to see the poor. She has
a heart. Let us sit here, Emilio."

They sat down under the trees, and the Marchesino looked at his
pointed boots for a moment in silence, pushing forward his under lip
until his blond mustache touched the jaunty tip of his nose. Then he
began to laugh, still looking before him.

"Emilio! Emilio!"

He shook his head repeatedly.

"Emilio mio! And that you should be asking me to show you Naples! It
is too good! C'est parfait!"

The Marchesino turned towards Artois.

"And Maria Fortunata! Santa Maria of the Toledo, the white-haired
protectress of the strangers! Emilio--you might have come to me! But
you do not trust me. Ecco! You do not--"

Artois understood.

"You saw me last night?"

"Ma si! All Naples saw you. Do you not know that the Galleria is full
--but full--of eyes?"

"Va bene! But you don't understand."

"Emilio!"

He shrugged his shoulders, lifted his hands, his eyebrows. His whole
being seemed as if it were about to mount ironically towards heaven.

"You don't understand. I repeat it."

Artois spoke quietly, but there was a sound in his voice which caused
his frivolous companion to stare at him with an inquiry that was, for
a moment, almost sulky.

"You forget, Doro, how old I am."

"What has that to do with it?"

"You forget--"

Artois was about to allude to his real self, to point out the
improbability of a man so mental, so known, so travelled as he was,
falling like a school-boy publicly into a sordid adventure. But he
stopped, realizing the uselessness of such an explanation. And he
could not tell the Marchesino the truth of his shadowy colloquy in a
by-street with the old creature from behind the shutter.

"You have made a mistake about me," he said. "But it is of no
consequence. Look! There is another goose coming."

He pointed with his cane in the direction of the chatterers near the
kiosk.

"It is papa! It is papa!"

"Pardon! I did not recognize--"

The Marchesino got up.

"Let us go there. The Marchesa with papa--it is better than the
Compagnia Scarpetta! I will present you."

But Artois was in no mood for a cataract of nothingness.

"Not now," he said. "I have--"

The Marchesino shot a cruel glance of impudent comprehension at him,
and touched his left hand in token of farewell.

"I know! I know! The quickest horse to the Toledo. A-ah! A-ah! May the
writer's saint go with you! Addio, mio caro!"

There was a hint of real malice in his voice. He cocked his hat and
strutted away towards the veils and the piercing voices. Artois stared
after him for a moment, then walked across the garden to the sea, and
leaned against the low wall looking towards Capri. He was vexed at
this little episode--unreasonably vexed. In his friend Doro he now
discerned a possible enemy. An Italian who has trusted does not easily
forgive if he is not trusted in return. Artois was conscious of a
dawning hostility in the Marchesino. No doubt he could check it. Doro
was essentially good-tempered and light-hearted. He could check it by
an exhibition of frankness. But this frankness was impossible to him,
and as it was impossible he must allow Doro to suspect him of sordid
infamies. He knew, of course, the Neapolitan's habitual disbelief in
masculine virtue, and did not mind it. Then why should he mind Doro's
laughing thought of himself as one of the elderly crew who cling to
forbidden pleasures? Why should he feel sore, angry, almost insulted?

Vere rose before him, as one who came softly to bring him the answer
to his questionings. And he knew that his vexation arose from the
secret apprehension of a future in which he would desire to stand
between her and the Marchesino with clean hands, and tell Doro certain
truths which are universal, not national. Such truths would come ill
from one whom the lectured held unclean.

As he walked home to the hotel his vexation grew.

When he was once more in his room he remembered his remark to
Hermione, "We shall have many quiet, happy evenings together this
summer, I hope," and her strange and doubtful reply. And because he
felt himself invaded by her doubts he resolved to set out for the
island. If he took a boat at once he could be there between six and
seven o'clock.

And perhaps he would see the new occupant of the Casa del Mare.
Perhaps he would see Peppina.

CHAPTER XVI

"I have come, you see," said Artois that evening, as he entered
Hermione's room, "to have the first of our quiet, happy evenings,
about which you were so doubtful."

"Was I?"

She smiled at him from her seat between the big windows.

Outside the door he had, almost with a sudden passion, dismissed the
vague doubts and apprehensions that beset him. He came with a definite
brightness, a strong intimacy, holding out his hands, intent really on
forcing Fate to weave her web in accordance with his will.

"We women are full of little fears, even the bravest of us. Chase mine
away, Emile."

He sat down.

"What are they?"

She shook her head.

"Formless--or almost. But perhaps that adds to the uneasiness they
inspire. To put them into words would be impossible."

"Away with them!"

"Willingly."

Her eyes seemed to be asking him questions, to be not quite satisfied,
not quite sure of something.

"What is it?" he asked.

"I wonder if you have it in you to be angry with me."

"Make your confession."

"I have Peppina here."

"Of course."

"You knew--?"

"I have known you as an impulsive for--how many years? Why should you
change?"

He looked at her in silence for a moment. Then he continued:

"Sometimes you remind me--in spots, as it were--of George Sand."

She laughed, not quite without bitterness.

"In spots, indeed!"

"She described herself once in a book as having 'a great facility' for
illusions, a blind benevolence of judgment, a tenderness of heart that
was inexhaustible--"

"Oh!"

"Wait! From these qualities, she said, came hurry, mistakes
innumerable, heroic devotion to objects that were worthless, much
weakness, tremendous disappointments."

Hermione said nothing, but sat still looking grave.

"Well? Don't you recognize something of yourself in the catalogue, my
friend?"

"Have I a great facility for illusions? Am I capable of heroic
devotion to worthless objects?"

Suddenly Artois remembered all he knew and she did not know.

"At least you act hastily often," he said evasively. "And I think you
are often so concentrated upon the person who stands, perhaps
suffering, immediately before you, that you forget who is on the
right, who is on the left."

"Emile, I asked your advice yesterday, and you would not give it me."

"A fair hit!" he said. "And so Peppina is here. How did the servants
receive her?"

"I think they were rather surprised. Of course they don't know the
truth."

"They will within--shall we say twenty-four hours, or less?"

"How can they? Peppina won't tell them."

"You are sure? And when Gaspare goes into Naples to 'fare la spesa'?"

"I told Gaspare last night."

"That was wisdom. You understand your watch-dog's character."

"You grant that Gaspare is not an instance of a worthless object made
the recipient of my heroic devotion?"

"Give him all you like," said Artois, with warmth. "You will never
repent of that. Was he angry when you told him?"

"I think he was."

"Why?"

"I heard him saying 'Testa della Madonna!' as he was leaving me.

Artois could not help smiling.

"And Vere?" he said, looking directly at her.

"I have not told Vere anything about Peppina's past," Hermione said,
rather hastily. "I do not intend to. I explained that Peppina had had
a sad life and had been attacked by a man who had fallen in love with
her, and for whom she didn't care."

"And Vere was all sympathy and pity?" said Artois, gently.

"She didn't seem much interested, I thought. She scarcely seemed to be
listening. I don't believe she has seen Peppina yet. When we arrived
she was shut up in her room."

As she spoke she was looking at him, and she saw a slight change come
over his face.

"Do you think--" she began, and paused. "I wonder if she was reading,"
she added, slowly, after a moment.

"Even the children have their secrets," he answered. As he spoke he
turned his head and looked out of the window towards Ischia. "How
clear it is to-night! There will be no storm."

"No. We can dine outside. I have told them." Her voice sounded
slightly constrained. "I will go and call Vere," she added.

"She is in the house?"

"I think so."

She went out, shutting the door behind her.

So Vere was working. Artois felt sure that her conversation with him
had given to her mind, perhaps to her heart, too, an impulse that had
caused an outburst of young energy. Ah! the blessed ardors of youth!
How beautiful they are, and, even in their occasional absurdity, how
sacred. What Hermione had said had made him realize acutely the
influence which his celebrity and its cause--the self that had made it
--must have upon a girl who was striving as Vere was. He felt a thrill
of pleasure, even of triumph, that startled him, so seldom now,
jealous and careful as he was of his literary reputation, did he draw
any definite joy from it. Would Vere ever do something really good? He
found himself longing that she might, as the proud godparent longs for
his godchild to gain prizes. He remembered the line at the close of
Maeterlinck's "Pelleas and Melisande," a line that had gone like a
silver shaft into this soul when he first heard it--"Maintenant c'est
au tour de la pauvre petite" (Now it's the child's turn.)

"Now it's the child's turn," he said it to himself, forming the words
with his lips. At that moment he was freed entirely from the
selfishness of age, and warm with a generous and noble sympathy with
youth, its aspirations, its strivings, its winged hopes. He got up
from his chair. He had a longing to go to Vere and tell her all he was
feeling, a longing to pour into her--as just then he could have poured
it--inspiration molten in a long-tried furnace. He had no need of any
one but Vere.

The doors opened and Hermione came back.

"Vere is coming, Emile," she said.

"You told her I was here?"

She looked at him swiftly, as if the ringing sound in his voice had
startled her.

"Yes. She is glad, I know. Dear little Vere!"

Her voice was dull, and she spoke--or he fancied so--rather
mechanically. He remembered all she did not know and was conscious of
her false position. In their intercourse she had so often, so
generally, been the enthusiastic sympathizer. More than she knew she
had inspired him.

"Dear Hermione! How good it is to be here with you!" he said, turning
towards her the current of his sympathy. "As one grows old one clings
to the known, the proved. That passion at least increases while so
many others fade away, the passion for all that is faithful in a
shifting world, for all that is real, that does not suffer corruption,
disintegration! How adorable is Time where Time is powerless!"

"Is Time ever powerless?" she said. "Ah, here is Vere!"

They dined outside upon the terrace facing Vesuvius. Artois sat
between mother and child. Vere was very quiet. Her excitement, her
almost feverish gayety of the evening of the storm had vanished.
To-night dreams hung in her eyes. And the sea was quiet as she was,
repentant surely of its former furies. There seemed something humble,
something pleading in its murmur, as if it asked forgiveness and
promised amendment.

The talk was chiefly between Hermione and Artois. It was not very
animated. Perhaps the wide peace of the evening influenced their
minds. When coffee was carried out Artois lit his pipe, and fell into
complete silence, watching the sea. Giulia brought to Hermione a bit
of embroidery on which she was working, cleared away the dessert and
quietly disappeared. From the house now and then came a sound of
voices, of laughter. It died away, and the calm of the coming night,
the calm of the silent trio that faced it, seemed to deepen as if in
delicate protest against the interference. The stillness of Nature
to-night was very natural. But was the human stillness natural?
Presently Artois, suddenly roused, he knew not why, to self-
consciousness, found himself wondering. Vere lay back in her wicker
chair like one at ease. Hermione was leaning forward over her work
with her eyes bent steadily upon it. Far off across the sea the smoke
from the summit of Vesuvius was dyed at regular intervals by the red
fire that issued from the entrails of the mountain. Silently it rose
from its hidden world, glowed angrily, menacingly, faded, then glowed
again. And the life that is in fire, and that seems to some the most
intense of all the forces of life, stirred Artois from his peace. The
pulse of the mountain, whose regular beating was surely indicated by
the regularly recurring glow of the rising flame, seemed for a moment
to be sounding in his ears, and, with it, all the pulses that were
beating through the world. And he thought of the calm of their bodies,
of Hermione's, of Vere's, of his own, as he had thought of the calm of
the steely sky, the steely sea, that had preceded the bursting of the
storm that came from Ischia. He thought of it as something unnatural,
something almost menacing, a sort of combined lie that strove to
conceal, to deny, the leaping fires of the soul.

Suddenly Vere got up and went quietly away. While she had been with
them silence had been easy. Directly she was gone Artois felt that it
was difficult, in another moment that it was no longer possible.

"Am I to see Peppina to-night?" he asked.

"Do you wish to?"

Hermione's hands moved a little faster about their work when he spoke.

"I feel a certain interest in her, as I should in any new inhabitant
of the island. A very confined space seems always to heighten the
influence of human personality, I think. On your rock everybody must
mean a good deal, perhaps more than you realize, Hermione."

"I am beginning to realize that," she answered, quietly. "Perhaps they
mean too much. I wonder if it is wise to live as we do?"

"In such comparative isolation, you mean?"

"Yes."

She laid her work down in her lap.

"I'm afraid that by nature I am a monopolist," she said. "And as I
could never descend into the arena of life to struggle to keep what I
have, if others desired to take it from me, I am inclined jealously to
guard it."

She took up her work again.

"I've been thinking that I am rather like the dog that buries his
bone," she added, bending once more over the embroidery.

"Are you thinking of--of your husband?"

"Yes, and of Vere. I isolated myself with Maurice. Now I am isolating
myself with Vere. Perhaps it is unwise, weak, this instinct to keep
out the world."

"Are you thinking of changing your mode of life, then?" he asked.

In his voice there was a sound of anxiety which she noticed.

"Perhaps. I don't know."

She glanced at him and away, and he thought that there was something
strange in her eyes. After a pause, she said:

"What would you advise?"

"Surely you are happy here. And--and Vere is happy."

"Vere is happy--yes."

He realized the thoughtlessness of his first sentence.

"But I must think of Vere's development. Lately, in these last days, I
have been realizing that Vere is moving, is beginning to move very
fast. Perhaps it is time to bring her into contact with more people.
Perhaps--"

"You once asked my advice," he interrupted. "I give it now. Leave Vere
alone. What she needs she will obtain. Have no fear of that."

"You are sure?"

"Quite sure. Sometimes, often, the children know instinctively more
than their elders know by experience."

Hermione's lips trembled.

"Sometimes," she said, in a low voice, "I think Vere knows far more
than I do. But--but I often feel that I am very blind, very stupid.
You called me an impulsive--I suppose I am one. But if I don't follow
my impulses, what am I to follow? One must have a guide."

"Yes, and reason is often such a dull one, like a verger throwing one
over a cathedral and destroying its mystery and its beauty with every
word he speaks. When one is young one does not feel that one needs a
guide at all."

"Sometimes--often--I feel very helpless now," she said.

He was acutely conscious of the passionate longing for sympathy that
was alive within her, and more faintly aware of a peculiar depression
that companioned her to-night. Yet, for some reason unknown to him, he
could not issue from a certain reserve that checked him, could not
speak to her as he had spoken not long ago in the cave. Indeed, as she
came in her last words a little towards him, as one with hands
tremblingly and a little doubtfully held out, he felt that he drew
back.

"I think we all feel helpless often when we have passed our first
youth," he answered.

He got up and stretched himself, towering above her.

"Shall we stroll about a little?" he added. "I feel quite cramped with
sitting."

"You go. I'll finish this flower."

"I'll take a turn and come back."

As he went she dropped her embroidery and sat staring straight before
her at the sea.

Artois heard voices in the house, and listened for a new one, the
voice of Peppina. But he could not distinguish it. He went down into
the tiny garden. No one was there, and he returned, and passing
through the house came out on its farther side. Here he met Gaspare
coming up from the sea.

"Good-evening, Gaspare," he said.

"Good-evening, Signore."

"I hear there's a new-comer in the house."

"Signore?"

"A new servant."

Gaspare lifted his large eyes towards heaven.

"Testa della Madonna?" said Artois.

"Signore?"

"Have a cigar, Gaspare?"

"Grazie, Signore."

"Is she a good sort of girl, do you think?"

"Who, Signore?"

"This Peppina."

"She is in the kitchen, Signore. I have nothing to do with her."

"I see."

Evidently Gaspare did not mean to talk. Artois decided to change the
subject.

"I hear you had that boy, Ruffo, sleeping in the house the other
night," he said.

"Si, Signore; the Signorina wished it."

Gaspare's voice sounded rather more promising.

"He seems popular on the island."

"He had been ill, Signore, and it was raining hard. Poveretto! He had
had the fever. It was bad for him to be out in the boat."

"So Ruffo's getting hold of you too!" thought Artois.

He pulled at his cigar once or twice. Then he said:

"Do you think he looks like a Sicilian?"

Gaspare's eyes met his steadily.

"A Sicilian, Signore?"

"Yes."

"Signore, he is a Sicilian. How should he not look like one?"

Gaspare's voice sounded rebellious.

"Va bene, Gaspare, va bene. Have you seen the Signorina?"

"I think she is at the wooden seat, Signore. The Signorina likes to
look at the sea from there."

"I will go and see if I can find her."

"Va bene, Signore. And I will go to speak with the Signora."

He took off his hat and went into the house. Artois stood for a moment
looking after him and pulling at his beard. There was something very
forcible in Gaspare's personality. Artois felt it the more because of
his knowledge of Gaspare's power of prolonged, perhaps of eternal
silence. The Sicilian was both blunt and subtle, therefore not always
easily read. To-night he puzzled Artois because he impressed him
strongly, yet vaguely. He seemed to be quietly concealing something
that was not small. What it was Artois could not divine. Only he felt
positive that there was something. In Gaspare's eyes that evening he
had seen an expression such as had been in them long ago in Sicily,
when Artois rode up after Maurice's death to see Hermione, and Gaspare
turned from him and looked over the wall of the ravine: an expression
of dogged and impenetrable reserve, that was like a door closing upon
unseen, just not seen, vistas.

"Che Diavolo!" muttered Artois.

Then he went up to look for Vere.

A little wind met him on the crest of the cliff, the definite caress
of the night, which had now fallen ever so softly. The troop of the
stars was posted in the immeasurable deeps of the firmament. There
was, there would be, no moon, yet it was not black darkness, but
rather a dimly purple twilight which lifted into its breast the
wayward songs of the sea. And the songs and the stars seemed twin
children of the wedded wave and night. Divinely soft was the wind,
divinely dreamy the hour, and bearing something of youth as a galley
from the East bears odors. Over the spirit of Artois a magical essence
seemed scattered. And the youngness that lives forever, however deeply
buried, in the man who is an artist, stirred, lifted itself up, stood
erect to salute the night. As he came towards Vere he forgot. The
poppy draught was at his lips. The extreme consciousness, which was
both his strength and his curse, sank down for a moment and profoundly
slept.

"Vere!" he said. "Vere, do I disturb you?"

The girl turned softly on the bench and looked at him.

"No. I often come here. I like to be here at nightfall. Madre knows
that. Did she tell you?"

"No."

"You guessed?"

"I met Gaspare."

He stood near her.

"Where is Madre?"

"On the terrace. She preferred to stay quietly there. And so you have
been working very hard?"

He spoke gently, half smilingly, but not at all derisively.

"Yes. But how did you know?"

"I gathered it from something your mother said. Do you know, Vere, I
think soon she will begin to wonder what you do when you are shut up
for so long in your room."

The girl's face looked troubled for a moment.

"She doesn't--she has no idea."

"Oh no."

Vere was silent for a while.

"I wonder if I ought to tell her, Monsieur Emile," she said at length.

"Tell her!" Artois said, hastily. "But I thought--"

He checked himself, suddenly surprised at the keenness of his own
desire to keep their little secret.

"I know. You mean what I said the other day. But--if Madre should be
hurt. I don't think I have ever had a secret from her before, a real
secret. But--it's like this. If Madre knows I shall feel horribly
self-conscious, because of what I told you--her having tried and given
it up. I shall feel guilty. Is it absurd?"

"No."

"And--and--I don't believe I shall be able to go on. Of course some
day, if it turns out that I ever can do anything, I must tell. But
that would be different. If it's certain that you can do a thing well
it seems to me that you have a right to do it. But--till then--I'm a
little coward, really."

She ended with a laugh that was almost deprecating.

"Don't tell your mother yet, Vere," said Artois, decisively. "It is as
you say: if you told her before you have thoroughly tried your wings
you might be paralyzed. When, if ever, you can show her something
really good she will be the first to encourage you. But--till then--I
think with you that her influence in that direction would probably be
discouraging. Indeed, I feel sure of it."

"But if she should really begin to wonder! Perhaps she will ask. It's
absurd, but I can't help feeling as if we, you and I, were
conspirators, Monsieur Emile."

He laughed happily.

"What a blessed place this is!" he said. "One is made free of the
ocean here. What is that far-away light?"

He pointed.

"Low down? Oh, that must be the light of a fisherman, one of those who
seek in the rocks for shell-fish."

"How mysterious it looks, moving to and fro! One feels life there, the
doings of unknown men in the darkness."

"I wonder if--would you hate to go out a little way in the boat? The
men look so strange when one is near them, almost like fire-people."

"Hate! Let us go."

"And we'll get Madre to come too."

"Oh yes."

Vere got up and they went into the house. As they came out upon the
terrace Hermione took up her embroidery, and Gaspare, who was standing
beside her, picked up the tray with the coffee-cups and went off with
it towards the kitchen.

"Well, Vere?"

"Madre, we are going out a little way in the boat, and we want you to
come with us."

"Where are you going?"

"To see the fishermen, just beyond the grotto of Virgilio. You will
come?"

"Do come, my friend," added Artois.

But Hermione sat still.

"I'm a little tired to-night," she answered. "I think I would rather
stay quietly here. You won't be long, will you?"

"Oh no, Madre. Only a few minutes. But, really, won't you?" Vere laid
her hand on her mother's. "It's so lovely on the sea to-night."

"I know. But honestly, I'm lazy to-night."

Vere looked disappointed. She took away her hand gently.

"Then we'll stay with you, won't we, Monsieur Emile?"

"No, Vere," said her mother quickly, before he could answer. "You two
go. I sha'n't be dull. You won't be very long?"

"No, of course. But--"

"Go, dearest, go. Are you going to row, Emile?"

"I could. Or shall we take Gaspare?"

"It's Gaspare's supper-time," said Vere.

"Hush, then!" said Artois, putting his finger to his lips. "Let us
creep down softly, or he will think it his duty to come with us,
starving, and that would spoil everything. Au revoir, Hermione," he
whispered.

"Good-bye, Madre," whispered Vere.

They glided away, the big man and the light-footed child, going on
tiptoe with elaborate precaution.

As Hermione looked after them, she said to herself:

"How young Emile is to-night!"

At that moment she felt as if she were much older than he was.

They slipped down to the sea without attracting the attention of
Gaspare, got into the little boat, and rowed gently out towards
Nisida.

"I feel like a contrabandista," said Artois, as they stole under the
lee of the island towards the open sea--"as if Gaspare would fire upon
us if he heard the sound of oars."

"Quick! Quick! Let us get away. Pull harder, Monsieur Emile! How slow
you are!"

Laughingly Artois bent to the oars.

"Vere, you are a baby!" he said.

"And what are you, then, I should like to know?" she answered, with
dignity.

"I! I am an old fellow playing the fool."

Suddenly his gayety had evaporated, and he was conscious of his years.
He let the boat drift for a moment.

"Check me another time, Vere, if you see me inclined to be buffo," he
said.

"Indeed I won't. Why should I? I like you best when you are quite
natural."

"Do you?"

"Yes. Look! There are the lights! Oh, how strange they are. Go a
little nearer, but not too near."

"Tell me, then. Remember, I can't see."

"Yes. One, two, three--"

She counted. Each time she said a number he pulled. And she, like a
little coxswain, bent towards him with each word, giving him a bodily
signal for the stroke. Presently she stretched out her hand.

"Stop!"

He stopped at once. For a minute the boat glided on. Then the impetus
he had given died away from it, and it floated quietly without
perceptible movement upon the bosom of the sea.

"Now, Monsieur Emile, you must come and sit by me."

Treading softly he obeyed her, and sat down near her, facing the
shadowy coast.

"Now watch!"

They sat in silence, while the boat drifted on the smooth and oily
water almost in the shadow of the cliffs. At some distance beyond them
the cliffs sank, and the shore curved sharply in the direction of the
island with its fort. There was the enigmatic dimness, though not
dense darkness, of the night. Nearer at hand the walls of rock made
the night seem more mysterious, more profound, and at their base
flickered the flames which had attracted Artois' attention. Fitfully
now these flames, rising from some invisible brazier, or from some
torch fed by it, fell upon half-naked forms of creatures mysteriously
busy about some hidden task. Men they were, yet hardly men they
seemed, but rather unknown denizens of rock, or wave, or underworld;
now red-bodied against the gleam, now ethereally black as are shadows,
and whimsical and shifty, yet always full of meaning that could not be
divined. They bent, they crouched. They seemed to die down like a wave
that is, then is not. Then rising they towered, lifting brawny arms
towards the stars. Silence seemed to flow from them, to exude from
their labors. And in the swiftness of their movements there was
something that was sad. Or was it, perhaps, only pathetic, wistful
with the wistfulness of the sea and of all nocturnal things? Artois
did not ask, but his attention, the attention of mind and soul, was
held by these distant voiceless beings as by a magic. And Vere was
still as he was, tense as he was. All the poetry that lay beneath his
realism, all the credulity that slept below his scepticism, all the
ignorance that his knowledge strove to dominate, had its wild moment
of liberty under the smiling stars. The lights moved and swayed. Now
the seamed rock, with its cold veins and slimy crevices was gilded,
its nudity clothed with fire. Now on the water a trail of glory fell,
and travelled and died. Now the red men were utterly revealed, one
watching with an ardor that was surely not of this world, some secret
in the blackness, another turning as if to strike in defence of his
companion. Then both fell back and were taken by the night. And out of
the night came a strong voice across the water.

"Madre di Dio, che splendore!"

Artois got up, turned the boat, and began to row gently away, keeping
near the base of the cliffs. He meant to take Vere back at once to the
island, leaving the impression made upon her by the men of the fire
vivid, and undisturbed by speech. But when they came to the huge mouth
of the Grotto of Virgil, Vere said:

"Go in for a moment, please, Monsieur Emile."

He obeyed, thinking that the mother's love for this dark place was
echoed by the child. Since his conversation with Hermione on the day
of scirocco he had not been here, and as the boat glided under the
hollow blackness of the vault, and there lay still, he remembered
their conversation, the unloosing of her passion, the strength and
tenacity of the nature she had shown to him, gripping the past with
hands almost as unyielding as the tragic hands of death.

And he waited in silence, and with a deep expectation, for the
revelation of the child. It seemed to him that Vere had her purpose in
coming here, as Hermione had had hers. And once more the words of the
old man in "Pelleas and Melisande" haunted him. Once more he heard
them in his heart.

"Now it's the child's turn."

Vere dropped her right hand over the gunwale till it touched the sea,
making a tiny splash.

"Monsieur Emile!" she said.

"Yes, Vere."

"Do you believe in the evil eye?"

Artois did not know what he had expected Vere to say, but her question
seemed to strike his mind like a soft blow, it was so unforeseen.

"No," he answered.

She was silent. It was too dark for him to see her face at all
clearly. He had only a vague general impression of her, of her
slightness, vitality, youth, and half-dreamy excitement.

"Why do you ask me?"

"Giulia said to me this evening that she was sure the new servant had
the evil eye."

"Peppina?"

"Yes, that is her name."

"Have you seen her?"

"No, not yet. It's odd, but I feel as if I would rather not."

"Have you any reason for such a feeling?"

"I don't think so. Poor thing! I know she has a dreadful scar. But I
don't believe it's that. It's just a feeling I have."

"I dare say it will have gone by the time we get back to the island."

"Perhaps. It's nice and dark here."

"Do you like darkness, Vere?"

"Sometimes. I do now."

"Why?"

"Because I can talk better and be less afraid of you."

"Vere! What nonsense! You are incapable of fear."

She laughed, but the laugh sounded serious, he thought.

"Real fear--perhaps. But you don't know"--she paused--"you don't know
how I respect you."

There was a slight pressure on the last words.

"For all you've done, what you are. I never felt it as I have just
lately, since--since--you know."

Artois was conscious of a movement of his blood.

"I should be a liar if I said I am not pleased. Tell me about the
work, Vere--now we are in the dark."

And then he heard the revelation of the child, there under the weary
rock, as he had heard the revelation of the mother. How different it
was! Yet in it, too, there was the beating of the pulse of life. But
there was no regret, no looking back into the past, no sombre
exhibition of force seeking--as a thing groping, desperately in a gulf
--an object on which to exercise itself. Instead there was aspiration,
there was expectation, there was the wonder of bright eyes lifted to
the sun. And there was a reverence that for a moment recalled to
Artois the reverence of the dead man from whose loins this child had
sprung. But Vere's was the reverence of understanding, not of a dim
amazement--more beautiful than Maurice's. When he had been with
Hermione under the brooding rock Artois had been impregnated with the
passionate despair of humanity, and had seen for a moment the world
with out-stretched hands, seeking, surely, for the nonexistent,
striving to hold fast the mirage. Now he was impregnated with
humanity's passionate hope. He saw life light-footed in a sweet chase
for things ideal. And all the blackness of the rock and of the silent
sea was irradiated with the light that streamed from a growing soul.

A voice--an inquiring, searching voice, surely, rose quivering from
some distance on the sea, startling Vere and Artois. It was untrained
but unshy, and the singer forced it with resolute hardihood that was
indifferent to the future. Artois had never heard the Marchesino sing
before, but he knew at once that it was he. Some one at the island
must surely have told the determined youth that Vere was voyaging, and
he was now in quest of her, sending her an amorous summons couched in
the dialect of Naples.

Vere moved impatiently.

"Really!" she began.

But she did not continue. The quivering voice began another verse.
Artois had said nothing, but, as he sat listening to this fervid
protestation, a message illuminated as it were by the vibrato, he
began to hate the terrible frankness of the Italian nature which, till
now, he had thought he loved. The beauty of reticence appealed to him
in a new way. There was savagery in a bellowed passion. The voice was
travelling. They heard it moving onward towards Nisida. Artois
wondered if Vere knew who was the singer. She did not leave him long
in doubt.

"Now's our chance, Monsieur Emile!" she said, suddenly, leaning
towards him. "Row to the island for your life, or the Marchesino will
catch us!"

Without a word he bent to the oars.

"How absurd the Marchesino is!"

Vere spoke aloud, released from fear.

"Absurd? He is Neapolitan."

"Very well, then! The Neapolitans are absurd!" said Vere, with
decision. "And what a voice! Ruffo doesn't sing like that. That
shaking sounds--sounds so artificial."

"And yet I dare say he is very much in earnest."

Artois was almost pleading a cause against his will.

"Oh!"

The girl gave almost a little puff that suggested a rather childish
indignation.

"I like the people best," she added. "They say what they feel simply,
and it means ever so much more. Am I a democrat?"

He could not help laughing.

"Chi lo sa? An Anarchist perhaps."

She laughed too.

"Bella tu si--Bella tu si! It's too absurd! One would think--"

"What, Vere?"

"Never mind. Don't be inquisitive, Monsieur Emile."

He rowed on meekly.

"There is San Francesco's light," she said, in a moment. "I wonder if
it is late. Have we been away long? I have no idea."

"No more have I."

Nor had he.

When they reached land he made the boat fast and turned to walk up to
the house with her. He found her standing very still just behind him
at the edge of the sea, with a startled look on her face.

"What is it, Vere?" he asked.

"Hush!"

She held up her hand and bent her head a little to one side, as one
listening intently.

"I thought I heard--I did hear--something--"

"Something?"

"Yes--so strange--I can't hear it now."

"What was it like?"

She looked fixedly at him.

"Like some one crying--horribly."

"Where? Near us?"

"Not far. Listen again."

He obeyed, holding his breath. But he heard nothing except the very
faint lapping of the sea at their feet.

"Perhaps I imagined it," she said at length.

"Let us go up to the house," he said. "Come, Vere."

He had a sudden wish to take her into the house. But she remained
where she was.

"Could it have been fancy, Monsieur Emile?"

"No doubt."

Her eyes were intensely grave, almost frightened.

"But--just look, will you? Perhaps there really is somebody."

"Where? It's so dark."

Artois hesitated; but Vere's face was full of resolution, and he
turned reluctantly to obey her. As he did so there came to them both
through the dark the sound of a woman crying and sobbing convulsively.

"What is it? Oh, who can it be?" Vere cried out.

She went swiftly towards the sound.

Artois followed, and found her bending down over the figure of a girl
who was crouching against the cliff, and touching her shoulder.

"What is it? What is the matter? Tell me."

The girl looked up, startled, and showed a passionate face that was
horribly disfigured. Upon the right cheek, extending from the temple
almost to the line of the jaw, a razor had cut a sign, a brutal sign
of the cross. As Vere saw it, showing redly through the darkness, she
recoiled. The girl read the meaning of her movement, and shrank
backward, putting up her hand to cover the wound. But Vere recovered
instantly, and bent down once more, intent only on trying to comfort
this sorrow, whose violence seemed to open to her a door into a new
and frightful world.

"Vere!" said Artois. "Vere, you had better--"

The girl turned round to him.

"It must be Peppina!" she said.

"Yes. But--"

"Please go up to the house, Monsieur Emile. I will come in a moment."

"But I can't leave you--"

"Please go. Just tell Madre I'm soon coming."

There was something inexorable in her voice. She turned away from him
and began to speak softly to Peppina.

Artois obeyed and left her.

He knew that just then she would not acknowledge his authority. As he
went slowly up the steps he wondered--he feared. Peppina had cried
with the fury of despair, and the Neapolitan who is desperate knows no
reticence.

Was the red sign of passion to be scored already upon Vere's white
life? Was she to pass even now, in this night, from her beautiful
ignorance to knowledge?

CHAPTER XVII

That night the Marchesino failed in his search for Vere, and he
returned to Naples not merely disappointed but incensed. He had
learned from a fisherman in the Saint's Pool that she was out upon the
sea "with a Signore," and he had little difficulty in guessing who
this Signore was. Of course it was "Caro Emilio," the patron of Maria
Fortunata. He began to consider his friend unfavorably. He remembered
how frankly he had always told Emilio of his little escapades, with
what enthusiasm, in what copious detail. Always he had trusted Emilio.
And now Emilio was trying to play him false--worse, was making
apparently a complete success of the attempt. For Emilio and Vere must
have heard his beautiful singing, must have guessed from whom that
vibrant voice proceeded, must have deliberately concealed themselves
from its possessor. Where had they lain in hiding? His shrewd
suspicion fell upon the very place. Virgilio's Grotto had surely been
their refuge.

"Ladro! Vigiliacco!" Words of no uncertain meaning flowed from his
overcharged heart. His whole hot nature was aroused. His spirit was up
in arms. And now, almost for the first time, he drew a comparison
between his age and Emilio's. Emilio was an old man. He realized it.
Why had he never realized it before? Was he, full of youth, beauty,
chivalrous energy and devotion, to be interfered with, set aside, for
a man with gray hairs thick upon his head, for a man who spent half
his hours bent over a writing-table? Emilio had never wished him to
know the ladies of the island. He knew the reason now, and glowed with
a fiery lust of battle. Vere had attracted him from the first. But
this opposition drove on attraction into something stronger, more
determined. He said to himself that he was madly in love. Never yet
had he been worsted in an amour by any man. The blood surged to his
head at the mere thought of being conquered in the only battle of life
worth fighting--the battle for a woman, and by a man of more than
twice his age, a man who ought long ago to have been married and have
had children as old as the Signorina Vere.

Well, he had been a good friend to Emilio. Now Emilio should see that
the good friend could be the good enemy. Late that night, as he sat
alone in front of the Caffe Turco smoking innumerable cigarettes, he
resolved to show these foreigners the stuff a Neapolitan was made of.
They did not know. Poor, ignorant beings from cold England, drowned
forever in perpetual yellow fogs, and from France, country of
volatility but not of passion, they did not know what the men of the
South, of a volcanic soil, were capable of, once they were roused,
once their blood spoke and their whole nature responded! It was time
they learned. And he would undertake to teach them. As he drove
towards dawn up the dusty hill to Capodimonte he was in a fever of
excitement.

There was excitement, too, in the house on the island, but it did not
centre round the Marchesino.

That night, for the first time in her young life, Vere did not sleep.
She heard the fisherman call, but the enchantment of sea doings did
not stir her. She was aware for the first time of the teeming horrors
of life. There, in the darkness beneath the cliff, Peppina had sobbed
out her story, and Vere, while she listened, had stepped from girlhood
into womanhood.

She had come into the house quietly, and found Artois waiting for her
alone. Hermione had gone to bed, leaving word that she had a headache.
And Vere was glad that night not to see her mother. She wished to see
no one, and she bade Artois good-bye at once, telling him nothing, and
not meeting his eyes when he touched her hand in adieu. And he had
asked nothing. Why should he, when he read the truth in the grave,
almost stern face of the child?

Vere knew.

The veils that hung before the happy eyes of childhood had been torn
away, and those eyes had looked for the first time into the deeps of
an unhappy human heart.

And he had thought it possible to preserve, perhaps for a long while,
Vere's beautiful ignorance untouched. He had thought of the island as
a safe retreat in which her delicate, and as yet childish talent,
might gradually mature under his influence and the influence of the
sea. She had been like some charming and unusual plant of the sea,
shot with sea colors, wet with sea winds, fresh with the freshness of
the smooth-backed waves. And now in a moment she was dropped into the
filthy dust of city horrors. What would be the result upon her and
upon her dawning gift?

The double question was in his mind, and quite honestly. For his
interest of the literary man in Vere was very vivid. Never yet had he
had a pupil or dreamed of having one. There are writers who found a
school, whose fame is carried forward like a banner by young and eager
hands. Artois had always stood alone, ardently admired, ardently
condemned, but not imitated. And he had been proud of his solitude.
But--lately--had not underthoughts come into his mind, thoughts of
leaving an impress on a vivid young intellect, a soul that was full of
life, and the beginnings of energy? Had not he dreamed, however
vaguely, of forming, like some sculptor of genius, an exquisite
statuette--poetry, in the slim form of a girl-child singing to the
world?

And now Peppina had rushed into Vere's life, with sobs and a tumult of
cries to the Madonna and the saints, and, no doubt, with imprecations
upon the wickedness of men. And where were the dreams of the sea? And
his dreams, where were they?

That night the irony that was in him woke up and smiled bitterly, and
he asked himself how he, with his burden of years and of knowledge of
life, could have been such a fool as to think it possible to guard any
one against the assaults of the facts of life. Hermione, perhaps, had
been wiser than he, and yet he could not help feeling something that
was almost like anger against her for what he called her quixotism.
The woman of passionate impulses--how dangerous she is, even when her
impulses are generous, are noble! Action without thought, though the
prompting heart behind it be a heart of gold--how fatal may it be!

And then he remembered a passionate impulse that had driven a happy
woman across a sea to Africa, and he was ashamed.

Yet again the feeling that was almost like hostility returned. He said
to himself that Hermione should have learned caution in the passing of
so many years, that she ought to have grown older than she had. But
there was something unconquerably young, unconquerably na´ve, in her--
something that, it seemed, would never die. Her cleverness went hand
in hand with a short-sightedness that was like a rather beautiful, yet
sometimes irritating stupidity. And this latter quality might
innocently make victims, might even make a victim of her own child.

And then a strange desire rose up in Artois, a desire to protect Vere
against her own mother.

But how could that be done?

Vere, guarded by the beautiful unconsciousness of youth, was unaware
of the subtleties that were brought into activity by her. That the
Marchesino was, or thought himself, in love with her she realized. But
she could not connect any root-sincerity with his feeling. She was
accustomed vaguely to think of all young Southern Italians as
perpetually sighing for some one's dark eyes. The air of the South was
full of love songs that rose and fell without much more meaning than a
twitter of birds, that could not be stilled because it was so natural.
And the Marchesino was a young aristocrat who did absolutely nothing
of any importance to the world. The Northern blood in Vere demanded
other things of a man than imitations of a seal, the clever driving of
a four-in-hand, light-footed dancing, and songs to the guitar. In
Gaspare she saw more reality than she saw as yet in the Marchesino.
The dawning intellect of her began to grasp already the nobility of
work. Gaspare had his work to do, and did it with loyal efficiency.
Ruffo, too, had his profession of the sea. He drew out of the deep his
livelihood. Even with the fever almost upon him he had been out by
night in the storm. That which she liked and respected in Gaspare, his
perfect and natural acceptance of work as a condition of his life, she
liked and respected in Ruffo.

On the morning after the incident with Peppina, Vere came down looking
strangely grave and tired. Her mother, too, was rather heavy-eyed, and
the breakfast passed almost severely. When it was over Hermione, who
still conducted Vere's education, but with a much relaxed vigor in the
summer months, suggested that they should read French together.

"Let us read one of Monsieur Emile's books, Madre," said Vere, with an
awakening of animation. "You know I have never read one, only two or
three baby stories, and articles that don't count."

"Yes, but Emile's books are not quite suitable for you yet, Vere."

"Why, Madre?"

"They are very fine, but they dive deep into life, and life contains
many sad and many cruel things."

"Oughtn't we to prepare ourselves for them, then?"

"Not too soon, I think. I am nearly sure that if you were to read
Emile's books just yet you would regret it."

Vere said nothing.

"Don't you think you can trust me to judge for you in this matter,
figlia mia? I--I am almost certain that Emile himself would think as I
do."

It was not without an effort, a strong effort, that Hermione was able
to speak the last sentence. Vere came nearer to her mother, and stood
before her, as if she were going to say something that was decisive or
important. But she hesitated.

"What is it, Vere?" Hermione asked, gently.

"I might learn from life itself what Monsieur Emile's books might
teach me."

"Some day. And when that time comes neither I nor he would wish to
keep them out of your hands."

"I see. Well, Madre dear, let us read whatever you like."

Vere had been on the verge of telling her mother about the previous
night and Peppina. But, somehow, at the last moment she could not.

And thus, for the moment at least, Artois and she shared another
secret of which Hermione was unaware.

But very soon Hermione noticed that Vere was specially kind always to
Peppina. They did not meet, perhaps, very often, but when by chance
they did Vere spoke to the disfigured girl with a gentleness, almost a
tenderness, that were striking.

"You like Peppina, Vere?" asked her mother one day.

"Yes, because I pity her so much."

There was a sound that was almost like passion in the girl's voice;
and, looking up, Hermione saw that her eyes were full of light, as if
the spirit had set two lamps in them.

"It is strange," Vere continued, in a quieter tone; "but sometimes I
feel as if on the night of the storm I had had a sort of consciousness
of her coming--as if, when I saw the Saint's light shining, and bent
down to the water and made the sign of the Cross, I already knew
something of Peppina's wound, as if I made the sign to protect our
Casa del Mare, to ward off something evil."

"That was coming to us with Peppina, do you mean?"

"I don't know, Madre."

"Are you thinking of Giulia's foolish words about the evil eye?"

"No. It's all vague, Madre. But Peppina's cross sometimes seems to me
to be a sign, a warning come into the house. When I see it it seems to
say there is a cross to be borne by some one here, by one of us."

"How imaginative you are, Vere!"

"So are you, Madre! But you try to hide it from me."

Hermione was startled. She took Vere's hand, and held it for a moment
in silence, pressing it with a force that was nervous. And her
luminous, expressive eyes, immensely sensitive, beautiful in their
sensitiveness, showed that she was moved. At last she said:

"Perhaps that is true. Yes, I suppose it is."

"Why do you try to hide it?"

"I suppose--I think because--because it has brought to me a great deal
of pain. And what we hide from others we sometimes seem almost to be
destroying by that very act, though of course we are not."

"No. But I think I should like to encourage my imagination."

"Do you encourage it?" the mother asked, looking at her closely.

Again, as Vere had been on the edge of telling her mother all she knew
about Peppina, she was on the edge of telling her about the poems of
the sea. And again, moved by some sudden, obstinate reluctance, come
she knew not why, she withheld the words that were almost on her lips.

And each time the mother was aware of something avoided, of an impulse
stifled, and therefore of a secret deliberately kept. The first time
Hermione had not allowed her knowledge to appear. But on this second
occasion for a moment she lost control of herself, and when, after a
perceptible pause, Vere said, "I know I love it," and was silent, she
exclaimed:

"Keep your secrets, Vere. Every one has a right to their freedom."

"But, Madre--" Vere began, startled by her mother's abrupt vehemence.

"No, Vere, no! My child, my dearest one, never tell me anything but of
your own accord, out of your own heart and desire. Such a confidence
is beautiful. But anything else--anything else, I could not bear from
you."

And she got up and left the room, walking with a strange slowness, as
if she put upon herself an embargo not to hasten.

The words and--specially that--the way in which they were spoken made
Vere suddenly and completely aware of something that perhaps she had
already latently known--that the relation between her mother and
herself had, of late, not been quite what once it was. At moments she
had felt almost shy of her mother, only at moments. Formerly she had
always told her mother everything, and had spoken--as her mother had
just said--out of her own heart and desire, with eagerness,
inevitably. Now--well, now she could not always do that. Was it
because she was growing older? Children are immensely frank. She had
been a child. But now--she thought of the Marchesino, of Peppina, of
her conversation with Monsieur Emile in the Grotto of Virgilio, and
realized the blooming of her girlhood, was aware that she was
changing. And she felt half frightened, then eager, ardently eager. An
impulse filled her, the impulse towards a fulness of life that, till
now, she had not known. And for a moment she loved those little,
innocent secrets that she kept.

But then she thought again of her mother, the most beloved of all her
world. There had been in her mother's voice a sound of tragedy.

Vere stood for a long while by the window thinking.

The day was very hot. She longed to bathe, to wash away certain
perplexities that troubled her in the sea. But Gaspare was not on the
island. He had gone she knew not where. She looked at the sea with
longing. When would Gaspare be back? Well, at least she could go out
in the small boat. Then she would be near to the water. She ran down
the steps and embarked. At first she only rowed a little way out into
the Saint's Pool, and then leaned back against the white cushions, and
looked up at the blue sky, and let her hand trail in the water. But
she was restless to-day. The Pool did not suffice her, and she began
to paddle out along the coast towards Naples. She passed a ruined,
windowless house named by the fisherfolk "The Palace of the Spirits,"
and then a tiny hamlet climbing up from a minute harbor to an antique
church. Children called to her. A fisherman shouted: "Buon viaggio,
Signorina!" She waved her hand to them apathetically and rowed slowly
on. Now she had a bourne. A little farther on there was a small inlet
of the sea containing two caves, not gloomy and imposing like the
Grotto of Virgilio, but cosy, shady, and serene. Into the first of
them she ran the boat until its prow touched the sandy bottom. Then
she lay down at full length, with her hands behind her head on the
cushions, and thought--and thought.

Figures passed through her mind, a caravan of figures travelling as
all are travelling: her mother, Gaspare, Giulia, with her plump and
swarthy face; Monsieur Emile, to whom she had drawn so pleasantly,
interestingly near in these last days; the Marchesino (strutting from
the hips and making his bold eyes round), Peppina, Ruffo. They went by
and returned, gathered about her, separated, melted away as people do
in our musings. Her eyes were fixed on the low roof of the cave. The
lilt of the water seemed to rock her soul in a cradle. "Madre--Ruffo!
Madre--Ruffo!" The words were in her mind like a refrain. And then the
oddity, the promiscuity of life struck her. How many differences there
were in this small group of people by whom she was surrounded! What
would their fates be, and hers? Would her life be happy? She did not
feel afraid. Youth ran in her veins. But--would it be? She saw the red
cross on Peppina's cheek. Why was one singled out for misery, another
for joy? Which would be her fate? Ruffo seemed to be standing near
her. She had seen him several times in these last days, but only at
evening, fugitively, when he came in the boat with the fishermen. He
was stronger now. He had saluted her eagerly. She had spoken to him
from the shore. But he had not landed again on the island. She felt as
if she saw his bright and beaming eyes. And Ruffo--would he be happy?
She hoped so. She wanted him to be happy. He was such a dear, active
boy--such a real boy. What must it be like to have a brother? Gaspare
approved of Ruffo now, she thought; and Gaspare did not like
everybody, and was fearfully blunt in expressing his opinion. She
loved his bluntness. How delightfully his nose twitched when he was
pleased! Dear old Gaspare! She could never feel afraid of anything or
anybody when he was near. Monsieur Emile--the poems--the Marchesino
singing. She closed her eyes to think the better.

"Signorina! Signorina!"

Vere woke and sat up.

"Signorina!"

Gaspare was looking at her from his boat.

"Gaspare!"

She began to realize things.

"I was--I was thinking."

"Si, Signorina. I always think like that when I am in bed."

She laughed. She was wide awake now.

"How did you find me?"

"I met one of the fishermen. He had seen you row into the cave."

"Oh!"

She looked at him more steadily. His brown face was hot. Perspiration
stood on his forehead just under the thick and waving hair.

"Where have you been, Gaspare? Not to Naples in all this heat?"

"I have been to Mergellina, Signorina."

"Mergellina! Did you see Ruffo?"

"Si, Signorina."

There was something very odd about Gaspare to-day, Vere thought. Or
was she still not thoroughly awake? His eyes looked excited, surely,
as if something unusual had been happening. And they were fixed upon
her face with a scrutiny that was strange, almost as if he saw her now
for the first time.

"What is it, Gaspare? Why do you look at me like that?"

Gaspare turned his eyes away.

"Like what, Signorina? Why should I not look at you?"

"What have you been doing at Mergellina?"

She spoke rather imperiously.

"Nothing particular, Signorina."

"Oh!"

She paused, but he did not speak.

"Where did you see Ruffo?"

"At the harbor, Signorina."

"Tell me, Gaspare, do you like him?"

"Ruffo?"

"Yes."

"I do not dislike him, Signorina. He has never done me any harm."

"Of course not. Why should he?"

"I say--he has not."

"I like Ruffo."

"Lo so."

Again he looked at her with that curious expression in his eyes. Then
he said:

"Come, Signorina! It is getting late. We must go to the island."

And they pulled out round the point to the open sea.

During the hot weather the dwellers in the Casa del Mare made the
siesta after the mid-day meal. The awnings and blinds were drawn.
Silence reigned, and the house was still as the Palace of the Sleeping
Beauty. At the foot of the cliffs the sea slept in the sunshine, and
it was almost an empty sea, for few boats passed by in those hot,
still hours.

To-day the servants were quiet in their quarters. Only Gaspare was
outside. And he, in shirt and trousers, with a white linen hat
covering his brown face, was stretched under the dwarf trees of the
little garden, in the shadow of the wall, resting profoundly after the
labors of the morning. In their respective rooms Hermione and Vere
were secluded behind shut doors. Hermione was lying down, but not
sleeping. Vere was not lying down. Generally she slept at this time
for an hour. But to-day, perhaps because of her nap in the cave, she
had no desire for sleep.

She was thinking about her mother. And Hermione was thinking of her.
Each mind was working in the midst of its desert space, its solitude
eternal.

What was growing up between them, and why was it growing?

Hermione was beset by a strange sensation of impotence. She felt as if
her child were drifting from her. Was it her fault, or was it no
one's, and inevitable? Had Vere been able to divine certain feelings
in her, the mother, obscure pains of the soul that had travelled to
mind and heart? She did not think it possible. Nor had it been
possible for her to kill those pains, although she had made her effort
--to conceal them. Long ago, before she was married to Maurice, Emile
had spoken to them of jealousy. At the time she had not understood it.
She remembered thinking, even saying, that she could not be jealous.

But then she had not had a child.

Lately she had realized that there were forces in her of which she had
not been aware. She had realized her passion for her child. Was it
strange that she had not always known how deep and strong it was? Her
mutilated life was more vehemently centred upon Vere than she had
understood. Of Vere she could be jealous. If Vere put any one before
her, trusted any one more than her, confided anything to another
rather than to her, she could be frightfully jealous.

Recently she had suspected--she had imagined--

Restlessly she moved on her bed. A mosquito-curtain protected it. She
was glad of that, as if it kept out prying eyes. For sometimes she was
ashamed of the vehemence within her.

She thought of her friend Emile, whom she had dragged back from death.

He, too, had he not drifted a little from her in these last days? It
seemed to her that it was so. She knew that it was so. Women are so
sure of certain things, more almost than men are ever sure of
anything. And why should Vere have drifted, Emile have drifted, if
there were not some link between them--some link between the child and
the middle-aged man which they would not have her know of?

Vere had told to Emile something that she had kept, that she still
kept from her mother. When Vere had been shut up in her room she had
not been reading. Emile knew what it was that she did during those
long hours when she was alone. Emile knew that, and perhaps other
things of Vere that she, Hermione, did not know, was not allowed to
know.

Hermione, in their long intimacy, had learned to read Artois more
clearly, more certainly than he realized. Although often impulsive,
and seemingly unconscious of the thoughts of others, she could be both
sharply observant and subtle, especially with those she loved. She had
noticed the difference between his manner when first they spoke of
Vere's hidden occupation and his manner when last they spoke of it. In
the interval he had found out what it was, and that it was not
reading. Of that she was positive. She was positive also that he did
not wish her to suspect this. Vere must have told him what it was.

It was characteristic of Hermione that at this moment she was free
from any common curiosity as to what it was that Vere did during those
many hours when she was shut up in her room. The thing that hurt her,
that seemed to humiliate her, was the Emile should know what it was
and not she, that Vere should have told Emile and not told her.

As she lay there she cowered under the blow a mutual silence can give,
and something woke up in her, something fiery, something surely that
could act with violence. It startled her, almost as a stranger rushing
into her room would have startled her.

For a moment she thought of her child and her loved friend with a
bitterness that was cruel.

How long had they shared their secret? She wondered, and began to
consider the recent days, searching their hours for those tiny
incidents, those small reticences, avoidances, that to women are
revelations. When had she first noticed a slight change in Emile's
manner to her? When had Vere and he first seemed a little more
intimate, a little more confidential than before? When had she,
Hermione, first felt a little "out of it," not perfectly at ease with
these two dear denizens of her life?

Her mind fastened at once upon the day of the storm. On the night of
the storm, when she and Emile had been left alone in the restaurant,
she had felt almost afraid of him. But before then, in the afternoon
on the island, there had been something. They had not been always at
ease. She had been conscious of trying to tide over moments that were
almost awkward--once or twice, only once or twice. But that was the
day. Her woman's instinct told her so. That was the day on which Vere
had told Emile the secret she had kept from her mother. How excited
Vere had been, almost feverishly excited! And Emile had been very
strange. When the Marchesino and Vere went out upon the terrace, how
restless, how irritable he--

Suddenly Hermione sat up in her bed. The heat, the stillness, the
white cage of the mosquito net, the silence had become intolerable to
her. She pulled aside the net. Yes, that was better. She felt more
free. She would lie down outside the net. But the pillow was hot. She
turned it, but its pressure against her cheek almost maddened her, and
she got up, went across the room to the wash-stand and bathed her face
with cold water. Then she put some /eau de Cologne/ on her forehead,
opened a drawer and drew out a fan, went over to an arm-chair near the
window and sat down in it.

What had Emile written in the visitors' book at the Scoglio di Frisio?
With a strange abruptness, with a flight that was instinctive as that
of a homing pigeon, Hermione's mind went to that book as to a book of
revelation. Just before he wrote he had been feeling acutely--
something. She had been aware of that at the time. He had not wanted
to write. And then suddenly, almost violently, he had written and had
closed the book.

She longed to open that book now, at once, to read what he had
written. She felt as if it would tell her very much. There was no
reason why she should not read it. The book was one that all might
see, was kept to be looked over by any chance visitor. She would go
one day, one evening, to the restaurant and see what Emile had
written. He would not mind. If she had asked him that night of course
he would have shown her the words. But she had not asked him. She had
been almost afraid of things that night. She remembered how the wind
had blown up the white table-cloth, her cold, momentary shiver of
fear, her relief when she had seen Gaspare walking sturdily into the
room.

And now, at once, this thought of Gaspare brought to her a sense of
relief again, of relief so great, so sharp--piercing down into the
very deep of her nature--that by it she was able to measure something,
her inward desolation at this moment. Yes, she clung to Gaspare,
because he was loyal, because he loved her, because he had loved
Maurice--but also because she was terribly alone.

Because he had loved Maurice! Had there been a time, really a time,
when she had possessed one who belonged utterly to her, who lived only
in and for her? Was that possible? To-day, with the fierceness of one
starving, she fastened upon this memory, her memory, hers only, shared
by no one, never shared by living or dead. That at least she had, and
that could never be taken from her. Even if Vere, her child, slipped
from her, if Emile, her friend, whose life she had saved, slipped from
her, the memory of her Sicilian was forever hers, the memory of his
love, his joy in their mutual life, his last kiss. Long ago she had
taken that kiss as a gift made to two--to her and to Vere unborn.
To-day, almost savagely, she took it to herself, alone, herself--
alone. Hers it was, hers only, no part of it Vere's.

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