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A Spirit in Prison by Robert Hichens

Part 6 out of 13

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That she had--her memory, and Gaspare's loyal, open-hearted devotion.
He knew what she had suffered. He loved her as he had loved his dead
Padrone. He would always protect her, put her first without
hesitation, conceal nothing from her that it was her right--for surely
even the humblest, the least selfish, the least grasping, surely all
who love have their rights--that it was her right to know.

Her cheeks were burning. She felt like one who had been making some
physical exertion.

Deeply silent was the house. Her room was full of shadows, yet full of
the hidden presence of the sun. There was a glory outside, against
which she was protected. But outside, and against assaults that were
inglorious, what protection had she? Her own personality must protect
her, her own will, the determination, the strength, the courage that
belong to all who are worth anything in the world. And she called upon
herself. And it seemed to her that there was no voice that answered.

There was a hideous moment of drama.

She sat there quietly in her chair in the pretty room. And she called
again, and she listened--and again there was silence.

Then she was afraid. She had a strange and horrible feeling that she
was deserted by herself, by that which, at least, had been herself and
on which she had been accustomed to rely. And what was left was surely
utterly incapable, full of the flabby wickedness that seems to dwell
in weakness. It seemed to her that if any one who knew her well, if
Vere, Emile, or even Gaspare, had come into the room just then, the
intruder would have paused on the threshold amazed to see a stranger
there. She felt afraid to be seen and yet afraid to remain alone.
Should she do something definite, something defiant, to prove to
herself that she had will and could exercise it?

She got up, resolved to go to Vere. When she was there, with her
child, she did not know what she was going to do. She had said to
Vere, "Keep your secrets." What if she went now and humbled herself,
explained to the child quite simply and frankly a mother's jealousy, a
widow's loneliness, made her realize what she was in a life from which
the greatest thing had been ruthlessly withdrawn? Vere would
understand surely, and all would be well. This shadow between them
would pass away. Hermione had her hand on the door. But she did not
open it. An imperious reserve, autocrat, tyrant, rose up suddenly
within her. She could never make such a confession to Vere. She could
never plead for her child's confidence--a confidence already given to
Emile, to a man. And now for the first time the common curiosity to
which she had not yet fallen a victim came upon her, flooded her. What
was Vere's secret? That it was innocent, probably even childish,
Hermione did not question even for a moment. But what was it?

She heard a light step outside and drew back from the door. The step
passed on and died away down the paved staircase. Vere had gone out to
the terrace, the garden, or the sea.

Hermione again moved forward, then stopped abruptly. Her face was
suddenly flooded with red as she realized what she had been going to
do, she who had exclaimed that every one has a right to their freedom.

For an instant she had meant to go to Vere's room, to try to find out
surreptitiously what Emile knew.

A moment later Vere, coming back swiftly for a pencil she had
forgotten, heard the sharp grating of a key in the lock of her
mother's door.

She ran on lightly, wondering why her mother was locking herself in,
and against whom.

CHAPTER XVIII

During the last days Artois had not been to the island, nor had he
seen the Marchesino. A sudden passion for work had seized him. Since
the night of Vere's meeting with Peppina his brain had been in flood
with thoughts. Life often acts subtly upon the creative artist,
repressing or encouraging his instinct to bring forth, depressing or
exciting him when, perhaps, he expects it least. The passing incidents
of life frequently have their hidden, their unsuspected part in
determining his activities. So it was now with Artois. He had given an
impetus to Vere. That was natural, to be expected, considering his
knowledge and his fame, his great experience and his understanding of
men. But now Vere had given an impetus to him--and that was surely
stranger. Since the conversation among the shadows of the cave, after
the vision of the moving men of darkness and of fire, since the sound
of Peppina sobbing in the night, and the sight of her passionate face
lifted to show its gashed cross to Vere, Artois' brain and head had
been alive with a fury of energy that forcibly summoned him to work,
that held him working. He even felt within him something that was like
a renewal of some part of his vanished youth, and remembered old days
of student life, nights in the Quartier Latin, his debut as a writer
for the papers, the sensation of joy with which he saw his first
article in the /Figaro/, his dreams of fame, his hopes of love, his
baptism of sentiment. How he had worked in those days and nights! How
he had hunted experience in the streets and the by-ways of the great
city! How passionate and yet how ruthless he had been, as artists
often are, governed not only by their quick emotions, but also by the
something watchful and dogged underneath, that will not be swept away,
that is like a detective hidden by a house door to spy out all the
comers in the night. Something, some breath from the former days,
swept over him again. In his ears there sounded surely the cries of
Paris, urging him to the assault to the barricades of Fame. And he sat
down, and he worked with the vehement energy, with the pulsating
eagerness of one of "les jeunes." Hour after hour he worked. He took
coffee, and wrote through the night. He slept when the dawn came, got
up, and toiled again.

He shut out the real world and he forgot it--until the fit was past.
And then he pushed away his paper, he laid down his pen, he stretched
himself, and he knew that his great effort had tired him tremendously
--tremendously.

He looked at his right hand. It was cramped. As he held it up he saw
that it was shaking. He had drunk a great deal of black coffee during
those days, had drunk it recklessly as in the days of youth, when he
cared nothing about health because he felt made of iron.

"Pf-f-f!"

And so there was Naples outside, the waters of the Bay dancing in the
sunshine of the bright summer afternoon, people bathing and shouting
to one another from the diving platforms and the cabins; people
galloping by in the little carriages to eat oysters at Posilipo. Lazy,
heedless, pleasure-loving wretches! He thought of Doro as he looked at
them.

He had given strict orders that he was not to be disturbed while he
was at work, unless Hermione came. And he had not once been disturbed.
Now he rang the bell. An Italian waiter, with crooked eyes and a fair
beard, stepped softly in.

"Has any one been to see me? Has any one asked for me lately?" he
said. "Just go down, will you, and inquire of the concierge."

The waiter departed, and returned to say that no one had been for the
Signore.

"Not the Marchese Isidoro Panacci?

"The concierge says that no one has been, Signore."

"Va bene."

The man went out.

So Doro had not come even once! Perhaps he was seriously offended. At
their last parting in the Villa he had shown a certain irony that had
in it a hint of bitterness. Artois did not know of the fisherman's
information, that Doro had guessed who was Vere's companion that night
upon the sea. He supposed that his friend was angry because he
believed himself distrusted. Well, that could soon be put right. He
thought of the Marchesino now with lightness, as the worker who has
just made a great and prolonged effort is inclined to think of the
habitual idler. Doro was like a feather on the warm wind of the South.
He, Artois, was not in the mood just then to bother about a feather.
Still less was he inclined for companionship. He wanted some hours of
complete rest out in the air, with gay and frivolous scenes before his
eyes.

He wanted to look on, but not to join in, the merry life that was
about him, and that for so long a time he had almost violently
ignored.

He resolved to take a carriage, drive slowly to Posilipo, and eat his
dinner there in some eyrie above the sea; watching the pageant that
unfolds itself on the evenings of summer about the ristoranti and the
osterie, round the stalls of the vendors of Fruitti di Mare, and the
piano-organs, to the accompaniment of which impudent men sing love
songs to the saucy, dark-eyed beauties posed upon balconies, or
gathered in knots upon the little terraces that dominate the bathing
establishments, and the distant traffic of the Bay. His brain longed
for rest, but it longed also for the hum and the stir of men. His
heart lusted for the sight of pleasure, and must be appeased.

Catching up his hat, almost with the hasty eagerness of a boy, he went
down-stairs. On the opposite side of the road was a smart little
carriage in which the coachman was asleep, with his legs cocked up on
the driver's seat, displaying a pair of startling orange-and-black
socks. By the socks Artois knew his man.

"Pasqualino! Pasqualino!" he cried.

The coachman sprang up, showing a round, rosy face, and a pair of
shrewd, rather small dark eyes.

"Take me to Posilipo."

"Si, Signore."

Pasqualino cracked his whip vigorously.

"Ah--ah! Ah--ah!" he cried to his gayly bedizened little horse, who
wore a long feather on his head, flanked by bunches of artificial
roses.

"Not too fast, Pasqualino. I am in no hurry. Keep along by the sea."

The coachman let the reins go loose, and instantly the little horse
went slowly, as if all his spirit and agility had suddenly been
withdrawn from him.

"I have not seen you for several days, Signore. Have you been ill?"

Pasqualino had turned quite round on his box, and was facing his
client.

"No, I've been working."

"Si?"

Pasqualino made a grimace, as he nearly always did when he heard a
rich Signore speak of working.

"And you? You have been spending money as usual. All your clothes are
new."

Pasqualino smiled, showing rows of splendid teeth under his little
twisted-up mustache.

"Si, Signore, all! And I have also new underclothing."

"Per Bacco!"

"Ecco, Signore!"

He pulled his trousers up to his knees, showing a pair of pale-blue
drawers.

"The suspenders--they are new, Signore!" He drew attention to the
scarlet elastics that kept the orange-and-black socks in place. "My
boots!" He put his feet up on the box that Artois might see his lemon-
colored boots, then unbuttoned and threw open his waistcoat. "My shirt
is new! My cravat is new! Look at the pin!" He flourished his plump,
brown, and carefully washed hands. "I have a new ring." He bent his
head. "My hat is new."

Artois broke into a roar of laughter that seemed to do him good after
his days of work.

"You young dandy! And where do you get the money?"

Pasqualino looked doleful and hung his head.

"Signore, I am in debt. But I say to myself, 'Thank the Madonna, I
have a rich and generous Padrone who wishes his coachman to be chic.
When he sees my clothes he will be contented, and who knows what he
will do?' "

"Per Bacco! And who is this rich and generous Signore?"

"Ma!" Pasqualino passionately flung out the ringed hand that was not
holding the reins--"Ma!--you, Signore."

"You young rascal! Turn round and attend to your driving!"

But Artois laughed again. The impudent boyishness of Pasqualino, and
his childish passion for finery, were refreshing, and seemed to belong
to a young and thoughtless world. The sea-breeze was soft as silk, the
afternoon sunshine was delicately brilliant. The Bay looked as it
often does in summer--like radiant liberty held in happy arms,
alluring, full of promises. And a physical well-being invaded Artois
such as he had not known since the day when he had tea with Vere upon
the island.

He had been shut in. Now the gates were thrown open, and to what a
brilliant world! He issued forth into it with almost joyous
expectation.

They went slowly, and presently drew near to the Rotonda. Artois
leaned a little forward and saw that the fishermen were at work. They
stood in lines upon the pavement pulling at the immense nets which
were still a long way out to sea. When the carriage reached them
Artois told Pasqualino to draw up, and sat watching the work and the
fierce energy of the workers. Half naked, with arms and legs and
chests that gleamed in the sun like copper, they toiled, slanting
backward, one towards another, laughing, shouting, swearing with a
sort of almost angry joy. In their eyes there was a carelessness that
was wild, in their gestures a lack of self-consciousness that was
savage. But they looked like creatures who must live forever. And to
Artois, sedentary for so long, the sight of them brought a feeling
almost of triumph, but also a sensation of envy. Their vigor made him
pine for movement.

"Drive on slowly, Pasqualino," he said. "I will follow you on foot,
and join you at the hill."

"Si Signore."

He got out, stood for a moment, then strolled on towards the
Mergellina. As he approached this part of the town, with its harbor
and its population of fisherfolk, the thought of Ruffo came into his
mind. He remembered that Ruffo lived here. Perhaps he might see the
boy this afternoon.

On the mole that serves as a slight barrier between the open sea and
the snug little harbor several boys were fishing. Others were bathing,
leaping into the water with shouts from the rocks. Beyond, upon the
slope of dingy sand among the drawn-up boats, children were playing,
the girls generally separated from the boys. Fishermen, in woolen
shirts and white linen trousers, sat smoking in the shadow of their
craft, or leaned muscular arms upon them, standing at ease, staring
into vacancy or calling to each other. On the still water there was a
perpetual movement of boats; and from the distance came a dull but
continuous uproar, the yells and the laughter of hundreds of bathers
at the Stabilimento di Bagni beyond the opposite limit of the harbor.

Artois enjoyed the open-air gayety, the freedom of the scene; and once
again, as often before, found himself thinking that the out-door life,
the life loosed from formal restrictions, was the only one really and
fully worth living. There was a carelessness, a camaraderie among
these people that was of the essence of humanity. Despite their
frequent quarrels, their intrigues, their betrayals, their vendettas,
they hung together. There was a true and vital companionship among
them.

He passed on with deliberation, observing closely, yet half-lazily--
for his brain was slack and needed rest--the different types about
him, musing on the possibilities of their lives, smiling at the
gambols of the intent girls, and the impudent frolics of the little
boys who seemed the very spawn of sand and sea and sun, till he had
nearly passed the harbor, and was opposite to the pathway that leads
down to the jetty, to the left of which lie the steam-yachts.

At the entrance to this pathway there is always a knot of people
gathered about the shanty where the seamen eat maccaroni and strange
messes, and the stands where shell-fish are exposed for sale. On the
far side of the tramway, beneath the tall houses which are let out in
rooms and apartments for families, there is an open space, and here in
summer are set out quantities of strong tables, at which from noon
till late into the evening the people of Mergellina, and visitors of
the humbler classes from Naples, sit in merry throngs, eating,
smoking, drinking coffee, syrups, and red and white wine.

Artois stood still for a minute to watch them, to partake from a
distance, and unknown to them, in their boisterous gayety. He had lit
a big cigar, and puffed at it as his eyes roved from group to group,
resting now on a family party, now on a quartet of lovers, now on two
stout men obviously trying to drive a bargain with vigorous rhetoric
and emphatic gestures, now on an elderly woman in a shawl spending an
hour with her soldier son in placid silence, now on some sailors from
a ship in the distant port by the arsenal bent over a game of cards,
or a party of workmen talking wages or politics in their shirt-sleeves
with flowers above their ears.

What a row they made, these people! Their animation was almost like
the animation of a nightmare. Some were ugly, some looked wicked;
others mischievous, sympathetic, coarse, artful, seductive, boldly
defiant or boisterously excited. But however much they differed, in
one quality they were nearly all alike. They nearly all looked vivid.
If they lacked anything, at least it was not life. Even their sorrows
should be energetic.

As this thought came into his mind Artois' eyes chanced to rest on two
people sitting a little apart at a table on which stood a coffee-cup,
a thick glass half full of red wine, and a couple of tumblers of
water. One was a woman, the other--yes, the other was Ruffo.

When Artois realized this he kept his eyes upon them. He forgot his
interest in the crowd.

At first he could only see Ruffo's side-face. But the woman was
exactly opposite to him.

She was neatly dressed in some dark stuff, and wore a thin shawl,
purple in color, over her shoulders. She looked middle-aged. Had she
been an Englishwoman Artois would have guessed her to be near fifty.
But as she was evidently a Southerner it was possible that she was
very much younger. Her figure was broad and matronly. Her face, once
probably quite pretty was lined, and had the battered and almost
corrugated look that the faces of Italian women of the lower classes
often reveal when the years begin to increase upon them. The cheek-
bones showed harshly in it, by the long and dark eyes, which were
surrounded by little puckers of yellow flesh. But Artois' attention
was held not by this woman's quite ordinary appearance, but by her
manner. Like the people about her she was vivacious, but her vivacity
was tragic--she had not come here to be gay. Evidently she was in the
excitement of some great grief or passion. She was speaking vehemently
to Ruffo, gesticulating with her dark hands, on which there were two
or three cheap rings, catching at her shawl, swaying her body, nodding
her head, on which the still black hair was piled in heavy masses. And
her face was distorted by an emotion that seemed of sorrow and anger
mingled. In her ears, pretty and almost delicate in contrast to the
ruggedness of her face, were large gold rings, such as Sicilian women
often wear. They swayed in response to her perpetual movements. Artois
watched her lips as they opened and shut, were compressed or thrust
forward, watched her white teeth gleaming. She lifted her two hands,
doubled into fists, till they were on a level with her shoulders,
shook them vehemently, then dashed them down on the table. The coffee-
cup was overturned. She took no notice of it. She was heedless of
everything but the subject which evidently obsessed her.

The boy, Ruffo, sat quite still listening to her. His attitude was
calm. Now and then he sipped his wine, and presently he took from his
pocket a cigarette, lighted it carefully, and began to smoke. There
was something very boyish and happy-go-lucky in his attitude and
manner. Evidently, Artois thought, he was very much at home with this
middle-aged woman. Probably her vehemence was to him an every-day
affair. She laid one hand on his arm and bent forward. He slightly
shrugged his shoulders and shook his head. She kept her hand on his
arm, went on talking passionately, and suddenly began to weep. Tears
rushed out of her eyes. Then the boy took her hand gently, stroked it,
and began to speak to her, always keeping her hand in his. The woman,
with a despairing movement, laid her face down on the table, with her
forehead touching the wood. Then she lifted it up. The paroxysm seemed
to have passed. She took out a handkerchief from inside the bodice of
her dress and dried her eyes. Ruffo struck the table with his glass.
An attendant came. He paid the bill, and the woman and he got up to
go. As they did so Ruffo presented for a moment his full face to
Artois, and Artois swiftly compared it with the face of the woman, and
felt sure that they were mother and son.

Artois moved on towards the hill of Posilipo, but after taking a few
steps turned to look back. The woman and Ruffo had come into the road
by the tram-line. They stood there for a moment, talking. Then Ruffo
crossed over to the path, and the woman went away slowly towards the
Rotonda. Seeing Ruffo alone Artois turned to go back, thinking to have
a word with the boy. But before he could reach him he saw a man step
out from behind the wooden shanty of the fishermen and join him.

This man was Gaspare.

Ruffo and Gaspare strolled slowly away towards the jetty where the
yachts lie, and presently disappeared.

Artois found Pasqualino waiting for him rather impatiently not far
from the entrance to the Scoglio di Frisio.

"I thought you were dead, Signore," he remarked, as Artois came up.

"I was watching the people."

He got into the carriage.

"They are canaglia," said Pasqualino, with the profound contempt of
the Neapolitan coachman for those who get their living by the sea. He
lived at Fuorigrotta, and thought Mergellina a place of outer
darkness.

"I like them," returned Artois.

"You don't know them, Signore. I say--they are canaglia. Where shall I
drive you?"

Artois hesitated, passing in mental review the various ristoranti on
the hill.

"Take me to the Ristorante della Stella," he said, at length.

Pasqualino cracked his whip, and drove once more merrily onward.

When Artois came to the ristorante, which was perched high up on the
side of the road farthest from the sea, he had almost all the tables
to choose from, as it was still early in the evening, and in the
summer the Neapolitans who frequent the more expensive restaurants
usually dine late. He sat down at a table in the open air close to the
railing, from which he could see a grand view of the Bay, as well as
all that was passing on the road beneath, and ordered a dinner to be
ready in half an hour. He was in no hurry, and wanted to finish his
cigar.

There was a constant traffic below. The tram-bell sounded its
reiterated signal to the crowds of dusty pedestrians to clear the way.
Donkeys toiled upward, drawing carts loaded with vegetables and fruit.
Animated young men, wearing tiny straw hats cocked impertinently to
one side, drove frantically by in light gigs that looked like the
skeletons of carriages, holding a rein in each hand, pulling violently
at their horses' mouths, and shouting "Ah--ah!" as if possessed of the
devil. Smart women made the evening "Passeggiata" in landaus and low
victorias, wearing flamboyant hats, and gazing into the eyes of the
watching men ranged along the low wall on the sea-side with a cool
steadiness that was almost Oriental. Some of them were talking. But by
far the greater number leaned back almost immobile against their
cushions; and their pale faces showed nothing but the languid
consciousness of being observed and, perhaps, desired. Stout
Neapolitan fathers, with bulging eyes, immense brown cheeks, and
peppery mustaches, were promenading with their children and little
dogs, looking lavishly contented with themselves. Young girls went
primly past, holding their narrow, well-dressed heads with a certain
virginal stiffness that was yet not devoid of grace, and casting down
eyes that were supposed not yet to be enlightened. Their governesses
and duennas accompanied them. Barefooted brown children darted in and
out, dodging pedestrians and horses. Priests and black-robed students
chattered vivaciously. School-boys with peaked caps hastened homeward.
The orphans from Queen Margherita's Home, higher up the hill, marched
sturdily through the dust to the sound of a boyish but desperately
martial music. It was a wonderfully vivid world, but the eyes of
Artois wandered away from it, over the terraces, the houses, and the
tree-tops. Their gaze dropped down to the sea. Far off, Capri rose out
of the light mist produced by the heat. And beyond was Sicily.

Why had that woman, Ruffo's mother, wept just now? What was her
tragedy? he wondered. Accurately he recalled her face, broad now, and
seamed with the wrinkles brought by trouble and the years.

He recalled, too, Ruffo's attitude as the boy listened to her
vehement, her almost violent harangue. How boyish, how careless it had
been--yet not unkind or even disrespectful, only wonderfully natural
and wonderfully young.

"He was the deathless boy."

Suddenly those words started into Artois' mind. Had he read them
somewhere? For a moment he wondered. Or had he heard them? They seemed
to suggest speech, a voice whose intonations he knew. His mind was
still fatigued by work, and would not be commanded by his will.
Keeping his eyes fixed on the ethereal outline of Capri, he strove to
remember, to find the book which had contained these words and given
them to his eyes, or the voice that had spoken them and given them to
his ears.

"He was the deathless boy."

A piano-organ struck up below him, a little way up the hill to the
right, and above its hard accompaniment there rose a powerful tenor
voice singing. The song must have been struck forcibly upon some part
of his brain that was sleeping, must have summoned it to activity. For
instantly, ere the voice had sung the first verse, he saw
imaginatively a mountain top in Sicily, evening light--such as was
then shining over and transfiguring Capri--and a woman, Hermione. And
he heard her voice, very soft, with a strange depth and stillness in
it, saying those words: "He was the deathless boy."

Of course! How could he have forgotten? They had been said of Maurice
Delarey. And now idly, strangely, he had recalled them as he thought
of Ruffo's young and careless attitude by the table of the ristorante
that afternoon.

The waiter, coming presently to bring the French Signore the plate of
oysters from Fusaro, which he had ordered as the prelude to his
dinner, was surprised by the deep gravity of his face, and said:

"Don't you like 'A Mergellina,' Signore? We are all mad about it. And
it won the first prize at last year's festa of Piedigrotta."

"Comment donc?" exclaimed Artois, as if startled. "What?--no--yes. I
like it. It's a capital song. Lemon? That's right--and red pepper. Va
bene!"

And he bent over his plate rather hurriedly and began to eat.

The piano-organ and the singing voice died away down the hill, going
towards Mergellina.

But the effect, curious and surely unreasonable, of the song remained.
Often, while he ate, Artois turned his eyes towards the mountain of
Capri, and each time that he did so he saw, beyond it and its circling
sea, Sicily, Monte Amato, the dying lights on Etna, the evening star
above its plume of smoke, the figure of a woman set in the shadow of
her sorrow, yet almost terribly serene; and then another woman,
sitting at a table, vehemently talking, then bowing down her head
passionately as if in angry grief.

When he had finished his dinner the sun had set, and night had dropped
down softly over the Bay. Capri had disappeared. The long serpent of
lights had uncoiled itself along the sea. Down below, very far down,
there was the twang and the thin, acute whine of guitars and
mandolines, the throbbing cry of Southern voices. The stars were out
in a deep sky of bloomy purple. There was no chill in the air, but a
voluptuous, brooding warmth, that shed over the city and the waters a
luxurious benediction, giving absolution, surely, to all the sins, to
all the riotous follies of the South.

Artois rested his arms on the balustrade.

The ristorante was nearly full now, gay with lights and with a tempest
of talk. The waiter came to ask if the Signore would take coffee.

Artois hesitated a moment, then shook his head. He realized that his
nerves had been tried enough in these last days and nights. He must
let them rest for a while.

The waiter went away, and he turned once more towards the sea.
To-night he felt the wonder of Italy, of this part of the land and of
its people, as he had not felt it before, in a new and, as it seemed
to him, a mysterious way. A very modern man and, in his art, a
realist, to-night there was surely something very young alert within
him, something of vague sentimentality that was like an echo from
Byronic days. He felt over-shadowed, but not unpleasantly, by a dim
and exquisite melancholy, in which he thought of nature and of human
nature pathetically, linking them together; those singing voices with
the stars, the women who leaned on balconies to listen with the sea
that was murmuring below them, the fishermen upon that sea with the
deep and marvellous sky that watched their labors.

In a beautiful and almost magical sadness he too was one with the
night, this night in Italy. It held him softly in its arms. A golden
sadness streamed from the stars. The voices below expressed it. The
fishermen's torches in the Bay, those travelling lights that are as
the eyes of the South searching for charmed things in secret places,
lifted the sorrows of earth towards the stars, and they were golden
too. There was a joy even in the tears wept on such a night as this.

He loved detail. It was, perhaps, his fault to love it too much. But
now he realized that the magician, Night, knew better than he what
were the qualities of perfection. She had changed Naples into a diaper
of jewels sparkling softly in the void. He knew that behind that
lacework of jewels there were hotels, gaunt and discolored houses full
of poverty, shame, and wickedness, galleries in which men hunted the
things that gratify their lusts, alleys infected with disease and
filth indescribable. He knew it, but he no longer felt it. The glamour
of the magician was upon him. Perhaps behind the stars there were
terrors, too. But who, looking upon them, could believe it? Detail
might create a picture; its withdrawal let in upon the soul the spirit
light of the true magic.

It was a mistake to search too much, to draw too near, to seek always
to see clearly.

The Night taught that in Italy, and many things not to be clothed with
words.

Reluctantly at last he lifted his arms from the balcony rail and got
up to leave the restaurant. He dreaded the bustle of the street. As he
came out into it he heard the sharp "Ting! Ting!" of a tram-bell
higher up the hill, and stepped aside to let the tram go by. Idly he
looked at it as it approached. He was still in the vague, the almost
sentimental mood that had come upon him with the night. The tram came
up level with him and slipped slowly by. There was a number of people
in it, but on the last seat one woman sat alone. He saw her clearly as
she passed, and recognized Hermione.

She did not see him. She was looking straight before her.

"Ah-ah! Ah-ah!"

A shower of objurgations in the Neapolitan dialect fell upon Artois
from the box of a carriage coming up the hill. He jumped back and
gained the path. There again he stood still. The sweet and half-
melancholy vagueness had quite left him now. The sight of his friend
had swept it away. Why was she going to Mergellina at that hour? And
why did she look like that?

And he thought of the expression he had seen on her face as the tram
slipped by, an expression surely of excitement; but also a furtive
expression.

Artois had seen Hermione in all her moods, and hers was a very
changeful face. But never before had he seen her look furtive. Nor
could he have conceived it possible that she could look so.

Perhaps the lights had deceived him. And he had only seen her for an
instant.

But why was she going to Mergellina?

Then suddenly it occurred to him that she might be going to Naples,
not to Mergellina at all. He knew no reason why her destination should
be Mergellina. He began to walk down the hill rather quickly. Some
hundreds of yards below the Ristorante della Stella there is a narrow
flight of steps between high walls and houses, which leads eventually
down to the sea at a point where there are usually two or three boats
waiting for hire. Artois, when he started, had no intention of going
to sea that night, but when he reached the steps he paused, and
finally turned from the path and began to descend them.

He had realized that he was really in pursuit, and abruptly
relinquished his purpose. Why should he wish to interfere with an
intention of Hermione's that night?

He would return to Naples by sea.

As he came in sight of the water there rose up to him in a light tenor
voice a melodious cry:

"Barca! Barca!"

He answered the call.

"Barca!"

The sailor who was below came gayly to meet him.

"It is a lovely night for the Signore. I could take the Signore to
Sorrento or to Capri to-night."

He held Artois by the right arm, gently assisting him into the broad-
bottomed boat.

"I only want to go to Naples."

"To which landing, Signore?"

"The Vittoria. But go quietly and keep near the shore. Go round as
near as you can to the Mergellina."

"Va bene, Signore."

They slipped out, with a delicious, liquid sound, upon the moving
silence of the sea.

CHAPTER XIX

Hermione was not going to Mergellina, but to the Scoglio di Frisio.
She had only come out of her room late in the afternoon. During her
seclusion there she had once been disturbed by Gaspare, who had come
to ask her if she wanted him for anything, and, if not, whether he
might go over to Mergellina for the rest of the afternoon to see some
friends he had made there. She told him he was free till night, and he
went away quickly, after one searching, wide-eyed glance at the face
of his Padrona.

When he had gone Hermione told herself that she was glad he was away.
If he had been on the island she might have been tempted to take one
of the boats, to ask him to row her to the Scoglio that evening. But
now, of course, she would not go. It was true that she could easily
get a boatman from the village on the mainland near by, but without
Gaspare's companionship she would not care to go. So that was settled.
She would think no more about it. She had tea with Vere, and strove
with all her might to be natural, to show no traces in face or manner
of the storm that had swept over her that day. She hoped, she believed
that she was successful. But what a hateful, what an unnatural effort
that was!

A woman who is not at her ease in her own home with her own girl--
where can she be at ease?

It was really the reaction from that effort that sent Hermione from
the island that evening. She felt as if she could not face another
meal with Vere just then. She felt transparent, as if Vere's eyes
would be able to see all that she must hide if they were together in
the evening. And she resolved to go away. She made some excuse--that
she wished for a little change, that she was fidgety and felt the
confinement of the island.

"I think I'll go over to the village," she said; "and walk up to the
road and take the tram."

"Will you, Madre?"

Hermione saw in Vere's eyes that the girl was waiting for something.

"I'll go by myself, Vere," she said. "I should be bad company to-day.
The black dog is at my heels."

She laughed, and added:

"If I am late in coming back, have dinner without me."

"Very well, Madre."

Vere waited a moment; then as if desiring to break forcibly through
the restraint that bound them put out her hand to her mother's and
said:

"Why don't you go to Naples and have dinner with Monsieur Emile? He
would cheer you up, and it is ages since we have seen him."

"Only two or three days. No, I won't disturb Emile. He may be
working."

Vere felt that somehow her eager suggestion had deepened the
constraint. She said no more, and Hermione presently crossed over to
the mainland and began her walk to the road that leads from Naples to
Bagnoli.

Where was she going? What was she really about to do?

Certainly she would not adopt the suggestion of Vere. Emile was the
last person whom she wished to see--by whom she wished to be seen--
just then.

The narrow path turned away from the sea into the shadow of high
banks. She walked very slowly, like one out for a desultory stroll; a
lizard slipped across the warm earth in front of her, almost touching
her foot, climbed the bank swiftly, and vanished among the dry leaves
with a faint rustle.

She felt quite alone to-day in Italy, and far off, as if she had no
duties, no ties, as if she were one of those solitary, drifting,
middle-aged women who vaguely haunt the beaten tracks of foreign
lands. It was sultry in this path away from the sea. She was sharply
conscious of the change of climate, the inland sensation, the falling
away of the freedom from her, the freedom that seems to exhale from
wave and wind of the wave.

She walked on, meeting no one and still undecided what to do. The
thought of the Scoglio di Frisio returned to her mind, was dismissed,
returned again. She might go and dine there quietly alone. Was she
deceiving herself, and had she really made up her mind to go to the
Scoglio before she left the island? No, she had come away mainly
because she felt the need of solitude, the difficulty of being with
Vere just for this one night. To-morrow it would be different. It
should be different to-morrow.

She saw a row of houses in the distance, houses of poor people, and
knew that she was nearing the road. Clothes were hanging to dry.
Children were playing at the edge of a vineyard. Women were washing
linen, men sitting on the doorsteps mending /nasse/. As she went by
she nodded to them, and bade them "Buona sera." They answered
courteously, some with smiling faces, others with grave and searching
looks--or so she thought.

The tunnel that runs beneath the road at the point where this path
joins it came in sight. And still Hermione did not know what she was
going to do. As she entered the tunnel she heard above her head the
rumble of a tram going towards Naples. This decided her. She hurried
on, turned to the right, and came out on the highway before the little
lonely ristorante that is set here to command the view of vineyards
and of sea.

The tram was already gliding away at some distance down the road.

A solitary waiter came forward in his unsuitable black into the dust
to sympathize with the Signora, and to suggest that she should take a
seat and drink some lemon water, or gazzosa, while waiting for the
next tram. Or would not the Signora dine in the upper room and watch
the /tramontare del sole/. It would be splendid this evening. And he
could promise her an excellent risotto, sardines with pomidoro, and a
bifteck such as certainly she could not get in the restaurants of
Naples.

"Very well," Hermione answered, quickly, "I will dine here, but not
directly--in half an hour or three-quarters."

What Artois was doing at the Ristorante della Stella she was doing at
the Trattoria del Giardinetto.

She would dine quietly here, and then walk back to the sea in the cool
of the evening.

That was her decision. Yet when evening fell, and her bill was paid,
she took the tram that was going down to Naples, and passed presently
before the eyes of Artois. The coming of darkness had revived within
her much of the mood of the afternoon. She felt that she could not go
home without doing something definite, and she resolved to go to the
Scoglio di Frisio, have a cup of coffee there, look through the
visitors' book, and then take a boat and return by night to the
island. The sea wind would cool her, would do her good.

Nothing told her when the eyes of her friend were for an instant fixed
upon her, when the mind of her friend for a moment wondered at the
strange, new look in her face. She left the tram presently at the
doorway above which is Frisio's name, descended to the little terrace
from which Vere had run in laughing with the Marchesino, and stood
there for a moment hesitating.

The long restaurant was lit up, and from it came the sound of music--
guitars, and a voice singing. She recognized the throaty tenor of the
blind man raised in a spurious and sickly rapture:

"Sa-anta-a Lu-u-ci-ia! Santa Luci--a!"

It recalled her sharply to the night of the storm. For a moment she
felt again the strange, the unreasonable sense of fear, indefinable
but harsh, which had come upon her then, as fear comes suddenly
sometimes upon a child.

Then she stepped into the restaurant.

As on the other night, there were but few people dining there, and
they were away at the far end of the big room. Near them stood the
musicians under a light--seedy, depressed; except the blind man, who
lifted his big head, rolled his tongue, and swelled and grew scarlet
in an effort to be impressive.

Hermione sat down at the first table.

For a moment no one saw her. She heard men's voices talking loudly and
gayly, the clatter of plates, the clink of knives and forks. She
looked round for the visitors' book. If it were lying near she thought
she would open it, search for what Emile had written, and then slip
away at once unobserved.

There was a furtive spirit within her to-night.

But she could not see the book; so she sat still, listening to the
blind man and gazing at the calm sea just below her. A boat was
waiting there. She could see the cushions, which were white and looked
ghastly in the darkness, the dim form of the rower standing up to
search for clients.

"Barca! Barca!"

He had seen her.

She drew back a little. As she did so her chair made a grating noise,
and instantly the sharp ears of the Padrone caught a sound betokening
the presence of a new-comer in his restaurant. It might be a queen, an
empress! Who could tell?

With his stiff yet alert military gait, he at once came marching down
towards her, staring hard with his big, bright eyes. When he saw who
it was he threw up his brown hands.

"The Signora of the storm!" he exclaimed. He moved as if about to turn
around. "I must tell--"

But Hermione stopped him with a quick, decisive gesture.

"One moment, Signore."

The Padrone approached aristocratically.

"The Marchese Isidoro Panacci is here dining with friends, the Duca
di--"

"Yes, yes. But I am only here for a moment, so it is not worth while
to tell the Marchese."

"You are not going to dine, Signora! The food of Frisio does not
please you!"

He cast up his eyes in deep distress.

"Indeed it does. But I have dined. What I want is a cup of coffee, and
--and a liqueur--une fine. And may I look over your wonderful
visitors' book? To tell the truth, that is what I have come for, to
see the marvellous book. I hadn't enough time the other night. May I?"

The Padrone was appeased. He smiled graciously and turned upon his
heels.

"At once, Signora."

"And--not a word to the Marchese! He is with friends. I would rather
not disturb him."

The Padrone threw up his chin and clicked his tongue against his
teeth. A shrewd, though not at all impudent, expression had come into
his face. A Signora alone, at night, in a restaurant! He was a man of
the great world. He understood. What a mercy it was to be "educato"!

He came back again almost directly, bearing the book as a sacristan
might bear a black-letter Bible.

"Ecco, Signora."

With a superb gesture he placed it before her.

"The coffee, the fine. Attendez, Signora, pour un petit momento."

He stood to see the effect of his French upon her. She forced into her
face a look of pious admiration, and he at once departed. Hermione
opened the book rather furtively. She had the unpleasant sensation of
doing a surreptitious action, and she was an almost abnormally
straightforward woman by nature. The book was large, and contained an
immense number of inscriptions and signatures in handwritings that
varied as strangely as do the characters of men. She turned the leaves
hastily. Where had Emile written? Not at the end of the book. She
remembered that his signature had been followed by others, although
she had not seen, or tried to see, what he had written. Perhaps his
name was near Tolstoy's. They had read together Tolstoy's /Vedi Napoli
e poi Mori/.

But where was Tolstoy's name?

A waiter came with the coffee and the brandy. She thanked him quickly,
sipped the coffee without tasting it, and continued the search.

The voice of the blind man died away. The guitars ceased.

She started. She was afraid the musicians would come down and gather
round her. Why had she not told the Padrone she wished to be quite
alone? She heard the shuffle of feet. They were coming. Feverishly she
turned the pages. Ah! here is was! She bent down over the page.

"La conscience, c'est la quantite de science innee que nous avons
en nous. EMILE ARTOIS.

"Nuit d'orage. Juin."

The guitars began a prelude. The blind man shifted from one fat leg to
another, cast up his sightless eyes, protruded and drew in his tongue,
coughed, spat--

"Cameriere!"

Hermione struck upon the table sharply. She had forgotten all about
the Marchesino. She was full of the desire to escape, to get away and
be out on the sea.

"Cameriere!"

She called more loudly.

A middle-aged waiter came shuffling over the floor.

"The bill, please."

As she spoke she drank the brandy.

"Si, Signora."

He stood beside her.

"One coffee?"

"Si."

"One cognac!"

"Si, si."

The blind man burst into song.

"One fifty, Signora."

Hermione gave him a two-lire piece and got up to go.

"Signora--buona sera! What a pleasure!"

The Marchesino stood before her, smiling, bowing. He took her hand,
bent over it, and kissed it.

"What a pleasure!" he repeated, glancing round. "And you are alone!
The Signorina is not here?"

He stared suspiciously towards the terrace.

"And our dear friend Emilio?"

"No, no. I am quite alone."

The blind man bawled, as if he wished to drown the sound of speech.

"Please--could you stop him, Marchese?" said Hermione. "I--really--
give him this for me."

She gave the Marchese a lira.

"Signora, it isn't necessary. Silenzio! Silenzio! P-sh-sh-sh!"

He hissed sharply, almost furiously. The musicians abruptly stopped,
and the blind man made a gurgling sound, as if he were swallowing the
unfinished portion of his song.

"No; please pay them."

"It's too much."

"Never mind."

The Marchese gave the lire to the blind man, and the musicians went
drearily out.

Then Hermione held out her hand at once.

"I must go now. It is late."

"You are going by sea, Signora?"

"Yes."

"I will accompany you."

"No, indeed. I couldn't think of it. You have friends."

"They will understand. Have you your own boat?"

"No."

"Then of course I shall come with you."

But Hermione was firm. She knew that to-night the company of this
young man would be absolutely unbearable.

"Marchese, indeed I cannot--I cannot allow it. We Englishwomen are
very independent, you know. But you may call me a boat and take me
down to it, as you are so kind."

"With pleasure, Signora."

He went to the open window. At once the boatman's cry rose up.

"Barca! Barca!"

"That is Andrea's voice," said the Marchesino. "I know him. Barca--
si!"

The boat began to glide in towards the land.

As they went out the Marchesino said:

"And how is the Signorina?"

"Very well."

"I have had a touch of fever, Signora, or I should have come over to
the island again. I stayed too long in the sea the other day, or--" He
shrugged his shoulders.

"I'm sorry," said Hermione. "You are very pale to-night."

For the first time she looked at him closely, and saw that his face
was white, and that his big and boyish eyes held a tired and yet
excited expression.

"It is nothing. It has passed. And our friend--Emilio? How is he?"

A hardness had come into his voice. Hermione noticed it.

"We have not seen him lately. I suppose he has been busy."

"Probably. Emilio has much to do in Naples," said the Marchesino, with
an unmistakable sneer. "Do allow me to escort you to the island,
Signora."

They had reached the boat. Hermione shook her head and stepped in at
once.

"Then when may I come?"

"Whenever you like."

"To-morrow?"

"Certainly."

"At what time?"

Hermione suddenly remembered his hospitality and felt that she ought
to return it.

"Come to lunch--half-past twelve. We shall be quite alone."

"Signora, for loneliness with you and the Signorina I would give up
every friend I have ever had. I would give up--"

"Half-past twelve, then, Marchese. Addio!"

"A rivederci, Signora! A demain! Andrea, take care of the Signora.
Treat her as you would treat the Madonna. Do you hear?"

The boatman grinned and took off his cap, and the boat glided away
across the path of yellow light that was shed from the window of
Frisio's.

Hermione leaned back against the white cushions. She was thankful to
escape. She felt tired and confused. That dreadful music had
distracted her, that--and something else, her tricked expectation. She
knew now that she had been very foolish, perhaps even very fantastic.
She had felt so sure that Emile had written in that book--what?

As the boat went softly on she asked herself exactly what she had
expected to find written there, and she realized that her imagination
had, as so often before, been galloping like a frightened horse with
the reins upon its neck. And then she began to consider what he had
written.

"La conscience, c'est la quantite de science innee que nous avons en
nous."

She did not know the words. Were they his own or another's? And had he
written them simply because they had chanced to come into his mind at
the moment, or because they expressed some underthought or feeling
that had surged up in him just then? She wished she knew.

It was a fine saying, she thought, but for the moment she was less
interested in it than in Emile's mood, his mind, when he had written
it. She realized now, on this calm of the sea, how absurd had been the
thought that a man so subtle as Emile would flagrantly reveal a
passing phase of his nature, a secret irritability, a jealousy,
perhaps, or a sudden hatred in a sentence written for any eyes that
chose to see. But he might covertly reveal himself to one who
understood him well.

She sat still, trying to match her subtlety against his.

From the shore came sounds of changing music, low down or falling to
them from the illuminated heights where people were making merry in
the night. Now and then a boat passed them. In one, young men were
singing, and interrupting their song to shout with laughter. Here and
there a fisherman's torch glided like a great fire-fly above the oily
darkness of the sea. The distant trees of the gardens climbing up the
hill made an ebony blackness beneath the stars, a blackness that
suggested impenetrable beauty that lay deep down with hidden face. And
the lights dispersed among them, gaining significance by their
solitude, seemed to summon adventurous or romantic spirits to come to
them by secret paths and learn their revelation. Over the sea lay a
delicate warmth, not tropical, not enervating, but softly inspiring.
And beyond the circling lamps of Naples Vesuvius lit up the firmament
with a torrent of rose-colored fire that glowed and died, and glowed
again, constantly as beats a heart.

And to Hermione came a melancholy devoid of all violence, soft almost
as the warmth upon this sea, quite as the resignation of the
fatalistic East. She felt herself for a moment such a tiny, dark thing
caught in the meshes of the great net of the Universe, this Universe
that she could never understand. What could she do? She must just sink
down upon the breast of this mystery, let it take her, hold her, do
with her what it would.

Her subtlety against Emile's! She smiled to herself in the dark. What
a combat of midgets! She seemed to see two marionettes battling in the
desert.

And yet--and yet! She remembered a saying of Flaubert's, that man is
like a nomad journeying on a camel through the desert; and he is the
nomad, and the camel--and the desert.

How true that was, for even now, as she felt herself to be nothing,
she felt herself to be tremendous.

She heard the sound of oars from the darkness before them, and saw the
dim outline of a boat, then the eyes of Emile looking straight into
hers.

"Emile!"

"Hermione!"

His face was gone. But yielding to her impulse she made Andrea stop,
and, turning round, saw that the other boat had also stopped a little
way from hers. It began to back, and in a moment was level with them.

"Emile! How strange to meet you! Have--you haven't been to the
island?"

"No. I was tired. I have been working very hard. I dined quietly at
Posilipo."

He did not ask her where she had been.

"Yes. I think you look tired," she said. He did not speak, and she
added: "I felt restless, so I took the tram from the Trattoria del
Giardinetto as far as the Scoglio di Frisio, and am going back, as you
see, by boat."

"It is exquisite on the sea to-night," he said.

"Yes, exquisite, it makes one sad."

She remembered all she had been through that day, as she looked at his
powerful face.

"Yes," he answered. "It makes one sad."

For a moment she felt that they were in perfect sympathy, as they used
to be. Their sadness, born of the dreaming hour, united them.

"Come soon to the island, dear Emile," she said, suddenly and with the
impulsiveness that was part of her, forgetting all her jealousy and
all her shadowy fears. "I have missed you."

He noticed that she ruled out Vere in that sentence; but the warmth of
her voice stirred warmth in him, and he answered:

"Let me come to-morrow."

"Do--do!"

"In the morning, to lunch, and to spend a long day."

Suddenly she remembered the Marchesino and the sound of his voice when
he had spoken of his friend.

"Lunch?" she said.

Instantly he caught her hesitation, her dubiety.

"It isn't convenient, perhaps?"

"Perfectly, only--only the Marchesino is coming."

"To-morrow--To lunch?"

The hardness of the Marchesino's voice was echoed now in the voice of
Artois. There was antagonism between these men. Hermione realized it.

"Yes. I invited him this evening."

There was a slight pause. Then Artois said:

"I'll come some other day, Hermione. Well, my friend, au revoir, and
bon voyage to the island."

His voice had suddenly become cold, and he signed to his boatman.

"Avanti!"

The boat slipped away and was lost in the darkness.

Hermione had said nothing. Once again--why, she did not know--her
friend had made her feel guilty.

Andrea, the boatman, still paused. Now she saw him staring into her
face, and she felt like a woman publicly deserted, almost humiliated.

"Avanti, Andrea!" she said.

Her voice trembled as she spoke.

He bent to his oars and rowed on.

And man is the nomad, and the camel--and the desert.

Yes, she carried the desert within her, and she was wandering in it
alone. She saw herself, a poor, starved, shrinking figure, travelling
through a vast, a burning, a waterless expanse, with an iron sky above
her, a brazen land beneath. She was in rags, barefoot, like the
poorest nomad of them all.

But even the poorest nomad carries something.

Against her breast, to her heart, she clasped--a memory--the sacred
memory of him who had loved her, who had taken her to be his, who had
given her himself.

CHAPTER XX

That night when Hermione drew near to the island she saw the Saint's
light shining, and remembered how, in the storm, she had longed for it
--how, when she had seen it above the roaring sea, she had felt that
it was a good omen. To-night it meant nothing to her. It was just a
lamp lit, as a lamp might be lit in a street, to give illumination in
darkness to any one who passed. She wondered why she had thought of it
so strangely.

Gaspare met her at the landing. She noticed at once a suppressed
excitement in his manner. He looked at Andrea keenly and suspiciously.

"How late you are, Signora!"

He put out his strong arm to help her to the land.

"Am I, Gaspare? Yes, I suppose I am--you ought all to be in bed."

"I should not go to bed while you were out, Signora."

Again she linked Gaspare with her memory, saw the nomad not quite
alone on the journey.

"I know."

"Have you been to Naples, Signora?"

"No--only to--"

"To Mergellina?"

He interrupted her almost sharply.

"No, to the Scoglio di Frisio. Pay the boatman this, Gaspare. Good-
night, Andrea."

"Good-night, Signora."

Gaspare handed the man his money, and at once the boat set out on its
return to Posilipo.

Hermione stood at the water's edge watching its departure. It passed
below the Saint, and the gleam of his light fell upon it for a moment.
In the gleam the black figure of Andrea was visible stooping to the
water. He was making the fishermen's sign of the Cross. The cross on
Peppina's face--was it an enemy of the Cross that carried with it San
Francesco's blessing? Vere's imagination! She turned to go up to the
house.

"Is the Signorina in bed yet, Gaspare?"

"No, Signora."

"Where is she? Still out?"

"Si, Signora."

"Did she think I was lost?"

"Signora, the Signorina is on the cliff with Ruffo."

"With Ruffo?"

They were going up the steps.

"Si, Signora. We have all been together."

Hermione guessed that Gaspare had been playing chaperone, and loved
him for it.

"And you heard the boat coming from the cliff?"

"I saw it pass under the Saint's light, Signora. I did not hear it."

"Well, but it might have been a fisherman's boat."

"Si, Signora. And it might have been your boat."

The logic of this faithful watcher was unanswerable. They came up to
the house.

"I think I'll go and see Ruffo," said Hermione.

She was close to the door of the house, Gaspare stood immediately
before her. He did not move now, but he said:

"I can go and tell the Signorina you are here, Signora. She will come
at once."

Again Hermione noticed a curious, almost dogged, excitement in his
manner. It recalled to her a night of years ago when he had stood on a
terrace beside her in the darkness and had said: "I will go down to
the sea. Signora, let me go down to the sea!"

"There's nothing the matter, is there, Gaspare?" she said, quickly.
"Nothing wrong?"

"Signora, of course not! What should there be?"

"I don't know."

"I will fetch the Signorina."

On that night, years ago, she had battled with Gaspare. He had been
forced to yield to her. Now she yielded to him.

"Very well," she answered. "Go and tell the Signorina I am here."

She turned and went into the house and up to the sitting-room. Vere
did not come immediately. To her mother it seemed as if she was a very
long time coming; but at last her light step fell on the stairs, and
she entered quickly.

"Madre! How late you are! Where have you been?"

"Am I late? I dined at the little restaurant at the top of the hill
where the tram passes."

"There? But you haven't been there all this time?"

"No. Afterwards I took the tram to Posilipo and came home by boat. And
what have you been doing?"

"Oh, all sorts of things--what I always do. Just now I've been with
Ruffo."

"Gaspare told me he was here."

"Yes. We've been having a talk."

Hermione waited for Vere to say something more, but she was silent.
She stood near the window looking out, and the expression on her face
had become rather vague, as if her mind had gone on a journey.

"Well," said the mother at last, "and what does Ruffo say for himself,
Vere?"

"Ruffo? Oh, I don't know."

She paused, then added:

"I think he has rather a hard time, do you know, Madre?"

Hermione had taken off her hat. She laid it on a table and sat down.
She was feeling tired.

"But generally he looks so gay, so strong. Don't you remember that
first day you saw him?"

"Ah--then!"

"Of course, when he had fever--"

"No, it wasn't that. Any one might be ill. I think he has things at
home to make him unhappy sometimes."

"Has he been telling you so?"

"Oh, he doesn't complain," Vere said, quickly, and almost with a touch
of heat. "A boy like that couldn't whine, you know, Madre. But one can
understand things without hearing them said. There is some trouble. I
don't know what it is exactly. But I think his step-father--his
Patrigno, as he calls him--must have got into some bother, or done
something horrible. Ruffo seemed to want to tell me, and yet not to
want to tell me. And, of course, I couldn't ask. I think he'll tell me
to-morrow, perhaps."

"Is he coming here to-morrow?"

"Oh, in summer I think he comes nearly every night."

"But you haven't said anything about him just lately."

"No. Because he hasn't landed till to-night since the night of the
storm."

"I wonder why?" said Hermione.

She was interested; but she still felt tired, and the fatigue crept
into her voice.

"So do I," Vere said. "He had a reason, I'm sure. You're tired Madre,
so I'll go to bed. Good-night."

She came to her mother and kissed her. Moved by a sudden overwhelming
impulse of tenderness, Hermione put her arms round the child's slim
body. But even as she did so she remembered Vere's secret, shared with
Emile and not with her. She could not abruptly loose her arms without
surprising her child. But they seemed to her to stiffen, against her
will, and her embrace was surely mechanical. She wondered if Vere
noticed this, but she did not look into her eyes to see.

"Good-night, Vere."

"Good-night."

Vere was at the door when Hermione remembered her two meetings of that
evening.

"By-the-way," she said, "I met the Marchesino to-night. He was at the
Scoglio di Frisio."

"Was he?"

"And afterwards on the sea I met Emile."

"Monsieur Emile! Then he isn't quite dead!"

There was a sound almost of irritation in Vere's voice.

"He has been working very hard."

"Oh, I see."

Her voice had softened.

"The Marchesino is coming here to lunch to-morrow."

"Oh, Madre!"

"Does he bore you? I had to ask him to something after accepting his
dinner, Vere."

"Yes, yes, of course. The Marchese is all right."

She stood by the door with her bright, expressive eyes fixed on her
mother. Her dark hair had been a little roughened by the breeze from
Ischia, and stuck up just above the forehead, giving to her face an
odd, almost a boyish look.

"What is it, Vere?"

"And when is Monsieur Emile coming? Didn't he say?"

"No. He suggested to-morrow, but when I told him the Marchese was
coming he said he wouldn't."

As Hermione said this she looked very steadily at her child. Vere's
eyes did not fall, but met hers simply, fearlessly, yet not quite
childishly.

"I don't wonder," she said. "To tell the truth, Madre, I can't see how
a man like the Marchesino could interest a man like Monsieur Emile--at
any rate, for long. Well--" She gave a little sigh, throwing up her
pretty chin. "A letto si va!"

And she vanished.

When she had gone Hermione thought she too would go to bed. She was
very tired. She ought to go. Yet now she suddenly felt reluctant to
go, and as if the doings of the day for her were not yet over. And,
besides, she was not going to sleep well. That was certain. The dry,
the almost sandy sensation of insomnia was upon her. What was the
matter with Gaspare to-night? Perhaps he had had a quarrel with some
one at Mergellina. He had a strong temper as well as a loyal heart.

Hermione went to a window. The breeze from Ischia touched her. She
opened her lips, shut her eyes, drank it in. It would be delicious to
spend the whole night upon the sea, like Ruffo. Had he gone yet? Or
was he in the boat asleep, perhaps in the Saint's Pool? How interested
Vere was in all the doings of that boy--how innocently, charmingly
interested!

Hermione stood by the window for two or three minutes, then went out
of the room, down the stairs, to the front door of the house. It was
already locked. Yet Gaspare had not come up to say good-night to her.
And he always did that before he went to bed. She unlocked the door,
went out, shut it behind her, and stood still.

How strangely beautiful and touching the faint noise of the sea round
the island was at night, and how full of meaning not quite to be
divined! It came upon her heart like the whisper of a world trying to
tell its secret to the darkness. What depths, what subtleties, what
unfailing revelations of beauty, and surely, too, of love, there were
in Nature! And yet in Nature what terrible indifference there was: a
powerful, an almost terrific inattention, like that of the sphinx that
gazes at what men cannot see. Hermione moved away from the house. She
walked to the brow of the island and sat down on the seat that Vere
was fond of. Presently she would go to the bridge and look over into
the Pool and listen for the voices of the fishermen. She sat there for
some time gaining a certain peace, losing something of her feeling of
weary excitement and desolation under the stars. At last she thought
that sleep might come if she went to bed. But before doing so she made
her way to the bridge and leaned on the rail, looking down into the
Pool.

It was very dark, but she saw the shadowy shape of a fishing-boat
lying close to the rock. She stood and watched it, and presently she
lost herself in a thicket of night thoughts, and forgot where she was
and why she had come there. She was recalled by hearing a very faint
voice singing, scarcely more than humming, beneath her.

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

It was the same song that Artois had heard that day as he leaned on
the balcony of the Ristorante della Stella. But this singer of it sang
the Italian words, and not the dialetto. The song that wins the prize
at the Piedigrotta Festival is on the lips of every one in Naples. In
houses, in streets, in the harbor, in every piazza, and upon the sea
it is heard incessantly.

And now Ruffo was singing it softly and rather proudly in the Italian,
to attract the attention of the dark figure he saw above him. He was
not certain who it was, but he thought it was the mother of the
Signorina, and--he did not exactly know why--he wished her to find out
that he was there, squatting on the dry rock with his back against the
cliff wall. The ladies of the Casa del Mare had been very kind to him,
and to-night he was not very happy, and vaguely he longed for
sympathy.

Hermione listened to the pretty, tripping words, the happy, youthful
words. And Ruffo sang them again, still very softly.

"Oh, dolce luna bianca de l' Estate--"

And the poor nomad wandering in the desert? But she had known the
rapture of youth, the sweet white moons of summer in the South. She
had known them long ago for a little while, and therefore she knew
them while she lived. A woman's heart is tenacious, and wide as the
world, when it contains that world which is the memory of something
perfect that gave it satisfaction.

"Mi destan le dolcissime serate
Gli occhi do Rosa e il mar di Mergellina."

Dear happy, lovable youth that can sing to itself like that in the
deep night! Like that once Maurice, her sacred possession of youth,
sang. She felt a rush of tenderness for Ruffo, just because he was so
young, and sang--and brought back to her the piercing truth of the
everlasting renewal that goes hand in hand with the everlasting
passing away.

"Ruffo--Ruffo!"

Almost as Vere had once called "Pescator!" she called. And as Ruffo
had once come running up to Vere he came now to Vere's mother.

"Good-evening, Ruffo."

"Good-evening, Signora."

She was looking at the boy as at a mystery which yet she could
understand. And he looked at her simply, with a sort of fearless
gentleness, and readiness to receive the kindness which he knew dwealt
in her for him to take.

"Are you better?"

"Si, Signora, much better. The fever has gone. I am strong, you know."

"You are so young."

She could not help saying it, and her eyes were tender just then.

"Si, Signora, I am very young."

His simple voice almost made her laugh, stirred in her that sweet
humor which has its dwelling at the core of the heart.

"Young and happy," she said.

And as she said it she remembered Vere's words that evening; "I think
he has rather a hard time."

"At least, I hope you are happy, Ruffo," she added.

"Si, Signora."

He looked at her. She was not sure which he meant, whether his assent
was to her hope or to the fact of his happiness. She wondered which it
was.

"Young people ought to be happy," she said.

"Ought they, Signora?"

"You like your life, don't you? You like the sea?"

"Si, Signora. I could not live away from the sea. If I could not see
the sea every day I don't know what I should do."

"I love it, too."

"The Signorina loves the sea."

He had ignored her love for it and seized on Vere's. She thought that
this was very characteristic of his youth.

"Yes. She loves being here. You talked to her to-night, didn't you?"

"Si, Signora."

"And to Gaspare?"

"Si, Signora. And this afternoon, too. Gaspare was at Mergellina this
afternoon."

"And you met there, did you?"

"Si, Signora. I had been with my mamma, and when I left my mamma--
poveretta--I met Gaspare."

"I hope your mother is well."

"Signora, she is not very well just now. She is a little sad just
now."

Hermione felt that the boy had some trouble which, perhaps, he would
like to tell her. Perhaps some instinct made him know that she felt
tender towards him, very tender that night.

"I am sorry for that," she said--"very sorry."

"Si, Signora. There is trouble in our house."

"What is it, Ruffo?"

The boy hesitated to answer. He moved his bare feet on the bridge and
looked down towards the boat. Hermione did not press him, said
nothing.

"Signora," Ruffo said, at last, coming to a decision, "my Patrigno is
not a good man. He makes my mamma jealous. He goes after others."

It was the old story of the South, then! Hermione knew something of
the persistent infidelities of Neapolitan men. Poor women who had to
suffer them!

"I am sorry for your mother," she said, gently. "That must be very
hard."

"Si, Signora, it is hard. My mamma was very unhappy to-day. She put
her head on the table, and she cried. But that was because my Patrigno
is put in prison."

"In prison! What has he done?"

Ruffo looked at her, and she saw that the simple expression had gone
out of his eyes.

"Signora, I thought perhaps you knew."

"I? But I have never seen your step-father."

"No, Signora. But--but you have that girl here in your house."

"What girl?"

Suddenly, almost while she was speaking, Hermione understood.

"Peppina!" she said. "It was your Patrigno who wounded Peppina?"

"Si, Signora."

There was a silence between them. Then Hermione said, gently:

"I am very sorry for your poor mother, Ruffo--very sorry. Tell me, can
she manage? About money, I mean?"

"It is not so much the money she was crying about, Signora. But, of
course, while Patrigno is in prison he cannot earn money for her. I
shall give her my money. But my mamma does not like all the neighbors
knowing about that girl. It is a shame for her."

"Yes, of course it is. It is very hard."

She thought a moment. Then she said:

"It must be horrible--horrible!"

She spoke with all the vehemence of her nature. Again, as long ago,
when she knelt before a mountain shrine in the night, she had put
herself imaginatively in the place of a woman, this time in the place
of Ruffo's mother. She realized how she would have felt if her
husband, her "man," had ever been faithless to her.

Ruffo looked at her almost in surprise.

"I wish I could see your poor mother, Ruffo," she said. "I would go to
see her, only--well, you see, I have Peppina here, and--"

She broke off. Perhaps the boy would not understand what she
considered the awkwardness of the situation. She did not quite know
how these people regarded certain things.

"Wait here a moment, Ruffo," she said. "I am going to give you
something for your mother. I won't be a moment."

"Grazie, Signora."

Hermione went away to the house. The perfect naturalness and
simplicity of the boy appealed to her. She was pleased, too, that he
had not told all this to Vere. It showed a true feeling of delicacy.
And she was sure he was a good son. She went up to her room, got two
ten lira notes, and went quickly back to Ruffo, who was standing upon
the bridge.

"There, Ruffo," she said, giving them to him. "These are for your
mother."

The boy's brown face flushed, and into his eyes there came an
expression of almost melting gentleness.

"Oh, Signora!" he said.

And there was a note of protest in his voice.

"Take them to her, Ruffo. And--and I want you to promise me something.
Will you?"

"Si, Signora. I will do anything--anything for you."

Hermione put her hand on his shoulder.

"Be very, very kind to your poor mother, Ruffo."

"Signora, I always am good for my poor mamma."

He spoke with warm eagerness.

"I am sure you are. But just now, when she is sad, be very good to
her."

"Si, Signora."

She took her hand from the boy's shoulder. He bent to kiss her hand,
and again, as he was lifting up his head, she saw the melting look in
his eyes. This time it was unmingled with amazement, and it startled
her.

"Oh, Ruffo!" she said, and stopped, staring at him in the darkness.

"Signora! What is it? What have you?"

"Nothing. Good-night, Ruffo."

"Good-night, Signora."

He took off his cap and ran down to the boat. Hermione leaned over the
railing, bending down to see the boy reappear below. When he came he
looked like a shadow. From this shadow there rose a voice singing very
softly.

"Oh, dolce luna bianca de l' Estate--"

The shadow went over to the boat, and the voice died away.

"Gli occhi di Rosa e il mar di Mergellina."

Hermione still was bending down. And she formed the last words with
lips that trembled a little.

"Gli occhi di Rosa e il mar di Mergellina."

Then she said: "Maurice--Maurice!"

And then she stood trembling.

Yes, it was Maurice whom she had seen again for an instant in the
melting look of Ruffo's face. She felt frightened in the dark. Maurice
--when he kissed her for the last time, had looked at her like that.
It could not be fancy. It was not.

Was this the very first time she had noticed in Ruffo a likeness to
her dead husband? She asked herself if it was. Yes. She had never--or
had there been something? Not in the face, perhaps. But--the voice?
Ruffo's singing? His attitude as he stood up in the boat? Had there
not been something? She remembered her conversation with Artois in the
cave. She had said to him that--she did not know why--the boy, Ruffo,
had made her feel, had stirred up within her slumbering desires,
slumbering yearnings.

"I have heard a hundred boys sing on the Bay--and just this one
touches some chord, and all the strings of my soul quiver."

She had said that.

Then there was something in the boy, something not merely fleeting
like that look of gentleness--something permanent, subtle, that
resembled Maurice.

Now she no longer felt frightened, but she had a passionate wish to go
down to the boat, to see Ruffo again, to be with him again, now that
she was awake to this strange, and perhaps only faint, imitation by
another of the one whom she had lost. No--not imitation; this
fragmentary reproduction of some characteristic, some--

She lifted herself up from the railing. And now she knew that her eyes
were wet. She wiped them with her handkerchief, drew a deep breath,
and went back to the house. She felt for the handle of the door, and,
when she found it, opened the door, went in, and shut it rather
heavily, then locked it. As she bent down to push home the bolt at the
bottom a voice called out:

"Who's there?"

She was startled and turned quickly.

"Gaspare!"

He stood before her half dressed, with his hair over his eyes, and a
revolver in his hand.

"Signora! It is you!"

"Si. What did you think? That it was a robber?"

Gaspare looked at her almost sternly, went to the door, bent down and
bolted it, then he said:

"Signora, I heard a noise in the house a few minutes ago. I listened,
but I heard nothing more. Still, I thought it best to get up. I had
just put on my clothes when again I heard a noise at the door. I
myself had locked it for the night. What should I think?"

"I was outside. I came back for something. That was what you heard.
Then I went out again."

"Si."

He stood there staring at her in a way that seemed, she fancied, to
rebuke her. She knew that he wished to know why she had gone out so
late, returned to the house, then gone out once more.

"Come up-stairs for a minute, Gaspare," she said. "I want to speak to
you."

He looked less stern, but still unlike himself.

"Si, Signora. Shall I put on my jacket?"

"No, no, never mind. Come like that."

She went up-stairs, treading softly, lest she might disturb Vere. He
followed. When they were in her sitting-room she said:

"Gaspare, why did you go to bed without coming to say good-night to
me?"

He looked rather confused.

"Did I forget, Signora? I was tired. Forgive me."

"I don't know whether you forgot. But you never came."

As Hermione spoke, suddenly she felt as if Gaspare, too, were going,
perhaps, to drift from her. She looked at him with an almost sharp
intensity which hardened her whole face. Was he, too, being insincere
with her, he whom she trusted implicitly?

"Did you forget, Gaspare?" she said.

"Signora," he repeated, with a certain, almost ugly doggedness, "I was
tired. Forgive me."

She felt sure that he had chosen deliberately not to come to her for
the evening salutation. It was a trifle, yet to-night it hurt her. For
a moment she was silent, and he was silent, looking down at the floor.
Then she opened her lips to dismiss him. She intended to say a curt
"Good-night"; but--no--she could not let Gaspare retreat from her
behind impenetrable walls of obstinate reserve. And she did know his
nature through and through. If he was odd to-night, unlike himself,
there was some reason for it; and it could not be a reason that, known
to her, would make her think badly of him. She was certain of that.

"Never mind, Gaspare," she said gently. "But I like you to come and
say good-night to me. I am accustomed to that, and I miss it if you
don't come."

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

He turned a little away from her, and made a small noise with his nose
as if he had a cold.

"Gaspare," she said, with an impulse to be frank, "I saw Ruffo
to-night."

He turned round quickly. She saw moisture in his eyes, but they were
shining almost fiercely.

"He told me something about his Patrigno. Did you know it?"

"His Patrigno and Peppina?"

Hermione nodded.

"Si Signora; Ruffo told me."

"I gave the boy something for his mother."

"His mother--why?"

There was quick suspicion in Gaspare's voice.

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