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A Spirit in Prison by Robert Hichens

Part 7 out of 13

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"Poor woman! Because of all this trouble. Her husband is in prison."

"Lo so. But he will soon be out again. He is 'protected.' "

"Who protects him?"

But Gaspare evaded the answer, and substituted something that was
almost a rebuke.

"Signora," he said, bluntly, if I were you I would not have anything
to do with these people. Ruffo's Patrigno is a bad man. Better leave
them alone."

"But, Ruffo?"

"Signora?"

"You like him, don't you?"

"Si, Signora. There is no harm in him."

"And the poor mother?"

"I am not friends with his mother, Signora. I do not want to be."

Hermione was surprised by his harshness.

"But why not?"

"There are people at Mergellina who are bad people," he said. "We are
not Neapolitan. We had better keep to ourselves. You have too much
heart, Signora, a great deal too much heart, and you do not always
know what people are."

"Do you think I ought not to have given Ruffo that money for his
mother?" Hermione asked, almost meekly.

"Si, Signora. It is not for you to give his mother money. It is not
for you."

"Well, Gaspare, it's done now."

"Si, it's done now."

"You don't think Ruffo bad, do you?"

After a pause, Gaspare answered:

"No, Signora. Ruffo is not bad."

Hermione hesitated. She wanted to ask Gaspare something, but she was
not sure that the opportunity was a good one. He was odd to-night. His
temper had surely been upset. Perhaps it would be better to wait. She
decided not to speak of what was in her mind.

"Well, Gaspare, good-night," she said.

"Good-night, Signora."

She smiled at him.

"You see, after all, you have had to say good-night to me!"

"Signora," he answered, earnestly, "even if I do not come to say good-
night to you always, I shall stay with you till death."

Again he made the little noise with his nose, as he turned away and
went out of the room.

That night, as she got into bed, Hermione called down on that faithful
watch-dog's dark head a blessing, the best that heaven contained for
him. Then she put out the light, and lay awake so long that when a
boat came round the cliff from the Saint's Pool to the open sea, in
the hour before the dawn, she heard the soft splash of the oars in the
water and the sound of a boy's voice singing.

"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."

She lifted herself up on her pillow and listened--listened until
across the sea, going towards the dawn, the song was lost.

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

When the voice was near, had not Maurice seemed near to her? And when
it died away, did not he fade with it--fade until the Ionian waters
took him?

She sat up in the darkness until long after the song was hushed. But
she heard it still in the whisper of the sea.

CHAPTER XXI

The Marchesino had really been unwell, as he had told Hermione. The
Panacci disposition, of which he had once spoken to Artois, was
certainly not a calm one, and Isidoro, was, perhaps, the most
excitable member of an abundantly excitable family. Although
changeable, he was vehement. He knew not the meaning of the word
patience, and had always been accustomed to get what he wanted exactly
when he wanted it. Delay in the gratification of his desires,
opposition to his demands, rendered him as indignant as if he were a
spoiled child unable to understand the fixed position and function of
the moon. And since the night of his vain singing along the shore to
the Nisida he had been ill with fever, brought on by jealousy and
disappointment, brought on partly also by the busy workings of a
heated imagination which painted his friend Emilio in colors of inky
black.

The Marchesino had not the faintest doubt that Artois was in love with
Vere. He believed this not from any evidence of his eyes, for, even
now, in not very lucid moments, he could not recall any occasion on
which he had seen Emilio paying court to the pretty English girl. But,
then, he had only seen them together twice--on the night of his first
visit to the island and on the night of the storm. It was the general
conduct of his friend that convinced him, conduct in connection not
with Vere, but with himself--apart from that one occasion when Emilio
must have lain hidden with Vere among the shadows of the grotto of
Virgil. He had been deceived by Emilio. He had thought of him as an
intellectual, who was also a bon vivant and interested in Neapolitan
life. But he had not thought of him as a libertine. Yet that was what
he certainly was. The interview with Maria Fortunata in the alley
beyond the Via Roma had quite convinced the Marchesino. He had no
objection whatever to loose conduct, but he had a contempt for
hypocrisy which was strong and genuine. He had trusted Emilio. Now he
distrusted him, and was ready to see subtlety, deceit, and guile in
all his undertakings.

Emilio had been trying to play with him. Emilio looked upon him as a
boy who knew nothing of the world. The difference in their respective
ages, so long ignored by him, now glared perpetually upon the
Marchesino, even roused within him a certain condemnatory something
that was almost akin to moral sense, a rare enough bird in Naples. He
said to himself that Emilio was a wicked old man, "un vecchio
briccone." The delights of sin were the prerogative of youth. Abruptly
this illuminating fact swam, like a new comet, within the ken of the
Marchesino. He towered towards the heights of virtuous indignation. As
he lay upon his fevered pillow, drinking a tisane prepared by his
anxious mamma, he understood the inner beauty of settling down--for
the old, and white-haired age, still intent upon having its fling,
appeared to him so truly pitiable and disgusting that he could almost
have wept for Emilio had he not feared to make himself more feverish
by such an act of enlightened friendship.

And the sense and appreciation of the true morality, ravishing in its
utter novelty for the young barbarian, was cherished by the Marchesino
until he began almost to swell with virtue, and to start on stilts to
heaven, big with the message that wickedness was for the young and
must not be meddled with by any one over thirty--the age at which,
till now, he had always proposed to himself to marry some rich girl
and settle down to the rigid asceticism of Neapolitan wedded life.

And as the Marchesino had lain in bed tingling with morality, so did
he get up and issue forth to the world, and even set sail upon the
following day for the island. Morality was thick upon him, as upon
that "briccone" Emilio, something else was thick. About mediaeval
chivalry he knew precisely nothing. Yet, as the white wings of his
pretty yacht caught the light breeze of morning, he felt like a most
virtuous knight /sans peur et sans reproche/. He even felt like a
steady-going person with a mission.

But he wished he thoroughly understood the English nation. Towards the
English he felt friendly, as do most Italians; but he knew little of
them, except that they were very rich, lived in a perpetual fog, and
were "un poco pazzi." But the question was how mad--in other words,
how different from Neapolitans--they were! He wished he knew. It would
make things easier for him in his campaign against Emilio.

Till he met the ladies of the island he had never said a hundred words
to any English person. The Neapolitan aristocracy is a very
conservative body, and by no means disposed to cosmopolitanism. To the
Panacci Villa at Capodimonte came only Italians, except Emilio. The
Marchesino had inquired of Emilio if his mother should call upon the
Signora Delarey, but Artois, knowing Hermione's hatred of social
formalities, had hastened to say that it was not necessary, that it
would even be a surprising departure from the English fashion of life,
which ordained some knowledge of each other by the ladies of two
families, or at least some formal introduction by a mutual woman
friend, before an acquaintance could be properly cemented. Hitherto
the Marchesino had felt quite at ease with his new friends. But
hitherto he had been, as it were, merely at play with them. The
interlude of fever had changed his views and enlarged his
consciousness. And Emilio was no longer at hand to be explanatory if
desired.

The Marchesino wished very much that he thoroughly understood the
inner workings of the minds of English ladies.

How mad were the English? How mad exactly, for instance, was the
Signora Delarey? And how mad exactly was the Signorina? It would be
very valuable to know. He realized that his accurate knowledge of
Neapolitan women, hitherto considered by him as amply sufficient to
conduct him without a false step through all the intricacies of the
world feminine, might not serve him perfectly with the ladies of the
island. His fever had, it seemed, struck a little blow on his self-
confidence, and rendered him so feeble as to be almost thoughtful.

And then, what exactly did he want? To discomfit Emilio utterly? That,
of course, did not need saying, even to himself. And afterwards? There
were two perpendicular lines above his eyebrows as the boat drew near
to the island.

But when he came into the little drawing-room, where Hermione was
waiting to receive him, he looked young and debonair, though still
pale from his recent touch of illness.

Vere was secretly irritated by his coming. Her interview with Peppina
had opened her eyes to many things, among others to a good deal that
was latent in the Marchesino. She could never again meet him, or any
man of his type, with the complete and masterful simplicity of
ignorant childhood that can innocently coquet by instinct, that can
manage by heredity from Eve, but that does not understand thoroughly,
either, what it is doing or why it is doing it.

Vere was not in the mood for the Marchesino.

She had been working, and she had been dreaming, and she wanted to
have another talk with Monsieur Emile. Pretty, delicate, yet strong-
fibred ambitions were stirring within her, and the curious passion to
use life as a material, but not all of life that presented itself to
her. With the desire to use that might be greedy arose the fastidious
prerogative of rejection.

And that very morning, mentally, Vere had rejected the Marchesino as
something not interesting in life, something that was only lively,
like the very shallow stream. What a bore it would be having to
entertain him, to listen to his compliments, to avoid his glances, to
pretend to be at ease with him.

"But Madre can have him for a little first," she said to herself, as
she looked into the glass to see that her hair was presentable. "Madre
asked him to come. I didn't. I shall have nothing to say to him."

She had quite forgotten her eagerness on the night of the storm, when
she heard the cry of the siren that betokened his approach. Again she
looked in the glass and gave a pat to her hair. And just as she was
doing it she thought of that day after the bathe, when Gaspare had
come to tell her that Monsieur Emile was waiting for her. She had run
down, then, just as she was, and now--

"Mamma mia! Am I getting vain!" she said to herself.

And she turned from the glass, and reluctantly went to meet their
guest.

She had said to herself that it was a bore having the Marchesino to
lunch, that he was uninteresting, frivolous, empty-headed. But
directly she set eyes upon him, as he stood in the drawing-room by her
mother, she felt a change in him. What had happened to him? She could
not tell. But she was conscious that he seemed much more definite,
much more of a personage, than he had seemed to her before. Even his
face looked different, though paler, stronger. She was aware of
surprise.

The Marchesino, too, though much less instinctively observant than
Vere, noted a change in her. She looked more developed, more grown up.
And he said to himself:

"When I told Emile she was a woman I was right."

Their meeting was rather grave and formal, even a little stiff. The
Marchesino paid Vere two or three compliments, and she inquired
perfunctorily after his health, and expressed regret for his slight
illness.

"It was only a chill, Signorina. It was nothing."

"Perhaps you caught it that night," Vere said.

"What night, Signorina?"

Vere had been thinking of the night when he sang for her in vain.
Suddenly remembering how she and Monsieur Emile had lain in hiding and
slipped surreptitiously home under cover of the darkness, she flushed
and said:

"The night of the storm--you got wet, didn't you?"

"But that was long ago, Signorina," he answered, looking steadily at
her, with an expression that was searching and almost hard.

Had he guessed her inadvertence? She feared so, and felt rather
guilty, and glad when Giulia came in to announce that lunch was ready.

Hermione, when they sat down, feeling a certain constraint, but not
knowing what it sprang from, came to the rescue with an effort. She
was really disinclined for talk, and was perpetually remembering that
the presence of the Marchesino had prevented Emile from coming to
spend a long day. But she remembered also her guest's hospitality at
Frisio's, and her social instinct defied her natural reluctance to be
lively. She said to herself that she was rapidly developing into a
fogey, and must rigorously combat the grievous tendency. By a sheer
exertion of will-power she drove herself into a different, and
conversational, mood. The Marchesino politely responded. He was
perfectly self-possessed, but he was not light-hearted. The unusual
effort of being thoughtful had, perhaps, distressed or even outraged
his brain. And the worst of it was that he was still thinking--for him
quite profoundly.

However, they talked about risotto, they talked about Vesuvius, they
spoke of the delights of summer in the South and of the advantages of
living on an island.

"Does it not bore you, Signora, having the sea all round?" asked the
Marchesino. "Do you not feel in a prison and that you cannot escape?"

"We don't want to escape, do we, Madre?" said Vere, quickly, before
Hermione could answer.

"I am very fond of the island, certainly," said Hermione. "Still, of
course, we are rather isolated here."

She was thinking of what she had said to Artois--that perhaps her
instinct to shut out the world was morbid, was bad for Vere. The girl
at once caught the sound of hesitation in her mother's voice.

"Madre!" she exclaimed. "You don't mean to say that you are tired of
our island life?"

"I do not say that. And you, Vere?"

"I love being here. I dread the thought of the autumn."

"In what month do you go away, Signora?" asked the Marchesino.

"By the end of October we shall have made our flitting, I suppose."

"You will come in to Naples for the winter?"

Hermione hesitated. Then she said:

"I almost think I shall take my daughter to Rome. What do you say,
Vere?"

The girls face had become grave, even almost troubled.

"I can't look forward in this weather," she said. "I think it's almost
wicked to. Oh, let us live in the moment, Madre, and pretend it will
be always summer, and that we shall always be living in our Casa del
Mare!"

There was a sound of eager youth in her voice as she spoke, and her
eyes suddenly shone. The Marchesino looked at her with an admiration
he did not try to conceal.

"You love the sea, Signorina?" he asked.

But Vere's enthusiasm abruptly vanished, as if she feared that he
might destroy its completeness by trying to share it.

"Oh yes," she said. "We all do here; Madre, Gaspare, Monsieur Emile--
everybody."

It was the first time the name of Artois had been mentioned among them
that day. The Marchesino's full red lips tightened over his large
white teeth.

"I have not seen Signor Emilio for some days," he said.

"Nor have we," said Vere, with a touch of childish discontent.

He looked at her closely.

Emilio--he knew all about Emilio. But the Signorina? What were her
feelings towards the "vecchio briccone"? He did not understand the
situation, because he did not understand precisely the nature of
madness of the English. Had the ladies been Neapolitans, Emilio an
Italian, he would have felt on sure ground. But in England, so he had
heard, there is a fantastic, cold, sexless something called friendship
that can exist between unrelated man and woman.

"Don Emilio writes much," he said, with less than his usual alacrity.
"When one goes to see him he has always a pen in his hand."

He tried to speak of Emilio with complete detachment, but could not
resist adding:

"When one is an old man one likes to sit, one cannot be forever
running to and fro. One gets tired, I suppose."

There was marked satire in the accent with which he said the last
words. And the shrug of his shoulders was an almost audible "What can
I know of that?"

"Monsieur Emile writes because he has a great brain, not because he
has a tired body," said Vere, with sudden warmth.

Her mother was looking at her earnestly.

"Oh, Signorina, I do not mean-- But for a man to be always shut up,"
began the Marchesino, "it is not life."

"You don't understand, Marchese. One can live in a little room with
the door shut as one can never live--"

Abruptly she stopped. A flush ran over her face and down to her neck.
Hermione turned away her eyes. But they had read Vere's secret. She
knew what her child was doing in those hours of seclusion. And she
remembered her own passionate attempts to stave off despair by work.
She remembered her own failure.

"Poor little Vere!" That was her first thought. "But what is Emile
doing?" That was the second. He had discouraged her. He had told her
the truth. What was he telling Vere? A flood of bitter curiosity
seemed to rise in her, drowning many things.

"What I like is life, Signorina," said the Marchesino. "Driving,
riding, swimming, sport, fencing, being with beautiful ladies--that is
life."

"Yes, of course, that is life," she said.

What was the good of trying to explain to him the inner life? He had
no imagination.

Her youth made her very drastic, very sweeping, in her secret mental
assertions.

She labelled the Marchesino "Philistine," and popped him into his
drawer.

Lunch was over, and they got up.

"Are you afraid of the heat out-of-doors, Marchese?" Hermione asked,
"or shall we have coffee in the garden? There is a trellis, and we
shall be out of the sun."

"Signora, I am delighted to go out."

He got his straw hat, and they went into the tiny garden and sat down
on basket-work chairs under a trellis, set in the shadow of some fig-
trees. Giulia brought them coffee, and the Marchesino lighted a
cigarette.

He said to himself that he had never been in love before.

Vere wore a white dress. She had no hat on, but held rather carelessly
over her small, dark head a red parasol. It was evident that she was
not afraid even of the midday sun. That new look in her face, soft
womanhood at the windows gazing at a world more fully, if more sadly,
understood, fascinated him, sent the blood up to his head. There was a
great change in her. To-day she knew what before she had not known.

As he stared at Vere with adoring eyes suddenly there came into his
mind the question: "Who has taught her?"

And then he thought of the night when all in vain he had sung upon the
sea, while the Signorina and "un Signore" were hidden somewhere near
him.

The blood sang in his head, and something seemed to expand in his
brain, to press violently against his temples, as if striving to force
its way out. He put down his coffee cup, and the two perpendicular
lines appeared above his eyebrows, giving him an odd look, cruel and
rather catlike.

"If Emilio--"

At that moment he longed to put a knife into his friend.

But he was not sure. He only suspected.

Hermione's role in this summer existence puzzled him exceedingly. The
natural supposition in a Neapolitan would, of course, have been that
Artois was her lover. But when the Marchesino looked at Hermione's
eyes he could not tell.

What did it all mean? He felt furious at being puzzled, as if he were
deliberately duped.

"Your cigarette has gone out, Marchese," said Hermione. "Have
another."

The young man started.

"It's nothing."

"Vere, run in and get the Marchese a Khali Targa."

The girl got up quickly.

"No, no! I cannot permit--I have another here."

He opened his case. It was empty.

Vere laughed.

"You see!"

She went off before he could say another word, and the Marchesino was
alone for a moment with Hermione.

"You are fortunate, Signora, in having such a daughter," he said, with
a sigh that was boyish.

"Yes," Hermione said.

That bitter curiosity was still with her, and her voice sounded
listless, almost cold. The Marchesino looked up. Ah! Was there
something here that he could understand? Something really feminine? A
creeping jealousy? He was on the /qui vive/ at once.

"And such a good friend as Don Emilio," he added. "You have known
Emilio for a long time, Signora?"

"Oh yes, for a very long time."

"He is a strange man," said the Marchesino, with rather elaborate
carelessness.

"Do you think so? In what way?"

"He likes to know, but he does not like to be known."

There was a great deal of truth in the remark. Its acuteness surprised
Hermione, who thought the Marchesino quick witted but very
superficial.

"As he is a writer, I suppose he has to study people a good deal," she
said, quietly.

"I do not think I can understand these great people. I think they are
too grand for me."

"Oh, but Emile likes you very much. He told me so."

"It is very good of him," said the Marchesino, pulling at his
mustaches.

He was longing to warn Hermione against Emilio--to hint that Emilio
was not to be trusted. He believed that Hermione must be very blind,
very unfitted to look after a lovely daughter. But when he glanced at
her face he did not quite know how to hint what was in his mind. And
just then Vere came back and the opportunity was gone. She held out a
box to the Marchesino. As he thanked her and took a cigarette he tried
to look into her eyes. But she would not let him. And when he struck
his match she returned once more to the house, carrying the box with
her. Her movement was so swift and unexpected that Hermione had not
time to speak before she was gone.

"But--"

"I should not smoke another, Signora," said the Marchesino, quickly.

"You are sure?"

"Quite."

"Still, Vere might have left the box. She is inhospitable to-day."

Hermione spoke lightly.

"Oh, it is bad for cigarettes to lie in the sun. It ruins them."

"But you should have filled your case. You must do so before you go."

"Thank you."

His head was buzzing again. The touch of fever had really weakened
him. He knew it now. Never gifted with much self-control, he felt
to-day that, with a very slight incentive, he might lose his head. The
new atmosphere which Vere diffused around her excited him strangely.
He was certain that she was able to understand something of what he
was feeling, that on the night of the storm she would not have been
able to understand. Again he thought of Emilio, and moved restlessly
in his chair, looking sideways at Hermione, then dropping his eyes.
Vere did not come back.

Hermione exerted herself to talk, but the task became really a
difficult one, for the Marchesino looked perpetually towards the
house, and so far forgot himself as to show scarcely even a wavering
interest in anything his hostess said. As the minutes ran by a hot
sensation of anger began to overcome him. A spot of red appeared on
each cheek.

Suddenly he got up.

"Signora, you will want to make the siesta. I must not keep you
longer."

"No, really; I love sitting out in the garden, and you will find the
glare of the sun intolerable if you go so early."

"On the sea there is always a breeze. Indeed, I must not detain you.
All our ladies sleep after the colazione until the bathing hour. Do
not you?"

"Yes, we lie down. But to-day--"

"You must not break the habit. It is a necessity. My boat will be
ready, and I must thank you for a delightful entertainment."

His round eyes were fierce, but he commanded his voice.

"A rive--"

"I will come with you to the house if you really will not stay a
little longer."

"Perhaps I may come again?" he said, quickly, with a sudden hardness,
a fighting sound in his voice. "One evening in the cool. Or do I bore
you?"

"No; do come."

Hermione felt rather guilty, as if they had been inhospitable, she and
Vere; though, indeed, only Vere was in fault.

"Come and dine one night, and I shall ask Don Emilio."

As she spoke she looked steadily at her guest.

"He was good enough to introduce us to each other, wasn't he?" she
added. "We must all have an evening together, as we did at Frisio's."

The Marchesino bowed.

"With pleasure, Signora."

They came into the house.

As they did so Peppina came down the stairs. When she saw them she
murmured a respectful salutation and passed quickly by, averting her
wounded cheek. Almost immediately behind her was Vere. The Marchesino
looked openly amazed for a moment, then even confused. He stared first
at Hermione, then at Vere.

"I am sorry, Madre; I was kept for a moment," the girl said. "Are you
coming up-stairs?"

"The Marchese says he must go, Vere. He is determined not to deprive
us of our siesta."

"One needs to sleep at this hour in the hot weather," said the
Marchesino.

The expression of wonder and confusion was still upon his face, and he
spoke slowly.

"Good-bye, Marchese," Vere said, holding out her hand.

He took it and bowed over it and let it go. The girl turned and ran
lightly up-stairs.

Directly she was gone the Marchesino said to Hermione:

"Pardon me, Signora, I--I--"

He hesitated. His self-possession seemed to have deserted him for the
moment. He looked at Hermione swiftly, searchingly, then dropped his
eyes.

"What is it, Marchese?" she asked, wondering what was the matter with
him.

He still hesitated. Evidently he was much disturbed. At last he said
again:

"Pardon me, Signora. I--as you know, I am Neapolitan. I have always
lived in Naples."

"Yes, I know."

"I know Naples like my pocket--"

He broke off.

Hermione waited for him to go on. She had no idea what was coming.

"Yes?" she said, at length to help him.

"Excuse me, Signora! But that girl--that girl who passed by just
now--"

"My servant, Peppina."

He stared at her.

"Your servant, Signora?"

"Yes."

"Do you know what she is, where she comes from? But no, it is
impossible."

"I know all about Peppina, Marchese," Hermione replied, quietly.

"Truly? Ah!"

His large round eyes were still fixedly staring at her.

"Good-bye, Signora!" he said. "Thank you for a very charming
colazione. And I shall look forward with all my heart to the evening
you have kindly suggested."

"I shall write directly I have arranged with Don Emilio."

"Thank you! Thank you! A rivederci, Signora."

He cast upon her one more gravely staring look, and was gone.

When he was outside and alone, he threw up his hands and talked to
himself for a moment, uttering many exclamations. In truth, he was
utterly amazed. Maria Fortunata had spread abroad diligently the fame
of her niece's beauty, and the Marchesino, like the rest of the gay
young men of Naples, had known of and had misjudged her. He had read
in the papers of the violence done to her, and had at once dismissed
her from his mind with a muttered "Povera Ragazza!"

She was no longer beautiful.

And now he discovered her living as a servant with the ladies of the
island. Who could have put her there? He thought of Emilio's colloquy
with Maria Fortunata. But the Signora? A mother? What did it all mean?
Even the madness of the English could scarcely be so pronounced as to
make such a proceeding as this quite a commonplace manifestation of
the national life and eccentricity. He could not believe that.

He stepped into his boat. As the sailors rowed it out from the Pool--
the wind had gone down and the sails were useless--he looked earnestly
up to the windows of the Casa del Mare, longing to pierce its secrets.

What was Emilio in that house? A lover, a friend, a bad genius? And
the Signora? What was she?

The Marchesino was no believer in the virtue of women. But the lack of
beauty in Hermione, and her age, rendered him very doubtful as to her
role in the life on the island. Vere's gay simplicity had jumped to
the eyes. But now she, too, was becoming something of a mystery.

He traced it all to Emilio, and was hot with a curiosity that was
linked closely with his passion.

Should he go to see Emilio? He considered the question and resolved
not to do so. He would try to be patient until the night of the dinner
on the island. He would be birbante, would play the fox, as Emilio
surely had done. The Panacci temper should find out that one member of
the family could control it, when such control served his purpose.

He was on fire with a lust for action as he made his resolutions.
Vere's coolness to him, even avoidance of him, had struck hammer-like
blows upon his /amour propre/. He saw her now--yes, he saw her--coming
down the stairs behind Peppina. Had they been together? Did they talk
together, the cold, the prudish Signorina Inglese--so he called Vere
now in his anger--and the former decoy of Maria Fortunata?

And then a horrible conception of Emilio's role in all this darted
into his mind, and for a moment he thought of Hermione as a blind
innocent, like his subservient mother, of Vere as a preordained
victim. Then the blood coursed through his veins like fire, and he
felt as if he could no longer sit still in the boat.

"Avanti! avanti!" he cried to the sailors. "Dio mio! There is enough
breeze to sail. Run up the sail! Madonna Santissima! We shall not be
to Naples till it is night. Avanti! avanti!"

Then he lay back, crossed his arms behind his head, and, with an
effort, closed his eyes.

He was determined to be calm, not to let himself go. He put his
fingers on his pulse.

"That cursed fever! I believe it is coming back," he said to himself.

He wondered how soon the Signora would arrange that dinner on the
island. He did not feel as if he could wait long without seeing Vere
again. But would it ever be possible to see her alone? Emilio saw her
alone. His white hairs brought him privileges. He might take her out
upon the sea.

The Marchesino still had his fingers on his pulse. Surely it was
fluttering very strangely. Like many young Italians he was a mixture
of fearlessness and weakness, of boldness and childishness.

"I must go to mamma! I must have medicine--the doctor," he thought,
anxiously. "There is something wrong with me. Perhaps I have been
looked on by the evil eye."

And down he went to the bottom of a gulf of depression.

CHAPTER XXII

Hermione was very thankful that the Marchesino had gone. She felt that
the lunch had been a failure, and was sorry. But she had done her
best. Vere and the young man himself had frustrated her, she thought.
It was a bore having to entertain any one in the hot weather. As she
went up-stairs she said to herself that her guest's addio had been the
final fiasco of an unfortunate morning. Evidently he knew something of
Peppina, and had been shocked to find the girl in the house. Emile had
told her--Hermione--that she was an impulsive. Had she acted foolishly
in taking Peppina? She had been governed in the matter by her heart,
in which dwelt pity and a passion for justice. Surely the sense of
compassion, the love of fair dealing could not lead one far astray.
And yet, since Peppina had been on the island the peace of the life
there had been lessened. Emile had become a little different, Vere
too. And even Gaspare--was there not some change in him?

She thought of Giulia's assertion that the disfigured girl had the
evil eye.

She had laughed at the idea, and had spoken very seriously to Giulia,
telling her that she was not to communicate her foolish suspicion to
the other servants. But certainly the joy of their life in this House
of the Sea was not what it had been. And even Vere had had forebodings
with which Peppina had been connected. Perhaps the air of Italy, this
clear, this radiant atmosphere which seemed created to be the
environment of happiness, contained some subtle poison that was
working in them all, turning them from cool reason.

She thought of Emile, calling up before her his big frame his powerful
face with the steady eyes. And a wave of depression went over her, as
she understood how very much she had relied on him since the death of
Maurice. Without him she would indeed have been a derelict.

Again that bitter flood of curiosity welled up in her. She wondered
where Vere was, but she did not go to the girl's room. Instead, she
went to her own sitting-room. Yesterday she had been restless. She had
felt driven. To-day she felt even worse. But to-day she knew what
yesterday she had not known--Vere's solitary occupation. Why had not
Vere told her, confided in her? It was a very simple matter. The only
reason why it now assumed an importance to her was because it had been
so carefully concealed. Why had not Vere told her all about it, as she
told her other little matters of their island life, freely, without
even a thought of hesitation?

She sought the reason of this departure which was paining her. But at
first she did not find it.

Perhaps Vere wanted to give her a surprise. For a moment her heart
grew lighter. Vere might be preparing something to please or astonish
her mother, and Emile might be in the secret, might be assisting in
some way. But no! Vere's mysterious occupation had been followed too
long. And then Emile had not always known what it was. He had only
known lately.

Those long reveries of Vere upon the sea, when she lay in the little
boat in the shadow cast by the cliffs over the Saint's Pool--they were
the prelude to work; imaginative, creative perhaps.

And Vere was not seventeen.

Hermione smiled to herself rather bitterly, thinking of the ignorance,
of the inevitable folly of youth. The child, no doubt, had dreams of
fame. What clever, what imaginative and energetic child has not such
dreams at some period or other? How absurd we all are, thinking to
climb to the stars almost as soon as we can see them!

And then the smile died away from Hermione's lips as the great
tenderness of the mother within her was moved by the thought of the
disappointments that come with a greater knowledge of life. Vere would
suffer when she learned the truth, when she knew the meaning of
failure.

Quite simply and naturally Hermione was including her child inevitably
within the circle of her own disaster.

If Emile knew, why did he not tell Vere what he had told her mother?

But Emile had surely shown much greater interest in Vere just lately
than ever before?

Was Emile helping Vere in what she was doing? But if he was, then he
must believe in Vere's capacity to do something that was worth doing.

Hermione knew the almost terrible sincerity of Artois in the things of
the intellect, his clear, unwavering judgment, his ruthless
truthfulness. Nothing would ever turn him from that. Nothing, unless
he--

Her face became suddenly scarlet, then pale. A monstrous idea had
sprung up in her mind; an idea so monstrous that she strove to thrust
it away violently, without even contemplating it. Why had Vere not
told her? There must be some good and sufficient reason. Vehemently--
to escape from that monstrous idea--she sought it. Why had everything
else in her child been revealed to her, only this one thing been
hidden from her?

She searched the past, Vere and herself in that past. And now, despite
her emotion, her full intelligence was roused up and at work. And
presently she remembered that Emile and Vere shared the knowledge of
her own desire to create, and her utter failure to succeed in
creation. Emile knew the whole naked truth of that. Vere did not. But
Vere knew something. Could that mutual knowledge be the reason of this
mutual secrecy? As women often do, Hermione had leaped into the very
core of the heart of the truth, had leaped out of the void, guided by
some strange instinct never alive in man. But, as women very seldom
do, she shrank away from the place she had gained. Instead of
triumphing, she was afraid. She remembered how often her imagination
had betrayed her, how it had created phantoms, had ruined for her the
lagging hours. Again and again she had said to herself, "I will beware
of it." Now she accused it of playing her false once more, of running
wild. Sharply she pulled herself up. She was assuming things. That was
her great fault, to assume that things were that which perhaps they
were not.

How often Emile had told her not to trust her imagination! She would
heed him now. She knew nothing. She did not even know for certain that
Vere's flush, Vere's abrupt hesitation at lunch, were a betrayal of
the child's secret.

But that she would find out.

Again the fierce curiosity besieged and took possession of her. After
all, she was a mother. A mother had rights. Surely she had a right to
know what another knew of her child.

"I will ask Vere," she said to herself.

Once before she had said to herself that she would do that, and she
had not done it. She had felt that to do it would be a humiliation.
But now she was resolved to do it, for she knew more of her own
condition and was more afraid of herself. She began to feel like one
who has undergone a prolonged strain of work, who believes that it has
not been too great and has been capably supported, and who suddenly is
aware of a yielding, of a downward and outward movement, like a wide
and spreading disintegration, in which brain, nerves, the whole body
are involved.

Yet what had been the strain that she had been supporting, that now
suddenly she began to feel too much? The strain of a loss. Time should
have eased it. But had Time eased it, or only lengthened the period
during which she had been forced to carry her load? People ought to
get accustomed to things. She knew that it is supposed by many that
the human body, the human mind, the human heart can get accustomed--by
which is apparently meant can cease passionately and instinctively to
strive to repel--can get accustomed to anything. Well she could not.
Never could she get accustomed to the loss of love, of man's love. The
whole world might proclaim its proverbs. For her they had no truth.
For her--and for how many other silent women!

And now suddenly she felt that for years she had been struggling, and
that the struggle had told upon her far more than she had ever
suspected. Nothing must be added to her burden or she would sink down.
The dust would cover her. She would be as nothing--or she would be as
something terrible, nameless.

She must ask Vere, do what she had said to herself that she would not
do. Unless she had the complete confidence of her child she could not
continue to do without the cherishing love she had lost. She saw
herself a cripple, something maimed. Hitherto she had been supported
by blessed human crutches: by Vere, Emile, Gaspare. How heavily she
had leaned upon them! She knew that now. How heavily she must still
lean if she were to continue on her way. And a fierce, an almost
savage something, desperate and therefore arbitrary, said within her:

"I will keep the little that I have: I will--I will."

"The little!" Had she said that? It was wicked of her to say that. But
she had had the wonderful thing. She had held for a brief time the
magic of the world within the hollow of her hands, within the shadow
of her heart. And the others? Children slip from their parents' lives
into the arms of another whose call means more to them than the voices
of those who made them love. Friends drift away, scarcely knowing why,
divided from each other by the innumerable channels that branch from
the main stream of existence. Even a faithful servant cannot be more
than a friend.

There is one thing that is great, whose greatness makes the smallness
of all the other things. And so Hermione said, "the little that I
have," and there was truth in it. And there was as vital a truth in
the fact of her whole nature recognizing that little's enormous value
to her. Not for a moment did she underrate her possession. Indeed, she
had to fight against the tendency to exaggeration. Her intellect said
to her that, in being so deeply moved by such a thing as the
concealment from her by Vere of something innocent of which Emile
knew, she was making a water drop into an ocean. Her intellect said
that. But her heart said no.

And the voice of her intellect sank away like the frailest echo that
ever raised its spectral imitation of a reality. And the voice of her
heart rang out till it filled her world.

And so the argument was over.

She thought she heard a step below, and looked out of the window into
the sunshine.

Gaspare was there. It was his hour of repose, and he was smoking a
cigarette. He was dressed in white linen, without a coat, and had a
white linen hat on his head. He stood near the house, apparently
looking out to sea. And his pose was meditative. Hermione watched him.
The sight of him reminded her of another question she wished to ask.

Gaspare had one hand in the pocket of his white trousers. With the
other he held the cigarette. Hermione saw the wreaths of pale smoke
curling up and evaporating in the shining, twinkling air, which seemed
full of joyous, dancing atoms. But presently his hand forgot to do its
work. The cigarette, only half smoked, went out, and he stood there as
if plunged in profound thought. Hermione wondered what he was thinking
about.

"Gaspare!"

She said it softly. Evidently he did not hear.

"Gaspare! Gaspare!"

Each time she spoke a little louder, but still he took no notice.

She leaned farther out and called:

"Gaspare!"

This time he heard and started violently, dropped the cigarette, then,
without looking up, bent down slowly, recovered it, and turned round.

"Signora?"

The sun shone full on his upturned face, showing to Hermione the
dogged look which sometimes came to it when anything startled him.

"I made you jump."

"No, Signora."

"But I did. What were you thinking about?"

"Nothing, Signora. Why are you not asleep?"

He spoke almost as if she injured him by being awake.

"I couldn't sleep to-day. What are you going to do this afternoon?"

"I don't know, Signora. Do you wish me to do anything for you?"

"Well--"

She had a wish to clear things up, to force her life, the lives of
those few she cared for, out of mystery into a clear light. She had a
desire to chastise thought by strong, bracing action.

"I rather want to send a note to Don Emilio."

"Si, Signora."

His voice did not sound pleased.

"It is too hot to row all the way to Naples. Couldn't you go to the
village and take the tram to the hotel--if I write the note?"

"If you like, Signora."

"Or would it be less bother to row as far as Mergellina, and take a
tram or carriage from there?

"I can do that, Signora."

He sounded a little more cheerful.

"I think I'll write the note, Gaspare, then. And you might take it
some time--whenever you like. You might come and fetch it in five
minutes."

"Very well, Signora."

He moved away and she went to her writing-table. She sat down, and
slowly, with a good deal of hesitation and thought, she wrote part of
a letter asking Emile to come to dine whenever he liked at the island.
And now came the difficulty. She knew Emile did not want to meet the
Marchesino there. Yet she was going to ask them to meet each other.
She had told the Marchesino so. Should she tell Emile? Perhaps, if she
did, he would refuse to come. But she could never lay even the
smallest trap for a friend. So she wrote on, asking Emile to let her
know the night he would come as she had promised to invite the
Marchesino to meet him.

"Be a good friend and do this for me," she ended, "even if it bores
you. The Marchese lunched here alone with us to-day, and it was a
fiasco. I think we were very inhospitable, and I want to wipe away the
recollection of our dulness from his mind. Gaspare will bring me your
answer."

At the bottom she wrote "Hermione." But just as she was going to seal
the letter in its envelope she took it out, and added, "Delarey" to
her Christian name.

"Hermione Delarey." She looked at the words for a long time before she
rang the bell for Gaspare.

When she gave him the letter, "Are you going by Mergellina?" she asked
him.

"Si, Signora."

He stood beside her for a moment; then, as she said nothing more,
turned to go out.

"Gaspare, wait one minute," she said, quickly.

"Si, Signora."

"I meant to ask you last night, but--well, we spoke of other things,
and it was so late. Have you ever noticed anything about that boy,
Ruffo, anything at all, that surprised you?"

"Surprised me, Signora?"

"Surprised you, or reminded you of anything?"

"I don't know what you mean, Signora."

Gaspare's voice was hard and cold. He looked steadily at Hermione, as
a man of strong character sometimes looks when he wishes to turn his
eyes away from the glance of another, but will not, because of his
manhood.

Hermione hesitated to go on, but something drove her to be more
explicit.

"Have you never noticed in Ruffo a likeness to--to your Padrone?" she
said, slowly.

"My Padrone!"

Gaspare's great eyes dropped before hers, and he stood looking on the
floor. She saw a deep flush cover his brown skin.

"I am sure you have noticed it, Gaspare," she said. "I can see you
have. Why did you not tell me?"

At that moment she felt angry with herself and almost angry with him.
Had he noticed this strange, this subtle resemblance between the
fisher-boy and the dead man at once, long before she had? Had he been
swifter to see such a thing than she?

"What do you mean, Signora? What are you talking about?"

He looked ugly.

"How can a fisher-boy, a nothing from Mergellina, look like my
Padrone?"

Now he lifted his eyes, and they were fierce--or so she thought.

"Signora, how can you say such a thing?"

"Gaspare?" she exclaimed, astonished at his sudden vehemence.

"Signora--scusi! But--but there will never be another like my
Padrone."

He opened the door and went quickly out of the room, and when the door
shut it was as if an iron door shut upon a furnace.

Hermione stood looking at this door. She drew a long breath.

"But he has seen it!" she said, aloud. "He has seen it."

And Emile?

Had she been a blind woman, she who had so loved the beauty that was
dust? She thought of Vere and Ruffo standing together, so youthful, so
happy in their simple, casual intercourse.

It was as if Vere had been mysteriously drawn to this boy because of
his resemblance to the father she had never seen.

Vere! Little Vere!

Again the mother's tenderness welled up in Hermione's heart, this time
sweeping away the reluctance to be humble.

"I will go to Vere now."

She went to the door, as she had gone to it the previous day. But this
time she did not hesitate to open it. A strong impulse swept her
along, and she came to her child's room eagerly.

"Vere!"

She knocked at the door.

"Vere! May I come in?"

She knocked again. There was no answer.

Then she opened the door and went in. Possibly Vere was sleeping. The
mosquito-net was drawn round the bed, but Hermione saw that her child
was not behind it. Vere had gone out somewhere.

The mother went to the big window which looked out upon the sea. The
green Venetian blind was drawn. She pushed up one of its flaps and
bent to look through. Below, a little way out on the calm water, she
saw Vere's boat rocking softly in obedience to the small movement that
is never absent from the sea. The white awning was stretched above the
stern-seats, and under it lay Vere in her white linen dress, her small
head, not protected by a hat, supported by a cushion. She lay quite
still, one arm on the gunwale of the boat, the other against her side.
Hermione could not see whether her eyes were shut or open.

The mother watched her for a long time through the blind.

How much of power was enclosed in that young figure that lay so still,
so perfectly at ease, cradled on the great sea, warmed and cherished
by the tempered fires of the sun! How much of power to lift up and to
cast down, to be secret, to create sorrow, to be merciful! Wonderful,
terrible human power!

The watching mother felt just then that she was in the hands of the
child.

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

Surely Vere must be asleep. Such absolute stillness must mean
temporary withdrawal of consciousness.

Just as Hermione was thinking this, Vere's left hand moved. The girl
lifted it up to her face, and gently and repeatedly rubbed her
eyebrow.

Hermione dropped the flap of the blind. The little, oddly natural
movement had suddenly made her feel that it was not right to be
watching Vere when the child must suppose herself to be unobserved and
quite alone with the sea.

As she came away from the window she glanced quickly round the room,
and upon a small writing-table at the foot of the bed she saw a number
of sheets of paper lying loose, with a piece of ribbon beside them.
They had evidently been taken out of the writing-table drawer, which
was partially open, and which, as Hermione could see, contained other
sheets of a similar kind. Hermione looked, and then looked away. She
passed the table and reached the door. When she was there she glanced
again at the sheets of paper. They were covered with writing. They
drew, they fascinated her eyes, and she stood still, with her hand
resting on the door-handle. As a rule it would have seemed perfectly
natural to her to read anything that Vere had left lying about, either
in her own room or anywhere else. Until just lately her child had
never had, or dreamed of having any secret from her. Never had Vere
received a letter that her mother had not seen. Secrets simply did not
exist between them--secrets, that is, of the child from the mother.

But it was not so now. And that was why those sheets of paper drew and
held the mother's eyes.

She had, of course, a perfect right to read them. Or had she--she who
had said to Vere, "Keep your secrets"? In those words had she not
deliberately relinquished such a right? She stood there thinking,
recalling those words, debating within herself this question--and
surely with much less than her usual great honesty.

Emile, she was sure, had read the writing upon those sheets of paper.

She did not know exactly why she was certain of this--but she was
certain, absolutely certain. She remembered the long-ago days, when
she had submitted to him similar sheets. What Emile had read surely
she might read. Again that intense and bitter curiosity mingled with
something else, a strange, new jealousy in which it was rooted. She
felt as if Vere, this child whom she had loved and cared for, had done
her a cruel wrong, had barred her out from the life in which she had
always been till now the best loved, the most absolutely trusted
dweller. Why should she not take that which she ought to have been
given?

Again she was conscious of that painful, that piteous sensation of one
who is yielding under a strain that has been too prolonged. Something
surely collapsed within her, something of the part of her being that
was moral. She was no longer a free woman in that moment. She was
governed. Or so she felt, perhaps deceiving herself.

She went swiftly and softly over to the table and bent over the
sheets.

At first she stood. Then she sat down. She took up the paper, handled
it, held it close to her eyes.

Verses! Vere was writing verses. Of course! Every one begins by being
a poet. Hermione smiled, almost laughed aloud. Poor little Vere with
her poor little secret! There was still that bitterness in the mother,
that sense of wrong. But she read on and on. And presently she started
and her hand shook.

She had come to a poem that was corrected in Vere's handwriting, and
on the margin was written, "Monsieur Emile's idea."

So there had been a conference, and Emile was advising Vere.

Hermione's hand shook so violently that she could not go on reading
for a moment, and she laid the paper down. She felt like one who has
suddenly unmasked a conspiracy against herself. It was useless for her
intellect to deny this conspiracy, for her heart proclaimed it.

Long ago Emile had told her frankly that it was in vain for her to
waste her time in creative work, that she had not the necessary gift
for it. And now he was secretly assisting her own child--a child of
sixteen--to do what he had told her, the mother, not to do. Why was he
doing this?

Again the monstrous idea that she had forcibly dismissed from her mind
that day returned to Hermione. There is one thing that sometimes
blinds the most clear-sighted men, so that they cannot perceive truth.

But--Hermione again bent over the sheets of paper, this time seeking
for a weapon against the idea which assailed her. On several pages she
found emendations, excisions, on one a whole verse completely changed.
And on the margins were pencilled "Monsieur Emile's suggestion";
"Monsieur E.'s advice"; and once, "These two lines invented by
Monsieur Emile."

When had Vere and Emile had the opportunity for this long and secret
discussion? On the day of the storm they had been together alone. They
had had tea together alone. And on the night Emile dined on the island
they had been out in the boat together for a long time. All this must
have been talked over then.

Yes.

She read on. Had Vere talent? Did her child possess what she had
longed for, and had been denied? She strove to read critically, but
she was too excited, too moved to do so. All necessary calm was gone.
She was painfully upset. The words moved before her eyes, running
upward in irregular lines that resembled creeping things, and she saw
rings of light, yellow in the middle and edged with pale blue.

She pushed away the sheets of paper, got up and went again to the
window. She must look at Vere once more, look at her with this new
knowledge, look at her critically, with a piercing scrutiny. And she
bent down as before, and moved a section of the blind, pushing it up.

There was no boat beneath her on the sea.

She dropped the blind sharply, and all the blood in her body seemed to
make a simultaneous movement away from the region of the heart.

Vere was perhaps already in the house, running lightly up to the room.
She would come in and find her mother there. She would guess what her
mother had been doing.

Hermione did not hesitate. She crossed the room swiftly, opened the
door, and went out. She reached her own room without meeting Vere. But
she had not been in it for more than a minute and a half when she
heard Vere come up-stairs, the sound of her door open and shut.

Hermione cleared her throat. She felt the need of doing something
physical. Then she pulled up her blinds and let the hot sun stream in
upon her.

She felt dark just then--black.

In a moment she found that she was perspiring. The sun was fierce--
that, of course, must be the reason. But she would not shut the sun
out. She must have light around her, although there was none within
her.

She was thankful she had escaped in time. If she had not, if Vere had
run into the room and found her there, she was sure she would have
frightened her child by some strange outburst. She would have said or
done something--she did not at all know what--that would perhaps have
altered their relations irrevocably. For, in that moment, the sense of
self-control, of being herself--so she put it--had been withdrawn from
her.

She would regain it, no doubt. She was even now regaining it. Already
she was able to say to herself that she was not seeing things in their
true proportions, that some sudden crisis of the nerves, due perhaps
to some purely physical cause, had plunged her into a folly of feeling
from which she would soon escape entirely. She was by nature emotional
and unguarded: therefore specially likely to be the victim in mind of
any bodily ill.

And then she was not accustomed to be unwell. Her strength of body was
remarkable. Very seldom had she felt weak.

She remembered one night, long ago in Sicily, when an awful bodily
weakness had overtaken her. But that had been caused by dread. The
mind had reacted upon the body. Now, she was sure of it, body had
reacted on mind.

Yet she had not been ill.

She felt unequal to the battle of pros and cons that was raging within
her.

"I'll be quiet," she thought. "I'll read."

And she took up a book.

She read steadily for an hour, understanding thoroughly all she read,
and wondering how she had ever fancied she cared about reading. Then
she laid the book down and looked at the clock. It was nearly four.
Tea would perhaps refresh her. And after tea? She had loved the
island, but to-day she felt almost as if it were a prison. What was
there to be done? She found herself wondering for the first time how
she had managed to "get through" week after week there. And in a
moment her wonder made her realize the inward change in her, the
distance that now divided her from Vere, the gulf that lay between
them.

A day with a stranger may seem long, but a month with a friend how
short! To live with Vere had been like living with a part of herself.
But now what would it be like? And when Emile came, and they three
were together?

When Hermione contemplated that reunion, she felt that it would be to
her intolerable. And yet she desired it. For she wanted to know
something, and she was certain that if she, Vere, and Emile could be
together, without any fourth person, she would know it.

A little while ago, when she had longed for bracing action, she had
resolved to ask Emile to meet the Marchesino. She had felt as if that
meeting would clear the air, would drive out the faint mystery which
seemed to be encompassing them about. The two men, formerly friends,
were evidently in antagonism now. She wanted to restore things to
their former footing, or to make the enmity come out into the open, to
understand it thoroughly, and to know if she and Vere had any part in
it. Her desire had been to throw open windows and let in light.

But now things were changed. She understood, she knew more. And she
wanted to be alone with Emile and with Vere. Then, perhaps, she would
understand everything.

She said this to herself quite calmly. Her mood was changed. The fire
had died down in her, and she felt almost sluggish, although still
restless. The monstrous idea had come to her again. She did not
vehemently repel it. By nature she was no doubt an impulsive. But now
she meant to be a watcher. Before she took up her book and began to
read she had been, perhaps, almost hysterical, had been plunged in a
welter of emotion in which reason was drowned, had not been herself.

But now she felt that she was herself.

There was something that she wished to know, something that the
knowledge she had gained in her child's room that day suggested as a
possibility.

She regretted her note to Emile. Why had not she asked him to come
alone, to-morrow, or even to-night--yes, to-night?

If she could only be with him and Vere for a few minutes to-night!

CHAPTER XXIII

When Artois received Hermione's letter he asked who had brought it,
and obtained from the waiter a fairly accurate description of Gaspare.

"Please ask him to come up," he said. "I want to speak to him."

Two or three minutes later there was a knock at the door and Gaspare
walked in, with a large-eyed inquiring look.

"Good-day, Gaspare. You've never seen my quarters before, I think,"
said Artois, cordially.

"No, Signore. What a beautiful room!"

"Then smoke a cigar, and I'll write an answer to this letter."

"Thank you, Signore."

Artois gave him a cigar, and sat down to answer the letter, while
Gaspare went out on to the balcony and stood looking at the bathers
who were diving from the high wooden platform of the bath
establishment over the way. When Artois had finished writing he joined
Gaspare. He had a great wish that day to break down a reserve he had
respected for many years, but he knew Gaspare's determined character,
his power of obstinate, of dogged silence. Gaspare's will had been
strong when he was a boy. The passing of the years had certainly not
weakened it. Nevertheless, Artois was moved to make the attempt which
he foresaw would probably end in failure.

He gave Gaspare the letter, and said:

"Don't go for a moment. I want to have a little talk with you."

"Si, Signore."

Gaspare put the letter into the inner pocket of his jacket, and stood
looking at Artois, holding the cigar in his left hand. In all these
years Artois had never found out whether Gaspare liked him or not. He
wished now that he knew.

"Gaspare," he said, "I think you know that I have a great regard for
your Padrona."

"Si, Signore. I know it."

The words sounded rather cold.

"She has had a great deal of sorrow to bear."

"Si, Signore."

"One does not wish that she should be disturbed in any way--that any
fresh trouble should come into her life."

Gaspare's eyes were always fixed steadily upon Artois, who, as he
spoke the last words, fancied he saw come into them an expression that
was almost severely ironical. It vanished at once as Gaspare said:

"No, Signore."

Artois felt the iron of this faithful servant's impenetrable reserve,
but he continued very quietly and composedly:

"You have always stood between the Padrona and trouble whenever you
could. You always will--I am sure of that."

"Si, Signore."

"Do you think there is any danger to the Signora's happiness here?"

"Here, Signore?"

Gaspare's emphasis seemed to imply where they were just then standing.
Artois was surprised, then for a moment almost relieved. Apparently
Gaspare had no thought in common with the strange, the perhaps
fantastic thought that had been in his own mind.

"Here--no!" he said, with a smile. "Only you and I are here, and we
shall not make the Signora unhappy."

"Chi lo sa?" returned Gaspare.

And again that ironical expression was in his eyes.

"By here I meant here in Naples, where we all are--or on the island,
for instance."

"Signore, in this life there is trouble for all."

"But some troubles, some disasters can be avoided."

"It's possible."

"Gaspare"--Artois looked at him steadily, searchingly even, and spoke
very gravely--"I respect you for your discretion of many years. But if
you know of any trouble, any danger that is near to the Signora, and
against which I could help you to protect her, I hope you will trust
me and tell me. I think you ought to do that."

"I don't know what you mean, Signore."

"Are you quite sure, Gaspare? Are you quite sure that no one comes to
the island who might make the Signora very unhappy?"

Gaspare had dropped his eyes. Now he lifted them, and looked Artois
straight in the face.

"No, Signore, I am not sure of that," he said.

There was nothing rude in his voice, but there was something stern.
Artois felt as if a strong, determined man stood in his path and
blocked the way. But why? Surely they were at cross purposes. The
working of Gaspare's mind was not clear to him.

After a moment of silence, he said:

"What I mean is this. Do you think it would be a good thing if the
Signora left the island?"

"Left the island, Signore?"

"Yes, and went away from Naples altogether."

"The Signorina would never let the Padrona go. The Signorina loves the
island and my Padrona loves the Signorina."

"But the Signorina would not be selfish. If it was best for her mother
to go--"

"The Signorina would not think it was best; she would never think it
was best to leave the island."

"But what I want to know, Gaspare, is whether you think it would be
best for them to leave the island. That's what I want to know--and you
haven't told me."

"I am a servant, Signore. I cannot tell such things."

"You are a servant--yes. But you are also a friend. And I think nobody
could tell better than you."

"I am sure the Signora will not leave the island till October,
Signore. She says we are all to stay until the end of October."

"And now it's July."

"Si, Signore. Now it's July."

In saying the last words Gaspare's voice sounded fatalistic, and
Artois believed that he caught an echo of a deep-down thought of his
own. With all his virtues Gaspare had an admixture of the spirit of
the East that dwells also in Sicily, a spirit that sometimes, brooding
over a nature however fine, prevents action, a spirit that says to a
man, "This is ordained. This is destiny. This is to be."

"Gaspare," Artois said, strong in this conviction, "I have heard you
say, 'e il destino.' But you know we can often get away from things if
we are quick-witted."

"Some things, Signore."

"Most things, perhaps. Don't you trust me?"

"Signore!"

"Don't you think, after all these years, you can trust me?"

"Signore, I respect you as I respect my father."

"Well, Gaspare, remember this. The Signora has had trouble enough in
her life. We must keep out any more."

"Signore, I shall always do what I can to spare my Padrona. Thank you
for the cigar, Signore. I ought to go now. I have to go to Mergellina
for the boat."

"To Mergellina?"

Again Artois looked at him searchingly.

"Si, Signore; I left the boat at Mergellina. It is very hot to row all
the way here."

"Yes. A rivederci, Gaspare. Perhaps I shall sail round to the island
to-night after dinner. But I'm not sure. So you need not say I am
coming."

"A rivederci, Signore."

When Gaspare had gone, Artois said to himself, "He does not trust me."

Artois was surprised to realize how hurt he felt at Gaspare's attitude
towards him that day. Till now their mutual reserve had surely linked
them together. Then silence had been a bond. But there was a change,
and the bond seemed suddenly loosened.

"Damn the difference between the nations!" Artois thought. "How can we
grasp the different points of view? How can even the cleverest of us
read clearly in others of a different race from our own?"

He felt frustrated, as he had sometimes felt frustrated by Orientals.
And he knew an anger of the brain as well as an anger of the heart.
But this anger roused him, and he resolved to do something from which
till now he had instinctively shrunk, strong-willed man though he was.
If Gaspare would not help him he would act for himself. Possibly the
suspicion, the fear that beset him was groundless. He had put it away
from him more than once, had said that it was absurd, that his
profession of an imaginative writer rendered him, perhaps, more liable
to strange fancies than were other men, that it encouraged him to seek
instinctively for drama, and that what a man instinctively and
perpetually seeks he will often imagine that he has found. Now he
would try to prove what was the truth.

He had written to Hermione saying that he would be glad to dine with
her on any evening that suited the Marchesino, that he had no
engagements. Why she wished him to meet the Marchesino he did not
know. No doubt she had some woman's reason. The one she gave was
hardly enough, and he divined another beneath it. Certainly he did not
love Doro on the island, but perhaps it was as well that they should
meet there once, and get over their little antagonism, an antagonism
that Artois thought of as almost childish. Life was not long enough
for quarrels with boys like Doro. Artois had refused Hermione's
invitation on the sea abruptly. He had felt irritated for the moment,
because he had for the moment been unusually expansive, and her
announcement that Doro was to be there had fallen upon him like a cold
douche. And then he had been nervous, highly strung from overwork. Now
he was calm, and could look at things as they were. And if he noticed
anything leading him to suppose that the Marchesino was likely to try
to abuse Hermione's hospitality he meant to have it out with him. He
would speak plainly and explain the English point of view. Doro would
no doubt attack him on the ground of his interview with Maria
Fortunata. He did not care. Somehow his present preoccupation with
Hermione's fate, increased by the visit of Gaspare, rendered his
irritation against the Marchesino less keen than it had been. But he
thought he would probably visit the island to-night--after another
visit which he intended to pay. He could not start at once. He must
give Gaspare time to take the boat and row off. For his first visit
was to Mergellina.

After waiting an hour he started on foot, keeping along by the sea, as
he did not wish to meet acquaintances, and was likely to meet them in
the Villa. As he drew near to Mergellina he felt a great and growing
reluctance to do what he had come to do, to make inquiries into a
certain matter; and he believed that this reluctance, awake within him
although perhaps he had scarcely been aware of it, had kept him
inactive during many days. Yet he was not sure of this. He was not
sure when a faint suspicion had first been born in his mind. Even now
he said to himself that what he meant to do, if explained to the
ordinary man, would probably seem to him ridiculous, that the ordinary
man would say, "What a wild idea! Your imagination runs riot." But he
thought of certain subtle things which had seemed like indications,
like shadowy pointing fingers; of a look in Gaspare's eyes when they
had met his--a hard, defiant look that seemed shutting him out from
something; of a look in another face one night under the moon; of some
words spoken in a cave with a passion that had reached his heart; of
two children strangely at ease in each other's society. And again the
thought pricked him, "Is not everything possible--even that?" All
through his life he had sought truth with persistence, sometimes
almost with cruelty, yet now he was conscious of timidity, almost of
cowardice--as if he feared to seek it.

Long ago he had known a cowardice akin to this, in Sicily. Then he had
been afraid, not for himself but for another. To-day again the
protective instinct was alive in him. It was that instinct which made
him afraid, but it was also that instinct which kept him to his first
intention, which pushed him on to Mergellina. No safety can be in
ignorance for a strong man. He must know. Then he can act.

When Artois reached Mergellina he looked about for Ruffo, but he could
not see the boy. He had never inquired Ruffo's second name. He might
make a guess at it. Should he? He looked at a group of fishermen who
were talking loudly on the sand just beyond the low wall. One of them
had a handsome face bronzed by the sun, frank hazel eyes, a mouth
oddly sensitive for one of his class. His woolen shirt, wide open,
showed a medal resting on his broad chest, one of those amulets that
are said to protect the fishermen from the dangers of the sea. Artois
resolved to ask this man the question he wished, yet feared to put to
some one. Afterwards he wondered why he had picked out this man.
Perhaps it was because he looked happy.

Artois caught the man's eye.

"You want a boat, Signore?"

With a quick movement the fellow was beside him on the other side of
the wall.

"I'll take your boat--perhaps this evening."

"At what hour, Signore?"

"We'll see. But first perhaps you can tell me something."

"What is it?"

"You live here at Mergellina?"

"Si, Signore."

"Do you know any one called--called Buonavista?"

The eyes of Artois were fixed on the man's face.

"Buonavista--si, Signore."

"You do?"

"Ma si, Signore," said the man, looking at Artois with a sudden flash
of surprise. "The family Buonavista, I have known it all my life."

"The family? Oh, then there are many of them?"

The man laughed.

"Enrico Buonavista has made many children, and is proud of it, I can
tell you. He has ten--his father before him--"

"Then they are Neapolitans?"

"Neapolitans! No, Signore. They are from Mergellina."

Artois smiled. The tension which had surprised the sailor left his
face.

"I understand. But there is no Sicilian here called Buonavista?"

"A Sicilian, Signore? I never heard of one. Are there Buonavistas in
Sicily?"

"I have met with the name there once. But perhaps you can tell me of a
boy, one of the fishermen, called Ruffo?"

"Ruffo Scarla? You mean Ruffo Scarla, who fishes with Giuseppe--
Mandano Giuseppe, Signore?"

"It may be. A young fellow, a Sicilian by birth, I believe."

"Il Siciliano! Si, Signore. We call him that, but he has never been in
Sicily, and was born in America."

"That's the boy."

"Do you want him, Signore? But he is not here to-day. He is at sea
to-day."

"I did want to speak to him."

"But he is not a boatman, Signore. He does not go with the travellers.
He is a fisherman."

"Yes. Do you know his mother?"

"Si, Signore."

"What is her name?"

"Bernari, Signore. She is married to Antonio Bernari, who is in
prison."

"In prison? What's he been doing?"

"He is always after the girls, Signore. And now he has put a knife
into one."

The man shrugged his shoulders.

"Diavolo! He is jealous. He has not been tried yet, perhaps he never
will be. His wife has gone into Naples to-day to see him."

"Oh, she's away?"

"Si, Signore."

"And her name, her Christian name? It's Maria, isn't it?"

"No, Signore, Maddalena--Maddalena Bernari."

Artois said nothing for a minute. Then he added:

"I suppose there are plenty of Maddalenas here in Mergellina?"

The man laughed.

"Si Signore. Marias and Maddalenas--you find them everywhere. Why, my
own mamma is Maddalena, and my wife is Maria, and so is my sister."

"Exactly. And your name? I want it, so that when next I take a boat
here I can ask for yours."

"Fabiano, Signore, Lari Fabiano, and my boat is the /Stella del
Mare/."

"Thank you, Fabiano."

Artois put a lira into his hand.

"I shall take the /Star of the Sea/ very soon."

"This evening, Signore; it will be fine for sailing this evening."

"If not this evening, another day. A rivederci, Fabiano."

"A rivederci, Signore. Buon passeggio."

The man went back to his companions, and, as Artois walked on began
talking eagerly to them, and pointing after the stranger.

Artois did not know what he would do later on in the evening, but he
had decided on the immediate future. He would walk up the hill to the
village of Posilipo, then turn down to the left, past the entrance to
the Villa Rosebery, and go to the Antico Giuseppone, where he could
dine by the waterside. It was quiet there, he knew; and he could have
a cutlet and a zampaglione, a cup of coffee and a cigar, and sit and
watch the night fall. And when it had fallen? Well, he would not be
far from the island, nor very far from Naples, and he could decide
then what to do.

He followed out this plan, and arrived at the Giuseppone at evening. As
he came down the road between the big buildings near the waterside he
saw in the distance a small group of boys and men lounging by the three
or four boats that lie at the quay, and feared to find, perhaps, a
bustle and noise of people round the corner at the ristorante. But when
he turned the corner and came to the little tables that were set out in
the open air, he was glad to see only two men who were bending over
their plates of fish soup. He glanced at them, almost without noticing
them, so preoccupied was he with his thoughts, sat down at an adjoining
table and ordered his simple meal. While it was being got ready he
looked out over the sea.

The two men near him conversed occasionally in low voices. He paid no
heed to them. Only when he had dined slowly and was sipping his black
coffee did they attract his attention. He heard one of them say to the
other in French:

"What am I to do? It would be terrible for me! How am I to prevent it
from happening?"

His companion replied:

"I thought you had been wandering all the winter in the desert."

"I have. What has that to do with it?"

"Have you learned its lesson?"

"What lesson?"

"The lesson of resignation, of obedience to the thing that must be."

Artois looked towards the last speaker and saw that he was an
Oriental, and that he was very old. His companion was a young
Frenchman.

"What do those do who have not learned?" continued the Oriental. "They
seek, do they not? They rebel, they fight, they try to avoid things,
they try to bring things about. They lift up their hands to disperse
the grains of the sand-storm. They lift up their voices to be heard by
the wind from the South. They stretch forth their hands to gather the
mirage into their bosom. They follow the drum that is beaten among the
dunes. They are afraid of life because they know it has two kinds of
gifts, and one they snatch at, and one they would refuse. And they are
afraid still more of the door that all must enter, Sultan and Nomad--
he who has washed himself and made the threefold pilgrimage, and he
who is a leper and is eaten by flies. So it is. And nevertheless all
that is to come must come, and all that is to go must go at the time
appointed; just as the cloud falls and lifts at the time appointed,
and the wind blows and fails, and Ramadan is here and is over."

As he ceased from speaking he got up from his chair, and, followed by
the young Frenchman, he passed in front of Artois, went down to the
waterside, stepped into a boat, and was rowed away into the gathering
shadows of night.

Artois sat very still for a time. Then he, too, got into a boat and
was rowed away across the calm water to the island.

He found Hermione sitting alone, without a lamp, on the terrace,
meditating, perhaps, beneath the stars. When she saw him she got up
quickly, and a strained look of excitement came into her face.

"You have come!"

"Yes. You--are you surprised? Did you wish to be alone?"

"No. Will you have some coffee?"

He shook his head.

"I dined at the Giuseppone. I had it there."

He glanced round.

"Are you looking for Vere? She is out on the cliff, I suppose. Shall
we go to her?"

He was struck by her nervous uneasiness. And he thought of the words
of the old Oriental, which had made upon him a profound impression,
perhaps because they had seemed spoken, not to the young Frenchman,
but in answer to unuttered thoughts of his own.

"Let us sit here for a minute," he said.

Hermione sat down again in silence. They talked for a little while
about trifling things. And then Artois was moved to tell her of the
conversation he had that evening overheard, to repeat to her, almost
word for word, what the old Oriental had said. When he had finished
Hermione was silent for a minute. Then she moved her chair and said,
in an unsteady voice:

"I don't think I should ever learn the lesson of the desert. Perhaps
only those who belong to it can learn from it."

"If it is so it is sad--for the others."

"Let us go and find Vere," she said.

"Are you sure she is on the cliff?" he asked, as they passed out by
the front door.

"I think so. I am almost certain she is."

They went forward, and almost immediately heard a murmur of voices.

"Vere is with some one," said Artois.

"It must be Ruffo. It is Ruffo."

She stood still. Artois stood still beside her. The night was
windless. Voices travelled through the dreaming silence.

"Don't be afraid. Sing it to me."

Vere's voice was speaking. Then a boy's voice rang out in the song of
Mergellina. The obedient voice was soft and very young, though manly.
And it sounded as if it sang only for one person, who was very near.
Yet it was impersonal. It asked nothing from, it told nothing to, that
person. Simply, and very naturally, it just gave to the night a very
simple and a very natural song.

As Artois listened he felt as if he learned what he had not been able
to learn that day at Mergellina. Strange as this thing was--if indeed
it was--he felt that it must be, that it was ordained to be, it and
all that might follow from it. He even felt almost that Hermione must
already know it, have divined it, as if, therefore, any effort to hide
it from her must be fruitless, or even contemptible, as if indeed all
effort to conceal truth of whatever kind was contemptible.

The words of the Oriental had sunk deep into his soul.

When the song was over he turned resolutely away. He felt that those
children should not be disturbed. Hermione hesitated for a moment.
Then she fell in with his caprice. At the house door he bade her good-
bye. She scarcely answered. And he left her standing there alone in
the still night.

CHAPTER XXIV

Her unrest was greater than ever, and the desire that consumed her
remained ungratified, although Emile had come to the island as if in
obedience to her fierce mental summons. But she had not seen him even

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