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A Spirit in Prison by Robert Hichens

Part 8 out of 13

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for a moment with Vere. Why had she let him go? When would he come
again? She might ask him to come for a long day, or she might get Vere
to ask him.

Vere must surely be longing to have a talk with her secret mentor,
with her admirer and inspirer. And then Hermione remembered how often
she had encouraged Emile, how they had discussed his work together,
how he had claimed her sympathy in difficult moments, how by her
enthusiasm she had even inspired him--so at least he had told her. And
now he was fulfilling in her child's life an office akin to hers in
his life.

The knowledge made her feel desolate, driven out. Yes, she felt as if
this secret shared by child and friend had expelled her from their
lives. Was that unreasonable? She wished to be reasonable, to be calm.

Calm? She thought of the old Oriental, and of his theory of
resignation. Surely it was not for her, that theory. She was of
different blood. She did not issue from the loins of the immutable
East. And yet how much better it was to be resigned, to sit enthroned
above the chances of life, to have conquered fate by absolute
submission to its decrees!

Why was her heart so youthful in her middle-aged body? Why did it
still instinctively clamor for sympathy, like a child's? Why could she
be so easily and so cruelly wounded? It was weak. It was contemptible.
She hated herself. But she could only be the thing she at that moment
hated.

Her surreptitious act of the afternoon seemed to have altered her
irrevocably, to have twisted her out of shape--yet she could not wish
it undone, the knowledge gained by it withheld. She had needed to know
what Emile knew, and chance had led her to learn it, as she had
learned it, with her eyes instead of from the lips of her child.

She wondered what Vere would have said if she had been asked to reveal
the secret. She would never know that now. But there were other things
that she felt she must know: why Vere had never told her--and
something else.

Her act of that day had twisted her out of shape. She was awry, and
she felt that she must continue to be as she was, that her fearless
honesty was no longer needed by her, could no longer rightly serve her
in the new circumstances that others had created for her. They had
been secret. She could not be open. She was constrained to watch, to
conceal--to be awry, in fact.

Yet she felt guilty even while she said this to herself, guilty and
ashamed, and then doubtful. She doubted her new capacity to be
furtive. She could watch, but she did not know whether she could watch
without showing what she was doing. And Emile was terribly observant.

This thought, of his subtlety and her desire to conceal, made her
suddenly realize their altered relations with a vividness that
frightened her. Where was the beautiful friendship that had been the
comfort, the prop of her bereaved life? It seemed already to have sunk
away into the past. She wondered what was in store for her, if there
were new sorrows being forged for her in the cruel smithy of the great
Ruler, sorrows that would hang like chains about her till she could go
no farther. The Egyptian had said: "What is to come will come, and
what is to go will go, at the time appointed." And Vere had said she
felt as if perhaps there was a cross that must be borne by some one on
the island, by "one of us." Was she, Hermione, picked out to bear that
cross? Surely God mistook the measure of her strength. If He had He
would soon know how feeble she was. When Maurice had died, somehow she
had endured it. She had staggered under the weight laid upon her, but
she had upheld it. But now she was much older, and she felt as if
suffering, instead of strengthening, had weakened her character, as if
she had not much "fight" left in her.

"I don't believe I could endure another great sorrow," she said to
herself. "I'm sure I couldn't."

Just then Vere came in to bid her good-night.

"Good-night, Vere," Hermione said.

She kissed the girl gently on the forehead, and the touch of the cool
skin suddenly made her long to sob, and to say many things. She took
her lips away.

"Emile has been here," she said.

"Monsieur Emile!"

Vere looked round.

"But--"

"He has gone."

"Gone! But I haven't seen him!"

Her voice seemed thoroughly surprised.

"He only stayed five minutes or so."

"Oh, Madre, I wish I had known!"

There was a touch of reproach in Vere's tone, and there was something
so transparently natural, so transparently innocent and girlish in her
disappointment, that it told her mother something she was glad to
know. Not that she had doubted it--but she was glad to know.

"We came to look for you."

"Well, but I was only on the cliff, where I always go. I was there
having a little talk with Ruffo."

"I know."

"And you never called me, Madre!" Vere looked openly hurt. "Why didn't
you?"

In truth, Hermione hardly knew. Surely it had been Emile who had led
them away from the singing voice of Ruffo.

"Ruffo was singing."

"A song about Mergellina. Did you hear it? I do like it and the way he
sings it."

The annoyance had gone from her face at the thought of the song.

"And when he sings he looks so careless and gay. Did you listen?"

"Yes, for a moment, and then we went away. I think it was Emile who
made us go. He didn't want to disturb you, I think."

"I understand."

Vere's face softened. Again Hermione felt a creeping jealousy at her
heart. Vere had surely been annoyed with her, but now she knew that it
was Emile who had not wished to disturb the /tete-a-tete/ on the cliff
she did not mind. She even looked as if she were almost touched. Could
the mother be wrong where the mere friend was right? She felt, when
Vere spoke and her expression changed, the secret understanding from
which she was excluded.

"What is the matter, Madre?"

"The matter! Nothing. Why?"

"You looked so odd for a minute. I thought--"

But she did not express what she had thought, for Hermione interrupted
her by saying:

"We must get Emile to come for a long day. I wish you would write him
a note to-morrow morning, Vere. Write for me and ask him to come on
Thursday. I have a lot to do in the morning. Will you save me the
trouble?" She tried to speak, carelessly. "I've a long letter to send
to Evelyn Townley," she added.

"Of course, Madre. And I'll tell Monsieur Emile all I think of him for
neglecting us as he has. Ah! But I remember; he's been working."

"Yes, he's been working; and one must forgive everything to the
worker, mustn't one?"

"To such a worker as Monsieur Emile is, yes. I do wish you'd let me
read his books, Madre."

For a moment Hermione hesitated, looking at her child.

"Why are you so anxious to read them all of a sudden?" she asked.

"Well, I'm growing up and--and I understand things I used not to
understand."

Her eyes fell for a moment before her mother's, and there was a
silence, in which the mother felt some truth withheld. Vere looked up
again.

"And I want to appreciate Monsieur Emile properly--as you do, Madre.
It seems almost ridiculous to know him so well, and not to know him
really at all."

"But you do know him really."

"I'm sure he puts most of his real self into his work."

Hermione remembered her conception of Emile Artois long ago, when she
only knew him through two books; that she had believed him to be
cruel, that she had thought her nature must be in opposition to his.
Vere did not know that side of "Monsieur Emile."

"Vere, it is true you are growing up," she said, speaking rather
slowly, as if to give herself time for something. "Perhaps I was wrong
the other day in what I said. You may read Emile's books if you like."

"Madre!"

Vere's face flushed with eager pleasure.

"Thank you, Madre!"

She went up to bed radiant.

When she had gone Hermione stood where she was. She had just done a
thing that was mean, or at least she had done a thing from a mean, a
despicable motive. She knew it as the door shut behind her child, and
she was frightened of herself. Never before had she been governed by
so contemptible a feeling as that which had just prompted her. If
Emile ever knew, or even suspected what it was, she felt that she
could never look into his face again with clear, unfaltering eyes.
What madness was upon her? What change was working within her?
Repulsion came, and with it the desire to combat at once, strongly,
the new, the hateful self which had frightened her.

She hastened after Vere, and in a moment was knocking at the child's
door.

"Who's there? Who is it?"

"Vere!" called the mother.

As she called she tried the door, and found it locked.

"Madre! It's you!"

"Yes. May I come in?"

"One tiny moment."

The voice within sounded surely a little startled and uneven,
certainly not welcoming. There was a pause. Hermione heard the
rustling of paper, then a drawer shut sharply.

Vere was hiding away her poems!

When Hermione understood that she felt the strong, good impulse
suddenly shrivel within her, and a bitter jealousy take its place.
Vere came to the door and opened it.

"Oh, come in, Madre! What is it?" she asked.

In her bright eyes there was the look of one unexpectedly disturbed.
Hermione glanced quickly at the writing-table.

"You--you weren't writing my note to Monsieur Emile?" she said.

She stepped into the room. She wished she could force Vere to tell her
about the poems, but without asking. She felt as if she could not
continue in her present condition, excluded from Vere's confidence.
Yet she knew now that she could never plead for it.

"No, Madre. I can do it to-morrow."

Vere looked and sounded surprised, and the mother felt more than ever
like an intruder. Yet something dogged kept her there.

"Are you tired, Vere?" she asked.

"Not a bit."

"Then let us have a little talk."

"Of course."

Vere shut the door. Hermione knew by the way she shut it that she
wanted to be alone, to go on with her secret occupation. She came back
slowly to her mother, who was sitting on a chair by the bedside.
Hermione took her hand, and Vere pushed up the edge of the mosquito-
curtain and sat down on the bed.

"About those books of Emile's--" Hermione began.

"Oh, Madre, you're not going to-- But you've promised!"

"Yes."

"Then I may?"

"Why should you wish to read such books? They will probably make you
sad, and--and they may even make you afraid of Emile."

"Afraid! Why?"

"I remember long ago, before I knew him, I had a very wrong conception
of him, gained from his books."

"Oh, but I know him beforehand. That makes all the difference."

"A man like Emile has many sides."

"I think we all have, Madre. Don't you?"

Vere looked straight at her mother. Hermione felt that a moment had
come in which, perhaps, she could force the telling of that truth
which already she knew.

"I suppose so, Vere; but we need not surely keep any side hidden from
those we love, those who are nearest to us."

Vere looked a little doubtful--even, for a moment, slightly confused.

"N--o?" she said.

She seemed to consider something. Then she added:

"But I think it depends. If something in us might give pain to any one
we love, I think we ought to try to hide that. I am sure we ought."

Hermione felt that each of them was thinking of the same thing, even
speaking of it without mentioning it. But whereas she knew that Vere
was doing so, Vere could not know that she was. So Vere was at a
disadvantage. Vere's last words had opened the mother's eyes. What she
had guessed was true. This secret of the poems was kept from her
because of her own attempt to create and its failure. Abruptly she
wondered if Vere and Emile had ever talked that failure over. At the
mere thought of such a conversation her whole body tingled. She got up
from her chair.

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

And she left the room, leaving her child amazed.

Vere did not understand why her mother had come, nor why, having come,
she abruptly went away. There was something the matter with her
mother. She had felt that for some time. She was more conscious than
ever of it now. Around her mother there was an atmosphere of
uneasiness in which she felt herself involved. And she was vaguely
conscious of the new distance between them, a distance daily growing
wider. Now and then, lately, she had felt almost uncomfortable with
her mother, in the sitting-room when she was saying good-night, and
just now when she sat on the bed. Youth is terribly quick to feel
hostility, however subtle. The thought that her mother could be
hostile to her had never entered Vere's head. Nevertheless, the
mother's faint and creeping hostility--for at times Hermione's feeling
was really that, thought she would doubtless have denied it even to
herself--disagreeably affected the child.

"What can be the matter with Madre?" she thought.

She went over to the writing-table, where she had hastily shut up her
poems on hearing the knock at the door, but she did not take them out
again. Instead she sat down and wrote the note to Monsieur Emile. As
she wrote the sense of mystery, of uneasiness, departed from her,
chased away, perhaps, by the memory of Monsieur Emile's kindness to
her and warm encouragement, by the thought of having a long talk with
him again, of showing him certain corrections and developments carried
out by her since she had seen him. The sympathy of the big man meant a
great deal to her, more even than he was aware of. It lifted up her
eager young heart. It sent the blood coursing through her veins with a
new and ardent strength. Hermione's enthusiasm had been inherited by
Vere, and with it something else that gave it a peculiar vitality, a
power of lasting--the secret consciousness of talent.

Now, as she wrote her letter, she forgot all her uneasiness, and her
pen flew.

At last she sighed her name--"Vere."

She was just going to put the letter into its envelope when something
struck her, and she paused. The she added:

"P.S.--Just now Madre gave me leave to read your books."

CHAPTER XXV

The words of the old Oriental lingered in the mind of Artois. He was
by nature more fatalistic than Hermione, and moreover he knew what she
did not. Long ago he had striven against a fate. With the help of
Gaspare he had conquered it--or so he had believed till now. But now
he asked himself whether he had not only delayed its coming. If his
suspicion were well founded,--and since his last visit to the island
he felt as if it must be,--then surely all he had done with Gaspare
would be in vain at the last.

If his suspicion were well founded, then certain things are ordained.
They have to happen for some reason, known only to the hidden
Intelligence that fashions each man's character, that develops it in
joy or grief, that makes it glad with feasting, or forces it to feed
upon the bread of tears.

Did Gaspare know? If the truth were what Artois suspected, and Gaspare
did know it, what would Gaspare do?

That was a problem which interested Artois intensely.

The Sicilian often said of a thing "E il Destino." Yet Artois believed
that for his beloved Padrona he would fight to the death. He, Artois,
would leave this fight against destiny to the Sicilian. For him the
Oriental's philosophy; for him resignation to the inevitable, whatever
it might be.

He said to himself that to do more than he had already done to ward
off the assaults of truth would be impious. Perhaps he ought never to
have done anything. Perhaps it would have been far better to have let
the wave sweep over Hermione long ago. Perhaps even in that fight of
his there had been secret selfishness, the desire that she should not
know how by his cry from Africa her happy life had been destroyed. And
perhaps he was to be punished some day for that.

He did not know. But he felt, after all these years, that if to that
hermitage of the sea Fate had really found the way he must let things
take their course. And it seemed to him as if the old Oriental had
been mysteriously appointed to come near him just at that moment, to
make him feel that this was so. The Oriental had been like a messenger
sent to him out of that East which he loved, which he had studied, but
from which, perhaps, he had not learned enough.

Vere's letter came. He read it with eagerness and pleasure till he
came to the postscript. But that startled him. He knew that Vere had
never read his books. He thought her far too young to read them. Till
lately he had almost a contempt for those who write with one eye on
"la jeune fille." Now he could conceive writing with a new pleasure
something that Vere might read. But those books of his! Why had
Hermione suddenly given that permission? He remembered Peppina. Vere
must have told her mother of the scene with Peppina, and how her eyes
had been opened to certain truths of life, how she had passed from
girlhood to womanhood through that gate of knowledge. And Hermione
must have thought that it was useless to strive to keep Vere back.

But did he wish Vere to read all that he had written?

On Thursday he went over to the island with mingled eagerness and
reluctance. That little home in the sea, washed by blue waters, rooted
by blue skies, sun-kissed and star-kissed by day and night, drew and
repelled him. There was the graciousness of youth there, of youth and
promise; but there was tragedy there, too, in the heart of Hermione,
and in Peppina, typified by the cross upon her cheek. And does not
like draw like?

For a moment he saw the little island with a great cloud above it. But
when he landed and met Vere he felt the summer, and knew that the sky
was clear.

Hermione was not on the island, Vere told him. She had left many
apologies, and would be home for lunch. She had had to go in to Naples
to see the dentist. A tooth had troubled her in the night. She had
gone by tram. As Vere explained Artois had a moment of surprise, a
moment of suspicion--even of vexation. But it passed when Vere said:

"I'm afraid poor Madre suffered a great deal. She looked dreadful this
morning, as if she hadn't slept all night."

"Poveretta!" said Artois.

He looked earnestly at Vere. This was the first time they had met
since the revelation of Peppina. What the Marchesino had seen Artois
saw more plainly, felt more strongly than the young Neapolitan had
felt. But he looked at Vere, too, in search of something else,
thinking of Ruffo, trying to probe into the depth of human mysteries,
to find the secret spring that carried child to child.

"What do you want, Monsieur Emile?"

"I want to know how the work goes," he answered, smiling.

She flushed a little.

"And I want to tell you something," he added. "My talk with you roused
me up. Vere, you set me working as I have not worked for a long
while."

A lively pleasure showed in her face.

"Is that really true? But then I must be careful, or you will never
come to see us any more. You will always be shut up in the hotel
writing."

They mounted the cliff together and, without question or reply, as by
a mutual instinct, turned towards the seat that faced Ischia, clear
to-day, yet romantic with the mystery of heat. When they had sat down
Vere added:

"And besides, of course, I know that it is Madre who encourages you
when you are depressed about your work. I have heard you say so
often."

"Your mother has done a great deal for me," said Artois, seriously--
"far more than she will ever know."

There was a sound of deep, surely of eternal feeling in his voice,
which suddenly touched the girl to the quick.

"I like to hear you say that--like that," she said, softly. "I think
Madre does a great deal for us all."

If Hermione could have heard them her torn heart might perhaps have
ceased to bleed. It had been difficult for her to do what she had done
--to leave the island that morning. She had done it to discipline her
nature, as Passionists scourge themselves by night before the altar.
She had left Emile alone with Vere simply because she hated to do it.

The rising up of jealousy in her heart had frightened her. All night
she had lain awake feeling this new and terrible emanation from her
soul, conscious of this monster that lifted up its head and thrust it
forth out of the darkness.

But one merit she had. She was frank with herself. She named the
monster before she strove to fight it, to beat it back into the
darkness from which it was emerging.

She was jealous, doubly jealous. The monopolizing instinct of strong-
natured and deeply affectionate women was fiercely alive in her.
Always, no doubt, she had had it. Long ago, when first she was in
Sicily alone, she had dreamed of a love in the South--far away from
the world. When she married she had carried her Mercury to the
exquisite isolation of Monte Amato. And when that love was taken from
her, and her child came and was at the age of blossom, she had brought
her child to this isle, this hermitage of the sea. Emile, too, her one
great friend, she had never wished to share him. She had never cared
much to meet him in society. Her instinct was to have him to herself,
to be with him alone in unfrequented places. She was greedy or she was
timid. Which was it? Perhaps she lacked self-confidence, belief in her
own attractive power. Life in the world is a fight. Woman fight for
their lovers, fight for their friends, with other women: those many
women who are born thieves, who are never happy unless they are taking
from their sisters the possessions those sisters care for most.
Hermione could never have fought with other women for the love or the
friendship of a man. Her instinct, perhaps, was to carry her treasure
out of all danger into the wilderness.

Two treasures she had--Vere her child, Emile her friend. And now she
was jealous of each with the other. And the enormous difference in
their ages made her jealousy seem the more degrading. Nevertheless,
she could not feel that it was unnatural. By a mutual act they had
excluded her from their lives, had withdrawn from her their confidence
while giving it to each other. And their reason for doing this--she
was sure of it now--was her own failure to do something in the world
of art.

She was jealous of Vere because of that confidence given to Emile, and
of Emile because of his secret advice and help to Vere--advice and
help which he had not given to the mother, because he had plainly seen
that to do so would be useless.

And when she remembered this Hermione was jealous, too, of the talent
Vere must have, a talent she had longed for, but which had been denied
to her. For even if Emile . . . and then again came the most hateful
suspicion of all--but Emile could not lie about the things of art.

Had they spoken together of her failure? Again and again she asked
herself the question. They must have spoken. They had spoken. She
could almost hear their words--words of regret or of pity. "We must
not hurt her. We must keep it from her. We must temper the wind to the
shorn lamb." The elderly man and the child had read together the
tragedy of her failure. To the extremes of life, youth and age, she
had appeared an object of pity.

And then she thought of her dead husband's reverence of her intellect,
boyish admiration of her mental gifts; and an agony of longing for his
love swept over her again, and she felt that he was the only person
who had been able to love her really, and that now he was gone there
was no one.

At that moment she forgot Gaspare. Her sense of being abandoned, and
of being humiliated, swept out many things from her memory. Only
Maurice had loved her really. Only he had set her on high, where even
the humblest woman longs to be set by some one. Only he had thought
her better, braver, more worshipful, more loveable, than any other
woman. Such love, without bringing conceit to the creature loved,
gives power, creates much of what it believes in. The lack of any such
love seems to withdraw the little power that there is.

Hermione, feeling in this humiliation of the imagination that she was
less than nothing, clung desperately to the memory of him who had
thought her much. The dividing years were gone. With a strange, a
beautiful and terrible freshness, the days of her love came back. She
saw Maurice's eyes looking at her with that simple, almost reverent
admiration which she had smiled at and adored.

And she gripped her memory. She clung to it feverishly as she had
never clung to it before. She told herself that she would live in it
as in a house of shelter. For there was the desolate wind outside.

And she thought much of Ruffo, and with a strange desire--to be with
him, to search for the look she loved in him. For a moment with him
she had seemed to see her Mercury in the flesh. She must watch for his
return.

When the morning came she began her fight. She made her excuse, and
left the morning free for Emile to be with Vere.

Two dreary hours she spent in Naples. The buzzing city affected her
like a nightmare. Coming back through Mergellina, she eagerly looked
for Ruffo. But she did not see him. Nor had she seen him in the early
morning, when she passed by the harbor where the yachts were lying in
the sun.

Gaspare came with the boat to take her over from the nearest village
to the island.

"Don Emilio has come?" she asked him, as she stepped into the boat.

"Si, Signora. He has been on the island a long time."

Gaspare sat down facing his Padrona and took the oars. As he rowed the
boat out past the ruined "Palace of the Spirits" he looked at
Hermione, and it seemed to her that his eyes pitied her.

Could Gaspare see what she was feeling, her humiliation, her secret
jealousy? She felt as if she were made of glass. But she returned his
gaze almost sternly, and said:

"What's the matter, Gaspare? Why do you look at me like that?"

"Signora!"

He seemed startled, and slightly reddened, then looked hurt and almost
sulky.

"May I not look at you, Signora?" he asked, rather defiantly. "Have I
the evil eye?"

"No--no, Gaspare! Only--only you looked at me as if something were the
matter. Do I look ill?"

She asked the question with a forced lightness, with a smile. He
answered, bluntly:

"Si, Signora. You look very ill."

She put up her hand to her face instinctively, as if to feel whether
his words were true.

"But I'm perfectly well," she said.

"You look very ill, Signora," he returned.

"I'm a little bit tired, perhaps."

He said no more, and rowed steadily on for a while. But presently she
found him looking gravely at her again.

"Signora," he began, "the Signorina loves the island."

"Yes, Gaspare."

"Do you love it?"

The question startled her. Had he read her thoughts in the last days?

"Don't you think I love it?" she asked.

"You go away from it very often, Signora."

"But I must occasionally go in to Naples!" she protested.

"Si, Signora."

"Well, but mustn't I?"

"Non lo so, Signora. Perhaps we have been here long enough. Perhaps we
had better go away from here."

He spoke slowly, and with something less than his usual firmness, as
if in his mind there was uncertainty, some indecision or some conflict
of desires.

"Do you want to go away?" she said.

"It is not for me to want, Signora."

"I don't think the Signorina would like to go, Gaspare. She hates the
idea of leaving the island."

"The Signorina is not every one," he returned.

Habitually blunt as Gaspare was, Hermione had never before heard him
speak of Vere like this, not with the least impertinence, but with a
certain roughness. To-day it did not hurt her. Nor, indeed, could it
ever have hurt her, coming from some one so proven as Gaspare. But
to-day it even warmed her, for it made her feel that some one was
thinking exclusively of her--was putting her first. She longed for
some expression of affection from some one. She felt that she was
starving for it. And this feeling made her say:

"How do you mean, Gaspare?"

"Signora, it is for you to say whether we shall go away or stay here."

"You--you put me first, Gaspare?"

She was ashamed of herself for saying it. But she had to say it.

"First, Signora? Of course you are first."

He looked genuinely surprised.

"Are you not the Padrona?" he added. "It is for you to command."

"Yes. But I don't quite mean that."

She stopped. But she had to go on:

"I mean, would you rather do what I wanted than what any one else
wanted?"

"Si, Signora--much rather."

There was more in his voice than in his words.

"Thank you, Gaspare," she said.

"Signora," he said, "if you think we had better leave the island, let
us leave it. Let us go away."

"Well, but I have never said I wished to go. I am--" she paused. "I
have been very contented to be here."

"Va bene, Signora."

When they reached the island Hermione felt nervous--almost as if she
were to meet strangers who were critical, who would appraise her and
be ready to despise her. She told herself that she was mad to feel
like that; but when she thought of Emile and Vere talking of her
failure--of their secret combined action to keep from her the
knowledge of the effort of the child--that seemed just then to her a
successful rivalry concealed--she could not dismiss the feeling.

She dreaded to meet Emile and Vere.

"I wonder where they are," she said, as she got out. "Perhaps they are
on the cliff, or out in the little boat. I'll go into the house."

"Signora, I will go to the seat and see if they are there."

"Oh, don't bother--" she began.

But he ran off, springing up the steps with a strong agility, like
that of a boy.

She hurried after him and went into the house. After what he had said
in the boat she wished to look at herself in the glass, to see if
there was anything strange or painful, anything that might rouse
surprise, in her appearance. She gained her bedroom, and went at once
to the mirror.

Hermione was not by nature at all a self-conscious woman. She knew
that she was plain, and had sometimes, very simply, regretted it. But
she did not generally think about her appearance, and very seldom now
wondered what others were thinking of it. When Maurice had been with
her she had often indeed secretly compared her ugliness with his
beauty. But a great love breeds many regrets as well as many joys. And
that was long ago. It was years since she had looked at herself in the
glass with any keen feminine anxiety, any tremor of fear, or any cruel
self-criticism. But now she stood for a long time before the glass,
quite still, looking at her reflection with wide, almost with staring,
eyes.

It was true what Gaspare said. She saw that she was looking ill, very
different from her usual strong self. There was not a thread of white
in her thick hair, and this fact, combined with the eagerness of her
expression, the strong vivacity and intelligence that normally shone
in her eyes, deceived many people as to her age. But to-day her face
was strained, haggard, and feverish. Under the brown tint that the
sunrays had given to her complexion there seemed to lurk a sickly
white, which was most markedly suggested at the corner of the mouth.
The cheek-bones seemed unusually prominent. And the eyes held surely a
depth of uneasiness, of--

Hermione approached her face to the mirror till it almost touched the
glass. The reflected eyes drew hers. She gazed into them with a
scrutiny into which she seemed to be pouring her whole force, both of
soul and body. She was trying to look at her nature, to see its shape,
its color, its expression, so that she might judge of what it was
capable--whether for good or evil. The eyes into which she looked both
helped her and frustrated her. They told her much--too much. And yet
they baffled her. When she would know all, they seemed to substitute
themselves for that which she saw through them, and she found herself
noticing their size, their prominence, the exact shade of their brown
hue. And the quick human creature behind them was hidden from her.

But Gaspare was right. She did look ill. Emile would notice it
directly.

She washed her face with cold water, then dried it almost cruelly with
a rough towel. Having done this, she did not look again into the
glass, but went at once down-stairs. As she came into the drawing-room
she heard voices in the garden. She stood still and listened. They
were the voices of Vere and Emile talking tirelessly. She could not
hear what they said. Had she been able to hear it she would not have
listened. She could only hear the sound made by their voices, that
noise by which human beings strive to explain, or to conceal, what
they really are. They were talking seriously. She heard no sounds of
laughter. Vere was saying most. It seemed to Hermione that Vere never
talked so much and so eagerly to her, with such a ceaseless vivacity.
And there was surely an intimate sound in her voice, a sound of being
warmly at ease, as if she spoke in an atmosphere of ardent sympathy.

Again the jealousy came in Hermione, acute, fierce, and travelling--
like a needle being moved steadily, point downwards, through a network
of quivering nerves.

"Vere!" she called out. "Vere! Emile!"

Was her voice odd, startling?

They did not hear her. Emile was speaking now. She heard the deep,
booming sound of his powerful voice, that seemed expressive of
strength and will.

"Vere! Emile!"

As she called again she went towards the window. She felt passionately
excited. The excitement had come suddenly to her when they had not
heard her first call.

"Emile! Emile!" she repeated. "Emile!"

"Madre!"

"Hermione!"

Both voices sounded startled.

"What's the matter?"

Vere appeared at the window, looking frightened.

"Hermione, what is it?"

Emile was there beside her. And he, too, looked anxious, almost
alarmed.

"I only wanted to let you know I had come back," said Hermione,
crushing down her excitement and forcing herself to smile.

"But why did you call like that?"

Vere spoke.

"Like what? What do you mean, figlia mia?"

"It sounded--"

She stopped and looked at Artois.

"It frightened me. And you, Monsieur Emile?"

"I, too, was afraid for a moment that something unpleasant had
happened."

"You nervous people! Isn't it lunch-time?"

As they looked at her she felt they had been talking about her, about
her failure. And she felt, too, as if they must be able to see in her
eyes that she knew the secret Vere had wished to keep from her and
thought she did not know. Emile had given her a glance of intense
scrutiny, and the eyes of her child still questioned her with a sort
of bright and searching eagerness.

"You make me feel as if I were with detectives," she said, laughing,
but uneasily. "There's really nothing the matter."

"And your tooth, Madre? Is it better?"

"Yes, quite well. I am perfectly well. Let us go in."

Hermione had said to herself that if she could see Emile and Vere
together, without any third person, she would know something that she
felt she must know. When she was with them she meant to be a watcher.
And now her whole being was strung to attention. But it seemed to her
that for some reason they, too, were on the alert, and so were not
quite natural. And she could not be sure of certain things unless the
atmosphere was normal. So she said to herself now, though before she
had had the inimitable confidence of woman in certain detective
instincts claimed by the whole sex. At one moment the thing she feared
--and her whole being recoiled from the thought of it with a shaking
disgust--the thing she feared seemed to her fact. Then something
occurred to make her distrust herself. And she felt that betraying
imagination of hers at work, obscuring all issues, tricking her,
punishing her.

And when the meal was over she did not know at all. And she felt as if
she had perhaps been deliberately baffled--not, of course, by Vere, of
whose attitude she was not, and never had been, doubtful, but by
Emile.

When they got up from the table Vere said:

"I'm going to take the siesta."

"You look remarkably wide awake, Vere," Artois said, smiling.

"But I'm going to, because I've had you all to myself the whole
morning. Now it's Madre's turn. Isn't it, Madre?"

The girl's remark showed her sense of their complete triple intimacy,
but it emphasized to Hermione her own cruel sense of being in the
wilderness. And she even felt vexed that it should be supposed she
wanted Emile's company. Nevertheless, she restrained herself from
making any disclaimer. Vere went up-stairs, and she and Artois went
out and sat down under the trellis. But with the removal of Vere a
protection and safety-valve seemed to be removed, and neither Hermione
nor Emile could for a moment continue the conversation. Again a sense
of humiliation, of being mindless, nothing in the eyes of Artois came
to Hermione, diminishing all her powers. She was never a conceited,
but she had often been a self-reliant woman. Now she felt a humbleness
such as she knew no one should ever feel--a humbleness that was
contemptible, that felt itself incapable, unworthy of notice. She
tried to resist it, but when she thought of this man, her friend,
talking over her failure with her child, in whom he must surely
believe, she could not. She felt "Vere can talk to Emile better than I
can. She interests him more than I." And then her years seemed to
gather round her and whip her. She shrank beneath the thongs of age,
which had not even brought to her those gifts of the mind with which
it often partially replaces the bodily gifts and graces it is so eager
to remove.

"Hermione."

"Yes, Emile."

She turned slowly in her chair, forcing herself to face him.

"Are you sure you are not feeling ill?"

"Quite sure. Did you have a pleasant morning with Vere?"

"Yes. Oh"--he sat forward in his chair--"she told me something that
rather surprised me--that you had told her she might read my books."

"Well?"

Hermione's voice was rather hard.

"Well, I never meant them for 'la jeune fille.' "

"You consider Vere--"

"Is she not?"

She felt he was condemning her secretly for her permission to Vere.
What would he think if he knew her under-reason for giving it?

"You don't wish Vere to read your books, then?"

"No. And I ventured to tell her so."

Hermione felt hot.

"What did she say?"

"She said she would not read them."

"Oh."

She looked up and met his eyes, and was sure she read condemnation in
them.

"After I had told Vere--" she began.

She was about to defend herself, to tell him how she had gone to
Vere's room intending to withdraw the permission given; but suddenly
she realized clearly that she, a mother, was being secretly taken to
task by a man for her conduct to her child.

That was intolerable.

And Vere had yielded to Emile's prohibition, though she had eagerly
resisted her mother's attempt to retreat from the promise made. That
was more intolerable.

She sat without saying anything. Her knees were trembling under her
thin summer gown. Artois felt something of her agitation, perhaps, for
he said, with a kind of hesitating diffidence, very rare in him:

"Of course, my friend, I would not interfere between you and Vere,
only, as I was concerned, as they were my own writings that were in
question--" He broke off. "You won't misunderstand my motives?" he
concluded.

"Oh no."

He was more conscious that she was feeling something acutely.

"I feel that I perfectly understand why you gave the permission at
this particular moment," he continued, anxious to excuse her to
herself and to himself.

"Why?" Hermione said, sharply.

"Wasn't it because of Peppina?"

"Peppina?"

"Yes; didn't you--"

He looked into her face and saw at once that he had made a false step,
that Vere had not told her mother of Peppina's outburst.

"Didn't I--what?"

He still looked at her.

"What?" she repeated. "What has Peppina to do with it?"

"Nothing. Only--don't you remember what you said to me about not
keeping Vere in cotton-wool?"

She knew that he was deceiving her. A hopeless, desperate feeling of
being in the dark rushed over her. What was friendship without
sincerity? Nothing--less than nothing. She felt as if her whole body
stiffened with a proud reserve to meet the reserve with which he
treated her. And she felt as if her friend of years, the friend whose
life she had perhaps saved in Africa, had turned in that moment into a
stranger, or--even into an enemy. For this furtive withdrawal from
their beautiful and open intimacy was like an act of hostility. She
was almost dazed for an instant. Then her brain worked with feverish
activity. What had Emile meant? Her permission to Vere was connected
in his mind with Peppina. He must know something about Vere and
Peppina that she did not know. She looked at him, and her face,
usually so sensitive, so receptive, so warmly benign when it was
turned to his, was hard and cold.

"Emile," she said, "what was it you meant about Peppina? I think I
have a right to know. I brought her into the house. Why should Peppina
have anything to do with my giving Vere permission to read your
books?"

Artois' instinct was not to tell what Vere had not told, and therefore
had not wished to be known. Yet he hated to shuffle with Hermione. He
chose a middle course.

"My friend," he said quietly, but with determination, "I made a
mistake. I was following foolishly a wrong track. Let us say no more
about it. But do not be angry with me about the books. I think my
motive in speaking as I did to Vere was partly a selfish one. It is
not only that I wish Vere to be as she is for as long a time as
possible, but that I--well, don't think me a great coward if I say
that I almost dread her discovery of all the cruel knowledge that is
mine, and that I have, perhaps wrongly, brought to the attention of
the world."

Hermione was amazed.

"You regret having written your books!" she said.

"I don't know--I don't know. But I think the happy confidence, the
sweet respect of youth, makes one regret a thousand things. Don't you,
Hermione? Don't you think youth is often the most terrible tutor age
can have?"

She thought of Ruffo singing, "Oh, dolce luna bianca de l' Estate"--
and suddenly she felt that she could not stay any longer with Artois
just then. She got up.

"I don't feel very well," she said.

Artois sprang up and came towards her with a face full of concern. But
she drew back.

"I didn't sleep last night--and then going into Naples-- I'll go to my
room and lie down. I'll keep quiet. Vere will look after you. I'll be
down at tea."

She went away before he could say or do anything. For some time he was
alone. Then Vere came. Hermione had not told her of the episode, and
she had only come because she thought the pretended siesta had lasted
long enough. When Artois told her about her mother, she wanted to run
away at once, and see what was the matter--see if she could do
something. But Artois stopped her.

"I should leave her to rest," he said. "I--I feel sure she wishes to
be alone."

Vere was looking at him while he spoke, and her face caught the
gravity of his, reflected it for a moment, then showed an uneasiness
that deepened into fear. She laid her hand on his arm.

"Monsieur Emile, what is the matter with Madre?"

"Only a headache, I fancy. She did not sleep last night, and--"

"No, no, the real matter, Monsieur Emile."

"What do you mean, Vere?"

The girl looked excited. Her own words had revealed to her a feeling
of which till then she had only been vaguely aware.

"Madre has seemed different lately," she said--"been different. I am
sure she has. What is it?"

As the girl spoke, and looked keenly at him with her bright, searching
eyes, a thought came, like a flash, upon Artois--a thought that almost
frightened him. He could not tell it to Vere, and almost immediately
he thrust it away from his mind. But Vere had seen that something had
come to him.

"You know what it is!" she said.

"I don't know."

"Monsieur Emile!"

Her voice was full of reproach.

"Vere, I am telling you the truth," he said, earnestly. "If there is
anything seriously troubling your mother I do not know what it is. She
has sorrows, of course. You know that."

"This is something fresh," the girl said. She thrust forward her
little chin decisively. "This is something new."

"It cannot be that," Artois said to himself. "It cannot be that."

To Vere he said: "Sleeplessness is terribly distressing."

"Well--but only one night."

"Perhaps there have been others."

In reply Vere said:

"Monsieur Emile, you remember this morning, when we were in the
garden, and mother called?"

"Yes."

"Do you know, the way she called made me feel frightened?"

"We were so busy talking that the sudden sound startled us."

"No, it wasn't that."

"But when we came your mother was smiling--she was perfectly well. You
let your imagination--"

"No, Monsieur Emile, indeed I don't."

He did not try any more to remove her impression. He saw that to do so
would be quite useless.

"I should like to speak to Gaspare," Vere said, after a moment's
thought.

"Gaspare! Why?"

"Perhaps you will laugh at me! But I often think Gaspare understands
Madre better than any of us, Monsieur Emile."

"Gaspare has been with your mother a very long time."

"Yes, and in his way he is very clever. Haven't you noticed it?"

Artois did not answer this. But he said:

"Follow your instincts, Vere. I don't think they will often lead you
wrong."

At tea-time Hermione came from her bedroom looking calm and smiling.
There was something deliberate about her serenity, and her eyes were
tired, but she said the little rest had done her good. Vere
instinctively felt that her mother did not wish to be observed, or to
have any fuss made about her condition, and Artois took Vere's cue.
When tea was over, Artois said:

"Well, I suppose I ought to be going."

"Oh no," Hermione said. "We asked you for a long day. That means
dinner."

The cordiality in her voice sounded determined, and therefore formal.
Artois felt chilled. For a moment he looked at her doubtfully.

"Well, but, Hermione, you aren't feeling very well."

"I am much better now. Do stay. I shall rest, and Vere will take care
of you."

It struck him for the first time that she was becoming very ready to
substitute Vere for herself as his companion. He wondered if he had
really offended or hurt her in any way. He even wondered for a moment
whether she was not pleased at his spending the summer in Naples--
whether, for some reason, she had wished, and still wished, to be
alone with Vere.

"Perhaps Vere will get sick of looking after an--an old man," he said.

"You are not an old man, Monsieur Emile. Don't tout!"

"Tout?"

"Yes, for compliments about your youth. You meant me, you meant us
both, to say how young you are."

She spoke gayly, laughingly, but he felt she was cleverly and secretly
trying to smooth things out, to cover up the difficulty that had
intruded itself into their generally natural and simple relations.

"And your mother says nothing," said Artois, trying to fall in with
her desire, and to restore their wonted liveliness. "Don't you look
upon me as almost a boy, Hermione?"

"I think sometimes you seem wonderfully young," she said.

Her voice suggested that she wished to please him, but also that she
meant what she said. Yet Artois had never felt his age more acutely
than when she finished speaking.

"I am a poor companion for Vere," he said, almost bitterly. "She ought
to be with friends of her own age."

"You mean that I am a poor companion for you, Monsieur Emile. I often
feel how good you are to put up with me in the way you do."

The gayety had gone from her now, and she spoke with an earnestness
that seemed to him wonderfully gracious. He looked at her, and his
eyes thanked her gently.

"Take Emile out in the boat, Vere," Hermione said, "while I read a
book till dinner time."

At that moment she longed for them to be gone. Vere looked at her
mother, then said:

"Come along, Monsieur Emile. I'm sorry for you, but Madre wants rest."

She led the way out of the room.

Hermione was on the sofa. Before he followed Vere, Artois went up to
her and said:

"You are sure you won't come out with us, my friend? Perhaps the air
on the sea would do you good."

"No, thank you, Emile; I really think I had better stay quietly here."

"Very well."

He hesitated for a moment, then he went out and left her. But she had
seen a question in his eyes.

When he had gone, Hermione took up a book, and read for a little
while, always listening for the sound of oars. She was not sure Vere
and Emile would go out in the boat, but she thought they would. If
they came out to the open sea beyond the island it was possible that
she might hear them. Presently, as she did not hear them, she got up.
She wanted to satisfy herself that they were at sea. Going to the
window she looked out. But she saw no boat, only the great plain of
the radiant waters. They made her feel alone--why, she did not know
then. But it was really something of the same feeling which had come
to her long ago during her first visit to Sicily. In the contemplation
of beauty she knew the need of love, knew it with an intimacy that was
cruel.

She came away from the window and went to the terrace. From there she
could not see the boat. Finally she went to the small pavilion that
overlooked the Saint's Pool. Leaning over the parapet, she perceived
the little white boat just starting around the cliff towards the
Grotto of Virgil. Vere was rowing. Hermione saw her thin figure, so
impregnated with the narrow charm of youth, bending backward and
forward to the oars, Emile's big form leaning against the cushions as
if at ease. From the dripping oars came twinkling lines of light, that
rayed out and spread like the opened sticks of a fan upon the sea.
Hugging the shore, the boat slipped out of sight.

"Suppose they had gone forever--gone out of my life!"

Hermione said that to herself. She fancied she still could see the
faint commotion in the water that told where the boat had passed. Now
it was turning into the Grotto of Virgil. She felt sure of that. It
was entering the shadows where she had shown to Emile not long ago the
very depths of her heart.

How could she have done that? She grew hot as she thought of it. In
her new and bitter reserve she hated to think of his possession that
could never be taken from him, the knowledge of her hidden despair,
her hidden need of love. And by that sensation of hatred of his
knowledge she measured the gulf between them. When had come the very
first narrow fissure she scarcely knew. But she knew how to-day the
gulf had widened.

The permission of hers to Vere to read Emile's books! And Emile's
authority governing her child, substituted surely for hers! The gulf
had been made wider by her learning that episode; and the fact that
secretly she felt her permission ought never to have been given caused
her the more bitterness. Vere had yielded to Emile because he had been
in the right. Instinctively her child had known which of the two with
whom she had to deal was swayed by an evil mood, and which was
thinking rightly, only for her.

Could Vere see into her mother's heart?

Hermione had a moment of panic. Then she laughed at her folly.

And she thought of Peppina, of that other secret which certainly
existed, but which she had never suspected till that day.

The boat was gone, and she knew where. She went back into the house
and rang the bell. Giulia came.

"Oh, Giulia," Hermione said, "will you please ask Peppina to come to
my sitting-room. I want to speak to her for a moment."

"Si, Signora."

Giulia looked at her Padrona, then added:

"Signora, I am sure I was right. I am sure that girl has the evil
eye."

"Giulia, what nonsense! I have told you often that such ideas are
silly. Peppina has no power to do us harm. Poor girl, we ought to pity
her."

Giulia's fat face was very grave and quite unconvinced.

"Signora, since she is here the island is not the same. The Signorina
is not the same, you are not the same, the French Signore is not the
same. Even Gaspare is different. One cannot speak with him now.
Trouble is with us all, Signora."

Hermione shook her head impatiently. But when Giulia was gone she
thought of her words about Gaspare. Words, even the simplest, spoken
just before some great moment of a life, some high triumph, or deep
catastrophe, stick with resolution in the memory. Lucrezia had once
said of Gaspare on the terrace before the Casa del Prete: "One cannot
speak with him to-day." That was on the evening of the night on which
Maurice's dead body was found. Often since then Hermione had thought
that Gaspare had seemed to have a prevision of the disaster that was
approaching.

And now Giulia said of him: "One cannot speak with him now."

The same words. Was Gaspare a stormy petrel?

There came a knock at the door of the sitting-room, to which Hermione
had gone to wait for the coming of Peppina.

"Come in."

The door opened and the disfigured girl entered, looking anxious.

"Come in, Peppina. It's all right. I only want to speak to you for a
moment."

Hermione spoke kindly, but Peppina still looked nervous.

"Si, Signora," she murmured.

And she remained standing near the door, looking down.

"Peppina," Hermione said, "I'm going to ask you something, and I want
you to tell me the truth without being afraid."

"Si, Signora."

"You remember, when I took you, I told you not to say anything to my
daughter, the Signorina, about your past life, your aunt, and--and all
you had gone through. Have you said anything?"

Peppina looked more frightened.

"Signora," she began. "Madonna! It was not my fault, it was not my
fault!"

She raised her voice, and began to gesticulate.

"Hush, Peppina. Now don't be afraid of me."

"You are my preserver, Signora! My saint has forgotten me, but you--"

"I will not leave you to the streets. You must trust me. And now tell
me--quietly--what have you told the Signorina?"

And presently Peppina was induced to be truthful, and Hermione knew of
the outburst in the night, and that "the foreign Signore" had known of
it from the moment of its happening.

"The Signorina was so kind, Signora, that I forgot. I told her all!--I
told her all--I told her--"

Once Peppina had begun to be truthful she could not stop. She recalled
--or seemed to--the very words she had spoken to Vere, all the details
of her narration.

"And the foreign Signore? Was he there, too?" Hermione asked, at the
end.

"No, Signora. He went away. The Signorina told him to go away and
leave us."

Hermione dismissed Peppina quietly.

"Please don't say anything about this conversation, Peppina," she
said, as the agitated girl prepared to go. "Try to obey me this time,
will you?"

She spoke very kindly but very firmly.

"May the Madonna take out my tongue if I speak, Signora!" Peppina
raised her hand.

As she was going out Hermione stared at the cross upon her cheek.

CHAPTER XXVI

Artois stayed to dine. The falling of night deepened Hermione's
impression of the gulf which was now between them, and which she was
sure he knew of. When darkness comes to intimacy it seems to make that
intimacy more perfect. Now surely it caused reserve, restraint, to be
more complete. The two secrets which Hermione now knew, but which were
still cherished as secrets by Vere and Artois, stood up between the
mother and her child and friend, inexorably dividing them.

Hermione was strung up to a sort of nervous strength that was full of
determination. She had herself in hand, like a woman of the world who
faces society with the resolution to deceive it. While Vere and Artois
had been out in the boat she had schooled herself. She felt more
competent to be the watcher of events. She even felt calmer, for
knowledge increased almost always brings an undercurrent of increased
tranquility, because of the sense of greater power that it produces in
the mind. She looked better. She talked more easily.

When dinner was over they went as usual to the garden, and when they
were there Hermione referred to the projected meeting with the
Marchesino.

"I made a promise," she said. "I must keep it."

"Of course," said Artois. "But it seems to me that I am always being
entertained, and that I am inhospitable--I do nothing in return. I
have a proposal to make. Monday will be the sixteenth of July, the
festa of the Madonna del Carmine--Santa Maria del Carmine. It is one
of the prettiest of the year, they tell me. Why should not you and
Vere come to dine at the Hotel, or in the Galleria, with me? I will
ask Panacci to join us, and we will all go on afterwards to see the
illuminations, and the fireworks, and the sending up of the fire-
balloons. What do you say?"

"Would you like it, Vere?"

"Immensely, Madre."

She spoke quietly, but she looked pleased at the idea.

"Won't the crowd be very bad, though?" asked Hermione.

"I'll get tickets for the enclosure in the Piazza. We shall have seats
there. And you can bring Gaspare, if you like. Then you will have
three cavaliers."

"Yes, I should like Gaspare to come," said Hermione.

There was a sound of warmth in her hitherto rather cold voice when she
said that.

"How you rely on Gaspare!" Artois said, almost as if with a momentary
touch of vexation.

"Indeed I do," Hermione answered.

Their eyes met, surely almost with hostility.

"Madre knows how Gaspare adores her," said Vere, gently. "If there
were any danger he'd never hesitate. He'd save Madre if he left every
other human being in the world to perish miserably--including me."

"Vere!"

"You know quite well he would, Madre."

They talked a little more. Presently Vere seemed to be feeling
restless. Artois noticed it, and watched her. Once or twice she got
up, without apparent reason. She pulled at the branches of the fig-
trees. She gathered a flower. She moved away, and leaned upon the
wall. Finally, when her mother and Artois had fallen into conversation
about some new book, she slipped very quietly away.

Hermione and Artois continued their conversation, though without much
animation. At length, however, some remark of Hermione led Artois to
speak of the book he was writing. Very often and very openly in the
days gone by she had discussed with him his work. Now, feeling the
barrier between them, he fancied that perhaps it might be removed more
easily by such another discussion. And this notion of his was not any
proof of want of subtlety on his part. Without knowing why, Hermione
felt a lack of self-confidence, a distressing, an almost unnatural
humbleness to-day. He partially divined the feeling. Possibly it
sprang from their difference of opinion on the propriety of Vere's
reading his books. He thought it might be so. And he wanted to oust
Hermione gently from her low stool and to show her himself seated
there. Filled with this idea, he began to ask her advice about the
task upon which he was engaged. He explained the progress he had made
during the days when he was absent from the island and shut
perpetually in his room. She listened in perfect silence.

They were sitting near each other, but not close together, for Vere
had been between them. It was dark under the fig-trees. They could see
each other's faces, but not quite clearly. There was a small breeze
which made the trees move, and the leaves rustled faintly now and
then, making a tiny noise which joined the furtive noise of the sea,
not far below them.

Artois talked on. As his thoughts became more concentrated upon the
book he grew warmer. Having always had Hermione's eager, even
enthusiastic sympathy and encouragement in his work, he believed
himself to have them now. And in his manner, in his tone, even
sometimes in his choice of words, he plainly showed that he assumed
them. But presently, glancing across at Hermione, he was surprised by
the expression on her face. It seemed to him as if a face of stone had
suddenly looked bitterly satirical. He was so astonished that the
words stopped upon his lips.

"Go on, Emile," she said, "I am listening."

The expression which had startled him was gone. Had it ever been?
Perhaps he had been deceived by the darkness. Perhaps the moving
leaves had thrown their little shadows across her features. He said to
himself that it must be so--that his friend, Hermione, could never
have looked like that. Yet he was chilled. And he remembered her
passing by in the tram at Posilipo, and how he had stood for a moment
and watched her, and seen upon her face a furtive look that he had
never seen there before, and that had seemed to contradict her whole
nature as he knew it.

Did he know it?

Never before had he asked himself this question. He asked it now. Was
there living in Hermione some one whom he did not know, with whom he
had had no dealings, had exchanged no thoughts, had spoken no words?

"Go on, Emile," she said again.

But he did not. For once his brain was clouded, and he felt confused.
He had completely lost the thread of his thoughts.

"I can't," he said, abruptly.

"Why not?"

"I've forgotten. I've not thoroughly worked the thing out. Another
time. Besides--besides, I'm sure I bore you with my eternal talk about
my work. You've been such a kind, such a sympathetic friend and
encourager that--"

He broke off, thinking of that face. Was it possible that through all
these years Hermione had been playing a part with him, had been
pretending to admire his talent, to care for what he was doing, when
really she had been bored by it? Had the whole thing been a weariness
to her, endured perhaps because she liked him as a man? The thought
cut him to the very quick, seared his self-respect, struck a blow at
his pride which made it quiver, and struck surely also a blow at
something else.

His life during all these years--what would it have been without
Hermione's friendship? Was he to learn that now?

He looked at her. Now her face was almost as usual, only less animated
than he had seen it.

"Your work could never bore me. You know it," she said.

The real Hermione sounded in her voice when she said that, for the
eternal woman deep down in her had heard the sound almost of
helplessness in his voice, had felt the leaning of his nature, strong
though it was, on her, and had responded instantly, inevitably, almost
passionately. But then came the thought of his secret intercourse with
Vere. She saw in the dark words: "Monsieur Emile's idea." "Monsieur
Emile's suggestion." She remembered how Artois had told her that she
could never be an artist. And again the intensely bitter feeling of
satire, that had set in her face the expression which had startled
him, returned, twisting, warping her whole nature.

"I am to encourage you--you who have told me that I can do nothing!"

That was what she had been feeling. And, as by a search-light, she had
seen surely for a moment the whole great and undying selfishness of
man, exactly as it was. And she had seen surely, also, the ministering
world of women gathered round about it, feeding it, lest it should
fail and be no more. And she had seen herself among them!

"Where can Vere have gone to?" he said.

There had been a pause. Neither knew how long it had lasted.

"I should not wonder if she is on the cliff," said Hermione. "She
often goes there at this hour. She goes to meet Ruffo."

The name switched the mind of Artois on to a new and profoundly
interesting train of thought.

"Ruffo," he began slowly. "And you think it wise--?"

He stopped. To-night he no longer dared frankly to speak his mind to
Hermione.

"I was at Mergellina the other day," he said. "And I saw Ruffo with
his mother."

"Did you. What is she like?"

"Oh, like many middle-aged women of the South, rather broad and
battered-looking, and probably much older in appearance than in
years."

"Poor woman! She has been through a great deal."

Her voice was quite genuine now. And Artois said to himself that the
faint suspicion he had had was ill-founded.

"Do you know anything about her?"

"Oh yes. I had a talk with Ruffo the other night. And he told me
several things."

Each time Hermione mentioned Ruffo's name it seemed to Artois that her
voice softened, almost that she gave the word a caress. He longed to
ask her something, but he was afraid to.

He would try not to interfere with Fate. But he would not hasten its
coming--if it were coming. And he knew nothing. Perhaps the anxious
suspicion which had taken up its abode in his mind, and which, without
definite reason, seemed gradually changing into conviction was
erroneous. Perhaps some day he would laugh at himself, and say to
himself, "I was mad to dream of such a thing."

"Those women often have a bad time," he said.

"Few women do not, I sometimes think."

He said nothing, and she went on rather hastily, as if wishing to
cover her last words.

"Ruffo told me something that I did not know about Peppina. His step-
father was the man who cut that cross on Peppina's face."

"Perdio!" said Artois.

He used the Italian exclamation at that moment quite naturally.
Suddenly he wished more than ever before that Hermione had not taken
Peppina to live on the island.

"Hermione," he said, "I wish you had not Peppina here."

"Still because of Vere?" she said.

And now she was looking at him steadily.

"I feel that she comes from another world, that she had better keep
away from yours. I feel as if misfortune attended her."

"It is odd. Even the servants say she has the evil eye. But, if she
has, it is too late now. Peppina has looked upon us all."

"Perhaps that old Eastern was right." Artois could not help saying it.
"Perhaps all that is to be is ordained long beforehand. Do you think
that, Hermione?"

"I have sometimes thought it, when I have been depressed. I have
sometimes said to myself, 'E il destino!' "

She remembered at that moment her feeling on the day when she returned
from the expedition with Vere to Capri--that perhaps she had returned
to the island to confront some grievous fate. Had Artois such a
thought, such a prevision? Suddenly she felt frightened, like a child
when, at night, it passes the open door of a room that is dark.

She moved and got up from her chair. Like the child, when it rushes on
and away, she felt in her panic the necessity of physical activity.

Artois followed her example. He was glad to move.

"Shall we go and see what Vere is doing?" he said.

"If you like. I feel sure she is with Ruffo."

They went towards the house. Artois felt a deep curiosity, which
filled his whole being, to know what Hermione's exact feeling towards
Ruffo was.

"Don't you think," he said, "that perhaps it is a little dangerous to
allow Vere to be so much with a boy from Mergellina?"

"Oh no."

In her tone there was the calm of absolute certainty.

"Well, but we don't know so very much about him."

"Do you think two instincts could be at fault?"

"Two instincts?"

"Vere's and mine?"

"Perhaps not. Then your instinct--"

He waited. He was passionately interested.

"Ruffo is all right," Hermione answered.

It seemed to him as if she had deliberately used that bluff expression
to punish his almost mystical curiosity. Was she warding him off
consciously?

They passed through the house and came out on its further side, but
they did not go immediately to the cliff top. Both of them felt
certain the two children must be there, and both of them, perhaps,
were held back for a moment by a mutual desire not to disturb their
innocent confidences. They stood upon the bridge, therefore, looking
down into the dimness of the Pool. From the water silence seemed to
float up to them, almost visibly, like a lovely, delicate mist--
silence, and the tenderness of night, embracing their distresses.

The satire died out of Hermione's poor, tormented heart. And Artois
for a moment forgot the terrible face half seen in the darkness of the
trees.

"There is the boat. He is here."

Hermione spoke in a low voice, pointing to the shadowy form of a boat
upon the Pool.

"Yes."

Artois gazed at the boat. Was it indeed a Fate that came by night to
the island softly across the sea, ferried by the ignorant hands of
men? He longed to know. And Hermione longed to know something, too:
whether Artois had ever seen the strange likeness she had seen,
whether Maurice had ever seemed to gaze for a moment at him out of the
eyes of Ruffo. But to-night she could not ask him that. They were too
far away from each other. And because of the gulf between them her
memory had suddenly become far more sacred, far more necessary to her
even, than it had been before.

It had been a solace, a beautiful solace. But now it was much more
than that--now it was surely her salvation.

As she felt that, a deep longing filled her heart to look again on
Ruffo's face, to search again for the expression that sent back the
years. But she wished to do that without witnesses, to be alone with
the boy, as she had been alone with him that night upon the bridge.
And suddenly she was impatient of Vere's intercourse with him. Vere
could not know what the tender look meant, if it came. For she had
never seen her father's face.

"Let us go to the cliff," Hermione said, moved by this new feeling of
impatience.

She meant to interrupt the children, to get rid of Vere and Emile, and
have Ruffo to herself for a moment. Just then she felt as if he were
nearer, far nearer, to her than they were: they who kept things from
her, who spoke of her secretly, pitying her.

And again that evening she came into acute antagonism with her friend.
For the instinct was still alive in him not to interrupt the children.
The strange suspicion that had been born and had lived within him,
gathered strength, caused him to feel almost as if they might be upon
holy ground, those two so full of youth, who talked together in the
night; as if they knew mysteriously things that were hidden from their
elders, from those wiser, yet far less full of the wisdom that is
eternal, the wisdom in instinct, than themselves. There is always
something sacred about children. And he had never lost the sense of it
amid the dust of his worldly knowledge. But about these children,
about them or within them, there floated, perhaps, something that was
mystic, something that was awful and must not be disturbed. Hermione
did not feel it. How could she? He himself had withheld from her for
many years the only knowledge that could have made her share his
present feeling. He could tell her nothing. Yet he could not conceal
his intense reluctance to go to that seat upon the cliff.

"But it's delicious here. I love the Pool at night, don't you? Look at
the Saint's light, how quietly it shines!"

She took her hands from the rail. His attempt at detention irritated
her whole being. She looked at the light. On the night of the storm
she had felt as if it shone exclusively for her. That feeling was
dead. San Francesco watched, perhaps, over the fishermen. He did not
watch over her.

And yet that night she, too, had made the sign of the cross when she
knew that the light was shining.

She did not answer Artois' remark, and he continued, always for the
children's sake, and for the sake of what he seemed to divine secretly
at work in them:

"This Pool is a place apart, I think. The Saint has given his
benediction to it."

He was speaking at random to keep Hermione there. And yet his words
seemed chosen by some one for him to say.

"Surely good must come to the island over that waterway."

"You think so?"

Her stress upon the pronoun made him reply:

"Hermione, you do not think me the typical Frenchman of this century,
who furiously denies over a glass of absinthe the existence of the
Creator of the world?"

"No. But I scarcely thought you believed in the efficacy of a plaster
Saint."

"Not of the plaster--no. But don't you think it possible that truth,
emanating from certain regions and affecting the souls of men, might
move them unconsciously to embody it in symbol? What if this Pool were
blessed, and men, feeling that it was blessed, put San Francesco here
with his visible benediction?"

He said to himself that he was playing with his imagination, as
sometimes he played with words, half-sensuously and half-
aesthetically; yet he felt to-night as if within him there was
something that might believe far more than he had ever suspected it
would be possible for him to believe.

And that, too, seemed to have come to him from the hidden children who
were so near.

"I don't feel at all as if the Pool were blessed," said Hermione. She
sighed.

"Let us go to the cliff," she said, again, this time with a strong
impatience.

He could not, of course, resist her desire, so they moved away, and
mounted to the summit of the island.

The children were there. They could just see them in the darkness,
Vere seated upon the wooden bench, Ruffo standing beside her. Their
forms looked like shadows, but from the shadows voices came.

When he saw them, Artois stood still. Hermione was going on. He put
his hand upon her arm to stop her. She sent an almost sharp inquiry to
him with her eyes.

"Don't you think," he said--"don't you think it is a pity to disturb
them?"

"Why?"

"They seem so happy together."

He glanced at her for sympathy, but she gave him none.

"Am I to have nothing?" she thought. And a passion of secret anger
woke up in her. "Am I to have nothing at all? May I not even speak to
this boy, in whom I have seen Maurice for a moment--because if I do I
may disturb some childish gossip?"

Her eyes gave to Artois a fierce rebuke.

"I beg your pardon, Hermione," he said, hastily. "Of course if you
really want to talk to Ruffo--"

"I don't think Vere will mind," she said.

Her lips were actually trembling, but her voice was calm.

They walked forward.

When they were close to the children they both saw there was a third
figure on the cliff. Gaspare was at a little distance. Hermione could
see the red point of his cigarette gleaming.

"Gaspare's there, too," she said.

"Yes."

"Why is he there?" Artois thought.

And again there woke up in him an intense curiosity about Gaspare.

Ruffo had seen them, and now he took off his cap. And Vere turned her
head and got up from the seat.

Neither the girl nor the boy gave any explanation of their being
together. Evidently they did not think it necessary to do so. Hermione
was the first to speak.

"Good-evening, Ruffo," she said.

Artois noticed a peculiar kindness and gentleness in her voice when
she spoke to the boy, a sound apart, that surely did not come into her
voice even when it spoke to Vere.

"Good-evening, Signora." He stood with his cap in his hand. "I have
been telling the Signorina what you have done for my poor mamma,
Signora. I did not tell her before because I thought she knew. But she
did not know."

Vere was looking at her mother with a shining of affection in her
eyes.

At this moment Gaspare came up slowly, with a careless walk.

Artois watched him.

"About the little money, you mean?" said Hermione, rather hastily.

"Si, Signora. When I gave it to my poor mamma she cried again. But
that was because you were so kind. And she said to me, 'Ruffo, why
should a strange lady be so kind to me? Why should a strange lady
think about me?' she said. 'Ruffino,' she said, 'it must be Santa
Maddalena who has sent her here to be good to me.' My poor mamma!"

"The Signora does not want to be bothered with all this!" It was
Gaspare who had spoken, roughly, and who now pushed in between Ruffo
and those who were listening to his simple narrative.

Ruffo looked surprised, but submissive. Evidently he respected
Gaspare, and the two understood each other. And though Gaspare's words
were harsh, his eyes, as they looked at Ruffo, seemed to contradict
them. Nevertheless, there was excitement, a strung-up look in his
face.

"Gaspare!" said Vere.

Her eyes shot fire.

"Signorina?"

"Madre does like to hear what Ruffo has to say. Don't you, Madre?"

Gaspare looked unmoved. His whole face was full of a dogged obstinacy.
Yet he did not forget himself. There was nothing rude in his manner as
he said, before Hermione could reply:

"Signorina, the Signora does not know Ruffo's mother, so such things
cannot interest her. Is it not so, Signora?"

Hermione was still governed by the desire to be alone for a little
while with Ruffo, and the sensation of intense reserve--a reserve that
seemed even partially physical--that she felt towards Artois made her
dislike Ruffo's public exhibition of a gratitude that, expressed in
private, would have been sweet to her. Instead, therefore, of agreeing
with Vere, she said, in rather an off-hand way:

"It's all right, Ruffo. Thank you very much. But we must not keep Don
Emilio listening to my supposed good deeds forever. So that's enough."

Vere reddened. Evidently she felt snubbed. She said nothing, but she
shot a glance of eager sympathy at Ruffo, who stood very simply
looking at Hermione with a sort of manly deference, as if all that she
said, or wished, must certainly be right. Then she moved quietly away,
pressing her lips rather firmly together, and went slowly towards the
house. After a moment's hesitation, Artois followed her. Hermione
remained by Ruffo, and Gaspare stayed doggedly with his Padrona.

Hermione wished he would go. She could not understand his exact
feeling about the fisher-boy's odd little intimacy with them. Her
instinct told her that secretly he was fond of Ruffo. Yet sometimes he
seemed to be hostile to him, to be suspicious of him, as of some one
who might do them harm. Or, perhaps, he felt it his duty to be on
guard against all strangers who approached them. She knew well his
fixed belief that she and Vere depended entirely on him, felt always
perfectly safe when he was near. And she liked to have him near--but
not just at this moment. Yet she did not feel that she could ask him
to go.

"Thank you very much for your gratitude, Ruffo," she said. "You
mustn't think--"

She glanced at Gaspare.

"I didn't want to stop you," she continued, trying to steer an even
course. "But it's a very little thing. I hope your mother is getting
on pretty well. She must have courage."

As she said the last sentence she thought it came that night oddly
from her lips.

Gaspare moved as if he felt impatient, and suddenly Hermione knew an
anger akin to Vere's, an anger she had scarcely ever felt against
Gaspare.

She did not show it at first, but went on with a sort of forced
calmness and deliberation, a touch even perhaps of obstinacy that was
meant for Gaspare.

"I am interested in your mother, you know, although I have not seen
her. Tell me how she is."

Gaspare opened his lips to speak, but something held him silent; and
as he listened to Ruffo's carefully detailed reply, delivered with the
perfect naturalness of one sure of the genuine interest taken in his
concerns by his auditors, his large eyes travelled from the face of
the boy to the face of his Padrona with a deep and restless curiosity.
He seemed to inquire something of Ruffo, something of Hermione, and
then, at the last, surely something of himself. But when Ruffo had
finished, he said, brusquely:

"Signora, it is getting very late. Will not Don Emilio be going? He
will want to say good-night, and I must help him with the boat."

"Run and see if Don Emilio is in a hurry, Gaspare. If he is I'll
come."

Gaspare looked at her, hesitating.

"What's the matter?" she exclaimed, her secret irritation suddenly
getting the upper hand in her nature. "Are you afraid that Ruffo will
hurt me?"

"No, Signora."

As Vere had reddened, he reddened, and he looked with deep reproach at

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