Part 3 out of 9
distant attitude with impunity. The captain was not at all affected by
She must have been over forty. Her excessive flesh still had a certain
freshness, the result of hygienic care and gymnastic exercise. On the
other hand, her white complexion showed underneath it a yellowish
subcutaneous, granular condition that looked as though made up of
particles of bran. Upon her ancient switch, reddish in tone, were piled
artificial curls hiding bald spots and gray hairs. Her green pupils,
when freed from their near-sighted glasses, had the tranquil opacity of
ox-eyes; but the minute these gold-mounted crystals were placed between
her and the outer world, the two glaucous drops took on a sharpness
which fairly perforated persons and objects. At other times they
appeared a glacial and haughty void, like the circle that a sword
The young woman was less intractable. She appeared to be smiling out of
the corners of her eyes, while her back was half turned to Ferragut,
acknowledging his mute and scrutinizing admiration. She had her hair
loosely arranged like a woman who is not afraid of naturalness in her
coiffure, and lets her waving locks peep out under her hat in all their
She was a dainty ash-blonde with a high color in striking contrast to
her general delicacy of tone. Her great, almond-shaped, black eyes
appeared like those of an Oriental dancer, and were yet further
prolonged by skillful retouching of shadows that augmented the
seductive contrast with her dull gold hair.
The whiteness of her skin became very evident when her arm showed
outside her sleeve and at the opening of her low-necked dress. But this
whiteness was now temporarily effaced by a ruddy mask. Her vigorous
beauty had been fearlessly exposed to the sun and the breath of the
sea, and a scarlet triangle emphasized the sweet curve of her bosom,
accentuating the low cut of her gown. Upon her sunburned throat a
necklace of pearls hung in moonlight drops. Further up, in a face
tanned by the inclemency of the weather, the mouth parted its two
scarlet, bow-shaped lips with an audacious and serene smile, showing
the reflection of her strong and handsome teeth.
Ferragut reviewed his past without finding a single woman that could be
exactly compared with her. The distant perfume of her person and her
genteel elegance reminded him of certain dubious ladies who were always
traveling alone when he was captain of the transatlantic liners. But
these acquaintances had been so rapid and were so far away!... Never in
his history as a world-rover had he had the good luck to chance upon a
woman just like this one.
Again exchanging glances with her, he felt that throb in the heart and
flash in the brain which accompany a lightning-like and unexpected
discovery... He had known that woman: he could not recall where he had
seen her, but he was sure that he must have known her.
Her face told his memory nothing, but those eyes had exchanged glances
with his on other occasions. In vain he reflected, concentrating his
thoughts.... And the queer thing about it all was that, by some
mysterious perception, he became absolutely certain that she was doing
the same thing at the very same moment. She also had recognized him,
and was evidently making great effort to give him a name and place in
her memory. He had only to notice the frequency with which she turned
her eyes toward him and her new smile, more confident and spontaneous,
such as she would give to an old friend.
Had her dragon not been present, they would have talked together
enthusiastically, instinctively, like two restless, curious beings
wishing to clear up the mystery; but the gold-rimmed glasses were
always gleaming authoritatively and inimically, coming between the two.
Several times the fat lady spoke in a language that reached Ferragut
confusedly and which was not English, and their dinner was hardly
finished before they disappeared just as they had done in the streets
of Pompeii,--the older one evidently influencing the other with her
The following morning they all met again in a first-class coach in the
station of Salerno. Undoubtedly they had the same destination. As
Ferragut began to greet them, the hostile dame deigned to return his
salutation, looking then at her companion with a questioning
expression. The sailor guessed that during the night they had been
discussing him while he, under the same roof, had been struggling
uselessly, before falling asleep, to concentrate his recollections.
He never knew with certainty just how the conversation began. He found
himself suddenly talking in English with the younger one, just as on
the preceding morning. She, with the audacity that quickly makes the
best of a dubious situation, asked him if he was a sailor. And upon
receiving an affirmative response, she then asked if he was Spanish.
Ferragut's answer was followed by a triumphant glance toward the
chaperone, who seemed to relax a little and lose her hostile attitude.
And for the first time she smiled upon the captain with her mouth of
bluish-rose color, her white skin sprinkled with yellow, and her
glasses of phosphorescent splendor.
Meanwhile, the young woman was talking on and on, verifying her
extraordinary powers of memory.
She had traveled all over the world without forgetting a single one of
the places which she had seen. She was able to repeat the titles of the
eighty great hotels in which those who make the world's circuit may
stay. Upon meeting with an old traveling companion, she always
recognized his face immediately, no matter how short a time she had
seen him, and oftentimes she could even recall his name. This last was
what she had been puzzling over, wrinkling her brows with the mental
"You are a captain?... Your name is?..."
And she smiled suddenly as her doubts came to an end.
"Your name is," she said positively, "Captain Ulysses Ferragut."
In long and agreeable silence she relished the sailor's astonishment.
Then, as though she pitied his stupefaction, she made further
explanations. She had made a trip from Buenos Ayres to Barcelona in a
steamship which he had commanded.
"That was six years ago," she added. "No; seven years ago."
Ferragut, who had been the first to suspect a former acquaintance,
could not recall this woman's name and place among the innumerable
passengers that filled his memory. He thought, nevertheless, that he
must lie for gallantry's sake, insisting that he remembered her well.
"No, Captain; you do not remember me. I was accompanied by my husband
and you never looked at me.... All your attentions on that trip were
devoted to a very handsome widow from Brazil."
She said this in Spanish, a smooth, sing-song Spanish learned in South
America, to which her foreign accent contributed a certain childish
charm. Then she added coquettishly:
"I know you, Captain. Always the same!... That affair of the rose at
Pompeii was very well done.... It was just like you."
The grave lady of the glasses, finding herself forgotten, and unable to
understand a word of the new language employed in the conversation, now
spoke aloud, rolling her eyes in her enthusiasm.
"Oh, Spain!..." she said in English. "The land of knightly
gentlemen.... Cervantes ... Lope!... The Cid!..."
She stopped hunting for more celebrities. Suddenly she seized the
sailor's arm, exclaiming as energetically as though she had just made a
discovery through the little door of the coach. "Calderon de la Barca!"
Ferragut saluted her. "Yes, Senora." After that the younger woman
thought that it was necessary to present her companion.
"Doctor Fedelmann.... A very wise woman distinguished in philology and
After clasping the doctor's hand, Ferragut indiscreetly set himself to
work to gather information.
"The Senora is German?" he said in Spanish to the younger one.
The gold-rimmed spectacles appeared to guess the question and shot a
restless gleam at her companion.
"No," she replied. "My friend is a Russian, or rather a Pole."
"And you, are you Polish, too?" continued the sailor.
"No, I am Italian."
In spite of the assurance with which she said this, Ferragut felt
tempted to exclaim, "You little liar!" Then, as he gazed upon the full,
black, audacious eyes fixed upon him, he began to doubt.... Perhaps she
was telling the truth.
Again he found himself interrupted by the wordiness of the doctor. She
was now speaking in French, repeating her eulogies on Ferragut's
country. She could read Castilian in the classic works, but she would
not venture to speak it. "Ah, Spain! Country of noble traditions...."
And then, seeking to relieve these eulogies by some strong contrast,
she twisted her face into a wrathful expression.
The train was running along the coast, having on one side the blue
desert of the Gulf of Salerno, and on the other the red and green
mountains dotted with white villages and hamlets. The doctor took it
all in with her gleaming glasses.
"A country of bandits," she said, clenching her fists. "Country of
mandolin-twangers, without honor and without gratitude!..."
The girl laughed at this outburst with that hilarity of
light-heartedness in which no impressions are durable, considering as
of no importance anything which does not bear directly upon its own
From a few words that the two ladies let fall, Ulysses inferred that
they had been living in Rome and had only been in Naples a short time,
perhaps against their will. The younger one was well acquainted with
the country, and her companion was taking advantage of this enforced
journey in order to see what she had so many times admired in books.
The three alighted in the station of Battipaglia in order to take the
train for Paestum. It was a rather long wait, and the sailor invited
them to go into the restaurant, a little wooden shanty impregnated with
the double odor of resin and wine.
This shack reminded both Ferragut and the young woman of the houses
improvised on the South American deserts; and again they began to speak
of their oceanic voyage. She finally consented to satisfy the captain's
"My husband was a professor, a scholar like the doctor.... We were a
year in Patagonia, making scientific explorations."
She had made the dangerous journey through an ocean of desert plains
that had spread themselves out before them as the expedition advanced;
she had slept in ranch houses whose roofs shed bloodthirsty insects;
she had traveled on horseback through whirlwinds of sand that had
shaken her from the saddle; she had suffered the tortures of hunger and
thirst when losing the way, and she had passed nights in intemperate
weather with no other bed than her poncho and the trappings of the
horses. Thus they had explored those lakes of the Andes between
Argentina and Chile that guard in their pure and untouched desert
solitude the mystery of the earliest days of creation.
Rovers over these virgin lands, shepherds and bandits, used to talk of
glimpses of gigantic animals at nightfall on the shores of the lakes
devouring entire meadows with one gulp; and the doctor, like many other
sages, had believed in the possibility of finding a surviving
prehistoric animal, a beast of the monstrous herds anterior to the
coming of man, still dwelling in this unexplored section of the planet.
They saw skeletons dozens of yards long in the foot-hills of the
Cordilleras so frequently agitated by volcanic cataclysms. In the
neighborhood of the lakes the guides pointed out to them the hides of
devoured herds, and enormous mountains of dried material that appeared
to have been deposited by some monster. But no matter how far they
penetrated into the solitude, they were always unable to find any
living descendant of prehistoric fauna.
The sailor listened absent-mindedly, thinking of something else that
was quickening his curiosity.
"And you, what is your name?" he said suddenly.
The two women laughed at this question, amusing because so unexpected.
"Call me Freya. It is a Wagnerian name. It means the earth, and at the
same time liberty.... Do you like Wagner?"
And before he could reply she added in Spanish, with a Creole accent
and flashing eyes:
"Call me, if you wish, 'the merry widow.' The poor doctor died as soon
as we returned to Europe."
The three had to run to catch the train ready to start for Paestum. The
landscape was changing on both sides of the way, as now they were
crossing over marshy portions of land. On the soft meadows flocks of
buffaloes, rude animals that appeared carved out in hatchet strokes,
were wading and grazing.
The doctor spoke of Paestum, the ancient Poseidonia, the city of
Neptune, founded by the Greeks of Sybaris six centuries before Christ.
Commercial prosperity once dominated the entire coast. The gulf of
Salerno was called by the Romans the Gulf of Paestum. And this city
with mountains like those of Athens had suddenly become extinguished
without being swallowed up by the sea, and with no volcano to cover it
Fever, the miasma of the fens, had been the deadly lava for this
Pompeii. The poisonous air had caused the inhabitants to flee, and the
few who insisted upon living within the shadow of the ancient temples
had had to escape from the Saracen invasions, founding in the
neighboring mountains a new country--the humble town of Capaccio
Vecchio. Then the Norman kings, forerunners of Frederick II (the father
of Dona Constanza, the empress beloved by Ferragut), had plundered the
entire deserted city, carrying off with them its columns and sculpture.
All the medieval constructions of the kingdom of Naples were the spoils
of Paestum. The doctor recalled the cathedral of Salerno, seen the
afternoon before, where Hildebrand, the most tenacious and ambitious of
the popes, was buried. Its columns, its sarcophagi, its bas-reliefs had
come from this Grecian city, forgotten for centuries and centuries
and only in modern times--thanks to the antiquarians and
artists--recovering its fame.
In the station of Paestum, the wife of the only employee looked
curiously at this group arriving after the war had blocked off the
trail of tourists.
Freya spoke to her, interested in her malarial and resigned aspect.
They were yet in good time. The spring sun was warming up these
lowlands just as in midsummer, but she was still able to resist it.
Later, during the summer, the guards of the ruins and the workmen in
the excavations would have to flee to their homes in the mountains,
handing the country over to the reptiles and insects of the marshy
The lodging keeper and his wife in the little station were the only
evidences of humankind still able to exist in this solitude, trembling
with fever, trying to endure the corrupt air, the poisonous sting of
the mosquito, and the solar fire that was sucking from the mud the
vapors of death. Every two years this humble stopping place through
which passed the lucky ones of the earth,--the millionaires of two
hemispheres, beautiful and curious dames, rulers of nations, and great
artists,--was obliged to change its station-master.
The three tourists passed near the remains of an aqueduct and an
antique pavement. Then they went through the _Porta della Sirena_, an
entrance arch into a forgotten quarter of the city, and continued along
a road bordered on one side by marshy lands of exuberant vegetation and
on the other by the long mud wall of a grange, through whose mortar
were sticking out fragments of stones or columns. On turning the last
corner, the imposing spectacle of the dead city, still surviving in the
magnificent proportions of its temples, presented itself to view.
There were three of these temples, and their colonnades stood forth
like mast heads of ships becalmed in a sea of verdure. The doctor,
guide-book in hand, was pointing them out with masterly authority--that
was Neptune's, that Ceres', and that was called the Basilica without
any special reason.
Their grandeur, their solidity, their elegance made the edifices of
Rome sink into insignificance. Athens alone could compare the monuments
of her Acropolis with these temples of the most severe Doric style.
That of Neptune had well preserved its lofty and massive columns,--as
close together as the trees of a nursery,--enormous trunks of stone
that still sustained the high entablature, the jutting cornice and the
two triangular walls of its facades. The stone had taken on the mellow
color of the cloudless countries where the sun toasts readily and the
rain does not deposit a grimy coating.
The doctor recalled the departed beauties and the old covering of these
colossal skeletons,--the fine and compact coating of stucco which had
closed the pores of the stone, giving it a superficial smoothness like
marble,--the vivid colors of its flutings and walls making the antique
city a mass of polychrome monuments. This gay decoration had become
volatilized through the centuries and its colors, borne away by the
wind, had fallen like a rain of dust upon a land in ruins.
Following an old guard, they climbed the blue, tiled steps of the
temple of Neptune. Above, within four rows of columns, was the real
sanctuary, the _cella_. Their footsteps on the tiled flags, separated
by deep cracks filled with grass, awoke all the animal world that was
drowsing there in the sun.
These actual inhabitants of the city,--enormous lizards with green
backs covered with black warts,--ran in all directions. In their flight
they scurried blindly over the feet of the visitors. The doctor raised
her skirts in order to avoid them, at the same time breaking into
nervous laughter to hide her terror.
Suddenly Freya gave a cry, pointing to the base of the ancient altar.
An ebony-hued snake, his sides dotted with red spots, was slowly and
solemnly uncoiling his circles upon the stones. The sailor raised his
cane, but before he could strike he felt his arm grasped by two nervous
hands. Freya was throwing herself upon him with a pallid face and eyes
dilated with fear and entreaty.
"No, Captain!... Leave it alone!"
Ulysses thrilled upon feeling the contact of her firm, curving bosom
and noting her respiration, her warm breath charged with distant
perfume. It would have suited him if she had remained in this position
a long time, but Freya freed herself in order to advance toward the
reptile, coaxing it and holding out her hands to it as though she were
trying to caress a domestic animal. The black tail of the serpent was
just slipping away and disappearing between two square tiles. The
doctor who had fled down the steps at this apparition, by her repeated
calls, obliged Freya also to descend.
The captain's aggressive attitude awoke in his companion a nervous
animosity. She believed she knew this reptile. It was undoubtedly the
divinity of the dead temple that had changed its form in order to live
among the ruins. This serpent must be twenty centuries old. If it had
not been for Ferragut she would have been able to have taken it up in
her hands.... She would have spoken to it.... She was accustomed to
converse with others....
Ulysses was about to express his doubts rudely as to the mental
equilibrium of the exasperated widow when the doctor interrupted them.
She was contemplating the swampy plains of acanthus and ferns trembling
under the shrill chirping of the cicadas, and this spectacle of green
desolation made her recall the roses of Paestum of which the poets of
ancient Rome had sung. She even recited some Latin verses, translating
them to her hearers so as to make them understand that the rose bushes
of this land used to bloom twice a year. Freya smoothed out her brow
and began to smile again. She forgot her recent ill humor and expressed
a great longing for one of the marvelous rose bushes: and at this
caprice of childish vehemence, Ferragut spoke to the custodian with
authority. He had to have at once a rose bush from Paestum, cost what
The old fellow made a bored gesture. Everybody asked the same thing,
and he who belonged to that country had never seen a rose of
Paestum.... Sometimes, just in order to satisfy the whim of tourists,
he would bring rose bushes from Capaccio Vecchio and other mountain
villages,--rose bushes just like others with no difference except in
price.... But he didn't wish to take advantage of anybody. He was sad
and greatly troubled over the possibility of war.
"I have eight sons," he said to the doctor, because she seemed to be
the most suitable one to receive his confidences. "If they mobilize the
army, six of them will leave me."
And he added with resignation:
"That's the way it ought to be if we would end forever, in one blow,
our eternal enmity with the Goth. My sons will battle against them,
just as my father fought."
The doctor stalked haughtily away, and then said in a low voice to her
companions that the old guard was an imbecile.
They wandered for two hours through the ancient district of the
city,--exploring the network of its streets, the ruins of the
amphitheater and the _Porta Aurea_ which opened upon a road flanked
with tombs. By the _Porta di Mare_ they climbed to the walls, ramparts
of great limestone blocks, extending a distance of five kilometers. The
sea, which from the lowlands had looked like a narrow blue band, now
appeared immense and luminous,--a solitary sea with a feather-like
crest of smoke, without a sail, given completely over to the sea-gulls.
The doctor walked stiffly ahead of them, still ill-humored about the
guide's remark and consulting the pages of her guide book. Behind her
Ulysses came close up to Freya, recalling their former contact.
He thought that it would be an easy matter now to get possession of
this capricious and free-mannered woman. "Sure thing, Captain!" The
rapid triumphs that he had always had in his journeys assured him that
there was not the slightest doubt of success. It was enough for him to
see the widow's smile, her passionate eyes, and the little tricks of
malicious coquetry with which she responded to his gallant advances.
"Forward, sea-wolf!"... He took her hand while she was speaking of the
beauty of the solitary sea, and the hand yielded without protest to his
caressing fingers. The doctor was far away and, sighing hypocritically,
he encircled Freya's waist with his other arm while he inclined his
head upon her open throat as though he were going to kiss her pearls.
In spite of his strength, he found himself energetically repulsed and
saw Freya freed from his arms, two steps away, looking upon him with
hostile eyes that he had not noticed before.
"None of your child's play, Captain!... It is useless with me.... You
are just wasting time."
And she said no more. Her stiffness and her silence during the rest of
the walk made the sailor understand the enormity of his mistake. In
vain he tried to keep beside the widow. She always maneuvered that the
doctor should come between the two.
Upon returning to the station they took refuge from the heat in a
little waiting room with dusty velvet divans. In order to beguile the
time while waiting for the train, Freya took from her handbag a gold
cigarette-case and the light smoke of Egyptian tobacco charged with
opium whirled among the shafts of sunlight from the partly-opened
Ferragut, who had gone out in order to ascertain the exact hour of the
arrival of the train, on returning stopped near the door, amazed at the
animation with which the two ladies were speaking in a new language.
Recollections of Hamburg and Bremen came surging up in his memory. His
companions were talking German with the ease of a familiar idiom. At
sight of the sailor, they instantly continued their conversation in
Wishing to take part in the dialogue, he asked Freya how many languages
"Very few,--no more than eight. The doctor, perhaps, knows twenty. She
knows the languages of people who passed away many centuries ago."
And the young woman said this with gravity, without looking at him, as
though she had lost forever that smile of a light woman which had so
In the train she became more like a human being, even losing her
offended manner. They were soon going to separate. The doctor grew less
and less approachable as the cars rolled towards Salerno. It was the
chilliness that appears among companions of a day, when the hour of
separation approaches and each one draws into himself, not to be seen
Words fell flat, like bits of ice, without finding any echo in their
fall. At each turn of the wheel, the imposing lady became more reserved
and silent. Everything had been said. They, too, were going to remain
in Salerno in order to take a carriage-trip along the gulf. They were
going to Amalfi and would pass the night on the Alpine peak of Ravello,
a medieval city where Wagner had passed the last months of his life,
before dying in Venice. Then, passing over to the Gulf of Naples, they
would rest in Sorrento and perhaps might go to the island of Capri.
Ulysses wished to say that his line of march was exactly the same, but
he was afraid of the doctor. Furthermore, their trip was to be in a
vehicle which they had already rented and they would not offer him a
Freya appeared to surmise his sadness and wished to console him.
"It is a short trip. No more than three days.... Soon we shall be in
The farewell in Salerno was brief. The doctor was careful not to
mention their stopping-place. For her, the friendship was ending then
"It is probable that we shall run across each other again," she said
laconically. "It is only the mountains that never meet."
Her young companion was more explicit, mentioning the hotel on the
shores of S. Lucia in which she lodged.
Standing by the step of the carriage, he saw them take their departure,
just as he had seen them appear in a street of Pompeii. The doctor was
lost behind a screen of glass, talking with the coachman who had come
to meet them. Freya, before disappearing, turned to give him a faint
smile and then raised her gloved hand with a stiff forefinger,
threatening him just as though he were a mischievous and bold child.
Finding himself alone in the compartment that was carrying toward
Naples the traces and perfumes of the absent one, Ulysses felt as
downcast as though he were returning from a burial, as if he had just
lost one of the props of his life.
His appearance on board the _Mare Nostrum_ was regarded as a calamity.
He was capricious and intractable, complaining of Toni and the other
two officials because they were not hastening repairs on the vessel. In
the same breath he said it would be better not to hurry things too
much, so that the job would be better done. Even Caragol was the victim
of his bad humor which flamed forth in the form of cruel sermons
against those addicted to the poison of alcohol.
"When men need to be cheered up, they have to have something better
than wine. That which brings greater ecstasy than drink ... is woman,
Uncle Caragol. Don't forget this counsel!"
Through mere force of habit the cook replied, "That is so, my
captain...." But down in his heart he was pitying the ignorance of
those men who concentrate all their happiness on the whims and grimaces
of this most frivolous of toys.
Two days afterwards those on board drew a long breath when they saw the
captain taken ashore. The ship was moored in a very uncomfortable
place,--near some that were discharging coal,--with the stern shored up
so that the screw of the steamer might be repaired. The workmen were
replacing the damaged and broken plates with ceaseless hammering. Since
they would undoubtedly have to wait nearly a month, it would be much
more convenient for the owner to go to a hotel; so he sent his baggage
to the _Albergo Partenope_, on the ancient shore of S. Lucia,--the very
one that Freya had mentioned.
Upon installing himself in an upper room, with a view of the blue
circle of the gulf framed by the outlines of the balcony, Ferragut's
first move was to change a bill for five liras into coppers,
preparatory to asking various questions. The jaundiced and mustached
steward listened to him attentively with the complacency of a
go-between, and at last was able to formulate a complete personality
with all its data. The lady for whom he was inquiring was the _Signora_
Talberg. She was at present away on an excursion, but she might return
at any moment.
Ulysses passed an entire day with the tranquillity of one who awaits at
a sure place, gazing at the gulf from the balcony. Below him was the
_Castello dell' Ovo_ connected with the land by a bridge.
The _bersaglieri_ were occupying their ancient castle, work of the
viceroy, Pedro of Toledo. Many turrets of dark rose color were crowded
together upon this narrow, egg-shaped island, where, in other days, the
pusillanimous Spanish garrison was locked in the fortress for the
purpose of aiming bombards and culverins at the Neapolitans when they
no longer wished to pay taxes and imposts. Its walls had been raised
upon the ruins of another castle in which Frederick II had guarded his
treasures, and whose chapel Giotto had painted. And the medieval castle
of which only the memory now remained had, in its turn, been erected
upon the remnants of the Palace of Lucullus, who had located the center
of his celebrated gardens in this little island, then called _Megaris_.
The cornets of the _bersaglieri_ rejoiced the captain like the
announcement of a triumphal entry. "She's going to come! She's going to
come at any moment!..." And he would look across the double mountain of
the island of Capri, black in the distance, closing the gulf like a
promontory, and the coast of Sorrento as rectilinear as a wall. "There
she is...." Then he would lovingly follow the course of the little
steamboats plowing across the immense blue surface, opening a triangle
of foam. In some of these Freya must be coming.
The first day was golden and full of hope. The sun was sparkling in a
cloudless sky, and the gulf was foaming with bubbles of light under an
atmosphere so calm that not the slightest zephyr was rippling its
surface. The smoke plume of Vesuvius was upright and slender, expanding
upon the horizon like a pine tree of white vapor. At the foot of the
balcony the strolling musicians kept succeeding each other from time to
time, singing voluptuous barcarolles and love serenades.... And--she
did not come!
The second day was silvery and desperate. There was fog on the gulf;
the sun was no more than a reddish disk such as one sees in the
northern countries; the mountains were clothed with lead; the clouds
were hiding the cone of the volcano; the sea appeared to be made of
tin, and a chilly wind was distending sails, skirts, and overcoats,
making the people scurry along the promenade and the shore. The
musicians continued their singing but with melancholy sighs in the
shelter of a corner, to keep out of the furious blasts from the sea.
"To die.... To die for thee!" a baritone voice groaned between the
harps and violins. And--she came!
Upon learning from the waiter that the _signora_ Talberg was in her
room on the floor below, Ulysses thrilled with restlessness. What would
she say upon finding him installed in her hotel?...
The luncheon hour was at hand, and he impatiently awaited the usual
signals before going down to the dining room. First an explosion would
be heard behind the _albergo_ making the walls and roofs tremble,
swelling out into the immensity of the gulf. That was the midday
cannonade from the high castle of S. Elmo. Then cornets from the
_Castello dell' Ovo_ would respond with their joyous call to the
smoking _olio_, and up the stairway of the hotel would come the beating
of the Chinese gong, announcing that luncheon was served.
Ulysses went down to take his place at table, looking in vain at the
other guests who had preceded him. Freya perhaps was going to come in
with the delay of a traveler who has just arrived and has been occupied
in freshening her toilet.
He lunched badly, looking continually at a great glass doorway
decorated with pictures of boats, fishes, and sea gulls, and every time
its polychromatic leaves parted, his food seemed to stick in his
throat. Finally came the end of the lunch, and he slowly sipped his
coffee. She did not appear.
On returning to his room, he sent the whiskered steward in search of
news.... The _signora_ had not lunched in the hotel; the _signora_ had
gone out while he was in the dining-room. Surely she would show herself
in the evening.
At dinner time he had the same unpleasant experience, believing that
Freya was going to appear every time that an unknown hand or a vague
silhouette of a woman pushed the door open from the other side of the
He strolled up and down the vestibule a long time, chewing rabidly on a
cigar, and finally decided to accost the porter, an astute brunette
whose blue lapels embroidered with keys of gold were peeping over the
edge of his writing desk, taking in everything, informing himself of
everything, while he appeared to be asleep.
The approach of Ulysses made him spring up as though he heard the
rustling of paper money. His information was very precise. The
_signora_ Talberg very seldom ate at the hotel. She had some friends
who were occupying a furnished flat in the district of Chiaja, with
whom she usually passed almost the entire day. Sometimes she did not
even return to sleep.... And he again sat down, his hand closing
tightly upon the bill which his imagination had foreseen.
After a bad night Ulysses arose, resolved to await the widow at the
entrance to the hotel. He took his breakfast at a little table in the
vestibule, read the newspaper, had to go to the door in order to avoid
the morning cleaning, pursued by the dust of brooms and shaken rugs.
And once there, he pretended to take great interest in the wandering
musicians, who dedicated their love songs and serenades to him, rolling
up the whites of their eyes upon presenting their hats for coins.
Some one came to keep him company. It was the porter who now appeared
very familiar and confidential, as though since the preceding night a
firm friendship, based upon their secret, had sprung up between the
He spoke of the beauties of the country, counseling the Spaniard to
take divers excursions.... A smile, an encouraging word from Ferragut,
and he would have immediately proposed other recreations whose
announcement appeared to be fluttering around his lips. But the sailor
repelled all such amiability, glowering with displeasure. This vulgar
fellow was going to spoil with his presence the longed-for meeting.
Perhaps he was hanging around just to see and to know.... And taking
advantage of one of his brief absences, Ulysses went off down the long
_Via Partenope_, following the parapet that extends along the coast,
pretending to be interested in everything that he met, but without
losing sight of the door of the hotel.
He stopped before the oystermen's stands, examining the valves of
pearly shells piled up on the shelves, the baskets of oysters from
Fusaro and the enormous conch-shells in whose hollow throats, according
to the peddlers, the distant roll of the sea was echoing like a
haunting memory. One by one he looked at all the motor launches, the
little regatta skiffs, the fishing barks, and the coast schooners
anchored in the quiet harbor of the island _dell' Ova_. He stood a long
time quietly watching the gentle waves that were combing their foam on
the rocks of the dikes under the horizontal fishing rods of various
Suddenly he saw Freya following the avenue beside the houses. She
recognized him at once and this discovery made her stop near a
street-opening, hesitating whether to continue on or to flee toward the
interior of Naples. Then she came over to the seaside pavement,
approaching Ferragut with a placid smile, greeting him afar off, like a
friend whose presence is only to be expected.
Such assurance rather disconcerted the captain. They shook hands and
she asked him calmly what he was doing there looking at the waves, and
if the repairs of his boat were progressing satisfactorily.
"But admit that my presence has surprised you!" said Ulysses, rather
irritated by this tranquillity. "Confess that you were not expecting to
find me here."
Freya repeated her smiles with an expression of sweet compassion.
"It is natural that I should find you here. You are in your district,
within sight of a hotel.... We are neighbors."
In order more thoroughly to amuse herself with the captain's
astonishment, she made a long pause. Then she added:
"I saw your name on the list of arrivals yesterday, on my return to the
hotel. I always look them over. It pleases me to know who my neighbors
"And for that reason you did not come down to the dining-room?..."
Ulysses asked this question hoping that she would respond negatively.
She could not answer it in any other way, if only for good manners'
"Yes, for that reason," Freya replied simply. "I guessed that you were
waiting to meet me and I did not wish to go into the dining-room.... I
give you fair warning that I shall always do the same."
Ulysses uttered an "Ah!" of amazement.... No woman had ever spoken to
him with such frankness.
"Neither has your presence here surprised me," she continued. "I was
expecting it. I know the innocent wiles of you men. 'Since he did not
find me in the hotel, he will wait for me to-day in the street,' I said
to myself, upon arising this morning.... Before coming out, I was
following your footsteps from the window of my room...."
Ferragut looked at her in surprise and dismay. What a woman!...
"I might have escaped through any cross street while your back was
turned. I saw you before you saw me.... But these false situations
stretching along indefinitely are distasteful to me. It is better to
speak the entire truth face to face.... And therefore I have come to
Instinct made him turn his head toward the hotel. The porter was
standing at the entrance looking out over the sea, but with his eyes
undoubtedly turned toward them.
"Let us go on," said Freya. "Accompany me a little ways. We shall talk
together and then you can leave me.... Perhaps we shall separate
greater friends than ever."
They strolled in silence all the length of the _Via Partenope_ until
they reached the gardens along the beach of Chiaja, losing sight of the
hotel. Ferragut wished to renew the conversation, but could not begin
it. He feared to appear ridiculous. This woman was making him timid.
Looking at her with admiring eyes, he noted the great changes that had
been made in the adornment of her person. She was no longer clad in the
dark tailor-made in which he had first seen her. She was wearing a blue
and white silk gown with a handsome fur over her shoulders and a
cluster of purple heron feathers on top of her wide hat.
The black hand-bag that had always accompanied her on her journeys had
been replaced by a gold-meshed one of showy richness,--Australian gold
of a greenish tone like an overlay of Florentine bronze. In her ears
were two great, thick emeralds, and on her fingers a half dozen
diamonds whose facets twinkled in the sunlight. The pearl necklace was
still on her neck peeping out through the V-shaped opening of her gown.
It was the magnificent toilet of a rich actress who puts everything on
herself,--of one so enamored with jewels that she is not able to live
without their contact, adorning herself with them the minute she is out
of bed, regardless of the hour and the rules of good taste.
But Ferragut did not take into consideration the unsuitableness of all
this luxury. Everything about her appeared to him admirable.
Without knowing just how, he began to talk. He was astonished at
hearing his own voice, saying always the same thing in different words.
His thoughts were incoherent, but they were all clustered around an
incessantly repeated statement,--his love, his immense love for Freya.
And Freya continued marching on in silence with a compassionate
expression in her eyes and in the corners of her mouth. It pleased her
pride as a woman to contemplate this strong man stuttering in childish
confusion. At the same time she grew impatient at the monotony of his
"Don't say any more, Captain," she finally interrupted. "I can guess
all that you are going to say, and I've heard many times what you have
said,--You do not sleep--you do not eat--you do not live because of me.
Your existence is impossible if I do not love you. A little more
conversation and you will threaten me with shooting yourself, if I am
not yours.... Same old song! They all say the same thing. There are no
creatures with less originality than you men when you wish
They were in one of the avenues of the promenade. Through the palm
trees and glossy magnolias the luminous gulf could be seen on one side,
and on the other the handsome edifices of the beach of Chiaja. Some
ragged urchins kept running around them and following them, until they
took refuge in an ornamental little white temple at the end of the
"Very well, then, enamored sea-wolf," continued Freya; "you need not
sleep, you need not eat, you may kill yourself if the fancy strikes
you; but I am not able to love you; I shall never love you. You may
give up all hope; life is not mere diversion and I have other more
serious occupations that absorb all my time."
In spite of the playful smile with which she accompanied these words,
Ferragut surmised a very firm will.
"Then," he said in despair, "it will all be useless?... Even though I
make the greatest sacrifices?... Even though I give proofs of love
greater than you have ever known?..."
"All useless," she replied roundly, without a sign of a smile.
They paused before the ornamental little temple-shaped building, with
its dome supported by white columns and a railing around it. The bust
of Virgil adorned the center,--an enormous head of somewhat feminine
The poet had died in Naples in "Sweet Parthenope," on his return from
Greece and his body, turned to dust, was perhaps mingled with the soil
of this garden. The Neapolitan people of the Middle Ages had attributed
to him all kinds of wonderful things, even transforming the poet into a
powerful magician. The wizard Virgil in one night had constructed the
_Castello dell' Ovo_, placing it with his own hands upon a great egg
(_Ovo_) that was floating in the sea. He also had opened with his magic
blasts the tunnel of Posilipo near which are a vineyard and a tomb
visited for centuries as the last resting place of the poet. Little
scamps, playing around the railing, used to hurl papers and stones
inside the temple. The white head of the powerful sorcerer attracted
them and at the same time filled them with admiration and fear.
"Thus far and no further," ordered Freya. "You will continue on your
way. I am going to the high part of Chiaja.... But before separating as
good friends, you are going to give me your word not to follow me, not
to importune me with your amorous attentions, not to mix yourself in my
Ulysses did not reply, hanging his head in genuine dismay. To his
disillusion was added the sting of wounded pride. He who had imagined
such very different things when they should see each other again
Freya pitied his sadness.
"Don't be a Baby!... This will soon pass. Think of your business
affairs, and of your family waiting for you over there in Spain....
Besides, the world is full of women; I'm not the only one."
But Ferragut interrupted her. "Yes, she was the only one!... The only
one!..." And he said it with a conviction that awakened another one of
her compassionate smiles.
This man's tenacity was beginning to irritate her.
"Captain, I know your type very well. You are an egoist, like all other
men. Your boat is tied up in the harbor because of an accident; you've
got to remain ashore a month; you meet on one of your trips a woman who
is idiot enough to admit that she remembers meeting you at other times,
and you say to yourself, Magnificent occasion to while away agreeably a
tedious period of waiting!...' If I should yield to your desire, within
a few weeks, as soon as your boat was ready, the hero of my love, the
knight of my dreams, would betake himself to the sea, saying as a
parting salute: 'Adieu, simpleton!'"
Ulysses protested with energy. No: he wished that his boat might never
be repaired. He was computing with agony the days that remained. If it
were necessary, he would abandon it, remaining forever in Naples.
"And what have I to do in Naples?" interrupted Freya. "I am a mere bird
of passage here, just as you are. We knew each other on the seas of
another hemisphere, and we have just happened to run across each other
here in Italy. Next time, if we ever meet again, it will be in Japan or
Canada or the Cape.... Go on your way, you enamored old shark, and let
me go mine. Imagine to yourself that we are two boats that have met
when becalmed, have signaled each other, have exchanged greetings, have
wished each other good luck, and afterwards have continued on our way,
perhaps never to see each other again."
Ferragut shook his head negatively. Such a thing could not be, he could
not resign himself to losing sight of her forever.
"These men!" she continued, each time a little more irritated. "You all
imagine that things must be arranged entirely according to your
caprices. 'Because I desire thee, thou must be mine....' And what if I
don't want to?... And if I don't feel any necessity of being loved?...
If I wish only to live in liberty, with no other love than that which I
feel for myself?..."
She considered it a great misfortune to be a woman. She always envied
men for their independence. They could hold themselves aloof,
abstaining from the passions that waste life, without anybody's coming
to importune them in their retreat. They were at liberty to go wherever
they wanted to, to travel the wide world over, without leaving behind
their footsteps a wake of solicitors.
"You appear to me, Captain, a very charming man. The other day I was
delighted to meet you; it was an apparition from the past; I saw in you
the joy of my youth that is beginning to fade away, and the melancholy
of certain recollections.... And nevertheless, I am going to end by
hating you. Do you hear me, you tedious old Argonaut?... I shall loathe
you because you will not be a mere friend; because you know only how to
talk everlastingly about the same thing; because you are a person out
of a novel, a Latin, very interesting, perhaps, to other women,--but
insufferable to me."
Her face contracted with a gesture of scorn and pity. "Ah, those
"They're all the same,--Spaniards, Italians, Frenchmen.... They were
born for the same thing. They hardly meet an attractive woman but they
believe that they are evading their obligations if they do not beg for
her love and what comes afterward.... Cannot a man and woman simply be
friends? Couldn't you be just a good comrade and treat me as a
Ferragut protested energetically. No; no, he couldn't. He loved her
and, after being repelled with such cruelty, his love would simply go
on increasing. He was sure of that.
A nervous tremor made Freya's voice sharp and cutting, and her eyes
took on a dangerous gleam. She looked at her companion as though he
were an enemy whose death she longed for.
"Very well, then, if you must know it. I abominate all men; I abominate
them, because I know them so well. I would like the death of all of
them, of every one!... The evil that they have wrought in my life!... I
would like to be immensely beautiful, the handsomest woman on earth,
and to possess the intellect of all the sages concentrated in my brain,
to be rich and to be a queen, in order that all the men of the world,
crazy with desire, would come to prostrate themselves before me.... And
I would lift up my feet with their iron heels, and I would go trampling
over them, crushing their heads ... so ... and so ... and so!..."
She struck the sands of the garden with the soles of her little shoes.
An hysterical sneer distorted her mouth.
"Perhaps I might make an exception of you.... You who, with all your
braggart arrogance, are, after all, outright and simple-hearted. I
believe you capable of assuring a woman of all kinds of love-lies ...
believing them yourself most of all. But the others!... _Ay, the
others!_... How I hate them!..."
She looked over toward the palace of the Aquarium, glistening white
between the colonnade of trees.
"I would like to be," she continued pensively, "one of those animals of
the sea that can cut with their claws, that have arms like scissors,
saws, pincers ... that devour their own kind, and absorb everything
Then she looked at the branch of a tree from which were hanging several
silver threads, sustaining insects with active tentacles.
"I would like to be a spider, an enormous spider, that all men might be
drawn to my web as irresistibly as flies. With what satisfaction would
I crunch them between my claws! How I would fasten my mouth against
their hearts!... And I would suck them.... I would suck them until
there wasn't a drop of blood left, tossing away then their empty
Ulysses began to wonder if he had fallen in love with a crazy woman.
His disquietude, his surprise and questioning eyes gradually restored
She passed one hand across her forehead, as though awakening from a
nightmare and wishing to banish remembrance with this gesture. Her
glance became calmer.
"Good-by, Ferragut; do not make me talk any more. You will soon doubt
my reason.... You are doing so already. We shall be friends, just
friends and nothing more. It is useless to think of anything else....
Do not follow me.... We shall see each other.... I shall hunt you
up.... Good-by!... Good-by!"
And although Ferragut felt tempted to follow her, he remained
motionless, seeing her hurry rapidly away, as though fleeing from the
words that she had just let fall before the little temple of the poet.
THE AQUARIUM OF NAPLES
In spite of her promise, Freya made no effort to meet the sailor. "We
shall see each other.... I shall hunt you up." But it was Ferragut who
did the hunting, stationing himself around the hotel.
"How crazy I was the other morning!... I wonder what you could have
thought of me!" she said the first time that she spoke to him again.
Not every day did Ulysses have the pleasure of a conversation which
invariably developed from the _Via Partenope_ to Virgil's monument. The
most of the mornings he used to wait in vain opposite the oyster
stands, listening to the musicians who were bombarding the closed
windows of the hotel with their sentimental romances and mandolins.
Freya would not appear.
His impatience usually dragged Ulysses back to the hotel in order to
beg information of the porter. Animated by the hope of a new bill, the
flunkey would go to the telephone and inquire of the servants on the
upper floor. And then with a sad and obsequious smile, as though
lamenting his own words: "The _signora_ is not in. The _signora_ has
passed the night outside of the _albergo_." And Ferragut would go away
Sometimes he would go to see how the repairs were getting on in his
boat,--an excellent pretext for venting his wrath on somebody. On other
mornings he would go to the garden of the beach of Chiaja,--to the very
same places through which he had strolled with Freya. He was always
looking for her to appear from one moment to another. Everything 'round
about suggested some reminder of her. Trees and benches, pavements and
electric lights knew her perfectly because of having formed a part of
her regular walk.
Becoming convinced that he was waiting in vain, a last hope made him
glance toward the white building of the Aquarium. Freya had frequently
mentioned it. She was accustomed to amuse herself, oftentimes passing
entire hours there, contemplating the life of the inhabitants of the
sea. And Ferragut blinked involuntarily as he passed rapidly from the
garden boiling under the sun into the shadow of the damp galleries with
no other illumination than that of the daylight which penetrated to the
interior of the Aquarium,--a light that, seen through the water and the
glass, took on a mysterious tone, the green and diffused tint of the
This visit enabled him to kill time more placidly. There came to his
mind old readings confirmed now by direct vision. He was not the kind
of sailor that sails along regardless of what exists under his keel. He
wanted to know the mysteries of the immense blue palace over whose roof
he was usually navigating, devoting himself to the study of
oceanography, the most recent of sciences.
Upon taking his first steps in the Aquarium, he immediately pictured
the marine depths which exploration had divided and charted so
unequally. Near the shores, in the zone called "the littoral" where the
rivers empty, the materials of nourishment were accumulated by the
impulse of the tides and currents, and there flourished sub-aquatic
vegetation. This was the zone of the great fish and reached down to
within two hundred fathoms of the bottom,--a depth to which the sun's
rays never penetrate. Beyond that there was no light; plant life
disappeared and with it the herbivorous animals.
The submarine grade, a gentle one down to this point, now becomes very
steep, descending rapidly to the oceanic abysses,--that immense mass of
water (almost the entire ocean), without light, without waves, without
tides, without currents, without oscillations of temperature, which is
called the "abyssal" zone.
In the littoral, the waters, healthfully agitated, vary in saltiness
according to the proximity of the rivers. The rocks and deeps are
covered with a vegetation which is green near the surface, becoming
darker and darker, even turning to a dark red and brassy yellow as it
gets further from the light. In this oceanic paradise of nutritive and
luminous waters charged with bacteria and microscopic nourishment, life
is developed in exuberance. In spite of the continual traps of the
fishermen, the marine herds keep themselves intact because of their
infinite powers of reproduction.
The fauna of the abyssal depths where the lack of light makes all
vegetation impossible, is largely carnivorous, the weak inhabitants
usually devouring the residuum and dead animals that come down from the
surface. The strong ones, in their turn, nourish themselves on the
concentrated sustenance of the little cannibals.
The bottom of the ocean, a monotonous desert of mud and sand, the
accumulated sediment of hundreds of centuries, has occasional oases of
strange vegetation. These grove-like growths spring up like spots of
light just where the meeting of the surface currents rain down a manna
of diminutive dead bodies. The twisted limestone plants, hard as stone,
are really not plants at all, but animals. Their leaves are simply
inert and treacherous tentacles which contract very suddenly, and their
flowers, avid mouths, which bend over their prey, and suck it in
through their gluttonous openings.
A fantastic light streaks this world of darkness with multicolored
shafts, animal light produced by living organisms. In the lowest
abysses sightless creatures are very scarce, contrary to the common
opinion, which imagines that almost all of them lack eyes because of
their distance from the sun. The filaments of the carnivorous trees are
garlands of lamps; the eyes of the hunting animals, electric globes;
the insignificant bacteria, light-producing little glands all of which
open or close with phosphorescent switches according to the necessity
of the moment,--sometimes in order to persecute and devour, and at
others in order to keep themselves hidden in the shadows.
The animal-plants, motionless as stars, surround their ferocious mouths
with a circle of flashing lights, and immediately their diminutive prey
feel themselves as irresistibly drawn toward them as do the moths that
fly toward the lamp, and the birds of the sea that beat against the
None of the lights of the earth can compare with those of this abyssal
world. All artificial fires pale before the varieties of its organic
The living branches of polyps, the eyes of the animals, even the mud
sown with brilliant points, emit phosphoric shafts like sparks whose
splendors incessantly vanish and reappear. And these lights pass
through many gradations of colors:--violet, purple, orange, blue, and
especially green. On perceiving a victim nearby, the gigantic
cuttle-fishes become illuminated like livid suns, moving their arms
with death-dealing strokes.
All the abyssal beings have their organs of sight enormously developed
in order to catch even the weakest rays of light. Many have enormous,
protruding eyes. Others have them detached from the body at the end of
two cylindrical tentacles like telescopes.
Those that are blind and do not throw out any radiance are compensated
for this inferiority by the development of the tactile organs. Their
antennae and swimming organs are immeasurably prolonged in the
darkness. The filaments of their body, long hairs rich in nerve
terminals, can distinguish instantaneously the appetizing prey, or the
enemy lying in wait.
The abyssal deeps have two floors or roofs. In the highest, is the
so-called neritic zone,--the oceanic surface, diaphanous and luminous,
far from any coast. Next is seen the pelagic zone, much deeper, in
which reside the fishes of incessant motion, capable of living without
reposing on the bottom.
The corpses of the neritic animals and of those that swim between the
two waters are the direct or indirect sustenance of the abyssal fauna.
These beings with weak dental equipment and sluggish speed, badly armed
for the conquest of living prey, nourish themselves with the dropping
of this rain of alimentary material. The great swimmers, supplied with
formidable mandibles and immense and elastic stomachs, prefer the
fortunes of war, the pursuit of living prey, and devour,--as the
carnivorous devour the herbivorous on land,--all the little feeders on
debris and _plancton_. This word of recent scientific invention
presented to Captain Ferragut's mind the most humble and interesting of
the oceanic inhabitants. The _plancton_ is the life that floats in
loose clusters or forming cloud-like groups across the neritic surface,
even descending to the abyssal depths.
Wherever the _plancton_ goes, there is living animation, grouping
itself in closely packed colonies. The purest and most translucent salt
water shows under certain luminous rays a multitude of little bodies as
restless as the dust motes that dance in shafts of sunlight. These
transparent beings mingled with microscopic algae and embryonic
mucosities are the _plancton_. In its dense mass, scarcely visible to
the human eye, float the _siphonoforas_, garlands of entities united by
a transparent thread as fragile, delicate and luminous as Bohemian
crystal. Other equally subtle organisms have the form of little glass
torpedoes. The sum of all the albuminous materials floating on the sea
are condensed in these nutrient clouds to which are added the
secretions of living animals, the remnants of cadavers, the bodies
brought down by the rivers, and the nourishing fragments from the
meadows of algae.
When the _plancton_, either by chance or following some mysterious
attraction, accumulates on some determined point of the shore, the
waters boil with fishes of an astonishing fertility. The seaside towns
increase in number, the sea is filled with sails, the tables are more
opulent, industries are established, factories are opened and money
circulates along the coast, attracted thither from the interior by the
commerce in fresh and dried fish.
If the _plancton_ capriciously withdraws itself, floating toward
another shore, the marine herds emigrate behind these living meadows,
and the blue plain remains as empty as a desert accursed. The fleets of
fishing boats are placed high and dry on the beach, the shops are
closed, the stewpot is no longer steaming, the horses of the
gendarmerie charge against protesting and famine stricken crowds, the
Opposition howls in the Chambers, and the newspapers make the
Government responsible for everything.
This animal and vegetable dust nourishes the most numerous species
which, in their turn, serve as pasture for the great swimmers armed
The whales, most bulky of all the oceanic inhabitants, close this
destructive cycle, since they devour each other in order to live. The
Pacific giant, without teeth, supplies his organism with _plancton_
alone, absorbing it by the ton; that imperceptible and crystalline
manna nourishes his body (looking like an overturned belfry), and makes
purple, fatty rivers of warm blood circulate under its oily skin.
The transparency of the beings in the _plancton_ recalled to Ferragut's
memory the marvelous colorings of the inhabitants of the sea, adjusted
exactly to their needs of preservation. The species that live on the
surface have, as a general rule, a blue back and silver belly. In this
way it is possible for them to escape the sight of their enemies; seen
from the shadows of the depths, they are confounded with the white and
luminous color of the surface. The sardines that swim in shoals are
able to pass unnoticed, thanks to their backs blue as the water, thus
escaping the fish and the birds which are hunting them.
Living in the abysses where the light never penetrates, the pelagic
animals are not obliged to be transparent or blue like the neritic
beings on the surface. Some are opaque and colorless, others, bronzed
and black; most of them are clad in somber hues, whose splendor is the
despair of the artist's brush, incapable of imitating them. A
magnificent red seems to be the base of this color scheme, fading
gradually to pale pink, violet, amber, even losing itself in the milky
iris of the pearls and in the opalescence of the mother-of-pearl of the
mollusks. The eyes of certain fish placed at the end of jaw bones
separated from the body, sparkle like diamonds in the ends of a double
pin. The protruding glands, the warts, the curving backs, take on the
colorings of jewelry.
But the precious stones of earth are dead minerals that need rays of
light in order to emit the slightest flash. The animated gems of the
ocean--fishes and corals--sparkle with their own colors that are a
reflex of their vitality. Their green, their rose color, their intense
yellow, their metallic iridescence, all their liquid tints are
eternally glazed by a moist varnish which cannot exist in the
Some of these beings are capable of a marvelous power of mimicry that
makes them identify themselves with inanimate objects, or in a few
moments run through every gamut of color. Some of great nervous
activity, make themselves absolutely immovable and contract, filling
themselves with wrinkles, taking on the dark tone of the rocks. Others
in moments of irritation or amorous fever, cover themselves with
streaks of light and tremulous spots, different colored clouds passing
over their epidermis with every thrill. The cuttlefish and ink fish,
upon perceiving that they are pursued, enwrap themselves in a cloud of
invisibility, just as did the enchanters of old in the books of
chivalry, darkening the water with the ink stored in their glands.
Ferragut continued to pass slowly along the Aquarium between the two
rows of vertical tanks,--stone cases with thick glass that permitted
full view of the interior. The clear and shining walls that received
the fire of the sun through their upper part, spread a green reflection
over the shadows of the corridors. As they made the rounds, the
visitors took on a livid paleness, as though they were marching through
a submarine defile.
The tranquil water within the tanks was scarcely visible. Behind the
thick glass there appeared to exist only a marvelous atmosphere, an air
of dreamland in which drifted up and down various floating beings of
many colors. The bubbles of their respiration was the only thing that
announced the presence of the liquid. In the upper part of these
aquatic cages, the luminous atmosphere vibrated under a continual spray
of transparent dust,--the sea water with air injected into it that was
renewing the conditions of existence for these guests of the Aquarium.
Seeing these revivifying streams, the captain admired the nourishing
force of the blue water upon which he had passed almost all his life.
Earth lost its pride when compared with the aquatic immensity. In the
ocean had appeared the first manifestations of life, continuing then
its evolutionary cycle over the mountains which had also come up from
its depths. If the earth was the mother of man, the sea was his
The number of terrestrial animals is most insignificant compared with
the maritime ones. Upon the earth's surface (much smaller than the
ocean) the beings occupy only the surface of the soil, and an
atmospheric canopy of a certain number of meters. The birds and insects
seldom go beyond this in their flights. In the sea, the animals are
dispersed over all its levels, through many miles of depth multiplied
by thousands and thousands of longitudinal leagues. Infinite quantities
of creatures, whose number it is impossible to calculate, swim
incessantly in all the strata of its waters. Land is a surface, a
plane; the sea is a volume.
The immense aquatic mass, three times more salty than at the beginning
of the planet, because of a millennarian evaporation that has
diminished the liquid without absorbing its components, retains mixed
with its chlorides, copper, nickel, iron, zinc, lead, and even gold,
from the metallic veins that planetary upheaval deposits upon the
oceanic bottom; compared with this mass, the veins of mountains with
their golden sands deposited by the rivers are but insignificant
Silver also is dissolved in its waters. Ferragut knew by certain
calculations that with the silver floating in the ocean could be
erected pyramids more enormous than those in Egypt.
The men who once had thought of exploiting these mineral riches had
given up the visionary idea because the minerals were too diluted and
it would be impossible to make use of them. The oceanic beings know
better how to recognize their presence, letting them filter through
their bodies for the renovation and coloration of their organs. The
copper accumulates in their blood; the gold and silver are discovered
in the texture of the animal-plants; the phosphorus is absorbed by the
sponges; the lead and the zinc by species of algae.
Every oceanic creature is able to extract from the water the residuum
from certain metals dissolved into particles so incalculably tiny that
no chemical process could ever capture them. The carbonates of lime
deposited by the rivers or dragged from the coast serve innumerable
species for the construction of their coverings, skeletons, and spiral
shells. The corals, filtering the water across their flabby and mucous
bodies, solidify their hard skeletons so that they may finally be
converted into habitable islands.
The beings of disconcerting diversity that were floating, diving, or
wiggling around Ferragut were no more than oceanic water. The fish were
water made into flesh; the slimy, mucilaginous animals were water in a
gelatinous state; the crustaceans and the polypi were water turned to
In one of the tanks he saw a landscape which appeared like that of
another planet, grandiose yet at the same time reduced, like a woods
seen in a diorama. It was a palm grove, surging up between the rocks,
but the rocks were only pebbles, and the palm trees,--annelides of the
sea,--were simply worms holding themselves in upright immovability.
They kept their ringed bodies within a leathern tube that formed their
protective case, and from this rectilinear, marble-colored trunk sent
forth, like a spout of branches, the constantly moving tentacles which
served them as organs for breathing and eating.
Endowed with rare sensitiveness, it was enough for a cloud to pass
before the sun to make them shrink quickly within these tubes, deprived
of their showy capitals, like beheaded palm trees. Then, slowly and
prudently the animated pincers would come protruding again through the
opening of their cylindrical scabbards, floating in the water with
anxious hope. All these trees and flower-animals developed a mechanical
voracity whenever a microscopic victim fell under the power of their
tentacles; then the soft clusters of branches would contract, close,
drawing in their prey, and the worm, withdrawing into the lowest part
of the slender tower secreted by himself, would digest his conquest.
The other tanks then attracted the attention of the sailor.
Slipping over the stones, introducing themselves into their caverns,
drowsing, half buried in the sand,--all the varied and tumultuous
species of crustaceans were moving their cutting and tentacular
grinders and making their Japanese armor gleam: some of their frames
were red--almost black--as though guarding the dry blood of a remote
combat; others were of a scarlet freshness as though reflecting the
first fires of the flaming dawn.
The largest of the lobsters (the _homard_, the sovereign of the tables
of the rich) was resting upon the scissors of its front claws, as
powerful as an arm, or a double battle-axe. The spiny lobster was
leaping with agility over the peaks, by means of the hooks on its
claws, its weapons of war and nutrition. Its nearest relative, the
cricket of the sea, a dull and heavy animal, was sulking in the corners
covered with mire and with sea weed, in an immovability that made it
easily confounded with the stones. Around these giants, like a
democracy accustomed to endure from time to time the attack of the
strong, crayfish and shrimps were swimming in shoals. Their movements
were free and graceful, and their sensitiveness so acute that the
slightest agitation made them start, taking tremendous springs.
Ulysses kept thinking of the slavery that Nature had imposed upon these
animals, giving them their beautiful, defensive envelopment.
They were born armored and their development obliged them repeatedly to
change their form of arms. They sloughed their skins like reptiles, but
on account of their cylindrical shape were able to perform this
operation with the facility of a leg that abandons its stocking. When
it begins to crack, the crustaceans have to withdraw from out their
cuirass the multiple mechanism of their members and appendages,--claws,
antennae and the great pincers,--a slow and dangerous operation in
which many perish, lacerated by their own efforts. Then, naked and
disarmed, they have to wait until a new skin forms that in time is also
converted into a coat of mail,--all this in the midst of a hostile
environment, surrounded with greedy beasts, large and small, attracted
by their rich flesh,--and with no other defense than that of keeping
themselves in hiding.
Among the swarm of small crustaceans moving around on the sandy bottom,
hunting, eating, or fighting with a ferocious entanglement of claws,
the onlookers always search for a bizarre and extravagant little
creature, the _paguro_, nicknamed "Bernard, the Hermit." It is a snail
that advances upright as a tower, upon crab claws, yet having as a
crown the long hair of a sea-anemone.
This comical apparition is composed of three distinct animals one upon
the other--or, rather, of two living beings carrying a bier between
them. The _paguro_ crab is born with the lower part of his case
unprotected,--a most excellent tid-bit, tender and savory for hungry
fishes. The necessity for defending himself makes him seek a snail
shell in order to protect the weak part of his organism. If he
encounters an empty dwelling of this class, he appropriates it. If not,
he eats the inhabitant, introducing his posterior armed with two hooked
claws into its mother-of-pearl refuge.
But these defensive precautions are not sufficient for the weak
_paguro_. In order to live he needs rather to put himself on the
offensive, to inspire respect in devouring monsters, especially in the
octopi that are seeking as prey his trunk and hairy claws, exposed to
locomotion outside his tower.
In course of time a sea-anemone comes along and attaches itself to the
calcareous peak, the number often amounting to five or six, although
there is no bodily relation between the _paguro_ and the organisms on
top. They are simply partners with a reciprocal interest. The
animal-plants sting like nettles; all the monsters without a shell flee
from the poison of their tingling organs, and the fragments of their
hair burn like pins of fire. In this manner the humble _paguro_,
carrying upon his back his tower crowned with formidable batteries,
inspires terror in the gigantic beasts of the deep. The anemones on
their part are grateful to him for being thus able to pass incessantly
from one side to the other, coming in contact with every class of
animals. In this way, they can eat with greater facility than their
sisters fixed on the rocks; for they do not have to wait, as the others
must, until food drifts casually to their tentacles. Besides this,
there is always floating on top some of the remains of the booty that
the crafty crab in his wandering impunity has gathered below.
Ferragut, on passing from one tank to the other, mentally established
the gradation of the fauna from the primitive protoplast to the perfect
The sponges of the Mediterranean swam as soon as they were born, when
they were like pin-heads, with vibratory movements. Then they remained
immovable, the water filtering through the cracks and crannies of their
texture, protecting their delicate flesh with a bristling of
spikes,--sharp limestone needles with which they pierced the passing
fishes and rendered them immovable, availing themselves of the
nourishment of their putrefying remains.
The nettles of the sea spread out their stinging threads by the
thousands, discharging a venom that stupefies the victim and makes him
fall into their corolla. With unlimited voracity, and fastened to the
rocks, they overpower fish much larger than they, and at the first hint
of danger shrink together in such a way that it is very difficult to
see them. The sea-plumes lie flabby and dark as dead animals, until
absorbing water, they suddenly rear themselves up, transparent and full
of leaves. Thus they go from one side to the other, with the lightness
of a feather, or, burrowing in the sand, send forth a phosphoric glow.
The belles of the sea, the elegant Medusae, open out the floating
circle of their fragile beauty. They are transparent fungi, open
umbrellas of glass that advance by means of their contractions. From
the inner center of their dome hangs a tube equally transparent and
gelatinous,--the mouth of the animal. Long filaments depend from the
edges of their circular forms, sensitive tentacles that at the same
time maintain their floating equilibrium.
These fragile beings, that appear to belong to an enchanted fauna,
white as rock crystal with soft borders of rose color or violet, sting
like nettles and defend themselves by their fiery touch. Some subtle
and colorless parasols were living here in the tank under the
protection of a second enclosure of crystal, and their mucous mistiness
scarcely showed itself within this bell-shaped glass except as a pale
line of blue vapor.
Below these transparent and ethereal forms that burn whatever they
touch, venturing to capture prey much larger than themselves, were
grouped as in gardens the so-called "flower of blood," the red coral,
and especially the star-fish, forming with their corolla an
The captain had seen these stony vegetations, like submerged groves, in
the depths of the Dead Sea and also in the southern seas. He had sailed
over them under the illusion that through the bluish depths of the
ocean were circulating broad rivers of blood.
The _oseznos_ (bear-cubs) and the star-fish were slowly waving the
forms that had given rise to their names, secreting poisons in order to
paralyze their victims, contracting themselves until they formed a ball
of lances that grasped their prey in a deadly embrace or cut it with
the bony knives of their radiating body. The iris of the sea balanced
themselves on end, moving their members as though they were petals.
Upon the fine sandy depths or attached to the rocks, the mollusks lived
in the protection of their shells.
The necessity of giving themselves up to sleep with relative security,
without fear of the general rapacity which is the oceanic law, is a
matter of concern to all of these marine beings, making them
constructive and inventive. The crustaceans live within their shells or
take advantage of ready-made refuges of limestone, expelling their
former owners; the animal-plants exhale toxins; the _planctonic_
beings, transparent and gelatinous, burn like a crystal exposed to
fire; some organisms apparently weak and flabby, have in their tails
the force of a carpenter's bit, perforating the rock sufficiently to
create a cavern of refuge in its hard interior.... And the timid
mollusks, trembling and succulent pulp, have fabricated for their
protection the strong shields of their valves,--two concave walls that
on opening form their door, and on closing, their house.
A bit of flesh protrudes outside these shells, like a white tongue. In
some it takes the form of a sole, and serves as a foot, the mollusk
marching with his dwelling upon the back of this unique support. In
others it is a swimmer, and the shell, opening and shutting its valves
like a propelling mouth, ascends in a straight line to the surface,
falling afterwards with the two shields closed.
These herbivorous fresh-water animals live by drinking in the
light,--feeling the necessity of the surface waters or the shallow
depths with their limpid glades--and this light, spreading over the
white interior of their dwelling, decorates it with all the fleeting
colors of the iris, giving to the limestone the mysterious shimmer of
Ulysses admired the odd forms of their winding passageways. They were
like the palaces of the Orient, dark and forbidding on the outside,
glistening within like a lake of pearl. Some received their terrestrial
names because of the special form of their shell--the rabbit, the
helmet, triton's horn, the cask, the Mediterranean parasol.
They were grazing with bucolic tranquillity on the maritime pasture
lands, contemplated from afar by the mussels, the oysters, and other
bi-valves, attached to the rocks by a hard and horny hank of silk that
enwrapped their enclosures. Some of these shells, called hams,--clams
of great size, with valves in the form of a club,--had fixed themselves
upright in the mire, giving the appearance of a submerged Celtic camp,
with a succession of obelisks swallowed up by the depths of the sea.
The one called the date-shell can, assisted by its liquid acid, pierce
the hardest stone with its cylindrical gimlet. The columns of Hellenic
temples, submerged in the Gulf of Naples and brought to light by an
earthquake, are bored from one end to the other by this diminutive
Cries of surprise and nervous laughter suddenly reached Ferragut. They
came from that part of the Aquarium where the fish tanks were. In the
corridor was a little trough of water and at the bottom a kind of rag,
flabby and gray, with black rings on the back. This animal always
attracted the immediate curiosity of the visitors. Everybody would ask
Groups of countrymen, city families preceded by their offspring, pairs
of soldiers, all might be seen consulting before it and experimenting,
advancing their hands over the trough with a certain hesitation.
Finally they would touch the living rag at the bottom,--the gelatinous
flesh of the fish-torpedo,--receiving a series of electric shocks which
quickly made them loosen their prey, laughing and raising the other
hand to their jerking arms.
Ulysses on reaching the fish tanks had the sensation of a traveler who,
after having lived among inferior humanity, encounters beings that are
almost of his own race.
There was the oceanic aristocracy, the fish free as the sea, swift,
undulating and slippery, like the waves. They all had accompanied him
for many years, appearing in the transparencies opened by the prow of
They were vigorous and therefore had no neck,--the most fragile and
delicate portion of terrestrial organism,--making them more like the
bull, the elephant and all the battering animals. They needed to be
light, and in order to be so had dispensed with the rigid and hard
shell of the crustacean that prevents motion, preferring the coat of
mail covered with scales, which expands and contracts, yields to the
blow but is not injured. They wished to be free, and their body, like
that of the ancient wrestlers, was covered with a slippery oil, the
oceanic mucus that becomes volatilized at the slightest pressure.
The freest animals on earth cannot be compared with them. The birds
need to perch and to rest during their sleep, but the fish continue
floating around and moving from place to place while asleep. The entire
world belongs to them. Wherever there is a mass of water,--ocean, river
or lake, in whatever altitude or latitude, a mountain peak lost in the
clouds, a valley boiling like a whirlpool, a sparkling and tropical sea
with a forest of colors in its bosoms, or a polar sea encrusted with
ice and people, with sea-lions and white bears,--there the fish always
The public of the Aquarium, seeing the flat heads of the swimming
animals near the glass, would scream and wave their arms as though they
could be seen by the fishy eyes of stupid fixity. Then they would
experience a certain dismay upon perceiving that the fish continued
their course with indifference.
Ferragut smiled before this deception. The crystal that separated the
water from the atmosphere had the density of millions of leagues,--an
insuperable obstacle interposed between two worlds that do not know
The sailor recalled the imperfect vision of the ocean inhabitants. In
spite of their bulging and movable eyes that enable them to see before
and behind them, their visual power extends but a short distance. The
splendors with which Nature clothes the butterfly cannot be appreciated
by them. Absolutely color-blind, they can appreciate only the
difference between light and darkness.
Complete silence accompanies their incomplete vision. All the aquatic
animals are deaf, or rather they completely lack the organs of hearing,
because they are unnecessary to them. Atmospheric agitations,
thunder-bolts and hurricanes do not penetrate the water. Only the
cracking shell of certain crabs and the dolorous moaning near the
surface of certain fishes, called snorers, alter this silence.
Since the ocean lacks acoustic waves, their inhabitants have never
needed to form the organs that transform them into sound. They feel
impetuously the primal necessities of animal life,--hunger and love.
They suffer madly the cruelty of sickness and pain; among themselves
they fight to the death for a meal or a mate. But all in absolute
silence, without the howl of triumph or agony with which terrestrial
animals accompany the same manifestations of their existence.
Their principal sense is that of smell, as is that of sight in the
bird. In the twilight world of the ocean, streaked with phosphorescent
and deceptive splendors, the big fish trust only to their sense of
smell and at times to that of touch.
Sometimes buried in the mud, they will ascend hundreds of yards,
attracted by the odor of the fish that are swimming on the surface.
This prodigious faculty renders useless, in part, the colors in which
the timid species clothe themselves in order to confound themselves
with lights or shadows. The greatest flesh-eaters see badly, but they
scrape the bottom with a divining touch and scent their prey at
Only the Mediterranean fishes, especially those of the Gulf of Naples,
were living in the tanks of this Aquarium. Some were lacking,--the
dolphin, of nervous movement, and the tunny, so impetuous in its
career. The captain smiled upon thinking of the mischievous pranks of
these ungovernable guests whose presence had been declined.
The voracious shark (_cabeza de olla_), the persecuting wolf of the
Mediterranean herds, was not here either. In his place were swimming
other animals of the same species, whitish and long, with great fins,
with eyes always open for lack of movable eyelids, and a mouth split
like a half-moon, under the head at the beginning of the stomach.
Ferragut sought on the bottom of the tanks the fishes of the
deep,--flattened animals that pass the greater part of their time sunk
in the sand under a coverlet of algae. The dark _uranoscopo_, with its
eyes almost united on the peak of its enormous head and its body in the
form of a club, leaves visible only a long thread coming from its lower
jaw, waving it in all directions in order to attract its prey.
Believing it a worm, the victims usually chase the moving bait until
pounced upon by the teeth of the hunter who then springs from his bed,
floats around for a few moments, and falls heavily to the bottom,
opening a new pit with his pectoral, shovel-shaped swimming bladders.
The toad fish, the most hideous animal of the Mediterranean, goes
hunting in the same way. Three-fourths of his flattened body is made up
of head, mostly mouth, armed with hooks and curved knives. Guided by
his yellowish eyes fixed on top, he waves his pointed little beard, cut
like leaves, and a pair of dorsal appendages like feathers. This false
bait attracts the unwary ones and soon the cavernous mandibles close
The plane fishes swim quickly over these monsters of the mire, that are
always horizontally flat resting upon their bellies, whilst the
flatness of the soles and others of the same species is vertical. The
two sides of the bodies of the soles, compressed laterally, have
different colorings. In this way, when lying down, they are able to
merge themselves at the same time with the light of the surface and the
shadow of the bottom, thus getting rid of their persecutors.
All the infinite varieties of the Mediterranean fauna were moving in
the other tanks.
There passed by the greenish plates of glass the giltheads, the
cackerels, and the sea roaches, clad in vivid silver with bands of gold
on their sides. There also flashed past the purple of the salmonoids,
the brilliant majesty of the gold fish, the bluish belly of the sea
bream, the striped back of the sheep's head, the trumpet-mouthed marine
sun-fish, the immovable sneer of the so-called "joker," the dorsal
pinnacle of the peacock-fish which appears made of feathers, the
restless and deeply bifurcated tail of the horse mackerel, the
fluttering of the mullet with its triple wings, the grotesque rotundity
of the boar-fish and the pig-fish, the dark smoothness of the
sting-ray, floating like a fringe, the long snout of the woodcock-fish,
the slenderness of the haddock, agile and swift as a torpedo, the red
gurnard all thorns, the angel of the sea with its fleshy wings, the
gudgeon, bristling with swimming angularities, the notary, red and
white, with black bands similar to the flourishes on signatures, the
modest _esmarrido_, the little sand fish, the superb turbot almost
round with fan tail and a swimming fringe spotted with circles, and the
gloomy conger-eel whose skin is as bluish black as that of the ravens.
Hidden between two rocks like the hunting crustaceans was the
_rascaza_,--the scorpion of the Valencian sea that Ferragut had known
in his childhood, the animal beloved by his uncle, the _Triton_,
because of its substantial flesh which thickened the seamen's soup, the
precious component sought by Uncle Caragol for the broth of his
succulent rice dishes. The enormous head had a pair of eyes entirely
red. Its great swimming bladders stung venomously. The heavy body with
its dark bands and stripes was covered with singular appendages in the
form of leaves and could easily take the color of the deep where, in
the semi-obscurity, it looked like a stone covered with plants. With
this mimicry it was accustomed to escape its enemies and could better
detect its prey.
A gloomy creature, in Ferragut's opinion like a beadle of the Holy
Office, was parading through the upper part of the tanks, passing from
glass to glass, reflected like a double animal when it approached the
surface. It was the ray-fish with a flat head, ferocious eyes, and
thong-like tail, moving the black mantle of its fleshy wings with a
deliberation that rippled the edges.
From the sandy bottom was struggling forth a convex shield that, when
floating, showed its lower face smooth and yellow. The four wrinkled
paws and the serpent-like head of the turtle were emerging from its
cuirass of tortoise-shell. The little sea horses, slender and graceful
as chess-pieces, were rising and descending in the bluish environment,
wiggling their tails and twisting themselves in the form of
When the captain approached the end of the four galleries of the
Aquarium without having seen more than the maritime animals behind the
glistening glasses and a few uninteresting people in the greenish
semi-light, he felt all the discouragement of a day lost.
"She won't come now!..."
In passing from this damp, cellar-like atmosphere to the sunlit garden,
the report of the midday gun struck him like an atmospheric blow. Lunch
hour!... And surely Freya was not going to lunch in the hotel!
During the afternoon his footsteps strayed instinctively toward the
hill streets of the district of Chiaja. All old buildings of manorial
aspect invariably attracted his attention. These were great, reddish
houses of the time of the Spanish viceroys, or palaces of the reign of
Charles III. Their broad staircases were adorned with polychrome busts
brought from the first excavations in Herculaneum and Pompeii.
Ulysses had faint hopes of running across the widow while passing in
front of one of these mansions, now rented in floors and displaying
little metal door-plates indicative of office and warehouse. In one of
these undoubtedly must be living the family that was so friendly to
Then, noticing the whiteness of the showy constructions rising up
around the old districts, he became dubious. The doctor would dwell
only in a modern and hygienic edifice. But not daring to ask questions,
he passed on, fearing to be seen from a window.
Finally he gave it up. Chiaja had many streets and he was wandering
aimlessly, since the concierge of the hotel had not been able to give
him any precise directions. The _signora_ Talberg was evidently bent on
outwitting all his finesse, trying to keep from him the address of her
The following morning the captain took up his usual watch in the
promenade near the white Virgil. It was all in vain. After ten o'clock
he again wandered into the Aquarium, animated by a vague hope.
"Perhaps she may come to-day...."
With the superstition of the enamored and all those who wait, he kept
hunting certain places preferred by the widow, believing that in this
way he would attract her from her distant preoccupation, obliging her
to come to him.
The tanks of the molluscas had always been especially interesting to
her. He recalled that Freya had several times spoken to him of this
Among its aquatic cases she always preferred the one marked number
fifteen, the exclusive dominion of the polypi (cuttlefish). A vague
presentiment warned him that something very important in his life was
going to be unrolled in that particular spot. Whenever Freya visited
the Aquarium, it was to see these repulsive and gluttonous animals eat.
There was nothing to do but to await her before this cavern of horrors.
And while she was making her way thither, the captain had to amuse
himself like any landlubber, contemplating the ferocious chase and
laborious digestion of these monsters.
He had seen them much larger in the deep-sea fishing grounds; but by
curtailing his imaginative powers he could pretend that the blue sheet
of the tank was the entire mass of the ocean--the rough bits of stone
on the bottom its submarine mountains, and by contracting his own
personality, he could reduce himself to the same scale as the little
victims that were falling under the devouring tentacles. In this manner
he could fancy of gigantic dimensions these cuttlefish of the Aquarium,
just as the monstrous oceanic octopi must be that, thousands of yards
down, were illuminating the gloom of the waters with the greenish star
of their phosphorescent nuclei.
From prehistoric times the men of the sea had known this great, ropy
beast of the abysses. The geographers of antiquity used to speak of it,
giving the measurement of its terrible arms.
Pliny used to recount the destruction accomplished by a gigantic
octopus in the vivarium of the Mediterranean. When some sailors
succeeded in killing it they carried it to the epicure, Lucullus,--the
head as big as a barrel, and some of its tentacles so huge that one
person could hardly reach around them. The chroniclers of the Middle
Ages had also spoken of the gigantic cuttlefish that on more than one
occasion had, with its serpentine arms, snatched men from the decks of
The Scandinavian navigators, who had never encountered it in their
fjords, nicknamed it the _kraken_, exaggerating its proportions and
even converting it into a fabulous being. If it came to the surface,
they confounded it with an island; if it remained between the two
waters, the captains, on making their soundings, became confused in
their calculations, finding the depth less than that marked on their
charts. In such cases they had to escape before the _kraken_ should
awake and sink the vessel as though it were a fragile skiff among its
whirlpools of foam.
During many long years Science had laughed at the gigantic polypus and
at the sea serpent, another prehistoric animal many times encountered,
supposing them to be merely the inventions of an imaginative sailor,
stories of the forecastle made up to pass the night-watch. Wise men can
only believe what they can study directly and then catalogue in their
And Ferragut laughed in his turn at poor Science, ignorant and
defenseless before the mysterious immensity of the ocean, and having
scarcely achieved the measurement of its great depth. The apparatus of
the diver could go down but a few meters; their only instrument of
exploration was the metal diving-bell, less important than a spider-web
thread that might try to explore the earth by floating across its
The great cuttlefish living in the tremendous depths do not deign to
come to the surface in order to become acquainted with mankind.
Sickness and oceanic war are the only agents that from time to time
announce their existence in a casual way, as they float over the waves
with members relaxed, snatched at by the iron jaws of the flesh-eating
fish. The great danger for them is that a chance current might place
this plunder of the immense marine desert before the prow of a
A corvette of the French navy once encountered near the Canary Isles a
complete specimen of one of these monsters floating upon the sea, sick
or wounded. The officials sketched its form and noted its
phosphorescence and changes of color, but after a two-hour struggle
with its indomitable force and its slippery mucosity constantly
escaping the pressure of blows and harpoons, they had to let it slip
back into the ocean.
It was the Prince of Monaco, supreme pontiff of oceanographic science,
who established forever the existence of the fabulous _kraken_. In one
of his intelligent excursions across oceanic solitudes he fished up an
arm of a cuttlefish eight yards long. Furthermore the stomachs of
sharks, upon being opened, had revealed to him the gigantic fragments
of the adversary.
Short and terrible battles used to agitate the black and phosphorescent
water, thousands of fathoms from the surface, with whirlwinds of death.
The shark would descend, attracted by the appetizing prospect of a
boneless animal,--all flesh and weighing several tons. He would make
his hostile invasion in all haste so as not to be obliged to endure for
a long time the formidable pressure of the abyss. The struggle between
the two ferocious warriors disputing oceanic dominion was usually brief
and deadly,--the mandible battling with the sucker; the solid and
cutting equipment of teeth with the phosphorescent mucosity incessantly
slipping by and opposing the blow of the demolishing head like a
battering ram, with the lashing blow of tentacles thicker and heavier
than an elephant's trunk. Sometimes the shark would remain down
forever, enmeshed in a skein of soft snakes absorbing it with
gluttonous deliberation; at other times it would come to the surface
with its skin bristling with black tumors,--open mouths and slashes big
as plates,--but with its stomach full of gelatinous meat.
These cuttlefish in the Aquarium were nothing more than the seaside
inhabitants of the Mediterranean coast,--poor relations of the gigantic
octopus that lighten the black gloom of the oceanic night with their
bluish gleam of burned-out planets. But in spite of their relative
smallness, they are animated by the same destructive iniquity as the
others. They are rabid stomachs that cleanse the waters of all animal
life, digesting it in a vacuum of death. Even the bacteria and
infusoria appear to flee from the liquid that envelops these ferocious
Ferragut passed many mornings contemplating their treacherous
immovability, followed by deadly unfoldings the moment that their prey
came down into the tank. He began to hate these monsters for no other
reason than because they were so interesting to Freya. Their stupid
cruelty appeared to him but a reflex of that incomprehensible woman's
character that was repulsing him by fleeing from him and yet, at the
same time, by her smiles and her signals, was sending out a wireless in
order to keep him prisoner.
Masculine wrath convulsed the sailor after each futile daily trip in
pursuit of her invisible personality.
"She's just doing it to lead me on!..." he exclaimed. "It's got to come
to an end! I won't stand any more bull-baiting.... I'll just show her
that I'm able to live without her!"
He swore not to seek her any more. It was an agreeable diversion for
the weeks that he had to spend in Naples, but why keep it up when she
was fatiguing him in such an insufferable way?...
"All is ended," he said again, clenching his hands.
And the following day he was waiting outside of the hotel just as on
other days. Then he would go for his customary stroll, afterwards
entering the Aquarium in the same, old hope of seeing her before the
tanks of the cuttlefish.
He finally met her there one morning, about midday. He had been over to
his boat and on returning entered, through force of habit, sure that at
this hour he would find nobody but the employees feeding the fishes.
His dazzled eyes were affected with almost instantaneous blindness
before becoming accustomed to the shadows of the greenish galleries....
And when the first images began to be vaguely outlined on his retina,
he stepped hastily backward, so great was his surprise.
He couldn't believe it and raised his hand to his eyes as though
wishing to clarify his vision with an energetic rubbing. Was that
really Freya?... Yes, it was she, dressed in white, leaning on the bar
of iron that separated the tanks from the public, looking fixedly at
the glass which covered the rocky cavern like a transparent door. She
had just opened her hand-bag, giving some coins to the guardian who was
disappearing at the end of the gallery.
"Oh, is that you?" she said, on seeing Ferragut, without any surprise,
as if she had left him but a short time before.
Then she explained her presence at this late hour. She had not visited
the Aquarium for a long time. The tank of cuttlefish was to her like a
cage of tropical birds, full of colors and cries that enlivened the
solitude of a melancholy matron.
She always adored the monsters living on the other side of these
crystals, and before going to lunch she had felt an irresistible desire
to see them. She feared that the guard had not been taking good care of
them during her absence.
"Just see how beautiful they are!..."
And she pointed to a tank that appeared empty. Neither in its quiet
still waters nor on the floor of the oily sand could be seen the
slightest animal motion. Ferragut followed the direction of her eyes
and after long contemplation discovered there three occupants. With the
amazing mimicry of their species, they had changed themselves to appear
like minerals. Only a pair of expert eyes would have been able to
discover them, heaped together, each one huddled in a crack of the
rocks, voluntarily raising his smooth skin into stone-like
protuberances and ridges. Their faculty of changing color permitted
them to take on that of their hard base and, disguised in this way like
three rocky excrescences, they were treacherously awaiting the passing
of their victim, just as though they were in the open sea.
"Soon we shall see them in all their majesty," continued Freya as
though she were speaking of something belonging to her. "The guardian
is going to feed them.... Poor things! Nobody pays any attention to
them; everybody detests them. To me they owe whatever they get between
As if scenting the proximity of food, one of the three stones suddenly
shuddered with a polychromatic chill. Its elastic covering began
swelling. There passed over its surface stripes of color, reddish
clouds changing from crimson to green, circular spots that became
inflated in the swelling, forming tremulous excrescences. Between two
cracks there appeared a yellowish eye of ferocious and stupid fixity; a
darkened and malignant globe like that of serpents, was now looking
toward the crystal as though seeing far beyond that diamond wall.
"They know me!" exclaimed Freya joyously. "I'm sure that they know
And she enumerated the clever traits of these monsters to whom she
attributed great intelligence. They were the ones that, like astute
builders, had dappled the stones piled up on the bottom, forming
bulwarks in whose shelter they had disguised themselves in order to
pounce upon their victims. In the sea, when wishing to surprise a
meaty, toothsome oyster, they waited in hiding until the two valves
should open to feed upon the water and the light, and had often
introduced a pebble between the shells and then inserted their
tentacles in the crevice.
Their love of liberty was another thing which aroused Freya's
enthusiasm. If they should have to endure more than a year of enclosure
in the Aquarium, they would become sick with sadness and would gnaw
their claws until they killed themselves.
"Ah, the charming and vigorous bandits!" she continued in hysterical
enthusiasm. "I adore them. I should like to have them in my home, as
they have gold-fishes in a globe, to feed them every hour, to see how
they would devour...."
Ferragut felt a recurrence of the same uneasiness that he had
experienced one morning in the temple of Virgil.
"She's crazy!" he said to himself.
But in spite of her craziness, he greatly enjoyed the faint perfume
that exhaled through the opening at her throat.
He no longer saw the silent world that, sparkling with color, was
swimming or paddling behind the crystal. She was now the only creature
who existed for him. And he listened to her voice as though it were
distant music as it continued explaining briefly all the particulars
about those stones that were really animals, about those globes that,
on distending themselves, showed their organs and again hid themselves
under a gelatinous succession of waves.
They were a sac, a pocket, an elastic mask, in whose interior existed
only water or air. Between their armpits was their mouth, armed with
long jaw bones, like a parrot's beak. When breathing, a crack of their
skin would open and close alternately. From one of their sides came
forth a tube in the form of a tunnel that swallowed equally the
respirable water and drew it through both entrances into its branching
cavity. Their multiple arms, fitted out with cupping glasses,
functioned like high-pressure apparatus for grasping and holding prey,
for paddling and for running.
The glassy eye of one of the monsters appearing and disappearing among
its soft folds, stirred Freya's memories. She began speaking in a low
tone as if to herself, without paying any attention to Ferragut who was
perplexed at the incoherence of her words. The appearance of this
octopus brought to her mind "the eye of the morning."
The sailor asked: "What is the 'eye of the morning'?"... And he again
told himself that Freya was crazy when he learned that this was the
name of a tame serpent, a reptile of checkered sides that she wore as
necklace or bracelet over there in her home in the island of Java,--an
island where groves exhaled an irresistible perfume, covered in the
sunlight with trembling and monstrous flowers like animals, peopled at
night with phosphorescent stars that leaped from tree to tree.