When she reached her mother’s
sitting-room Artois was already there speaking to
Gaspare by a window. He turned rather quickly
as Vere came in, and exclaimed:
“Vere! Why ”
“Oh!” she cried, “Gaspare hasn’t
A look almost of dread, half pretence
but with some reality in it, too, came into her face.
“Gaspare, forgive me! I was in such a hurry.
And it is only Don Emilio!”
Her voice was coaxing. Gaspare
looked at his Padroncina with an attempt at reprobation;
but his nose twitched, and though he tried to compress
his lips they began to stretch themselves in a smile.
“Signorina! Signorina!” he exclaimed.
On that exclamation he went out, trying
to make his back look condemnatory.
“Only Don Emilio!” Artois repeated.
Vere went to him, and took and held his hand for a
“Yes only! That’s
my little compliment. Madre would say of you.
’He’s such an old shoe!’ Such compliments
come from the heart, you know.”
She still held his hand.
“I should have to put my hair
up for anybody else. And Gaspare wanted me to
Artois was looking rather grave and
tired. She noticed that now, and dropped his
hand and moved towards a bell.
“Tea!” she said, “all alone with
me for a treat!”
“Isn’t your mother in?”
“No. She’s gone to
Naples. I’m very, very sorry. Make
the best of it, Monsieur Emile, for the sake of my
amour propre. I said I was sorry but
that was only for you, and Madre.”
“Is an old shoe a worthy object of gross flattery?”
“Don’t be cantankerous, and don’t
be subtle, because I’ve been bathing.”
“I notice that.”
“And I feel so calm and delicious. Tea,
The plump, dark woman who had opened the door smiled
“So calm and so delicious, Monsieur
Emile, and as if I were made of friendliness from
top to toe.”
“The all-the-world feeling. I know.”
He sat down, rather heavily.
“You are tired. When did you come?”
“I arrived this morning.
It was hot travelling, and I shared my compartment
in the wagon-lit with a German gentleman very far advanced
in several unaesthetic ailments. Basta! Thank
Heaven for this. Calm and delicious!”
His large, piercing eyes were fixed upon Vere.
“And about twelve,” he added, “or
“Yes, you. I am not speaking
of myself, though I believe I am calm also.”
“I am a woman practically.”
“Yes; isn’t that the word
people always put in when they mean ’that’s
“You mean you aren’t a woman! This
afternoon I must agree with you.”
“It’s the sea! But
just now, when you were coming, I was looking at myself
in the glass and saying, ’You’re a woman’ solemnly,
you know, as if it was a dreadful truth.”
Artois had sat down on a sofa.
He leaned back now with his hands behind his head.
He still looked at Vere, and, as he did so, he heard
the faint whisper of the sea.
“Child of nature,” he
said “call yourself that. It
covers any age, and it’s blessedly true.”
Giulia came in at this moment with
tea. She smiled again broadly on Artois, and
received and returned his greeting with the comfortable
and unembarrassed friendliness of the Italian race.
As she went out she was still smiling.
“Addio to the German gentleman
with the unaesthetic ailments!” said Artois.
An almost boyish sensation of sheer
happiness invaded him. It made him feel splendidly,
untalkative. And he felt for a moment, too, as
if his intellect lay down to sleep.
“Cara Giulia!” he added, after a rapturous
“Yes, Giulia is ”
“They all are, and the island,
and the house upon it, and this clear yellow tea,
and this brown toast, and this butter from Lombardy.
They all are.”
“I believe you are feeling good all over, Monsieur
“San Gennaro knows I am.”
He drank some tea, and ate some toast,
spreading the butter upon it with voluptuous deliberation.
“Then I’m sure he’s pleased.”
“Paris, hateful Paris!”
“Oh, but that’s abusive.
A person who feels good all over should not say that.”
“You are right, Vere. But
when are you not right? You ought always to wear
your hair down, mon enfant, and always to
have just been bathing.”
“And you ought always to have just been travelling.”
“It is true that a dreadful
past can be a blessing as well as a curse. It
is profoundly true. Why have I never realized
“If I am twelve and a half, I think you are
about about ”
“For the love of the sea make it under twenty,
“Were you going to make it under twenty?”
“Yes, I was.”
“I don’t believe you.
Yes, I do, I do! You are an artist. You realize
that truth is a question of feeling, not a question
of fact. You penetrate beneath the gray hairs
as the prosaic never do. This butter is delicious!
And to think that there have been moments when I have
feared butter, when I have kept an eye upon a corpulent
future. Give me some more, plenty more.”
Vere stretched out her hand to the
tea-table, but it shook. She drew it back, and
burst into a peal of laughter.
“What are you laughing at?” said Artois,
with burlesque majesty.
“At you. What’s the
matter with you, Monsieur Emile? How can you be
She lay back in her chair, with her
hair streaming about her, and her thin body quivered,
as if the sense of fun within her were striving to
break through its prison walls.
“This,” said Artois, “this
is sheer impertinence. I venture to inquire for
butter, and ”
“To inquire! One, two,
three, four five pats of butter right in
front of you! And you inquire !”
Artois suddenly sent out a loud roar
to join her childish treble.
The tea had swept away his previous
sensation of fatigue, even the happy stolidity that
had succeeded it for an instant. He felt full
of life and gayety, and a challenging mental activity.
A similar challenging activity, he thought, shone
in the eyes of the girl opposite to him.
“Thank God I can still be foolish!”
he exclaimed. “And thank God that there
are people in the world devoid of humor. My German
friend was without humor. Only that fact enabled
me to endure his prodigious collection of ailments.
But for the heat I might even have revelled in them.
He was asthmatic, without humor; dyspeptic, without
humor. He had a bad cold in the head, without
humor, and got up into the top berth with two rheumatic
legs and a crick in the back, without humor. Had
he seen the fun of himself, the fun would have meant
much less to me.”
“You cruel person!”
“There is often cruelty in humor perhaps
not in yours, though, yet.”
“Why do you say yet, like that?”
“The hair is such a kindly veil
that I doubt the existence of cruelty behind it.”
He spoke with a sort of almost tender and paternal
“I don’t believe you could ever be really
cruel, Monsieur Emile.”
“I think you are too intelligent.”
“Why should that prevent me?”
“Isn’t cruelty stupid, unimaginative?”
“Often. But it can be brilliant,
artful, intellectual, full of imagination. It
can be religious. It can be passionate. It
can be splendid. It can be almost everything.”
“Like Napoleon’s cruelty
to France. But why should I educate you in abominable
“Oh,” said the girl, thrusting
forward her firm little chin, “I have no faith
in mere ignorance.”
“Yet it does a great deal for those who are
“It shows them how pretty, how
beautiful even, sometimes, was the place from which
they started for their journey through the world.”
Vere was silent for a moment.
The sparkle of fun had died out of her eyes, which
had become dark with the steadier fires of imagination.
The strands of her thick hair, falling down on each
side of her oval face, gave to it a whimsically mediaeval
look, suggestive of legend. Her long-fingered,
delicate, but strong little hands were clasped in her
lap, and did not move. It was evident that she
was thinking deeply.
“I believe I know,” she
said, at last. “Yes, that was my thought,
She hesitated, looking at him, not
altogether doubtfully, but with a shadow of reserve,
which might easily, he fancied, grow deeper, or fade
entirely away. He saw the resolve to speak come
quietly into her mind.
“You know, Monsieur Emile, I
love watching the sea,” she said, rather slowly
and carefully. “Especially at dawn, and
in the evening before it is dark. And it always
seems to me as if at dawn it is more heavenly than
it is after the day has happened, though it is so very
lovely then. And sometimes that has made me feel
that our dawn is our most beautiful time as
if we were nearest the truth then. And, of course,
that is when we are most ignorant, isn’t it?
So I suppose I have been thinking a little bit like
you. Haven’t I?”
She asked it earnestly. Artois
had never heard her speak quite like this before,
with a curious deliberation that was nevertheless without
self-consciousness. Before he could answer she
added, abruptly, as if correcting, or even almost
“I can put it much better than that. I
Artois leaned forward. Something,
he did not quite know what, made him feel suddenly
a deep interest in what Vere said a strong
“You have put it much better?” he said.
Vere suddenly looked conscious.
A faint wave of red went over her face and down to
her small neck. Her hands moved and parted.
She seemed half ashamed of something for a minute.
“Madre doesn’t know,”
she murmured, as if she were giving him a reason for
something. “It isn’t interesting,”
she added. “Except, of course, to me.”
Artois was watching her.
“I think you really want to tell me,”
he said now.
“Oh yes, in a way I do.
I have been half wanting to for a long time but
She looked at him, but almost instantly
looked down again, with a sort of shyness he had never
seen in her before. And her eyes had been full
of a strange and beautiful sensitiveness.
“Never mind, Vere,” he
said quickly, obedient to those eyes, and responding
to their delicate subtlety. “We all have
our righteous secrets, and should all respect the
righteous secrets of others.”
“Yes, I think we should.
And I know you would be the very last, at least Madre
and you, to I think I’m being rather
absurd, really.” The last words were said
with a sudden change of tone to determination, as if
Vere were taking herself to task. “I’m
making a lot of almost nothing. You see, if I
am a woman, as Gaspare is making out, I’m at
any rate a very young one, am I not?”
“The youngest that exists.”
As he said that Artois thought, “Mon
Dieu! If the Marchesino could only see her now!”
“If humor is cruel, Monsieur
Emile,” Vere continued, “you will laugh
at me. For I am sure, if I tell you and
I know now I’m going to you will
think this fuss is as ridiculous as the German’s
cold in the head, and poor legs, and all. I wrote
that about the sea.”
She said the last sentence with a
sort of childish defiance.
“Wait,” said Artois. “Now I
begin to understand.”
“All those hours spent in your
room. Your mother thought you were reading.”
“No,” she said, still
rather defiantly; “I’ve been writing that,
and other things about the sea.”
“How? In prose?”
“No. That’s the worst of it, I suppose.”
And again the faint wave of color went over her face
to her neck.
“Do you really feel so criminal? Then what
ought I to feel?”
“You? Now that is really
cruel!” she cried, getting up quickly, almost
as if she meant to hurry away.
But she only stood there in front of him, near the
“Never mind!” she said.
“Only you remember that Madre tried. She
had never said much about it to me. But now and
then from just a word I know that she feels bad, that
she wishes very much she could do something.
Only the other day she said to me, ’We have the
instinct, men the vocabulary.’ She was
meaning that you had. She even told me to ask
you something that I had asked her, and she said,
’I feel all the things that he can explain.’
And there was something in her voice that hurt me for
her. And Madre is so clever. Isn’t
“And if Madre can’t do
things, you can imagine that I feel rather absurd
now that I’m telling you.”
“Yes, being just as you are,
Vere, I can quite imagine that you do. But we
can have sweet feelings of absurdity that only arise
from something moral within us, a moral delicacy.
However, would you like me to look at what you have
been writing about the sea?”
“Yes, if you can do it quite seriously.”
“I could not do it in any other way.”
“Then thank you.”
She went out of the room, not without
a sort of simple dignity that was utterly removed
from conceit or pretentiousness.
What a strange end, this, to their laughter!
Vere was away several minutes, during
which at first Artois sat quite still, leaning back,
with his great frame stretched out, and his hands
once more behind his head. His intellect was certainly
very much awake now, and he was setting a guard upon
it, to watch it carefully, lest it should be ruthless,
even with Vere. And was he not setting also another
guard to watch the softness of his nature, lest it
should betray him into foolish kindness?
Yet, after a minute, he said to himself
that he was wasting his time in both these proceedings.
For Vere’s eyes were surely a touchstone to
discover honesty. There is something merciless
in the purity of untarnished youth. What can
it not divine at moments?
Artois poured out another cup of tea
and drank it, considering the little funny situation.
Vere and he with a secret from Hermione shared between
them! Vere submitting verses to his judgment!
He remembered Hermione’s half-concealed tragedy,
which, of course, had been patent to him in its uttermost
nakedness. Even Vere had guessed something of
it. Do we ever really hide anything from every
one? And yet each one breathes mystery too.
The assertive man is the last of fools. Of that
at least Artois just then felt certain.
If Vere should really have talent!
He did not expect it, although he had said that there
was intellectual force in the girl. There was
intellectual force in Hermione, but she could not create.
And Vere! He smiled as he thought of her rush
into the room with her hair streaming down, of her
shrieks of laughter over his absurdity. But she
was full of changes.
The door opened, and Vere came in
holding some manuscript in her hand. She had
done up her hair while she had been away. When
Artois saw that he heaved himself up from the sofa.
“I must smoke,” he said.
“Oh yes. I’ll get the Khali Targas.”
“No. I must have a pipe. And you prefer
that, I know.”
“Generally, but you
do look dreadfully as if you meant business when you
are smoking a pipe.”
“I do mean business now.”
He took his pipe from his pocket, filled it and lit
“Now then, Vere!” he said.
She came to sit down on the sofa.
He sat down beside her.