When Hermione reached the door of
the Casa del Mare she did not go in
immediately, but waited on the step. The door
was open. There was a dim lamp burning in the
little hall, which was scarcely more than a passage.
She looked up and saw a light shining from the window
of her sitting-room. She listened; there was
no sound of voices.
They were not in there.
She was trying to crush down her sense
of outrage, to feel calm before she entered the house.
Perhaps they had gone into the garden.
The night was terribly hot. They would prefer
to be out-of-doors. Vere loved the garden.
Or they might be on the terrace.
She stepped into the hall and went
to the servants’ staircase. Now she herd
voices, a laugh.
“Giulia!” she called.
The voices stopped talking, but it
was Gaspare who came in answer to her call. She
looked down to him.
“Don’t come up, Gaspare. Where is
“The Signorina is on the terrace, Signora with
He looked up at her very seriously
in the gloom. She thought of the meeting at the
Festa, and longed to wring from Gaspare his secret.
“Don Emilio is here?”
“How long ago did he come?”
“About half an hour, I think, Signora.”
“Why didn’t you tell me?”
“Don Emilio told me not to bother
you, Signora that he would just sit and
“I see. And the Signorina?”
“I did not tell her, either.
She was in the garden alone, but I have heard her
talking on the terrace with the Signore. Are you
“No. All right, Gaspare!”
She moved away. His large, staring
eyes followed her till she disappeared in the passage.
The passage was not long, but it seemed to Hermione
as if a multitude of impressions, of thoughts, of fears,
of determinations rushed through her heart and brain
while she walked down it and into the room that opened
to the terrace. This room was dark.
As she entered it she expected to
hear the voices from outside. But she heard nothing.
They were not on the terrace, then!
She again stood still. Her heart
was beating violently, and she felt violent all over,
thrilling with violence like one on the edge of some
She looked towards the French window.
Through its high space she saw the wan night outside,
a sort of thin paleness resting against the blackness
in which she was hidden. And as her eyes became
accustomed to their environment she perceived that
the pallor without was impinged upon by two shadowy
darknesses. Very faint they were, scarcely relieved
against the night, very still and dumb two
shadowy darknesses, Emile and Vere sitting together
When Hermione understood this she
remained where she was, trying to subdue even her
breathing. Why were they not talking? What
did this mutual silence, this mutual immobility mean?
She was only a few feet from them. Yet she could
not hear a human sound, even the slightest. There
was something unnatural, but also tremendously impressive
to her in their silence. She felt as if it signified
something unusual, something of high vitality.
She felt as if it had succeeded some speech that was
exceptional, and that had laid its spell, of joy or
sorrow, upon both their spirits.
And she felt much more afraid, and
also much more alone, than she would have felt had
she found them talking.
Presently, as the silence continued,
she moved softly back into the passage. She went
down it a little way, then returned, walking briskly
and loudly. In this action her secret violence
was at play. When she came to the room she grasped
the door-handle with a force that hurt her hand.
She went in, shut the door sharply behind her, and
without any pause came out upon the terrace.
“Yes,” he said, getting up from his garden-chair
“Gaspare told me you were here.”
“I have been here about half an hour.”
She had not given him her hand. She did not give
“I didn’t hear you talking to Vere, so
I wondered I almost thought ”
“That I had gone without seeing
you? Oh no. It isn’t very late.
You don’t want to get rid of me at once?”
“Of course not.”
His manner or so it seemed
to her was strangely uneasy and formal,
and she thought his face looked drawn, almost tortured.
But the light was very dim. She could not be
sure of that.
Vere had said nothing, had not moved from her seat.
There was a third chair. As Hermione
took it and drew it slightly forward, she looked towards
Vere, and thought that she was sitting in a very strange
position. In the darkness it seemed to the mother
as if her child’s body were almost crouching
in its chair, as if the head were drooping, as if
“Vere! Is anything the matter with you?”
Suddenly, as if struck sharply, Vere
sprang up and passed into the darkness of the house,
leaving a sound that was like a mingled exclamation
and a sob behind her.
“What is the matter with Vere? What have
you been doing to Vere?”
“Yes, you! No one else is here.”
Hermione’s violent, almost furious agitation
was audible in her voice.
“I should never wish to hurt Vere you
His voice sounded as if he were deeply moved.
“I must Vere! Vere!”
She moved towards the house.
But Artois stepped forward swiftly, laid a hand on
her arm, and stopped her.
“No, leave Vere alone to-night.”
“She wishes to be alone to-night.”
“But I find her here with you.”
There was a harsh bitterness of suspicion,
of doubt, in her tone that he ought surely to have
resented. But he did not resent it.
“I was sitting on the terrace,”
he said, gently. “Vere came in from the
garden. Naturally she stayed to entertain me till
you were here.”
“And directly I come she rushes away into the
“Perhaps there was something may
have occurred to upset her.”
“What was it?”
Her voice was imperious.
“You must tell me what it was!” she said,
as he was silent.
“Hermione, my friend, let us
sit down. Let us at any rate be with each other
as we always have been till now.”
He was almost pleading with her, but
she did not feel her hardness melting. Nevertheless
she sat down.
“Now tell me what it was.”
“I don’t think I can do that, Hermione.”
“I am her mother. I have
a right to know. I have a right to know everything
about my child’s life.”
In those words, and in the way they
were spoken, Hermione’s bitter jealousy about
the two secrets kept from her, but shared by Artois,
rushed out into the light.
“I am sure there is nothing
in Vere’s life that might not be told to the
whole world without shame; and yet there may be many
things that an innocent girl would not care to tell
to any one.”
“But if things are told they
should be told to the mother. The mother comes
He said nothing.
“The mother comes first!”
she repeated, almost fiercely. “And you
ought to know it. You do know it!”
“You do come first with Vere.”
“If I did, Vere would confide in me rather than
in any one else.”
As Hermione said this, all the long-contained
bitterness caused by Vere’s exclusion of her
from the knowledge that had been freely given to Artois
brimmed up suddenly in her heart, overflowed boundaries,
seemed to inundate her whole being.
“I do not come first,” she said.
Her voice trembled, almost broke.
“You know that I do not come first. You
have just told me a lie.”
His voice was startled.
“You know it perfectly well. You have known
it for a long time.”
Hot tears were in her eyes, were about
to fall. With a crude gesture, almost like that
of a man, she put up her hands to brush them away.
“You have known it, you have
known it, but you try to keep me in the dark.”
Suddenly she was horribly conscious
of the darkness of the night in which they were together,
of the darkness of the world.
“You love to keep me in the
dark, in prison. It is cruel, it is wicked of
“But Hermione ”
“Take care, Emile, take care or
I shall hate you for keeping me in the dark.”
Her passionate words applied only
to the later events in which Vere was concerned.
But his mind rushed back to Sicily, and suddenly there
came to his memory some words he had once read, he
did not know when, or where:
“The spirit that resteth upon
a lie is a spirit in prison.”
As he remembered them he felt guilty,
guilty before Hermione. He saw her as a spirit
confined for years in a prison to which his action
had condemned her. Yes, she was in the dark.
She was in an airless place. She was deprived
of the true liberty, that great freedom which is the
accurate knowledge of the essential truths of our own
individual lives. From his mind in that moment
the cause of Hermione’s outburst, Vere and her
childish secrets, were driven out by a greater thing
that came upon it like a strong and mighty wind the
memory of that lie, in which he had enclosed his friend’s
life for years, that lie on which her spirit had rested,
on which it was resting still. And his sense of
truth did not permit him to try to refute her accusation.
Indeed, he was filled with a desire that nearly conquered
him there and then, brutally, clearly,
nakedly, to pour forth to his friend all the truth,
to say to her:
“You have a strong, a fiery
spirit, a spirit that hates the dark, that hates imprisonment,
a spirit that can surely endure, like the eagle, to
gaze steadfastly into the terrible glory of the sun.
Then come out of the darkness, come out of your prison.
I put you there let me bring you forth.
This is the truth listen! hear it! it
is this it is this and this!”
This desire nearly conquered him.
Perhaps it would have conquered him but for an occurrence
that, simple though it was, changed the atmosphere
in which their souls were immersed, brought in upon
them another world with the feeling of other lives
than their own.
The boat to which Ruffo belonged,
going out of the Pool to the fishing, passed at this
moment slowly upon the sea beneath the terrace, and
from the misty darkness his happy voice came up to
them in the song of Mergellina which he loved:
“Oh, dolce luna bianca de l’
Mi fugge il
sonno accanto a la marina:
Mi destan lé dolcissime serate
Gli occhi di
Rosa e il mar di Mergellina.”
Dark was the night, moonless, shrouded
in the mist. But his boy’s heart defied
it, laughed at the sorrowful truths of life, set the
sweet white moon in the sky, covered the sea with
her silver. Artois turned towards the song and
stood still. But Hermione, as if physically compelled
towards it, moved away down the terrace, following
in the direction in which the boat was going.
As she passed Artois saw tears running
down her cheeks. And he said to himself:
“No, I cannot tell her; I can
never tell her. If she is to be told, let Ruffo
tell her. Let Ruffo make her understand.
Let Ruffo lift her up from the lie on which I have
made her rest, and lead her out of prison.”
As this thought came to him a deep
tenderness towards Hermione flooded his heart.
He stood where he was. Far off he still heard
Ruffo’s voice drifting away in the mist out
to the great sea. And he saw the vague form of
Hermione leaning down over the terrace wall, towards
the sea, the song, and Ruffo.
How intensely strange, how mysterious,
how subtle was the influence housed within the body
of that singing boy, that fisher-boy, which, like
an issuing fluid, or escaping vapor, or perfume, had
stirred and attracted the childish heart of Vere,
had summoned and now held fast the deep heart of Hermione.
Just then Artois felt as if in the
night he was walking with the Eternities, as if that
song, now fading away across the sea, came even from
them. We do not die. For in that song to
which Hermione bent down the dead man lived
when that boy’s voice sang it. In that boat,
now vanishing upon the sea, the dead man held an oar.
In that warm young heart of Ruffo the dead man moved,
and spoke spoke to his child, Vere, whom
he had never seen, spoke to his wife, Hermione, whom
he had deceived, yet whom he had loved.
Then let him let the dead
man himself speak out of that temple which
he had created in a moment of lawless passion, out
of that son whom he had made to live by the action
which had brought upon him death.
Ruffo all was in the hands
of Ruffo, to whom Hermione, weeping, bent for consolation.
The song died away. Yet Hermione
did not move, but still leaned over the sea.
She scarcely knew where she was. The soul of her,
the suffering soul, was voyaging through the mist
with Ruffo, was voyaging through the mist and through
the night with her Sicilian and all the
perfect past. It seemed to her at that moment
that she had lost Vere in the dark, that she had lost
Emile in the dark, that even Gaspare was drifting from
her in a mist of secrecy which he did not intend that
she should penetrate.
There was only Ruffo left.
He had no secrets. He threw no
darkness round him and those who loved him. In
his happy, innocent song was his happy, innocent soul.
She listened, she leaned down, almost
she stretched out her arms towards the sea. And
in that moment she knew in her mind and she felt in
her heart that Ruffo was very near to her, that he
meant very much to her, even that she loved him.