Hermione was outside in the street,
hearing the cries of ambulant sellers, the calls of
women and children, the tinkling bells and the rumble
of the trams, and the voice of Fabiano Lari speaking was
it to her?
“Signora, did you see him?”
“He is glad to be out of prison. He is
gay, but he looks wicked.”
She did not understand what he meant.
She walked on and came into the road that leads to
the tunnel. She turned mechanically towards the
tunnel, drawn by the darkness.
“But, Signora, this is not the way! This
is the way to Fuorigrotta!”
She went towards the sea. She
was thinking of the green parrot expanding and contracting
the pupils of its round, ironic eyes.
“Was Maddalena pleased to see him? Was
Donna Teresa pleased?”
Hermione stood still.
“What are you talking about?”
“Signora! About Antonio
Bernari, who has just come home from prison!
Didn’t you see him? But you were there in
“Oh yes, I saw him. A rivederci!”
She felt in her purse, found a coin,
and gave it to him. Then she walked on.
She did not see him any more. She did not know
what became of him.
Of course she had seen the return
of Antonio Bernari. She remembered now.
As Ruffo stood before her with the wet hair on his
forehead there had come a shrill cry from the old
woman in the kitchen: a cry that was hideous
and yet almost beautiful, so full it was of joy.
Then from the kitchen the two women had rushed in,
gesticulating, ejaculating, their faces convulsed
with excitement. They had seized Maddalena, Ruffo.
One of them the old woman, she thought had
even clutched at Hermione’s arm. The room
had been full of cries.
“Antonio is coming!”
“I have seen Antonio!”
“He is pale! He is white like death!”
“Mamma mia! But he is thin!”
“Ecco! Ecco! He comes! Here he
is! Here is Antonio!”
And then the door had been opened,
and on the sill a big, broad-shouldered man had appeared,
followed by several other evil-looking though smiling
men. And all the women had hurried to them.
There had been shrill cries, a babel of voices, a noise
And Ruffo! Where had he been? What had he
Hermione only knew that she had head a rough voice
“Sangue del Diavolo!
Let me alone! Give me a glass of wine! Basta!
And then she went out in the street,
thinking of the green parrot and hearing the cries
of the sellers, the tram-bells, and Fabiano’s
Now she continued her walk towards
the harbor of Mergellina alone. The thought of
the green parrot obsessed her mind.
She saw it before her on its board,
with the rolled-up bed towering behind it. Now
it was motionless only the pupils of its
eyes moved. Now it lifted its claw, bowed its
head, shuffled along the board to hear their conversation
She saw it with extreme distinctness,
and now she also saw on the wall of the room near
it the “Fattura della Morte” the
green lemon with the nails stuck through it, like
nails driven into a cross.
Vaguely the word “crucifixion”
went through her mind. Many people, many women,
had surely been crucified since the greatest tragedy
the world had ever known. What had they felt,
they who were only human, they who could not see the
face of the Father, who could some of them,
perhaps only hope that there was a Father?
What had they felt? Perhaps scarcely anything.
Perhaps merely a sensation of numbness, as if their
whole bodies, and their minds, too, were under the
influence of a great injection of cocaine. Her
thoughts again returned to the parrot. She wondered
where it had been bought, whether it had come with
Antonio from America.
Presently she reached the tramway
station and stood still. She had to go back to
the “Trattoria del Giardinetto.”
She must take the tram here, one of those on which
was written in big letters, “Capo di
Posilipo.” No, not that! That did
not go far enough. The other one what
was written upon it? Something “Sette
Settembre.” She looked for the words
Tram after tram came up, paused, passed
on. But she did not see those words on any of
them. She began to think of the sea, of the brown
body of the bathing boy which she had seen shoot through
the air and disappear into the shining water before
she had gone to that house where the green parrot
was. She would go down to the sea, to the harbor.
She threaded her way across the broad
space, going in and out among the trams and the waiting
people. Then she went down a road not far from
the Grand Hotel and came to the Marina.
There were boys bathing still from
the breakwater of the rocks. And still they were
shouting. She stood by the wall and watched them,
resting her hands on the stone.
How hot the stone was! Gaspare
had been right. It was going to be a glorious
day, one of the tremendous days of summer.
The nails driven through the green
lemon like nails driven through a cross Peppina the
cross cut on Peppina’s cheek.
That broad-shouldered man who had
come in at the door had cut that cross on Peppina’s
Was it true that Peppina had the evil
eye? Had it been a fatal day for the Casa
del Mare when she had been allowed to cross
its threshold? Vere had said something what
was it? about Peppina and her cross.
Oh yes! That Peppina’s cross seemed like
a sign, a warning come into the house on the island,
that it seemed to say, “There is a cross to be
borne by some one here, by one of us!”
And the fishermen’s sign of
the cross under the light of San Francesco?
Surely there had been many warnings
in her life. They had been given to her, but
she had not heeded them.
She saw a brown body shoot through
the air from the rocks and disappear into the shining
sea. Was it Ruffo? With an effort she remembered
that she had left Ruffo in the tall house, in the
room where the green parrot was.
She walked on slowly till she came
to the place where Artois had seen Ruffo with his
mother. A number of tables were set out, but there
were few people sitting at them. She felt tired.
She crossed the road, went to a table, and sat down.
A waiter came up and asked her what she would have.
“Acqua fresca,” she said.
He looked surprised.
“Oh then wine, vermouth anything!”
He looked more surprised.
“Will you have vermouth, Signora?”
“Yes, yes vermouth.”
He brought her vermouth and iced water.
She mixed them together and drank. But she was
not conscious of tasting anything. For a considerable
time she sat there. People passed her. The
trams rushed by. On several of them were printed
the words she had looked for in vain at the station.
But she did not notice them.
During this time she did not feel
unhappy. Seldom had she felt calmer, more at
rest, more able to be still. She had no desire
to do anything. It seemed to her that she would
be quite satisfied to sit where she was in the sun
While she sat there she was always
thinking, but vaguely, slowly, lethargically.
And her thoughts reiterated themselves, were like
recurring fragments of dreams, and were curiously linked
together. The green parrot she always connected
with the death-charm, because the latter had once
been green. Whenever the one presented itself
to her mind it was immediately followed by the other.
The shawl at which the old woman’s yellow fingers
had perpetually pulled led her mind to the thought
of the tunnel, because she imagined that the latter
must eventually end in blackness, and the shawl was
black. She knew, of course, really that the tunnel
was lit from end to end by electricity. But her
mind arbitrarily put aside this knowledge. It
did not belong to her strange mood, the mood of one
drawing near to the verge either of some abominable
collapse or of some terrible activity. Occasionally,
she thought of Ruffo; but always as one of the brown
boys bathing from the rocks beyond the harbor, shouting,
laughing, triumphant in his glorious youth. And
when the link was, as it were, just beginning to form
itself from the thought-shape of youth to another
thought-shape, her mind stopped short in that progress,
recoiled, like a creature recoiling from a precipice
it has not seen but has divined in the dark. She
sipped the vermouth and the iced water, and stared
at the drops chasing each other down the clouded glass.
And for a time she was not conscious where she was,
and heard none of the noises round about her.
It was the song of Mergellina, sung
at some distance off in dialect, by a tenor voice
to the accompaniment of a piano-organ. Hermione
ceased from gazing at the drops on the glass, looked
The song came nearer. The tenor
voice was hard, strident, sang lustily but inexpressively
in the glaring sunshine. And the dialect made
the song seem different, almost new. Its charm
seemed to have evaporated. Yet she remembered
vaguely that it had charmed her. She sought for
the charm, striving feebly to recapture it.
The piano-organ hurt her, the hard
voice hurt her. It sounded cruel and greedy.
But the song once it had appealed to her.
Once she had leaned down to hear it, she had leaned
down over the misty sea, her soul had followed it
out over the sea.
“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.”
Those were the real words. And what voice had
And then, suddenly, her brain worked
once more with its natural swiftness and vivacity,
her imagination and her heart awaked. She was
again alive. She saw the people. She heard
the sounds about her. She felt the scorching
heat of the sun. But in it she was conscious also
of the opposite of day, of the opposite of heat.
At that moment she had a double consciousness.
For she felt the salt coolness of the night around
the lonely island. And she heard not only the
street singer, but Ruffo in his boat.
Ruffo in his boat.
Suddenly she could not see anything.
Her sight was drowned by tears. She got up at
once. She felt for her purse, found it, opened
it, felt for money, found some coins, laid them down
on the table, and began to walk. She was driven
by fear, the fear of falling down in the sun in the
sight of all men, and crying, sobbing, with her face
against the ground. She heard a shout. Some
one gave her a violent push, thrusting her forward.
She stumbled, recovered herself. A passer-by had
saved her from a tram. She did not know it.
She did not look at him or thank him. He went
away, swearing at the English. Where was she
She must go home. She must go
to the island. She must go to Vere, to Gaspare,
to Emile to her life.
Her body and soul revolted from the
thought, her outraged body and her outraged soul,
which were just beginning to feel their courage, as
flesh and nerves begin to feel pain after an operation
when the effect of the anæsthetic gradually fades
She was walking up the hill and still crying.
She met a boy of the people, swarthy,
with impudent black eyes, tangled hair, and a big,
pouting mouth, above which a premature mustache showed
like a smudge. He looked into her face and began
to laugh. She saw his white teeth, and her tears
rushed back to their sources. At once her eyes
were dry. And, almost at once, she thought, her
heart became hard as stone, and she felt self-control
like iron within her.
That boy of the people should be the
last human being to laugh at her.
She saw a tram stop. It went
to the “Trattoria del Giardinetto.”
She got in, and sat down next to two thin English
ladies, who held guide-books in their hands, and whose
pointed features looked piteously inquiring.
“Excuse me, but do you know this neighborhood?”
She was being addressed.
“That is fortunate we
do not. Perhaps you will kindly tell us something
about it. Is it far to Bagnoli?”
“Not very far.”
“And when you get there?”
“I beg your pardon!”
“When you get there, is there much to see?”
“Not so very much.”
“Can one lunch there?”
“Yes. But I mean, what
sort of lunch? Can one get anything clean and
wholesome, such as you get in England?”
“It would be Italian food.”
“Oh, dear. Fanny, this
lady says we can only get Italian food at Bagnoli!”
“But perhaps excuse
me, but do you think we could get a good cup of tea
there? We might manage with that tea
and some boiled eggs. Don’t you think so,
Fanny? Could we get a cup of ”
The tram stopped. Hermione had
pulled the cord that made the bell sound. She
paid and got down. The tram carried away the English
ladies, their pointed features red with surprise and
Hermione again began to walk, but
almost directly she saw a wandering carriage and hailed
She got in.
“Put me down at the ‘Trattoria del
“Si, Signora but
how much are you going to give me? I can’t
take you for less than ”
“Anything five lire drive
on at once.”
The man drove on, grinning.
Presently Hermione was walking through
the short tunnel that leads to the path descending
between vineyards to the sea. She must take a
boat to the island. She must go back to the island.
Where else could she go? If Vere had not been
there she might but Vere was there.
It was inevitable. She must return to the island.
She stood still in the path, between the high banks.
Her body was demanding not to be forced by the will
to go to the island.
“I must go back to the island.”
She walked on very slowly till she
could see the shining water over the sloping, vine-covered
land. The sight of the water reminded her that
Gaspare would be waiting for her on the sand below
the village. When she remembered that she stopped
again. Then she turned round, and began to walk
back towards the highroad.
Gaspare was waiting. If she went
down to the sand she would have to meet his great
intent eyes, those watching eyes full of questions.
He would read her. He would see in a moment that she
knew. And he would see more than that! He
would see that she was hating him. The hatred
was only dawning, struggling up in her tangled heart.
But it existed it was there. And he
would see that it was there.
She walked back till she reached the
tunnel under the highroad. But she did not pass
through it. She could not face the highroad with
its traffic. Perhaps the English ladies would
be coming back. Perhaps She turned
again and presently sat down on a bank, and looked
at the dry and wrinkled ground. Nobody went by.
The lizards ran about near her feet. She sat
there over an hour, scarcely moving, with the sun beating
upon her head.
Then she got up and walked fast, and
with a firm step, towards the village and the sea.
The village is only a tiny hamlet,
ending in a small trattoria with a rough terrace above
the sea, overlooking a strip of sand where a few boats
lie. As Hermione came to the steps that lead down
to the terrace she stood still and looked over the
wall on her left. The boat from the island was
at anchor there, floating motionless on the still water.
Gaspare was not in it, but was lying stretched on his
back on the sand, with his white linen hat over his
He lay like one dead.
She stood and watched him, as she
might have watched a corpse of some one she had cared
for but who was gone from her forever.
Perhaps he was not asleep, for almost
directly he became aware of her observation, sat up,
and uncovered his face, turning towards her and looking
up. Already, and from this distance, she would
see a fierce inquiry in his eyes.
She made a determined effort and waved her hand.
Gaspare sprang to his feet, took out
his watch, looked at it, then went and fetched the
His action the taking out
of the watch reminded Hermione of the time.
She looked at her watch. It was half-past two.
On the island they lunched at half-past twelve.
Gaspare must have been waiting for hours. What
did it matter?
She made another determined effort
and went down the remaining steps to the beach.
Gaspare should not know that she knew.
She was resolved upon that, concentrated upon that.
Continually she saw in front of her the pouting mouth,
the white teeth of the boy who had laughed at her in
the street. There should be no more crying, no
more visible despair. No one should see any difference
in her. All the time that she had been sitting
still in the sun upon the bank she had been fiercely
schooling herself in an act new to her the
act of deception. She had not faced the truth
that to-day she knew. She had not faced the ruin
that its knowledge had made of all that had been sacred
and lovely in her life. She had fastened her
whole force fanatically upon that one idea, that one
decision and the effort that was the corollary of
“There shall be no difference
in me. No one is to know that anything has happened.”
At that moment she was a fanatic.
And she looked like one as she came down upon the
“I’m afraid I’m rather late Gaspare.”
It was difficult to her to say his name. But
she said it firmly.
“Signora, it is nearly three o’clock.”
“Half-past two. No, I can get in all right.”
He had put out his arm to help her
into the boat. But she could not touch him.
She knew that. She felt that she would rather
die at the moment than touch or be touched by him.
“You might take away your arm.”
He dropped his arm at once.
Had she already betrayed herself?
She got into the boat and he pushed off.
Usually he sat, when he was rowing,
so that he might keep his face towards her. But
to-day he stood up to row, turning his back to her.
And this change of conduct made her say to herself
“Have I betrayed myself already?”
Fiercely she resolved to be and to
do the impossible. It was the only chance.
For Gaspare was difficult to deceive.
“Gaspare!” she said.
“Si, Signora,” he replied, without turning
“Can’t you row sitting down?”
“If you like, Signora.”
“We can talk better then.”
“Va bene, Signora.”
He turned round and sat down.
The boat was at this moment just off
the “Palace of the Spirits.” Hermione
saw its shattered walls cruelly lit up by the blazing
sun, its gaping window-spaces like eye-sockets, sightless,
staring, horribly suggestive of ruin and despair.
She was like that. Gaspare was
looking at her. Gaspare must know that she was
But she was a fanatic just then, and
she smiled at him with a resolution that had in it
something almost brutal, something the opposite of
what she was, of the sum of her.
“I forgot the time. It
is so lovely to-day. It was so gay at Mergellina.”
“I sat for a long time watching
the boats, and the boys bathing, and listening to
the music. They sang ‘A Mergellina.’”
She smiled again.
“And I went to visit Ruffo’s mother.”
Gaspare made no response. He looked down now
as he plied his oars.
“She seems a nice woman. I I
dare say she was quite pretty once.”
The voice that was speaking now was the voice of a
“I am sure she must have been pretty.”
“Chi lo sa?”
“If one looks carefully one can see the traces.
But, of course, now ”
She stopped abruptly. It was
impossible to her to go on. She was passionately
trying to imagine what that spreading, graceless woman,
with her fat hands resting on her knees set wide apart,
was like once was like nearly seventeen
years ago. Was she ever pretty, beautiful?
Never could she have been intelligent never,
never. Then she must have been beautiful.
For otherwise Hermione’s drawn face
was flooded with scarlet.
“If if it’s
easier to you to row standing up, Gaspare,” she
almost stammered, “never mind about sitting
“I think it is easier, Signora.”
He got up, and once more turned his back upon her.
They did not speak again until they reached the island.
Hermione watched his strong body swinging
to and fro with every stroke, and wondered if he felt
the terrible change in her feeling for him a
change that a few hours ago she would have thought
She wondered if Gaspare knew that she was hating him.
He was alive and, therefore, to be
hated. For surely we cannot hate the dust!