Neither Artois nor the Marchesino
visited the island during the days that elapsed before
the Festa of the Madonna del Carmine.
But Artois wrote to tell Hermione that the Marchesino
had accepted his invitation, and that he hoped she
and Vere would be at the Hotel des Etrangers
punctually by eight o’clock on the night of the
sixteenth. He wrote cordially, but a little formally,
and did not add any gossip or any remarks about his
work to the few sentences connected with the projected
expedition. And Hermione replied as briefly to
his note. Usually, when she wrote to Artois,
her pen flew, and eager thoughts, born of the thought
of him, floated into her mind. But this time it
was not so. The energies of her mind in connection
with his mind were surely failing. As she put
the note into its envelope, she had the feeling of
one who had been trying to “make” conversation
with an acquaintance, and who had not been successful,
and she found herself almost dreading to talk with
Yet for years her talks with him had
been her greatest pleasure, outside of her intercourse
with Vere and her relations with Gaspare.
The change that had come over their
friendship, like a mist over the sea, was subtle,
yet startling in its completeness. She wondered
if he saw and felt this mist as definitely as she
did, if he regretted the fair prospect it had blotted
out, if he marvelled at its coming.
He was so acute that he must be aware
of the drooping of their intimacy. To what could
he attribute it? And would he care to fight against
She remembered the days when she had
nursed him in Kairouan. She felt again the hot
dry atmosphere. She heard the ceaseless buzzing
of the flies. How pale his face had been, how
weak his body! He had returned to the weakness
of a child. He had depended upon her. That
fact, that he had for a time utterly depended upon
her, had forged a new link in their friendship, the
strongest link of all. At least she had felt it
to be so. For she was very much of a woman, and
full of a secret motherliness.
But perhaps he had forgotten all that.
In these days she often felt as if
she did not understand men at all, as if their natures
were hidden from her, and perhaps, of necessity, from
“We can’t understand each other.”
She often said that to herself, and
partly to comfort herself a little. She did not
want to be only one of a class of women from whom men’s
natures were hidden.
And yet it was not true.
For Maurice, at least, she had understood.
She had not feared his gayeties, his boyish love of
pleasure, his passion for the sun, his joy in the
peasant life, his almost fierce happiness in the life
of the body. She had feared nothing in him, because
she had felt that she understood him thoroughly.
She had read the gay innocence of his temperament
rightly, and so she had never tried to hold him back
from his pleasures, to keep him always with her, as
many women would have done.
And she clung to the memory of her
understanding of Maurice as she faced the mist that
had swept up softly and silently over that sea and
sky which had been clear. He had been simple.
There was nothing to dread in cleverness, in complexity.
One got lost in a nature that was full of winding
paths. Just then, and for the time, she forgot
her love of, even her passion for, mental things.
The beauty of the straight white road appealed to
her. She saw it leading one onward to the glory
of the sun.
Vere and she did not see very much
of each other during these days. They met, of
course, at meals, and often for a few minutes at other
times. But it seemed as if each tacitly, and
almost instinctively, sought to avoid any prolonged
intercourse with the other. Hermione was a great
deal in her sitting-room, reading, or pretending to
read. And Vere made several long expeditions
upon the sea in the sailing-boat with Gaspare and
a boy from the nearest village, who was hired as an
Hermione had a strange feeling of
desertion sometimes, when the white sail of the boat
faded on the blue and she saw the empty sea. She
would watch the boat go out, standing at the window
and looking through the blinds. The sailor-boy
pulled at the oars. Vere was at the helm, Gaspare
busy with the ropes. They passed quite close beneath
her. She saw Vere’s bright and eager face
looking the way they were going, anticipating the
voyage; Gaspare’s brown hands moving swiftly
and deftly. She saw the sail run up, the boat
bend over. The oars were laid in their places
now. The boat went faster through the water.
The forms in it dwindled. Was that Vere’s
head, or Gaspare’s? Who was that standing
up? The fisher-boy? What were they now,
they and the boat that held them? Only a white
sail on the blue, going towards the sun.
And how deep was the silence that
fell about the house, how deep and hollow! She
saw her life then like a cavern that was empty.
No waters flowed into it. No lights played in
its recesses. No sounds echoed through it.
She looked up into the blue, and remembered
her thought, that Maurice had been taken by the blue.
Hark! Was there not in the air the thin sound
of a reed flute playing a tarantella? She shut
her eyes, and saw the gray rocks of Sicily. But
the blue was too vast. Maurice was lost in it,
lost to her forever. And she gazed up into it
again, with the effort to travel through it, to go
on and on and on. And it seemed as if her soul
ached from that journey.
The sail had dipped down below the
horizon. She let fall the blind. She sat
down in the silence.
Vere was greatly perplexed about her
mother. One day in the boat she followed her
instinct and spoke to Gaspare about her. Hermione
and she between them had taught Gaspare some English.
He understood it fairly well, and could speak it,
though not correctly, and he was very proud of his
knowledge. Because of the fisher-boy, Vere said
what she had to say slowly in English. Gaspare
listened with the grave look of learning that betokened
his secret sensation of being glorified by his capacities.
But when he grasped the exact meaning of his Padroncina’s
words, his expression changed. He shook his head
“Not true!” he said.
“Not true! No matter there is
no matter with my Padrona.”
“But Gaspare ”
Vere protested, explained, strong
in her conviction of the change in her mother.
But Gaspare would not have it.
With energetic gestures he affirmed that his Padrona
was just as usual. But Vere surprised a look in
his eyes which told her he was watching her to see
if he had deceived her. Then she realized that
for some reason of his own Gaspare did not wish her
to know that he had seen the change, wished also to
detach her observation from her mother.
She wondered why this was.
Her busy mind could not arrive at
any conclusion in the matter, but she knew her mother
was secretly sad. And she knew that she and her
mother were no longer at ease with each other.
This pained her, and the pain was beginning to increase.
Sometimes she felt as if her mother disliked something
in her, and did not choose to say so, and was irritated
by the silence that she kept. But what could
it be? She searched among her doings carefully.
Had she failed in anything? Certainly she had
not been lacking in love. And her knowledge of
that seemed simply to exclude any possibility of serious
shortcomings. And her mother?
Vere remembered how her mother had
once longed to have a son, how she had felt certain
she was going to have a son. Could it be that?
Could her mother be dogged by that disappointment?
She felt chilled to the heart at that idea. Her
warm nature protested against it. The love she
gave to her mother was so complete that it had always
assumed the completeness of that which it was given
in return. But it might be so, Vere supposed.
It was possible. She pondered over this deeply,
and when she was with her mother watched for signs
that might confirm or dispel her fears. And thus
she opposed to the mother’s new watchfulness
the watchfulness of the child. And Hermione noticed
it, and wondered whether Vere had any suspicion of
the surreptitious reading of her poems.
But that was scarcely possible.
Hermione had not said a word to Vere
of her discovery that Peppina had done what she had
been told not to do related the story of
her fate. Almost all delicate-minded mothers
and daughters find certain subjects difficult, if
not impossible of discussion, even when an apparent
necessity of their discussion arrives in the course
of life. The present reserve between Hermione
and Vere rendered even the idea of any plain speaking
about the revelation of Peppina quite insupportable
to the mother. She could only pretend to ignore
that it had ever been made. And this she did.
But now that she knew of it she felt very acutely the
difference it had made in Vere. That difference
was owing to her own impulsive action. And Emile
knew the whole truth. She understood now what
he had been going to say about Peppina and Vere when
they had talked about the books.
He did condemn her in his heart.
He thought she was not a neglectful, but a mistaken
mother. He thought her so impulsive as to be dangerous,
perhaps, even to those she loved best. Almost
she divined that curious desire of his to protect
Vere against her. And yet without her impulsive
nature he himself might long ago have died.
She could not help at this time dwelling
secretly on one or two actions of hers, could not
help saying to herself now and then: “I
have been some good in the world. I am capable
of unselfishness sometimes. I did leave my happiness
for Emile’s sake, because I had a great deal
of friendship and was determined to live up to it.
My impulses are not always crazy and ridiculous.”
She did this, she was obliged to do
it, to prevent the feeling of impotence from overwhelming
her. She had to do it to give herself strength
to get up out of the dust. The human creature
dares not say to itself, “You are nothing.”
And now Hermione, feeling the withdrawal from her
of her friend, believing in the withdrawal from her
of her child, spoke to herself, pleading her own cause
to her own soul against invisible detractors.
One visitor the island had at this
time. Each evening, when the darkness fell, the
boat of Ruffo’s employer glided into the Pool
of San Francesco. And the boy always came ashore
while his companions slept. Since Hermione had
been charitable to his mother, and since he had explained
to her about his Patrigno and Peppina, he evidently
had something of the ready feeling that springs up
in Sicilians in whom real interest has been shown the
feeling of partly belonging to his benefactor.
There is something dog-like in this feeling. And
it is touching and attractive because of the animalism
of its frankness and simplicity. And as the dog
who has been kindly, tenderly treated has no hesitation
in claiming attention with a paw, or in laying its
muzzle upon the knee of its benefactor, so Ruffo had
no hesitation in relating to Hermione all the little
intimate incidents of his daily life, in crediting
her with an active interest in his concerns. There
was no conceit in this, only a very complete boyish
Hermione found in this new attitude
of Ruffo’s a curious solace for the sudden loneliness
of soul that had come upon her. Originally Ruffo’s
chief friendship had obviously been for Vere, but now
Vere, seeing her mother’s new and deep interest
in the boy, gave way a little to it, yet without doing
anything ostentatious, or showing any pique. Simply
she would stay in the garden, or on the terrace, later
than usual, till after Ruffo was sure to be at the
island, and let her mother stroll to the cliff top.
Or, if she were there with him first, she would soon
make an excuse to go away, and casually tell her mother
that he was there alone or with Gaspare. And
all this was done so naturally that Hermione did not
know it was deliberate, but merely fancied that perhaps
Vere’s first enthusiasm for the fisher-boy was
wearing off, that it had been a child’s sudden
fancy, and that it was lightly passing away.
Vere rather wondered at her mother’s
liking for Ruffo, although she herself had found him
so attractive, and had drawn her mother’s attention
to his handsome face and bold, yet simple bearing.
She wondered, because she felt in it something peculiar,
a sort of heat and anxiety, a restlessness, a watchfulness;
attributes which sprang from the observation of that
resemblance to the dead man which drew her mother
to Ruffo, but of which her mother had never spoken
Nor did Hermione speak of it again
to Gaspare. He had almost angrily denied it,
but since the night of Artois’ visit she knew
that he had seen it, been startled, moved by it, almost
as she had been.
She knew that quite well. Yet
Gaspare puzzled her. He had become moody, nervous,
and full of changes. She seemed to discern sometimes
a latent excitement in him. His temper was uneven.
Giulia had said that one could not speak with him.
Since that day she had grumbled about him again, but
discreetly, with a certain vagueness. For all
the servants thoroughly appreciated his special position
in the household as the “cameriere di confidenza”
of the Padrona. One thing which drew Hermione’s
special attention was his extraordinary watchfulness
of her. When they were together she frequently
surprised him looking at her with a sort of penetrating
and almost severe scrutiny which startled her.
Once or twice, indeed, she showed that she was startled.
“What’s the matter, Gaspare?”
she said, one day. “Do I look ill again?”
For she had remembered his looking at her in the boat.
“No, Signora,” he answered,
this time, quickly. “You are not looking
And he moved off, as if anxious to
avoid further questioning.
Another time she thought that there
was something wrong with her dress, or her hair, and
“Is there anything wrong with
me?” she exclaimed. “What is it?”
And she instinctively glanced down at her gown, and
put up her hands to her head.
And this time he had turned it off
with a laugh, and had said:
“Signora, you are like the Signorina!
Once she told me I was I was” he
shook his head “I forget the word.
But I am sure it was something that a man could never
be. Per dio!”
And then he had gone off into a rambling
conversation that had led Hermione’s attention
far away from the starting-point of their talk.
Vere, too, noticed the variations of his demeanor.
“Gaspare was very ‘jumpy’
to-day in the boat,” she said, one evening,
after returning from a sail; “I wonder what’s
the matter with him. Do you think he can be in
“I don’t know. But
he is fidanzato, Vere, with a girl in Marechiaro,
“Yes, but that lasts forever.
When I speak of it he always says: ’There
is plenty of time, Signorina. If one marries in
a hurry, one makes two faces ugly!’ I should
think the girl must be sick of waiting.”
Hermione was sure that there was some
very definite reason for Gaspare’s curious behavior,
but she could not imagine what it was. That it
was not anything to do with his health she had speedily
ascertained. Any small discipline of Providence
in the guise of a cold in the head, or a pain in the
stomach, despatched him promptly to the depths.
But he had told her that he was perfectly well and
“made of iron,” when she had questioned
him on the subject.
She supposed time would elucidate
the mystery, and meanwhile she knew it was no use
troubling about it. Years had taught her that
when Gaspare chose to be silent not heaven nor earth
could make him speak.
Although Vere could not know why Ruffo
attracted her mother, Hermione knew that Gaspare must
understand, at any rate partially, why she cared so
much to be with him. During the days between the
last visit of Artois and the Festa of the Madonna
del Carmine her acquaintance with the boy had
progressed so rapidly that sometimes she found herself
wondering what the days had been like before she knew
him, the evenings before his boat slipped into the
Saint’s Pool, and his light feet ran up from
the water’s edge to the cliff top. Possibly,
had Ruffo come into her life when she was comparatively
happy and at ease, she would never have drawn so closely
to him, despite the resemblance that stirred her to
the heart. But he came when she was feeling specially
lonely and sad; and when he, too, was in trouble.
Both wanted sympathy. Hermione gave Ruffo hers
in full measure. She could not ask for his.
But giving had always been her pleasure. It was
her pleasure now. And she drew happiness from
the obvious and growing affection of the boy.
Perfectly natural at all times, he kept back little
from the kind lady of the island. He told her
the smallest details of his daily life, his simple
hopes and fears, his friendships and quarrels, his
relations with the other fishermen of Mergellina,
his intentions in the present, his ambitions for the
future. Some day he hoped to be the Padrone of
a boat of his own. That seemed to be the ultimate
aim of his life. Hermione smiled as she heard
it, and saw his eyes shining with the excitement of
anticipation. When he spoke the word “Padrone,”
his little form seemed to expand with authority and
conscious pride. He squared his shoulders.
He looked almost a man. The pleasures of command
dressed all his person, as flags dress a ship on a
festival day. He stood before Hermione a boy exuberant.
And she thought of Maurice bounding
down the mountain-side to the fishing, and rousing
the night with his “Ciao, Ciao, Ciao, Morettina
But Ruffo was sometimes reserved.
Hermione could not make him speak of his father.
All she knew of him was that he was dead. Sometimes
she gave Ruffo good advice. She divined the dangers
of Naples for a lad with the blood bounding in his
veins, and she dwelt upon the pride of man’s
strength, and how he should be careful to preserve
it, and not dissipate it before it came to maturity.
She did not speak very plainly, but Ruffo understood,
and answered her with the unconscious frankness that
is characteristic of the people of the South.
And at the end of his remarks he added:
“Don Gaspare has talked to me
about that. Don Gaspare knows much, Signora.”
He spoke with deep respect. Hermione
was surprised by this little revelation. Was
Gaspare secretly watching over the boy? Did he
concern himself seriously with Ruffo’s fate?
She longed to question Gaspare. But she knew
that to do so would be useless. Even with her
Gaspare would only speak freely of things when he
chose. At other times he was calmly mute.
He wrapped himself in a cloud. She wondered whether
he had ever given Ruffo any hints or instructions
as to suitable conduct when with her.
Although Ruffo was so frank and garrulous
about most things, she noticed that if she began to
speak of his mother or his Patrigno, his manner
changed, and he became uncommunicative. Was this
owing to Gaspare’s rather rough rebuke upon
the cliff before Artois and Vere? Or had Gaspare
emphasized that by further directions when alone with
Ruffo? She tried deftly to find out, but the
boy baffled her. But perhaps he was delicate
about money, unlike Neapolitans, and feared that if
he talked too much of his mother the lady of the island
would think he was “making misery,” was
hoping for another twenty francs. As to his Patrigno,
the fact that Peppina was living on the island made
that subject rather a difficult one. Nevertheless,
Hermione could not help suspecting that Gaspare had
told the boy not to bother her with any family troubles.
She had not offered him money again.
The giving of the twenty francs had been a sudden
impulse to help a suffering woman, less because she
was probably in poverty than because she was undoubtedly
made unhappy by her husband. Since she had suffered
at the hands of death, Hermione felt very pitiful
for women. She would gladly have gone to see Ruffo’s
mother, have striven to help her more, both materially
and morally. But as to a visit Peppina
seemed to bar the way. And as to more money help she
remembered Gaspare’s warning. Perhaps he
knew something of the mother that she did not know.
Perhaps the mother was an objectionable, or even a
But when she looked at Ruffo she could
not believe that. And then several times he had
spoken with great affection of his mother.
She left things as they were, taking
her cue from the boy in despite of her desire.
And here, as in some other directions, she was secretly
governed by Gaspare.
Only sometimes did she see in Ruffo’s
face the look that had drawn her to him. The
resemblance to Maurice was startling, but it was nearly
always fleeting. She could not tell when it was
coming, nor retain it when it came. But she noticed
that it was generally when Ruffo was moved by affection,
by a sudden sympathy, by a warm and deferent impulse
that the look came in him. And again she thought
of the beautiful obedience that springs directly from
love, of Mercury poised for flight to the gods, his
mission happily accomplished.
She wondered if Artois had ever thought
of it when he was with Ruffo. But she felt now
that she could never ask him.
And, indeed, she cherished her knowledge,
her recognition, as something almost sacred, silently
shared with Gaspare.
To no one could that look mean what
it meant to her. To no other heart could it make
the same appeal.
And so in those few days between Hermione
and the fisher-boy a firm friendship was established.
And to Hermione this friendship came
like a small ray of brightly golden light, falling
gently in a place that was very dark.