Ten years have passed since the ever-memorable
day on which the Children of the King hurt their fists
so badly in battering Don Pietro Casale’s sharp
nose. They are big, bony men, now, with strongly
marked features, short yellow hair and fair beards.
So far they are alike, and at first sight might be
taken for twin brothers. But there is a marked
difference between them in character, which shows
itself in their faces. Ruggiero’s eye is
of a colder blue, is less mobile and of harder expression
than Sebastiano’s. His firm lips are generally
tightly closed, and his square chin is bolder than
his brother’s. He is stronger, too, though
not by very much, and though he is more silent and
usually more equable, he has by far the worse temper
of the two. At sea there is little to choose
between them. Perhaps, on the whole, Sebastiano
has always been the favourite amongst his companions,
while Ruggiero has been thought the more responsible
and possibly the more dangerous in a quarrel.
Both, however, have acquired an extraordinarily good
reputation as seamen, and also as boatmen on the pleasure
craft of all sizes which sail the gulf of Naples during
the summer season.
They have made several long voyages,
too. They have been to New York and to Buenos
Ayres and have seen many ports of Europe and America,
and much weather of all sorts north and south of the
Line. They have known what it is to be short
of victuals five hundred miles from land with contrary
winds; they have experienced the delights of a summer
at New Orleans, waiting for a cargo and being eaten
alive by mosquitoes; they have looked up, in January,
at the ice-sheeted rigging, when boiling water froze
upon the shrouds and ratlines, and the captain said
that no man could lay out upon the top-sail yard,
though the north-easter threatened to blow the sail
out of the bolt-ropes but Ruggiero got hold
of the lee earing all the same and Sebastiano followed
him, and the captain swore a strange oath in the Italo-American
language, and went aloft himself to help light the
sail out to windward, being still a young man and not
liking to be beaten by a couple of beardless boys,
as the two were then. And they have seen many strange
sights, sea-serpents not a few, and mermaids quite
beyond the possibility of mistake, and men who can
call the wind with four knots in a string and words
unlearnable, and others who can alter the course of
a waterspout by a secret spell, and a captain who
made a floating beacon of junk soaked in petroleum
in a tar-barrel and set it adrift and stood up on
the quarter-deck calling on all the three hundred
and sixty-five saints in the calendar out of the Neapolitan
almanack he held and got a breeze, too,
for his pains, as Ruggiero adds with a quiet and somewhat
incredulous smile when he has finished the yarn.
All these things they have seen with their eyes, and
many more which it is impossible to remember, but all
equally astonishing though equally familiar to everybody
who has been at sea ten years.
And now in mid-June they are at home
again, since Sorrento is their home now, and they
are inclined to take a turn with the pleasure boats
by way of a change and engage themselves for the summer,
Ruggiero with a gentleman from the north of Italy
known as the Conte di San Miniato, and Sebastiano
with a widowed Sicilian lady and her daughter, the
Marchesa di Mola and the Signorina Beatrice
Granmichele, generally, if incorrectly, spoken of
as Donna Beatrice.
Now the Conte di San Miniato,
though only a count, and reputed to be out at elbows,
if not up to his ears in debt, is the sole surviving
representative of a very great and ancient family in
the north. But how the defunct Granmichele got
his title of Marchese di Mola, no one knows
precisely. Two things are certain, that his father
never had a title at all, and that he himself made
a large fortune in sulphur and paving stones, so that
his only daughter is much of an heiress, and his elderly
widow has a handsome income to spend as she pleases,
owns in Palermo a fine palace historical
in other hands is the possessor of a smartish
yacht, a cutter of thirty tons or so, goes to Paris
once and to Monte Carlo twice in every year, brings
her own carriage to Sorrento in the summer, and lives
altogether in a luxurious and highly correct manner.
She is a tall, thin woman of forty
years or thereabouts, with high features, dark eyes,
a pale olive complexion, black hair white at the temples,
considerable taste in dress and an absolute contempt
for physical exertion, mental occupation and punctuality.
Donna Beatrice, as they call her daughter,
is a very pretty girl, aged nineteen or nearly, of
greyhound build, so to say, by turns amazingly active
and astonishingly indolent, capricious and decided
in her caprices while they last, passionately
fond of dancing, much inclined to amuse herself in
her own way when her mother is not looking, and possessing
a keen sense of prime and ultimate social ratios.
She is unusually well educated, speaks three languages,
knows that somehow North and South America are not
exactly the same as the Northern and Southern States,
has heard of Virgil and the Crusades, can play a waltz
well, and possesses a very sweet little voice.
She is undoubtedly pretty. Brown, on the whole,
as to colouring brown skin, liquid brown
eyes, dark brown hair a nose not regular
but attractive, a mouth not small but expressive,
eyebrows not finely pencilled, neither arched nor
straight, but laid on as it were like the shadows in
a clever charcoal drawing, with the finger, broad,
effective, well turned, carelessly set in the right
place by a hand that never makes mistakes.
It is the intention of the Marchesa
di Mola to marry her daughter to the very
noble and out-at-elbows Count of San Miniato before
the summer is out. It is also the intention of
the Count to marry Beatrice. It is Beatrice’s
intention to do nothing rashly, but to take as much
time as she can get for making up her mind, and then
to do exactly as she pleases. She perfectly appreciates
her own position and knows that she can either marry
a rich man of second-rate family, or a poor man of
good blood, a younger son or a half ruined gentleman
at large like San Miniato, and she hesitates.
She is not quite sure of the value of money yet.
It might be delightful to be even much richer than
she is, because there are so many delightful things
to be done in the world with money alone. But
it might turn out to be equally agreeable to have a
great name, to be somebody, to be a necessary part
of society in short, because society does a number
of agreeable things not wholly dependent upon cash
for being pleasant, and indeed often largely dependent
San Miniato attracts her, and she
does not deny the fact to herself. He is handsome,
tall, fair, graceful and exceedingly well dressed.
He was several years in a cavalry regiment and is
reputed to have left the service in order to fight
with a superior officer whom he disliked. In
reality his straitened means may have had something
to do with the step. At all events he scratched
his major rather severely in the duel which took place,
and has the reputation of a dangerous man with the
sabre. It is said that the major’s wife
had something to do with the story. At present
San Miniato is about thirty years of age. His
only known vice is gambling, which is perhaps a chief
source of income to him. Every one agrees in
saying that he is the type of the honourable player,
and that, if he wins on the whole, he owes his winnings
to his superior coolness and skill. The fact
that he gambles rather lends him an additional interest
in the eyes of Beatrice, whose mother often plays and
who would like to play herself.
Ruggiero, who is to be San Miniato’s
boatman this summer, is waiting outside the Count’s
door, until that idle gentleman wakes from his late
sleep and calls him. The final agreement is yet
to be made, and Ruggiero makes calculations upon his
fingers as he sits on the box in the corridor.
The Count wants a boat and three sailors by the month
and if he is pleased, will keep them all the season.
It became sufficiently clear to Ruggiero during the
first interview that his future employer did not know
the difference between a barge and a felucca, and he
has had ocular demonstration that the Count cannot
swim, for he has seen him in the water by the bathing-houses a
thorough landsman at all points. But there are
two kinds of landsmen, those who are afraid, and those
who are not, as Ruggiero well knows. The first
kind are amusing and the sailors get more fun out
of them than they know of; the second kind are dangerous
and are apt to get more out of the sailor than they
pay for, by bullying him and calling him a coward.
But on the whole Ruggiero, being naturally very daring
and singularly indifferent to life as a possession,
hopes that San Miniato may turn out to be of the unreasonably
reckless rather than of the tiresomely timid class,
and is inclined to take his future master’s
courage for granted as he makes his calculations.
“I will take the Son of the
Fool and the Cripple,” he mutters decisively.
“They are good men, and we can always have the
Gull for a help when we need four.”
A promising crew, by the names, say
you of the North, who do not understand Southern ways.
But in Sorrento and all down the coast, most seafaring
men get nicknames under which their real and legal
appellations disappear completely and are totally
The Fool, whose son Ruggiero meant
to engage, had earned his title in bygone days by
dancing an English hornpipe for the amusement of his
companions, the Gull owed his to the singular length
and shape of his nose, and the Cripple had in early
youth worn a pair of over-tight boots on Sundays,
whereby he had limped sadly on the first day of every
week, for nearly two years. So that the crew were
all sound in mind and body in spite of their alarming
Ruggiero sat on the box and waited,
meditating upon the probable occupations of gentlemen
who habitually slept till ten o’clock in the
morning and sometimes till twelve. From time to
time he brushed an almost imperceptible particle of
dust from his very smart blue cloth knees, and settled
the in-turned collar of the perfectly new blue guernsey
about his neck. It was new, and it scratched him
disagreeably, but it was highly necessary to present
a prosperous as well as a seamanlike appearance on
such an important occasion. Nothing could have
been more becoming to him than the dark close-fitting
dress, showing as it did the immense breadth and depth
of his chest, the clean-cut sinewy length of his limbs
and the easy grace and strength of his whole carriage.
His short straight fair hair was brushed, too, and
his young yellow beard had been recently trimmed.
Altogether a fine figure of a man as he sat there
Suddenly he was aware of a wonderful
vision moving towards him down the broad corridor a
lovely dark face with liquid brown eyes, an exquisite
figure clad in a well-fitted frock of white serge,
a firm, smooth step that was not like any step he
had ever heard. He rose quickly as she passed
him, and the blood rushed to his face, up to the very
roots of his hair.
Beatrice was too much of a woman not
to see the effect she produced upon the poor sailor,
and she nodded gracefully to him, in acknowledgment
of his politeness in rising. As she did so she
noticed on her part that the poor sailor was indeed
a very remarkable specimen of a man, such as she had
not often seen. She stopped and spoke to him.
“Are you the Count of San Miniato’s
boatman?” she asked in her sweet voice.
“Yes, Eccellenza,” answered
Ruggiero, still blushing violently
“Then he has engaged the boat?
We want a boat, too the Marchesa di
Mola can you get us one?”
“There is my brother, Eccellenza.”
“Is he a good sailor?”
“Better than I, Eccellenza.”
Beatrice looked at the figure before her and smiled
“Send him to us at twelve o’clock,”
she said. “The Marchesa di Mola do
Ruggiero bowed respectfully, while
Beatrice nodded again and passed on. Then he
sat down again and waited, but his fingers no longer
moved in calculations and his expression had changed.
He sat still and stared in the direction of the corner
beyond which the young girl had disappeared.
He was conscious for the first time in his life that
he possessed a heart, for the thing thumped and kicked
violently under his blue guernsey, and he looked down
at his broad chest with an odd expression of half-childish
curiosity, fully expecting to see an outward and visible
motion corresponding with the inward hammering.
But he saw nothing. Solid ribs and solid muscles
kept the obstreperous machine in its place.
“Malora!” he ejaculated to himself.
“Worse than a cat in a sack!”
His hands, too, were quite cold, though
it was a warm day. He noticed the fact as he
passed his thumb for the hundredth time round his neck
where the hard wool scratched him. To tell the
truth he was somewhat alarmed. He had never been
ill a day in his life, had never had as much as a
headache, a bad cold or a touch of fever, and he began
to think that something must be wrong. He said
to himself that if such a thing happened to him again
he would go to the chemist and ask for some medicine.
His strength was the chief of his few possessions,
he thought, and it would be better to spend a franc
at the chemist’s than to let it be endangered.
It was a serious matter. Suppose that the young
lady, instead of speaking to him about a boat, had
told him to pick up the box on which he was sitting one
of those big boxes these foreigners travel with and
to carry it upstairs, he would have cut a poor figure
just at that moment, when his heart was thumping like
a flat-fish in the bottom of a boat, and his hands
were trembling with cold. If it chanced again,
he would certainly go to Don Ciccio the chemist and
buy a dose of something with a strong bad taste, the
stronger and the worse flavoured the better, of course,
as everyone knew. Very alarming, these symptoms!
Then he fell to thinking of the young
lady herself, and she seemed to rise before him, just
as he had seen her a few moments earlier. The
signs of his new malady immediately grew worse again,
and when it somehow struck him that he might serve
her, and let Sebastiano be boatman to the Count, the
pounding at his ribs became positively terrifying,
and he jumped up and began to walk about. Just
then the door opened suddenly and San Miniato put
out his head.
“Are you the sailor who is to get me a boat?”
“Yes, Eccellenza,” answered
Ruggiero turning quickly, cap in hand. Strange
to say, at the sound of the man’s voice the alarming
symptoms totally disappeared and Ruggiero was quite
He remembered also that he had been
engaged for the Count, through the people of the hotel,
on condition of approval, and that it would be contrary
to boatman’s honour to draw back. After
all, too, women in a boat were always a nuisance at
the best, and he liked the Count’s face, and
decided that he was not of the type of landsmen who
are frightened. The interview did not last long.
“I shall wish to make excursions
in all directions,” said San Miniato. “I
do not know anything about the sea, but I dislike people
who make difficulties and talk to me of bad weather
when I mean to go anywhere. Do you understand?”
“We will try to content your
excellency,” answered Ruggiero quietly.
“Good. We shall see.”
So Ruggiero went away to find the
Son of the Fool, and the Cripple, and to engage them
for the summer, and to deliver to his brother the message
from the Marchesa di Mola. The reason
why Ruggiero did not take Sebastiano as one of his
own crew was a simple one. There lived and still
lives at Sorrento, a certain old man known as the Greek.
The Greek is old and infirm and has a vicious predilection
for wine and cards, so that he is quite unfit for
the sea. But he owns a couple of smart sailing
boats and gets a living by letting them to strangers.
It is necessary, however, to have at least one perfectly
reliable man in charge of each, and so soon as the
Children of the King had returned from their last
long voyage the Greek had engaged them both for this
purpose, as being in every way superior to the common
run of boatmen who hung about the place waiting for
jobs. It was consequently impossible that the
two brothers could be in the same boat’s crew
during the summer.
Ruggiero found the Cripple asleep
in the shade, having been out all night fishing, and
the Son of the Fool was seated not far from him, plaiting
sinnet for gaskets. The two were inseparable,
so far as their varied life permitted them to be together,
and were generally to be found in the same crew.
Average able seamen both, much of the same height
and build, broad, heavy fellows good at the oar, peaceable
While Ruggiero was talking with the
one who was awake, his own brother appeared, and Ruggiero
gave him the message, whereupon Sebastiano went off
to array himself in his best before presenting himself
to the Marchesa di Mola. The Son of
the Fool gathered up his work.
“Mola?” he repeated in a tone of inquiry.
Ruggiero nodded carelessly.
“A Sicilian lady who has a cutter?”
“Her daughter is going to marry
a certain Conte di San Miniato a great
signore of those without soldi.”
The sailor coiled the plaited sinnet
neatly over his bare arm, but looked up as Ruggiero
uttered an exclamation.
“What is the matter with you?” he asked.
Ruggiero’s face was quite red
and his broad chest heaved as he bit his lip and thrust
his hands into his pockets. His companion repeated
“Nothing is the matter,”
answered Ruggiero. “Wake up the Cripple
and see if there is everything for rigging the boat.
We must have her out this afternoon. The Conte
di San Miniato of whom you speak is our signore.”
“Oh! I understand!”
exclaimed the Son of the Fool. “Well you
need not be so anxious. I daresay it is not true
that he has no money, and at all events the Greek
will pay us.”
“Of course, the Greek will pay
us,” answered Ruggiero thoughtfully. “I
will be back in half an hour,” he added, turning
He walked rapidly up the steep paved
ascent which leads through the narrow gorge from the
small beach to the town above. A few minutes later
he entered the chemist’s shop for the first time
in his life in search of medicine for himself.
He took off his cap and looked about him with some
curiosity, eying the long rows of old-fashioned majolica
drug jars, and the stock of bottles of all colours
and labels in the glass cases. The chemist was
a worthy old creature with a white beard and solemn
“What do you want?” he inquired.
“A little medicine, but good,”
answered Ruggiero, looking critically along the shelves,
as though to select a remedy. “A little
of the best,” he added, jingling a few silver
coins in his pockets and wondering how much the stuff
“But what kind of medicine?”
asked the old man. “Do you feel ill?
“Here,” answered Ruggiero
bringing his heavy bony hand down upon his huge chest
with a noise that made the chemist start, and then
“Just there, eh?” said
the latter ironically. “You have the health
of a horse. Go to dinner.”
“I tell you it is there,”
returned Ruggiero. “Sometimes it is quite
quiet, as it is now, but sometimes it jumps and threshes
like a dolphin at sea.”
“H’m! The heart,
eh?” The old man came round his counter and applied
his ear to Ruggiero’s breast. “Regular
as a steam engine,” he said. “When
does it jump, as you call it? When you go up hill?”
“Am I old or fat?” he
inquired contemptuously. “It happened first
this morning. I was waiting in the hotel and
a lady came by and spoke to me about a
“A lady? H’m! Young perhaps,
“That is my business. Then
half an hour later I was talking to the Son of the
Fool. You know him I daresay. And it began
to jump again, and I said to myself, ‘"Health
is the first thing,” as the old people say.’
So I came for the medicine.”
The chemist chuckled audibly.
“And what were you talking about?” he
asked. “The lady?”
“It is true,” answered
Ruggiero in a tone of reflection. “The Son
of the Fool was telling me that the lady is to marry
“And you want medicine!”
cried the old man, laughing aloud. “Imbecile!
Have you never been in love?”
Ruggiero stared at him.
“Eh! A girl here and there in
Buenos Ayres, in New Orleans what has that
to do with it? You what the malora the
plague are you talking about? Eh?
Explain a little.”
“You had better go back to Buenos
Ayres, or to some other place where you will not see
the lady any more,” said the chemist. “You
are in love with her. That is all the matter.”
“I, with a gran’
signora, a great lady! You are crazy, Don
“Crazy or not tell
me to-morrow whether your heart does not beat every
time she looks at you. As for her being a great
lady we are men, and they are women.”
The chemist had socialistic ideas of his own.
“To please you,” said
Ruggiero, “I will go and see her now, and I will
be back in an hour to tell you that you do not understand
your business. My brother is to go there at twelve
and I will go with him. Of course I shall see
He turned to go, but stopped suddenly
on the threshold and came back.
“There!” he cried triumphantly.
“There it is again, but not so hard this time.
Is the lady here, now?” He pushed his chest against
the old man’s ear.
What a machine!” exclaimed the latter, after
listening a moment. “If I had a heart like
“Now you see for yourself,”
said Ruggiero. “I want the best medicine.”
But again the chemist broke into a laugh.
“Medicine! A medicine for
love! Do you not see that it began to beat at
the thought of seeing her? Go and try it, as you
proposed. Then you will understand.”
“I understand that you are crazy.
But I will try it all the same.”
Thereupon Ruggiero strode out of the
shop without further words, considerably disappointed
and displeased with the result of the interview.
The chemist apparently took him for a fool. It
was absurd to suppose that the sight of any woman,
or the mention of any woman, could make a man’s
heart behave in such a way, and yet he was obliged
to admit that the coincidence was undeniable.
He found his brother just coming out
of the house in which they lodged, arrayed at all
points exactly like himself. Sebastiano’s
young beard was not quite so thick, his eyes were
a little softer, his movements a trifle less energetically
direct than Ruggiero’s, and he was, perhaps,
an inch shorter; but the resemblance was extraordinary
and would have struck any one.
They were admitted to the presence
of the Marchesa di Mola in due time.
She lay in a deep chair under the arches of her terrace,
shaded by brown linen curtains, languid, idle, indifferent
“Beatrice!” she called
in a lazy tone, as the two men stood still at a respectful
distance, waiting to be addressed.
But instead of Beatrice, a maid appeared
at a door at the other end of the terrace a
fresh young thing with rosy cheeks, brown hair, sparkling
black eyes and a pretty figure.
“Call Donna Beatrice,”
said the Marchesa. Then, as though exhausted by
the effort of speaking she closed her eyes and waited.
The maid cast a quick glance at the
two handsome sailors and disappeared again. Ruggiero
and Sebastiano stood motionless, only their eyes turning
from side to side and examining everything with the
curiosity habitual in seamen.
Presently Beatrice entered, looked
at them both for a moment and then went up to her
“It is for the boat, mamma,”
she said. “Do you wish me to arrange about
“Of course,” answered
the Marchesa opening her eyes and immediately shutting
Beatrice stepped aside and beckoned
the two men to her. To Ruggiero’s infinite
surprise, he again felt the blood rushing to his face,
and his heart began to pound his ribs like a fuller’s
hammer. He glanced at his brother and saw that
he was perfectly self-possessed. Beatrice looked
from one to the other in perplexity.
“You are so much alike!”
she exclaimed. “With which of you did I
speak this morning?”
“With me, Eccellenza,”
said Ruggiero, whose own voice sounded strangely in
his ears. “And this is my brother,”
The arrangement was soon made, but
during the short interchange of questions and answers
Ruggiero could not take his eyes from Beatrice’s
face. Possibly he was not even aware that it was
rude to stare at a lady, for his education had not
been got in places where ladies are often seen, or
manners frequently discussed. But Beatrice did
not seem at all disturbed by the scrutiny, though
she was quite aware of its pertinacity. A woman
who has beauty in any degree rarely resents the genuine
and unconcealed admiration of the vulgar. On the
contrary, as the young girl dismissed the men, she
smiled graciously upon them both, and perhaps a little
the more upon Ruggiero, though there was not much
Neither of them spoke as they descended
the stairs of the hotel, and went out through the
garden to the gate. When they were in the square
beyond Ruggiero stopped. Sebastiano stood still
also and looked at him.
“Does your heart ever jump and
turn somersaults and get into your mouth, when you
look at a woman, Bastianello?” he asked.
“No. Does yours?”
“Yes. Just now.”
“I saw her, too,” answered
Sebastiano. “It is true that she is very
fresh and pretty, and uncommonly clean. Eh the
devil! If you like her, ask for her. The
maid of a Marchesa is sure to have money and to be
a respectable girl.”
Ruggiero was silent for a moment and
looked at his brother with an odd expression, as though
he were going to say something. Unfortunately
for him, for Sebastiano, for the maid, for Beatrice,
and for the count of San Miniato, too, he said nothing.
Instead, he produced half a cigar from his cap, and
two sulphur matches, and incontinently began to smoke.
“It is lucky that both boats
are engaged on the same day,” observed Sebastiano.
“The Greek will be pleased. He will play
all the numbers at the lottery.”
“And get very drunk to-night,”
added Ruggiero with contempt.
“Of course. But he is a
good padrone, everybody says, and does not cheat his
“I hope not.”
By and by the two went down to the
beach again, and Sebastiano looked about him for a
crew. The Marchesa wanted four men in her boat,
or even five, and Sebastiano picked out at once the
Gull, the Son of the American, Black Rag otherwise
known as Saint Peter from his resemblance to the pictures
of the Apostle as a fisherman and the Deaf
Man. The latter is a fellow of strange ways,
who lost his hearing from falling into the water in
winter when overheated, and who has almost lost the
power of speech in consequence, but a good sailor withal,
tough, untiring, and patient.
They all set to work with a good will,
and before four o’clock that day the two boats
were launched, ballasted and rigged, the sails were
bent to the yards and the brasses polished, so that
Ruggiero and Sebastiano went up to their respective
masters to ask if there were any orders for the afternoon.