Read CHAPTER III of The Children of the King, free online book, by F. Marion Crawford, on

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 on credit.

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 forgotten.

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 names.

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 waiting.

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 graciously.

“Send him to us at twelve o’clock,” she said.  “The Marchesa di Mola ­do not forget.”

“Yes, Eccellenza.”

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?” he asked.

“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 himself again.

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 and uncomplaining.

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 his question.

“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 away abruptly.

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 ways.

“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 would cost.

“But what kind of medicine?” asked the old man.  “Do you feel ill?  Where?”

“Here,” answered Ruggiero bringing his heavy bony hand down upon his huge chest with a noise that made the chemist start, and then chuckle.

“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?”

Ruggiero laughed.

“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 certain boat.”

“A lady?  H’m!  Young perhaps, and pretty?”

“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 my signore.”

“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 gransignora, a great lady!  You are crazy, Don Ciccio!”

“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 her.”

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.

Madonna mia!  What a machine!” exclaimed the latter, after listening a moment.  “If I had a heart like that!”

“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 as ever.

“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 mother.

“It is for the boat, mamma,” she said.  “Do you wish me to arrange about it?”

“Of course,” answered the Marchesa opening her eyes and immediately shutting them again.

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,” he added.

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 to choose.

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 men.”

“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.