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

San Miniato did not possess that peculiar and common form of vanity which makes a man sensitive about doing badly what he has never learned to do at all.  He laughed when Ruggiero advised him to luff a little, and he did as he was told.  But Ruggiero came aft and perched himself on the stern in order to be at hand in case his master committed another flagrant breach of seamanship.

“You will certainly take us to the bottom of the bay instead of to Tragara,” observed the Marchesa languidly.  “But then at least my discomforts will be over for ever.  Of course there is no lemonade on board.  Teresina, I want lemonade.”

In an instant Bastianello produced a decanter out of a bucket of snow and brought it aft with a glass.  The Marchesa smiled.

“You do things very well, dearest friend,” she said, and moistened her lips in the cold liquid.

“Donna Beatrice has had more to do with providing for your comfort than I,” answered the Count.

The Marchesa smiled lazily, sipped about a teaspoonful from the glass and handed it to her maid.

“Drink, Teresina,” she said.  “It will refresh you.”

The girl drank eagerly.

“You see,” said the Marchesa, “I can think of the comfort of others as well as of my own.”

San Miniato smiled politely and Beatrice laughed.  Her laughter hurt the silent sailor perched behind her, as though a glass had been broken in his face.  How could she be so gay when his heart was beating so hard for her?  He drew his breath sharply and looked out to sea, as many a heart-broken man has looked across that fair water since woman first learned that men’s hearts could break.

It was a wonderful afternoon.  The sun was already low, rolling down to his western bath behind Capo Miseno, northernmost of all his daily plunges in the year; and as he sank, the colours he had painted on the hills at dawn returned behind him, richer and deeper and rarer for the heat he had given them all day.  There, like a mass of fruit and flowers in a red gold bowl, Sorrento lay in the basin of the surrounding mountains, all gilded above and full of rich shadows below.  Over all, the great Santangelo raised his misty head against the pale green eastern sky, gazing down at the life below, at the living land and the living sea, and remembering, perhaps, the silent days before life was, or looking forward to the night to come in which there will be no life left any more.  For who shall tell me that the earth herself may not be a living, thinking, feeling being, on whose not unkindly bosom we wear out our little lives, but whose high loves are with the stars, beyond our sight, and her voice too deep and musical for ears used to our shrill human speech?  Who shall say surely that she is not conscious of our presence, of some of our doings when we tear her breast and lay burdens upon her neck and plough up her fair skin with our hideous works, or when we touch her kindly and love her, and plant sweet flowers in soft places?  Who shall know and teach us that the summer breeze is not her breath, the storm the sobbing of her passion, the rain her woman’s tears ­that she is not alive, loving and suffering, as we all have been, are, or would be, but greater than we as the star she loves somewhere is greater and stronger than herself?  And we live upon her, and feed on her and all die and are taken back into her whence we came, wondering much of the truth that is hidden, learning perhaps at last the great secret she keeps so well.  Her life, too, will end some day, her last blossom will have bloomed alone, her last tears will have fallen upon her own bosom, her last sob will have rent the air, and the beautiful earth will be dead for ever, borne on in the sweep of the race that will never end, borne along yet a few ages, till her sweet body turns to star-dust in the great emptiness of a night without morning.

But Ruggiero, plain strong man of the people, hard-handed sailor, was not thinking of any of these things as he sat in his narrow place on the stern behind his master, mechanically guiding the tiller in the latter’s unconscious hand, while he gazed silently at Beatrice’s face, now turned towards him in conversation, now half averted as she looked down or out to sea.  Ruggiero listened, too, to the talk, though he did not understand all the fine words Beatrice and San Miniato used.  If he had never been away from the coast, the probability is that he would have understood nothing at all; but in his long voyages he had been thrown with men of other parts of Italy and had picked up a smattering of what Neapolitans call Italian, to distinguish it from their own speech.  Even as it was, the most part of what they said escaped him, because they seemed to think so very differently from him about simple matters, and to be so heartily amused at what seemed so dull to him.  And he began to feel that the hurt he had was deep and not to be healed, while he reflected that he was undoubtedly mad, since he loved this lady so much while understanding her so little.  The mere feeling that she could talk and take pleasure in talking beyond his comprehension wounded him, as a sensitive half-grown boy sometimes suffers real pain when his boyishness shows itself among men.

Why, for instance, did the young girl’s cheek flush and her eyes sparkle, when San Miniato talked of Paris?  Paris was in France.  Ruggiero knew that.  But he had often heard that it was not so big a place as London, where he had been.  Therefore Beatrice must have some other reason for liking it.  Most probably she loved a Frenchman, and Ruggiero hated Frenchmen with all his heart.  Then they talked about the theatre and Beatrice was evidently interested.  Ruggiero had once seen a puppet show and had not found it at all funny.  The theatre was only a big puppet show, and he could pay for a seat there if he pleased; but he did not please, because he was sure that it would not amuse him to go.  Why should Beatrice like the theatre?  And she liked the races at Naples, too, and those at Paris much better.  Why?  Everybody knew that one horse could run faster than another, without trying it, but it could not matter a straw which of two, or twenty, got to the goal first.  Horses were not boats.  Now there was sense in a boat race, or a yacht race, or a steamer race.  But a horse!  He might be first to-day, and to-morrow if he had not enough to eat he might be last.  Was a horse a Christian?  You could not count upon him.  And then they began to talk of love and Ruggiero’s heart stood still, for that, at least, he could understand.

“Love!” laughed Beatrice, repeating the word.  “It always makes one laugh.  Were you ever in love, mamma?”

The Marchesa turned her head slowly, and lifted her sleepy eyes to look at her daughter, before she answered.

“No,” she said lazily.  “I was never in love.  But you are far too young to talk of such things.”

“San Miniato says that love is for the young and friendship for the old.”

“Love,” said San Miniato, “is a necessary evil, but it is also the greatest source of happiness.”

“What a fine phrase!” exclaimed Beatrice.  “You must be a professor in disguise.”

“A professor of love?” asked the Count with a very well executed look of tenderness which did not escape Ruggiero.

“Hush, for the love of heaven!” interposed the Marchesa.  “This is too dreadful!”

“We were not talking of the love of heaven,” answered Beatrice mischievously.

“I was thinking at least of a love that could make any place a heaven,” said San Miniato, again helping his lack of originality with his eyes.

Ruggiero reflected that it would be but the affair of a second to unship the heavy brass tiller and bring it down once on the top of his master’s skull.  Once would be enough.

“Whose love?” asked Beatrice innocently.

San Miniato looked at her again, then turned away his eyes and sighed audibly.

“Well?” asked Beatrice.  “Will you answer.  I do not understand that language.  Whose love would make any place ­Timbuctoo, for instance ­a heaven for you?”

“Discretion is the only virtue a man ought to exhibit whenever he has a chance,” said San Miniato.

“Perhaps.  But even that should be shown without ostentation.”  Beatrice laughed.  “And you are decidedly ostentatious at the present moment.  It would interest mamma and me very much to know the object of your affections.”

“Beatrice!” exclaimed the Marchesa with affected horror.

“Yes, mamma,” answered the young girl.  “Here I am.  Do you want some more lemonade?”

“She is quite insufferable,” said the Marchesa to San Miniato, with a languid smile.  “But really, San Miniato carissimo, this conversation ­a young girl –­”

Ruggiero wondered what she found so obnoxious in the words that had been spoken.  He also wondered how long it would take San Miniato to drown if he were dropped overboard in the wake of the boat.

“If that is your opinion of your daughter,” said the latter, “we shall hardly agree.  Now I maintain that Donna Beatrice is the contrary of insufferable ­the most extreme of contraries.  In the first place –­”

“She is very pretty,” said Beatrice demurely.

“I was not going to say that,” laughed San Miniato.

“Ah?  Then say something else.”

“I will.  Donna Beatrice has two gifts, at least, which make it impossible that she should ever be insufferable, even when her beauty is gone.”

Dio mio!” ejaculated the young girl.  “The compliments are beginning in good earnest!”

“It was time,” said San Miniato, “since your mother –­”

“Dear Count,” interrupted Beatrice, “do not talk any more about mamma.  I am anxious to get at the compliments.  Do pray let your indiscretion be as ostentatious as possible.  I cannot wait another second.”

“No need of waiting,” answered San Miniato, again addressing himself to the Marchesa.  “Donna Beatrice has two great gifts.  She is kind, and she has charm.”

There being no exact equivalent for the word “charm” in the Italian language, San Miniato used the French.  Ruggiero began to puzzle his brains, asking himself what this foreign virtue could be which his master estimated so highly.  He also thought it very strange that Beatrice should have said of herself that she was pretty, and still stranger that San Miniato should not have said it.

“Is that all?” asked Beatrice.  “I need not have been in such a hurry to extract your compliments from you.”

“If you had understood what I said,” answered San Miniato unmoved, “you would see that no man could say more of a woman.”

“Kind and charming!  It is not much,” laughed the young girl.  “Unless you mean much more than you say ­and I asked you to be indiscreet!”

“Kind hearts are rare enough in this world, Donna Beatrice, and as for charm ­”

“What is charm?”

“It is what the violet has, and the camelia has not ­”

“Heavens!  Are you going to sigh to me in the language of flowers?”

“Beatrice!  Beatrice!” cried the Marchesa, with the same affectation of horror as before.

“Dear mamma, are you uncomfortable?  Oh no!  I see now.  You are horrified.  Have I said anything dreadful?” she asked, turning to San Miniato.

“Anything dreadful?  What an idea!  Really, Marchesa carissima, I was just beginning to explain to Donna Beatrice what charm is, when you cut me short.  I implore you to let me go on with my explanation.”

“On condition that Beatrice makes no comments.  Give me a cigarette, Teresina.”

“The congregation will not interrupt the preacher before the benediction,” said Beatrice folding her small hands on her knee, and looking down with a devout expression.

“Charm,” began San Miniato, “is the something which some women possess, and which holds the men who love them ­”

“Only those who love them?” interrupted Beatrice, looking up quickly.

“I thought,” said the Marchesa, “that you were not to give us any comments.”  She dropped the words one or two at a time between the puffs of her cigarette.

“A question is not a comment, mamma.  I ask for instruction.”

“Go on, dearest friend,” said her mother to the Count.  “She is incorrigible.”

“On the contrary, Donna Beatrice fills my empty head with ideas.  The question was to the point.  All men feel the charm of such women as all men smell the orange blossoms here in May ­”

“The language of flowers again!” laughed Beatrice.

“You are so like a flower,” answered San Miniato softly.

“Am I?” She laughed again, then grew grave and looked away.

Ruggiero’s hand shook on the heavy tiller, and San Miniato, who supposed he was steering all the time, turned suddenly.

“What is the matter?” he asked.

“The rudder is draking, Excellency,” answered Ruggiero.

“And what does that mean?” asked Beatrice.

“It means that the rudder trembles as the boat rises and falls with each sea, when there is a good breeze,” answered Ruggiero.

“Is there any danger?” asked Beatrice indifferently.

“What danger could there be, Excellency?” asked the sailor.

“Because you are so pale, Ruggiero.  What is the matter with you, to-day?”

“Nothing, Excellency.”

“Ruggiero is in love,” laughed San Miniato.  “Is it not true, Ruggiero?”

But the sailor did not answer, though the hot blood came quickly to his face and stayed there a moment and then sank away again.  He looked steadily at the dancing waves to windward, and set his lips tightly together.

“I would like to ask that sailor what he thinks of love and charm, and all the rest of it,” said Beatrice.  “His ideas would be interesting.”

Ruggiero’s blue eyes turned slowly upon her, with an odd expression.  Then he looked away again.

“I will ask him,” said San Miniato in a low voice.  “Ruggiero!”


“We want to know what you think about love.  What is the best quality a woman can have?”

“To be honest,” answered Ruggiero promptly.

“And after that, what next?”

“To be beautiful.”

“And then rich, I suppose?”

“It would be enough if she did not waste money.”

“Honest, beautiful, and economical!” exclaimed Beatrice.  “He does not say anything about charm, you see.  I think his description is extremely good and to the point.  Bravo, Ruggiero!”

His eyes met hers and gleamed rather fiercely for an instant.

“And how about charm, Ruggiero?” asked Beatrice mischievously.

“I do not speak French, Excellency,” he answered.

“You should learn, because charm is a word one cannot say in Italian.  I do not know how to say it in our language.”

“Let me talk about flowers to him,” said San Miniato.  “I will make him understand.  Which do you like better, Ruggiero, camélias or violets?”

“The camelia is a more lordly flower, Excellency, but for me I like the violets.”


“Who knows?  They make one think of so many things, Excellency.  One would tire of camélias, but one would never be tired of violets.  They have something ­who knows?”

“That is it, Ruggiero,” said San Miniato, delighted with the result of his experiment.  “And charm is the same thing in a woman.  One is never tired of it, and yet it is not honesty, nor beauty, nor economy.”

“I understand, Excellency ­e la femmina ­it is the womanly.”

“Bravo, Ruggiero!” exclaimed Beatrice again.  “You are a man of heart.  And if you found a woman who was honest and beautiful and economical and ‘femmina,’ as you say, would you love her?”

“Yes, Excellency, very much,” answered Ruggiero.  But his voice almost failed him.

“How much?  Tell us.”

Ruggiero was silent a moment.  Then his eyes flashed suddenly as he looked down at her and his voice came ringing and strong.

“So much that I would pray that Christ and the sea would take her, rather than that another man should get her!  Per Dio!”

There was such a vibration of strong passion in the words that Beatrice started a little and San Miniato looked up in surprise.  Even the Marchesa vouchsafed the sailor a glance of indolent curiosity.  Beatrice bent over to the Count and spoke in a low tone and in French.

“We must not tease him any more.  He is in love and very much in earnest.”

“So am I,” answered San Miniato with a half successful attempt to seem emotional, which might have done well enough if it had not come after Ruggiero’s heartfelt speech.

“You!” laughed Beatrice.  “You are never really in earnest.  You only think you are, and that pleases you as well.”

San Miniato bit his lip, for he was not pleased.  Her answer augured ill for the success of the plan he meant to put into execution that very evening.  He felt strongly incensed against Ruggiero, too, without in the least understanding the reason.

“You will find out some day, Donna Beatrice, that those who are most in earnest are not those who make the most passionate speeches.”

“Ah!  Is that true?  How strange!  I should have supposed that if a man said nothing it was because he had nothing to say.  But you have such novel theories!”

“Is this discussion never to end?” asked the Marchesa, wearily lifting her hand as though in protest, and letting it fall again beside the other.

“It has only just begun, mamma,” answered Beatrice cheerfully.  “When San Miniato jumps into the sea and drowns himself in despair, you will know that the discussion is over.”

“Beatrice!  My child!  What language!”

“Italian, mamma carissima.  Italian with a little Sicilian, such as we speak.”

“I am at your service, Donna Beatrice,” said the Count.  “Would you like me to drown myself immediately, or are you inclined for a little more conversation?”

Ruggiero had now taken the helm altogether.  As San Miniato spoke he nodded to his brother who was forward, intimating that he meant to go about.  He was certainly not in his normal frame of mind, for he had an evil thought at that moment.  Fortunately for every one concerned the breeze was very light and was indeed dying away as the sun sank lower.  They were already nearing the southernmost point of Capri, commonly called by sailors the Monaco, for what reason no one knows.  To reach Tragara where the Faraglioni, or needles, rise out of the deep sea close to the rocky shore under the cliffs, it is necessary to go round the point.  There was soon hardly any breeze at all, so that Bastianello and the other men shipped half-a-dozen oars and began to row.  The operation of going about involved a change of places in so small a boat and the slight confusion had interrupted the conversation.  A long silence followed, broken at last by the Marchesa’s voice.

“A cigarette, Teresina, and some more lemonade.  Are you still there, San Miniato carissimo?  As I heard no more conversation I supposed you had drowned yourself as you proposed to do.”

“Donna Beatrice is so kind as to put off the execution until after dinner.”

“And shall we ever reach this dreadful place, and ever really dine?” asked the Marchesa.

“Before sunset,” answered San Miniato.  “And we shall dine at our usual hour.”

“At least it will not be so hot as in the hotel, and after all it has not been very fatiguing.”

“No,” said the Count, “I fail to see how your exertions can have tired you much.”

Ruggiero looked down at his master and at the fine lady as she lay listlessly extended in her cane chair, and he felt that in his heart he hated them both as much as he loved Beatrice, which was saying much.  But he wondered how it was that less than half an hour earlier he had been ready to upset the boat and drown every one in it indiscriminately.  Nevertheless he believed that if there had been a stiff breeze just then, enough for his purpose, he would have stopped the boat’s way, and then put the helm hard up again, without slacking out a single sheet, and he knew the little craft well enough to be sure of what would have happened.  Murderous intentions enough, as he thought of it all now, in the calm water under the great cliff from which tradition says that Tiberius shot delinquents into space from a catapult.

The men pulled hard by the lonely rocks, for the sun had almost set and they knew how sharp the stones are at Tragara, when one must tread them barefoot and burdened with hampers and kettles and all the paraphernalia of a picnic.

Then the light grew rich and deep, and the sea swallows shot from the misty heights, like arrows, into the calm purple air below, and skimmed and wheeled, and rose again, startled by the splash of the oars and the dull knock of them as they swung in the tholes.  And the water was like a mirror in which all manner of rare and lovely things are reflected, with blots of liquid gold and sheen of soft-hued damask, and great handfuls of pearls and opals strewn between, and roses and petals of many kinds of flowers without names.  And the air was full of the faint, salt odours that haunt the lonely places of the sea, sweet and bitter at once as the last days of a young life fading fast.  Then the great needles rose gigantic from the depths to heaven, and beyond, through the mysterious, shadowy arch that pierces one of them, was opened the glorious vision of a distant cloud-lit water, and a single dark sail far away stood still, as it were, on the very edge of the world.

Beatrice leaned back and gazed at the scene, and her delicate nostrils expanded as she breathed.  There was less colour in her face than there had been, and the long lashes half veiled her eyes.  San Miniato watched her narrowly.

“How beautiful!  How beautiful!” she exclaimed twice, after a long silence.

“It will be more beautiful still when the moon rises,” said San Miniato.  “I am glad you are pleased.”

She liked the simple words better, perhaps, than some of his rather artificial speeches.

“Thank you,” she said.  “Thank you for bringing us here.”

He had certainly taken a great deal of trouble, she thought, and it was the least she could do, to thank him as she did.  But she was really grateful and for a moment she felt a sort of sympathy for him which she had not felt before.  He, at least, understood that one could like something better in the world than the eternal terrace of a hotel with its stiff orange trees, its ugly lanterns and its everlasting gossip and chatter.  He, at least, was a little unlike all those other people, beginning with her own mother, who think of self first, comfort second, and of others once a month or so, in the most favourable cases.  Yet she wondered a little about his past life, and whether he had ever spoken to any woman with that ringing passion she had heard in Ruggiero’s voice, with that flashing look she had seen in the sailor’s bright blue eyes.  It would be good to be spoken to like that.  It would be good to see the colour in a man’s face change, and come and go, red and white like life and death.  It would be supremely good to be loved once, madly, passionately, with body, heart and soul, to the very breaking of all three ­to be held in strong arms, to be kissed half to death.

She stopped, conscious that her mother would certainly not approve such thoughts, and well aware in her girlish heart that she did not approve them in herself.  And then she smiled faintly.  The man of her waking vision was not like San Miniato.  He was more like Ruggiero, the poor sailor, who sat perched on the stern close behind her.  She smiled uneasily at the idea, and then she thought seriously of it for a moment.  If such a man as Ruggiero appeared, not as a sailor, but as a man of her own world, would he not be a very lovable person, would he not turn the heads of the languid ladies on the terrace of the hotel at Sorrento?  The thought annoyed her.  Ruggiero, poor fellow, would have given his good right arm to know that such a possibility had even crossed her reflections.  But it was not probable that he ever would know it, and he sat in his place, silent and unmoved, steering the boat to her destination, and thinking of her.

It was not dusk when the boat was alongside of the low jagged rocks which lie between the landward needle and the cliffs, making a sort of rough platform in which there are here and there smooth flat places worn by the waves and often full of dry salt for a day or two after a storm.  There, to the Marchesa’s inexpressible relief, the numberless objects inscribed in the catalogue of her comforts were already arranged, and she suffered herself to be lifted from the boat and carried ashore by Ruggiero and his brother, without once murmuring or complaining of fatigue ­a truly wonderful triumph for San Miniato’s generalship.

There was the table, the screen, and the lamp, the chairs and the carpet ­all the necessary furniture for the Marchesa’s dining-room.  And there at her place stood an immaculate individual in an evening coat and a white tie, ready and anxious to do her bidding.  She surveyed the preparations with more satisfaction than she generally showed at anything.  Then all at once her face fell.

“Good heavens, San Miniato carissimo,” she cried, “you have forgotten the red pepper!  It is all over!  I shall eat nothing!  I shall die in this place!”

“Pardon me, dearest Marchesa, I know your tastes.  There is red pepper and also Tabasco on the table.  Observe ­here and here.”

The Marchesa’s brow cleared.

“Forgive me, dear friend,” she said.  “I am so dependent on these little things!  You are an angel, a general and a man of heart.”

“The man of your heart, I hope you mean to say,” answered San Miniato, looking at Beatrice.

“Of course ­anything you like ­you are delightful.  But I am dropping with fatigue.  Let me sit down.”

“You have forgotten nothing ­not even the moon you promised me,” said Beatrice, gazing with clasped hands at the great yellow shield as it slowly rose above the far south-eastern hills.

“I will never forget anything you ask me, Donna Beatrice,” replied San Miniato in a low voice.  Something told him that in the face of all nature’s beauty, he must speak very simply, and he was right.

There is but one moment in the revolution of day and night which is more beautiful than the rising of the full moon at sunset, and that is the dawn on the water when the full moon is going down.  To see the gathering dusk drink down the purple wine that dyes the air, the sea and the light clouds, until it is almost dark, and then to feel the darkness growing light again with the warm, yellow moon ­to watch the jewels gathering on the velvet sea, and the sharp black cliffs turning to chiselled silver above you ­to know that the whole night is to be but a softer day ­to see how the love of the sun for the earth is one, and the love of the moon another ­that is a moment for which one may give much and not be disappointed.

Beatrice Granmichele saw and felt what she had never seen or felt before, and the magic of Tragara held sway over her, as it does over the few who see it as she saw it.  She turned slowly and glanced at San Miniato’s face.  The moonlight improved it, she thought.  There seemed to be more vigour in the well-drawn lines, more strength in the forehead than she had noticed until now.  She felt that she was in sympathy with him, and that the sympathy might be a lasting one.  Then she turned quite round and faced the commonplace lamp with its pink shade, which stood on the dinner-table, and she experienced a disagreeable sensation.  The Marchesa was slowly fanning herself, already seated at her place.

“If you are human beings, and not astronomers,” she said, “we might perhaps dine.”

“I am very human, for my part,” said San Miniato, holding Beatrice’s chair for her to sit down.

“There was really no use for the lamp, mamma,” she said, turning again to look at the moon.  “You see what an illumination we have!  San Miniato has provided us with something better than a lamp.”

“San Miniato, my dear child, is a man of the highest genius.  I always said so.  But if you begin to talk of eating without a lamp, you may as well talk of abolishing civilisation.”

“I wish we could!” exclaimed Beatrice.

“And so do I, with all my heart,” said San Miniato.

“Including baccarat and quinze?” enquired the Marchesa, lazily picking out the most delicate morsels from the cold fish on her plate.

“Including baccarat, quinze, the world, the flesh and the devil,” said San Miniato.

“Pray remember, dearest friend, that Beatrice is at the table,” observed the Marchesa, with indolent reproach in her voice.

“I do,” replied San Miniato.  “It is precisely for her sake that I would like to do away with the things I have named.”

“You might just leave a little of each for Sundays!” suggested the young girl.

“Beatrice!” exclaimed her mother.