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“I thought I was never to see you again,” observed the Marchesa, as Beatrice and San Miniato came to her side.

“Judging from your calm, you were bearing the separation with admirable fortitude,” answered the Count.

“Dearest friend, one has to bear so much in this life!”

Beatrice stood beside the table, resting one hand upon it and looking back towards the place where she had been sitting.  San Miniato took the Marchesa’s hand and raised it to his lips, pressed it a little and then nodded slowly, with a significant look.  The Marchesa’s sleepy eyes opened suddenly with an expression of startled satisfaction, and she returned the pressure of the fingers with more energy than San Miniato had suspected.  She was evidently very much pleased.  Perhaps the greatest satisfaction of all was the certainty that she was to have no more trouble in the matter, since it had been undertaken, negotiated and settled by the principals between them.  Then she raised her eyebrows and moved her head a little as though to inquire what had taken place, but San Miniato made her understand by a sign that he could not speak before Beatrice.

“Beatrice, my angel,” said the Marchesa, with more than usual sweetness, “you have sat so long upon that rock that you have almost reconciled me to Tragara.  Do you not think that you could go back and sit there five minutes longer?”

Beatrice glanced quickly at her mother and then at San Miniato and turned away without a word, leaving the two together.

“And now, San Miniato carissimo,” said the Marchesa, “sit down beside me on that chair, and tell me what has happened, though I think I already understand.  You have spoken to Beatrice?”

“I have spoken ­yes ­and the result is favourable.  I am the happiest of men.”

“Do you mean to say that she answered you at once?” asked the Marchesa, affecting, as usual, to be scandalised.

“She answered me ­yes, dear Marchesa ­she told me that she loved me.  It only remains for me to claim the maternal blessing which you so generously promised in advance.”

Somehow it was a relief to him to return to the rather stiff and over-formal phraseology which he always used on important occasions when speaking to her, and which, as he well knew, flattered her desire to be thought a very great lady.

“As for my blessing, you shall have it, and at once.  But indeed, I am most curious to know exactly what she said, and what you said ­I, who am never curious about anything!”

“Two words tell the story.  I told her I loved her and she answered that she loved me.”

“Dearest friend, how long it took you to say those two words!  You must have hesitated a good deal.”

“To tell the truth, there was more said than that.  I will not deny the grave imputation.  I spoke of my past life ­”

Dio mio!  To my daughter!  How could you ­” The Marchesa raised her hands and let them fall again.

“But why not?” asked San Miniato, suppressing a smile.  “Have I been such an impossibly bad man that the very mention of my past must shock a young girl ­whom I love?” In the last words he found an opportunity to practise the expression of a little passion, and took advantage of it, well knowing that it would be useful in the immediate future.

“I never said that!” protested the Marchesa.  “But we all know something about you, dear Don Juan!”

“Calumnies, nothing but calumnies!”

“But such pretty calumnies ­you might almost accept them.  I should think none the worse of you if they were all true.”

“You are charming, dearest Marchesa.  I kiss your generous hand!  As a matter of fact, I only told Donna Beatrice ­may I call her Beatrice to you now, as I have long called her in my heart?  I only told her that I had been unhappy, that I had loved twice ­once a woman who is dead, once another who has long ago forgotten me.  That was all.  Was it so very bad?  Her heart was softened ­she is so gentle!  And then I told her that a greater and stronger passion than those now filled my present life, and last of all I told her that I loved her.”

“And she returned the compliment immediately?” asked the Marchesa, slowly selecting a sugared chestnut from the plate beside her, turning it round, examining it and at last putting it into her mouth.

“How lightly you speak of what concerns life and death!” sighed San Miniato.  “No ­Beatrice did not answer immediately.  I said much more ­far more than I can remember.  How can you ask me to repeat word for word the unpremeditated outpourings of a happy passion?  The flood has swept by, leaving deep traces ­but who can remember where the eddies and rapids were?”

“You are very poetical, caro mio.  Your language delights me ­it is the language of the heart.  Pray give me one of those little cigarettes you smoke.  Yes ­and a light ­and now the least drop of champagne.  I will drink your health.”

“And I both yours and Beatrice’s,” answered San Miniato, filling his own glass.

“You may put Beatrice first, since she is yours.”

“But without you there would be no Beatrice, gentilissima,” said the Count gallantly, when he had emptied his glass.

“That is true, and pretty besides.  And so,” continued the Marchesa in a tone of languid reflection, “you have actually been making love to my daughter, beyond my hearing, alone on the rocks ­and I gave you my permission, and now you are engaged to be married!  It is too extraordinary to be believed.  That was not the way I was married.  There was more formality in those days.”

Indeed, she could not imagine the deceased Granmichele throwing himself upon his knees at her feet, even upon the softest of carpets.

“Then I thank the fates that those days are over!” returned San Miniato.

“Perhaps I should, too.  I am not sure that the conclusion would have been so satisfactory, if I had undertaken to persuade Beatrice.  She is headstrong and capricious, and so painfully energetic!  Every discussion with her shortens my life by a year.”

“She is an angel in her caprice,” answered the Count with conviction.  “Indeed, much of her charm lies in her changing moods.”

“If she is an angel, what am I?” asked the Marchesa.  “Such a contrast!”

“She is the angel of motion ­you are the angel of repose.”

“You are delightful to-night.”

While this conversation was taking place, Beatrice had wandered away over the rocks alone, not heeding the unevenness of the stones and taking little notice of the direction of her walk.  She only knew that she would not go back to the place where she had sat, not for all the world.  A change had taken place already and she was angry with herself for what she had done in all sincerity.

She was hurt and her first illusion had suffered a grave shock almost at the moment of its birth.  She asked herself how it could be possible, if San Miniato loved her as he had said he did, that he should not feel as she felt and understand love as she did ­as something secret and sacred, to be kept from other eyes.  Her instinct told her easily enough that San Miniato was at that very moment telling her mother all that had taken place, and she bitterly resented the thought.  It would surely have been enough, if he had waited until the following day and then formally asked her hand of the Marchesa.  It would have been better, more natural in every way, just now when they had gone up to the table, if he had said simply that they loved one another and had asked her mother’s blessing.  Anything rather than to feel that he was coolly describing the details of the first love scene in her life ­the thousandth, perhaps, in his own.

After all, did she love him?  Did he really love her?  His passionate manner when he had seized her hand had moved her strangely, and she had listened with a sort of girlish wonder to his declarations of devotion afterwards.  But now, in the, calm moonlight and quite alone, she could hear Ruggiero’s deep strong voice in her ears, and the few manly words he had uttered.  There was not much in them in the way of eloquence ­a sailor’s picturesque phrase ­she had heard something like it before.  But there had been strength, and the power to do, and the will to act in every intonation of his speech.  She remembered every word San Miniato had spoken, far better than he would remember it himself in a day or two, and she was ready to analyse and criticise now what had charmed and pleased her a moment earlier.  Why was he going over it all to her mother, like a lesson learnt and repeated?  She was so glad to be alone ­she would have been so glad to think alone of what she had taken for the most delicious moment of her young life.  If he were really in earnest, he would feel as she did and would have said at once that it was late and time to be going home ­he would have invented any excuse to escape the interview which her mother would try to force upon him.  Could it be love that he felt?  And if not, as her heart told her it was not, what was his object in playing such a comedy?  She knew well enough, from Teresina, that many a young Neapolitan nobleman would have given his title for her fortune, but Teresina, perhaps for reasons of her own, never dared to cast such an aspersion upon San Miniato, even in the intimate conversation which sometimes takes place between an Italian lady and her maid ­and, indeed, if the truth be told, between maids and their mistresses in most parts of the world.

But the doubt thrust itself forward now.  Beatrice was quick to doubt at all times.  She was also capricious and changeable about matters which did not affect her deeply, and those that did were few enough.  It was certainly possible that San Miniato, after all, only wanted her money and that her mother was willing to give it in return for a great name and a great position.  She felt that if the case had been stated to her from the first in its true light she might have accepted the situation without illusion, but without disgust.  Everybody, her mother said, was married by arrangement, some for one advantage, some for the sake of another.  After all, San Miniato was better than most of the rest.  There was a certain superiority about him which she would like to see in her husband, a certain simple elegance, a certain outward dignity, which pleased her.  But when her mother had spoken in her languid way of the marriage, Beatrice had resented the denial of her free will, and had answered that she would please herself or not marry at all.  The Marchesa, far too lacking in energy to sustain such a contest, had contented herself with her favourite expression of horror at her daughter’s unfilial conduct.  Now, however, Beatrice felt that if it had all been arranged for her, she would have been satisfied, but that since San Miniato had played something very like a comedy, she would refuse to be duped by it.  She was very bitter against him in the first revulsion of feeling and treated him more hardly in her thoughts than he, perhaps, deserved.

And there he was, up there by the table, telling her mother of his success.  Her blood rose in her cheeks at the thought and she stamped her foot upon the rock out of sheer anger at herself, at him, at everything and everybody.  Then she moved on.

Ruggiero was standing at the edge of the water looking out to sea.  The moonlight silvered his white face and fair beard and accentuated the sharp black line where his sailor’s cap crossed his forehead.  Wild and angry emotions chased each other from his heart to his brain and back again, firing his overwrought nerves and heated blood, as the flame runs along a train of powder.  He heard a light step behind him and turned suddenly.  Beatrice was close upon him.

“Is that you, Ruggiero,” she asked, for she had seen him with his back turned and had not recognised him at first.

“Yes, Excellency,” he answered in a hoarse voice, touching his cap.

“What a beautiful night it is!” said the young girl.  She often talked with the men in the boat, and Ruggiero interested her especially at the present moment.

“Yes, Excellency,” he answered again.

“Is the weather to be fine, Ruggiero?”

“Yes, Excellency.”

Ruggiero was apparently not in the conversational mood.  He was probably thinking of the girl he loved ­in all likelihood of Teresina, as Beatrice thought.  She stood still a couple of paces from him and looked at the sea.  She felt a capricious desire to make the big sailor talk and tell her something about himself.  It would be sure to be interesting and honest and strong, a contrast, as she fancied, to the things she had just heard.

“Ruggiero –­” she began, and then she stopped and hesitated.

“Yes, Excellency.”

The continual repetition of the two words irritated her.  She tried to frame a question to which he could not give the same answer.

“I would like you to tell me who it is whom you love so dearly ­is she good and beautiful and sensible, too, as you said?”

“She is all that, Excellency.”  His voice shook, not as it seemed to her with weakness, but with strength.

“Tell me her name.”

Ruggiero was silent for some moments, and his head was bent forward.  He seemed to be breathing hard and not able to speak.

“Her name is Beatrice,” he said at last, in a low, firm tone as though he were making a great effort.

“Really!” exclaimed the young girl.  “That is my name, too.  I suppose that is why you did not want to tell me.  But you must not be afraid of me, Ruggiero.  If there is anything I can do to help you, I will do it.  Is it money you need?  I will give you some.”

“It is not money.”

“What is it, then?”

“Love ­and a miracle.”

His answers came lower and lower, and he looked at the ground, suffering as he had never suffered and yet indescribably happy in speaking with her, and in seeing the interest she felt in him.  But his brain was beginning to reel.  He did not know what he might say next.

“Love and a miracle!” repeated Beatrice in her silvery voice.  “Those are two things which I cannot get for you.  You must pray to the saints for the one and to her for the other.  Does she not love you at all then?”

“She will never love me.  I know it.”

“And that would be the miracle ­if she ever should?  Such miracles have been done by men themselves without the help of the saints, before now.”

Ruggiero looked up sharply and he felt his hands shaking.  He thought she was speaking of what had just happened, of which he had been a witness.

“Such miracles as that may happen ­but they are the devil’s miracles.”

Beatrice was silent for a moment.  She was indeed inclined to believe in a special intervention of the powers of evil in her own case.  Had she not been suddenly moved to tell a man that she loved him, only to discover a moment later that it was a mistake?

“What is the miracle you pray for, Ruggiero?” she asked after a pause.

“To be changed into some one else, Excellency.”

“And then ­would she love you?”

“By Our Lady’s grace ­perhaps!” The deep voice shook again.  He set his teeth, folded his arms over his throbbing breast, and planted one foot firmly on a stone before him, as though to await a blow.

“I am very sorry for you, Ruggiero,” said Beatrice in soft, kind tones.

“God render you your kindness ­it is better than nothing,” he answered.

“Is she sorry for you, too?  She should be ­you love her so much.”

“Yes ­she is sorry for me.  She has just said so.”  He raised his clenched hand to his mouth almost before the words were uttered.  Beatrice did not see the few bright red drops that fell upon the rock as he gnawed the flesh.

“Just said so?” she said, repeating his words.  “I do not understand?  Is she here to-night?”

He did not answer, but slowly bent his head, as though in assent.  An odd foreboding of danger shot through the young girl’s heart.  Little as the man said, he seemed desperate.  It was possible that the girl he loved might be a Capriote, and that he might have met her and talked with her while the dinner was going on.  He might have strangled her with those great hands of his.  She would not have uttered a cry, and no one would be the wiser, for Tragara is a lonely place, by day and night.

“She is here, you say?” Beatrice asked again.  “Where is she?  Ruggiero, what is the matter?  Have you done her any harm?  Have you hurt her?  Have you killed her?”

“Not yet –­”

“Not yet!” Beatrice cried, in a low horror-struck tone.  She had heard his sharp, agonised breathing as he reeled unsteadily against the rock behind him.  She was a rarely courageous girl.  Instead of shrinking she made a step forward and took him firmly by the arm.

“What have you done, Ruggiero?” she asked sternly.

He felt that she was accusing him.  His face grew ashy white, and grave ­almost grand, she thought afterwards, for she remembered long the look he wore.  His answer came slowly in deep, vibrating tones.

“I have done nothing ­but love her.”

“Show her to me ­take me to her,” said Beatrice, still dreading some horrible deed, she scarcely knew why.

“She is here.”


“Here! ­Ah, Christ.”

His great hands went out madly as though to take her, then tenderly touched the loose sleeves she wore, then fell, as though lifeless, to his sides again.

Beatrice passed her hand over her eyes and drew back quickly a step.  She was startled and angered, but not frightened.  It was almost the repetition of the waking dream that had flitted through her brain before she had landed.  She had heard the grand ring of passionate love this once at least ­and how?  In the voice of a common sailor ­out of the heart of an ignorant fellow who could neither read nor write, nor speak his own language, a churl, a peasant’s son, a labourer ­but a man, at least.  That was it ­a strong, honest, fearless man.  That was why it all moved her so ­that was why it was not an insult that this low-born fellow should dare to tell her he loved her.  She opened her lids again and saw his great figure leaning back against the rock, his white face turned upward, his eyes half closed.  She went near to him again.  Instantly, he made an effort and stood upright.  Her instinct told her that he wanted neither pity nor forgiveness nor comfort.

“You are a brave, strong man, Ruggiero; I will always pray that you may love some one who will love you again ­since you can love so well.”

The unspoiled girl’s nature had found the right expression, and the only one.  Ruggiero looked at her one moment, stooped and touched the hem of her white frock with two fingers and then pressed them silently to his lips.  Who knows from what far age that outward act of submission and vassalage has been handed down in southern lands?  There it is to this day, rarely seen, but still surviving and still known to all.

Then Ruggiero turned away and went up the sloping rocks again, and Beatrice stood still for a moment, watching his tall, retreating figure.  She meant to go, too, but she lingered a while, knowing that if ever she came back to Tragara, this would be the spot where she would pause and recall a memory, and not that other, where she had sat while San Miniato played out his wretched little comedy.

It all rushed across her mind again, bringing a new sense of disgust and repulsion with it, and a new blush of shame and anger at having been so deceived.  There was no doubt now.  The contrast had been too great, too wide, too evident.  It was the difference between truth and hearsay, as San Miniato had said once that night.  There was no mistaking the one for the other.

Poor Ruggiero! that was why he was growing pale and thin.  That was why his arm trembled when he helped her into the boat.  She leaned against the rock and wondered what it all meant, whether there were really any justice in heaven or any happiness on earth.  But she would not marry San Miniato, now, for she had given no promise.  If she had done so, she would not have broken it ­in that, at least, she was like other girls of her age and class.  Next to evils of which she knew nothing, the breaking of a promise of marriage was the greatest and most unpardonable of sins, no matter what the circumstances might be.  But she was sure that she had not promised anything.

At that moment in her meditations she heard the tread of a man’s heel on the rocks.  The sailors were all barefoot, and she knew it must be San Miniato.  Unwilling to be alone with him even for a minute, she sprang lightly forward to meet him as he came.  He held out his hand to help her, but she refused it by a gesture and hurried on.

“I have been speaking with your mother,” he said, trying to take advantage of the thirty or forty yards that still remained to be traversed.

“So I suppose, as I left you together,” she answered in a hard voice.  “I have been talking to Ruggiero.”

“Has anything displeased you, Beatrice?” asked San Miniato, surprised by her manner.

“No.  Why do you call me Beatrice?” Her tone was colder than ever.

“I suppose I might be permitted ­”

“You are not.”

San Miniato looked at her in amazement, but they were already within earshot of the Marchesa, who had not moved from her long chair, and he did not risk anything more, not knowing what sort of answer he might get.  But he was no novice, and as soon as he thought over the situation he remembered others similar to it in his experience, and he understood well enough that a sensitive young girl might feel ashamed of having shown too much feeling, or might have taken offence at some detail in his conduct which had entirely escaped his own notice.  Young and vivacious women are peculiarly subject to this sort of sensitiveness, as he was well aware.  There was nothing to be done but to be quiet, attentive in small things, and to wait for fair weather again.  After all, he had crossed the Rubicon, and had been very well received on the other side.  It would not be easy to make him go back again.

“My angel,” said the Marchesa, throwing away the end of her cigarette, “you have caught cold.  We must go home immediately.”

“Yes, mamma.”

With all her languor and laziness and selfishness, the Marchesa was not devoid of tact, least of all where her own ends were concerned, and when she took the trouble to have any object in life at all.  She saw in her daughter’s face that something had annoyed her, and she at once determined that no reference should be made to the great business of the moment, and that it would be best to end the evening in general conversation, leaving San Miniato no further opportunity of being alone with Beatrice.  She guessed well enough that the girl was not really in love, but had yielded in a measure to the man’s practised skill in love-making, but she was really anxious that the result should be permanent.

Beatrice was grateful to her for putting an end to the situation.  The young girl was pale and her bright eyes had suddenly grown tired and heavy.  She sat down beside her mother and shaded her brow against the lamp with her hand, while San Miniato went to give orders about returning.

“My dear child,” said the Marchesa, “I am converted; it has been a delightful excursion; we have had an excellent dinner, and I am not at all tired.  I am sure you have given yourself quite as much trouble about it as San Miniato.”

Beatrice laughed nervously.

“There were a good many things to remember,” she said, “but I wish there had been twice as many ­it was so amusing to make out the list of all your little wants.”

“What a good daughter you are to me, my angel,” sighed the Marchesa.

It was not often that she showed so much, affection.  Possibly she was rarely conscious of loving her child very much, and on the present occasion the emotion was not so overpowering as to have forced her to the expression of it, had she not seen the necessity for humouring the girl and restoring her normal good temper.  On the whole, a very good understanding existed between the two, of such a nature that it would have been hard to destroy it.  For it was impossible to quarrel with the Marchesa, for the simple reason that she never attempted to oppose her daughter, and rarely tried to oppose any one else.  She was quite insensible to Beatrice’s occasional reproaches concerning her indolence, and Beatrice had so much sense, in spite of her small caprices and whims, that it was always safe to let her have her own way.  The consequence was that difficulties rarely arose between the two.

Beatrice smiled carelessly at the affectionate speech.  She knew its exact value, but was not inclined to depreciate it in her own estimation.  Just then she would rather have been left alone with her mother than with any one else, unless she could be left quite to herself.

“You are always very good to me, mamma,” she answered; “you let me have my own way, and that is what I like best.”

“Let you have it, carissima!  You take it.  But I am quite satisfied.”

“After all, it saves you trouble,” laughed Beatrice.

Just then San Miniato came back and was greatly relieved to see that Beatrice’s usual expression had returned, and to hear her careless, tuneful laughter.  In an incredibly short space of time the boat was ready, the Marchesa was lifted in her chair and carried to it, and all the party were aboard.  The second boat, with its crew, was left to bring home the paraphernalia, and Ruggiero cast off the mooring and jumped upon the stern, as the men forward dipped their oars and began to pull out of the little sheltered bay.

There he sat again, perched in his old place behind his master, the latter’s head close to his knee, holding the brass tiller in his hand.  It would be hard to say what he felt, but it was not what he had felt before.  It was all a dream, now, the past, the present and the future.  He had told Beatrice ­Donna Beatrice Granmichele, the fine lady ­that he loved her, and she had not laughed in his face, nor insulted him, nor cried out for help.  She had told him that he was brave and strong.  Yet he knew that he had put forth all his strength and summoned all his courage in the great effort to be silent, and had failed.  But that mattered little.  He had got a hundred, a thousand times more kindness than he would have dared to hope for, if he had ever dared to think of saying what he had really said.  He had been forced to what he had done, as a strong man is forced struggling against odds to the brink of a precipice, and he had found not death, but a strange new strength to live.  He had not found Heaven, but he had touched the gates of Paradise and heard the sweet clear voice of the angel within.  It was well for him that his hand had not been raised that afternoon to deal the one blow that would have decided his life.  It was well that it was the summer time and that when he had put the helm down to go about there had been no white squall seething along with its wake of snowy foam from a quarter of a mile to windward.  It would have been all over now and those great moments down there by the rocks would never have been lived.

“Through the arch, Ruggiero,” said San Miniato to him as the boat cleared the rocks of the landward needle.

“Let us go home,” said Beatrice, with a little impatience in her voice.  “I am so tired.”

Would she be tired of such a night if she loved the man beside her?  Ruggiero thought not, any more than he would ever be weary of being near her to steer the boat that bore her ­even for ever.

“It is so beautiful,” said San Miniato.

Beatrice said nothing, but made an impatient movement that betrayed that she was displeased.

“Home, Ruggiero,” said San Miniato’s voice.

“Make sail!” Ruggiero called out, he himself hauling out the mizzen.  A minute later the sails filled and the boat sped out over the smooth water, white-winged as a sea-bird under the great summer moon.