Read CHAPTER IV - FREYA of Mare Nostrum (Our Sea) A Novel, free online book, by Vicente Blasco Ibanez, on ReadCentral.com.

The name of Ulysses Ferragut began to be famous among the captains of the Spanish ports, although the nautical adventures of his early days contributed very little to this popularity.  The most of them had encountered greater dangers, but they appreciated him because of the instinctive respect that energetic and simple men have for an intelligence which they consider superior to their own.  Reading nothing except what pertained to their career, they used to speak with consternation of the numerous books that filled Ferragut’s stateroom, many of them upon matters which appeared to them most mysterious.  Some even made inexact statements in order to enlarge the prestige of their comrade.

“He knows much....  He is a lawyer as well as a sailor.”

Consideration of his fortune also contributed to the general appreciation.  He was an important share-holder of the company by which he was employed.  His companions loved to calculate with proud exaggeration the riches of his mother, piling it up into millions.

He met friends on every ship carrying the Spanish flag, whatever might be its home port or the nationality of its crews.

They all liked him: the Basque captains, economical in words, rude and sparing in affectionate discourse; the Asturian and Galician captains, self-confident and spendthrift in strange contrast to their sobriety and avaricious character when ashore; the Andalusian captains, reflecting in their witty talk white Cadiz and its luminous wines; the Valencian captains who talk of politics on the bridge, imagining that they are going to become the navy of a future republic; and the captains from Catalunia and Mallorca as thoroughly acquainted with business affairs as are their ship-owners.  Whenever necessity obliged them to defend their rights, they immediately thought of Ulysses.  Nobody could write as he could.

The old mates who had worked their way up from the lower ranks, men of the sea who had begun their career on coasting vessels and could only with great difficulty adjust their practical knowledge to the handling of books, used to speak of Ferragut with pride.

“They say that men of the sea are an uncultivated people....  Here they have Don Luis who is one of us.  They may ask him whatever they wish....  A real sage!”

The name of Ulysses always made them stammer.  They believed it a nickname, and not wishing to show any lack of respect, they had finally transformed it into “Don Luis.”  For some of them, Ferragut’s only defect was his good luck.  So far not a single boat of which he had had command had been lost.  And every sailor constantly on the sea ought to have at least one of these misfortunes in his history in order to be a real captain.  Only landlubbers never lose their boats.

When his mother died, Ulysses was very undecided about the future, not knowing whether to continue his sea life, or undertake something entirely different.  His relatives at Barcelona, merchants quick to understand and appraise a fortune, added up what the notary and his wife had left him and put with that what Labarta and the doctor had contributed, until it amounted to a million pesetas....  And was a man with as much money as that to go on living like a poor captain dependent upon wages to maintain his family!...

His cousin, Joaquin Blanes, proprietor of a factory for knit goods, urged him repeatedly to follow his example.  He ought to remain on shore and invest his capital in Catalan industry.  Ulysses belonged to this country both on his mother’s side and because he was born in the neighboring land of Valencia.  There was great need of men of fortune and energy to take part in the government.  Blanes was entering local politics with the enthusiasm of a middle-class man for novel adventure.

Cinta never said a word to influence her husband.  She was the daughter of a sailor and had accepted the life of a sailor’s wife.  Furthermore, she looked upon matrimony in the light of the old familiar traditions: the woman absolute mistress of the interior of the home, but trusting outside affairs to the will of the lord, the warrior, the head of the hearth, without permitting herself opinions or objections to their acts.

It was Ulysses, therefore, who decided to abandon the seafaring life.  Worked upon by the suggestions of his cousins, it needed only a little dispute with one of the directors of the shipping firm to make him hand in his resignation, and refuse to reconsider it, although urged by the protests and entreaties of the other stockholders.

In the first months of his existence ashore, he was amazed at the desperate immovability of everything.  The world was made up of revolting rigidity and solidity.  He felt almost nauseated at seeing all his possessions remain just where he left them, without the slightest fluctuation, or the least bit of casual caprice.

In the mornings upon opening his eyes, he at first experienced the sweet sensation of irresponsible liberty.  Nothing affected the fate of that house.  The lives of those that were sleeping on the other floors above and below him had not been entrusted to his vigilance....  But in a few days he began to feel that there was something lacking, something which had been one of the greatest satisfactions of his existence, the sensation of power, the enjoyment of command.

Two maids were now always hastening to him with a frightened air at the sound of his voice, or the ringing of his bell.  That was all that was left to him who had commanded dozens of men of such ugliness of temper that they struck terror to all beholders when they went ashore in the ports.  Nobody consulted him now, while on the sea everybody was seeking his counsel and many times had to interrupt his sleep.  The house could go on without his making the rounds daily from the cellars to the roof, overseeing even the slightest spigot.  The women who cleaned it in the mornings with their brooms were always obliging him to flee from his office.  He was not permitted to make any comment nor could he extend a gold-striped arm as when he used to scold the barefooted, bare-breasted deck-swabbers, insisting that the deck should be as clean as the saloon.  He felt himself belittled, laid to one side.  He thought of Hercules dressed as a woman and spinning wool.  His love of family life had made him renounce that of a powerful man.

Only the considerate treatment of his wife, who surrounded him with assiduous care as though wishing to compensate for their long separations, made the situation bearable.  Furthermore, his conscience was enjoying a certain satisfaction in being a land-father, taking much interest in the life of his son who was beginning to prepare to enter the institute, looking over his books, and aiding him in understanding the notes.

But even these pleasures were not of long duration.  The family gatherings in his home or at his relatives’ bored him unspeakably; so did the conversations with his cousins and nephews about profits and business deals, or about the defects of centralized tyranny.  According to them, all the calamities of heaven and earth were coming from Madrid.  The governor of the province was the “Consul of Spain.”

These merchants interrupted their criticisms only to listen in religious silence to Wagner’s music banged out on the piano by the girls of the family.  A friend with a tenor voice used to sing Lohengrin in Catalan.  Enthusiasm made the most excitable roar, “the hymn ... the hymn!” It was not possible to misunderstand.  For them there was only one hymn in existence, and in a trilling undertone they would accompany the liturgic music of Los Segadores (The Reapers). [The revolutionary song of Catalunia, originated by a band of reapers in the seventeenth century.]

Ulysses used to recall with homesickness his life as commander of a transatlantic liner, a wide, universal life of incessant and varied horizons, and cosmopolitan crowds.  He could see himself detained on deck by groups of elegant maidens who would beg him for new dances in the coming week.  His footsteps were surrounded with white fluttering skirts, veils that waved like colored clouds, laughter and trills, Spanish chatter that appeared set to music: all the frolicsome jargon of a cage of tropical birds.

Ex-presidents of the South American republics, generals or doctors who were going to Europe to rest, used to relate to him on the bridge, with Napoleonic gravity, the principal events in their history.  The business men starting out for America confided to him their stupendous plans: rivers turned from their courses, railroads built across the virgin forests, monstrous electric forces extracted from huge waterfalls varying in breadth, cities vomited from the desert in a few weeks, all the marvels of an adolescent world that desires to realize whatever its youthful imagination may conceive.  He was the demi-urge of this little floating world:  he disposed of joy and love as the spirit moved him.

In the scorching evenings around the equator, it was enough for him to give an order to rouse things and beings from their brutish drowsiness.  “Let the music begin, and refreshments be served.”  And in a few moments dancers would be revolving the whole length of the deck, and smiling lips and eyes would become brilliantly alight with illusion and desire.  Behind him, his praises were always being sounded.  The matrons found him very distinguished.  “It is plain to be seen that he is an exceptional person.”  Stewards and crew circulated exaggerated accounts of his riches and his studies.  Some young girls sailing for Europe with imaginations seething with romance were very much aghast to learn that the hero was married and had a son.  The solitary ladies stretched out on a chaise-longue, book in hand, upon seeing him would arrange the corolla of their petticoats, hiding their legs with so much precipitation that it always left them more uncovered; then fixing upon him a languishing glance, they would begin a dialogue always in the same way.

“How is it that any one so young as you has already become a captain?...”

Ah, the misery of it!...  He who had gallantly passed many years cruising from one extreme of the Atlantic to the other with a rich, gay, perfumed world, at times resisting feminine caprice through mere prudence, yielding at others with the secrecy of a discreet sailor, now found himself with no other admirers than the mediocre tribe of the Blanes, with no other hallucinations than those which his cousin the manufacturer might suggest, when waxing enthusiastic because the great apostles of politics were taking a certain interest in the captain.

Every morning, on awaking, his taste now received a rude shock.  The first thing that he contemplated was a room “without personality,” a dwelling that was not characteristic of him in any way, arranged by the maids with excessive cleanliness and a lack of logic that was constantly changing the situation of his things.

He recalled with longing his compact and well-ordered stateroom where there was not a piece of furniture that could escape his glance nor a drawer whose contents he did not know down to the slightest detail.  His body was accustomed to slip without embarrassment through the spaces of his cabin furnishings.  He had adapted himself to all incoming and outgoing angles just as the body of the mollusk adapts itself to the winding curves of its shells.  The cabin seemed formed by the secretions of his being.  It was a covering, a sheath, that went with him from one extreme of the ocean to the other, heating itself with the high temperature of the tropics, or becoming as cosy as an Esquimo hut on approaching the polar seas.

His love for it was somewhat like that which the friar has for his cell; but this cell was a secular one, and entering it after a tempestuous night on the bridge, or a trip ashore in most curious and foreign ports, he found it always the same, with his papers and books untouched on the table, his clothes hanging from their hooks, his photographs fixed on the walls.  The daily spectacle of seas and lands was always changing the temperature, the course of the stars, and the people that one week were bundled up in winter greatcoats, and were clad in white the week after, hunting the heavens for the new stars of another hemisphere....  Yet his cozy little stateroom was always the same, as though it were the corner of a planet apart, unaffected by the variations of this world.

Upon awaking in it, he found himself every morning enwrapped in a greenish and bland atmosphere as though he might have been sleeping in the bottom of an enchanted lake.  The sun traced over the whiteness of his ceiling and sheets a restless network of gold whose meshes constantly succeeded each other.  This was the reflection of the invisible water.  When his ship was immovable in the ports, there always came in through his window the whirling noise of the cranes, the cries of the stevedores and the voices of those who were in the neighboring vessels.  On the high sea the cool and murmuring silence of immensity used to fill his sleeping room.  A wind of infinite purity that came perhaps from the other side of the planet slipping past thousands of leagues, over the salty deserts without touching a single bit of corruption would come stealing into Ferragut’s throat like an effervescent wine.  His chest always expanded to the impulses of this life-giving draught as his eyes roved over the sparkling, luminous blue of the horizon.

Here in his home, the first thing that he saw through the window upon awaking was a Catalunian edifice, rich and monstrous, like the palaces that the hypnotist evolves in his dreams, an amalgamation of Persian flowers, Gothic columns, trunks of trees, with quadrupeds, reptiles and snails among the cement foliage.  The paving wafted up to him through its drains the fetidity of sewers dry for lack of water; the balconies shed the dust of shaken rugs; the absurd palace appropriated, with the insolence of the new-rich, all the heaven and sun that used to belong to Ferragut.

One night he surprised his relatives by informing them that he was about to return to the sea.  Cinta assented to this resolution in painful silence, as though she had foreseen it long before.  It was something inevitable and fatal that she must accept.  The manufacturer, Blanes, stammered with astonishment.  Return to his life of adventures, when the great gentlemen of the district were becoming interested in his personality!...  Perhaps in the next elections they might have made him a member of the municipal council!

Ferragut laughed at his cousin’s simplicity.  He wanted to command a vessel again, but one of his own, without being obliged to consider the restrictions of the ship owners.  He could permit himself this luxury.  It would be like an enormous yacht, ready to set forth according to his tastes and convenience, yet at the same time bringing him in untold profits.  Perhaps his son might in time become director of a maritime company, this first ship laying the foundation of an enormous fleet in the years to come.

He knew every port in the world, every highway of traffic, and he would be able to find the places where, lacking transportation facilities, they paid the highest freight rates.  Until now he had been a salaried man, brave and care-free.  He was going to begin an absolutely independent life as a speculator of the sea.

Two months afterwards he wrote from England saying that he had bought the Fingal, a mail packet of three thousand tons that had made trips twice a week between London and a port of Scotland.

Ulysses appeared highly delighted with the cheapness of his acquisition.  The Fingal had been the property of a Scotch captain who, in spite of his long illness, had never wished to give up command, dying aboard his vessel.  His heirs, inland men tired by their long wait, were anxious to get rid of it at any price.

When the new proprietor entered the aft saloon surrounded with staterooms, the only habitable place in the ship, memories of the dead came forth to meet him.  On the wall-panels were painted the heroes of the Scotch Iliad, the bard Ossian with his harp, Malvina with the round arms and waving golden tresses, the undaunted warriors with their winged helmets and protruding biceps, exchanging gashes on their shields while awaking the echoes of the green lochs.

A deep and spongy arm chair opened its arms before a stove.  There the owner of the ship had passed his last years, sick at heart and with swollen legs, directing from his seat a course that was repeated every week across the foggy winter waves tossing bits of ice snatched from the icebergs.  Near the stove was a piano and upon its top an orderly collection of musical scores yellowed by time, La Sonnambula, Lucia, Romances of Tosti, Neapolitan songs, breezy and graceful melodies that the old chords of the instrument sent forth with the fragile and crystalline tinkling of an old music box.  The poor old captain with sick heart and legs of stone had always turned to the sea of light for distraction.  It was music that made appear in the foggy heavens the peaks of Sorrento covered with orange and lemon trees, and the coast of Sicily, perfumed by its flaming flora.

Ferragut manned his boat with friendly people.  His first mate was a pilot who had begun his career in a fishing smack.  He came from the same village as Ulysses’ ancestors, and he remembered the Dotor with respect and admiration.  He had known this new captain when he was a little fellow and used to go fishing with his uncle.  In those days Toni was already a sailor on a coast-trading vessel, and his superiority in years had then justified his using the familiar thee and thou when talking with the lad Ulysses.

Finding himself now under his orders, he wished to change his mode of address, but the captain would not permit it.  Perhaps he and Toni were distant relatives, all those living in that village of the Marina had become related through long centuries of isolated existence and common danger.  The entire crew, from the first engineer to the lowest seaman, showed an equal familiarity in this respect.  Some were from the same land as the captain, others had been sailing a long time under his orders.

As shipowner, Ulysses now underwent numberless experiences whose existence he had never before suspected.  He went through the anguishing transformation of the actor who becomes a theatrical manager, of the author who branches out into publishing, of the engineer with a hobby for odd inventions who becomes the proprietor of a factory.  His romantic love for the sea and its adventures was now overshadowed by the price and consumption of coal, by the maddening competition that lowered freight rates, and by the search for new ports with fast and remunerative freight.

The Fingal which had been rebaptized by its new proprietor with the name of Mare Nostrum, in memory of his uncle, turned out to be a dubious purchase in spite of its low price.  As a navigator Ulysses had been most enthusiastic upon beholding its high and sharp prow disposed to confront the worst seas, the slenderness of the swift craft, its machinery, excessively powerful for a freight steamer, all the conditions that had made it a mail packet for so many years.  It consumed too much fuel to be a profitable investment as a transport of merchandise.  The captain during his navigation could now think only of the ravenous appetite of the boilers.  It always seemed to him that the Mare Nostrum was speeding along with excess steam.

“Half speed!” he would shout down the tube to his first engineer.

But in spite of this and many other precautions, the expense for fuel was enormously disproportioned to the tonnage of the vessel.  The boat was eating up all the profits.  Its speed was insignificant compared with that of a transatlantic steamer, though absurd compared with that of the merchant vessels of great hulls and little machinery that were going around soliciting cargo at any price, from all points.

A slave of the superiority of his vessel and in continual struggle with it, Ferragut had to make great efforts in order to continue sailing without actual heavy loss.  All the waters of the planet now saw the Mare Nostrum specializing in the rarest kind of transportation.  Thanks to this expedient, the Spanish flag waved in ports that had never seen it before.

Under this banner, he made trips through the solitary seas of Syria and Asia Minor, skirting coasts where the novelty of a ship with a smoke stack made the people of the Arabian villages run together in crowds.  He disembarked in Phoenician and Greek ports choked up with sand that had left only a few huts at the foot of mountains of ruins, and where columns of marble were still sticking up like trunks of lopped-off palm trees.  He anchored near to the terrible breakers of the western coast of Africa under a sun which scorched the deck, in order to take on board india-rubber, ostrich feathers, and elephants’ tusks, brought out in long pirogues by negro oarsmen, from a river filled with crocodiles and hippopotamuses, and bordered by groups of huts with straw cones for roofs.

When there were no more of these extraordinary voyages, the Mare Nostrum turned its course towards South America, resigning itself to competition in rates with the English and Scandinavians who are the muleteers of the ocean.  His tonnage and draught permitted him to sail up the great rivers of North America, even reaching the cities of the remote interior where rows of factory chimneys smoked on the border of a fresh-water lake converted into a port.

He sailed up the ruddy Parana to Rosario and Colastine, in order to load Argentine wheat; he anchored in the amber waters of Uruguay opposite Paysandu and Fray Ventos, taking on board hides destined to Europe and salt for the Antilles.  From the Pacific he sailed up the Guayas bordered with an equatorial vegetation, in search of cocoa from Guayaquil.  His prow cut the infinite sheet of the Amazon, dislodging gigantic tree-trunks dragged down by the inundations of the virgin forest in order to anchor opposite Para or Manaos, taking on cargoes of tobacco and coffee.  He even carried from Germany implements of war for the revolutionists of a little republic.

These trips that in other times would have awakened Ferragut’s enthusiasm now resulted disastrously.  After having paid all expenses and lived with maddening economy, there was scarcely anything left for the owner.  Each time the freight boats were more numerous and the transportation rates cheaper.  Ulysses with his elegant Mare Nostrum could not compete with the southern captains, drunken and taciturn, eager to accept freight at any price in order to fill their miserable transports crawling across the ocean at the speed of a tortoise.

“I can do no more,” he said sadly to his mate.  “I shall simply ruin my son.  If anybody will buy the Mare Nostrum, I’m going to sell it.”

On one of his fruitless expeditions, just when he was most discouraged, some unexpected news changed the situation for him.  They had just arrived at Teneriffe with maize and bales of dry alfalfa from Argentina.

When Toni returned aboard after having cleared the vessel, he shouted in Valencian, the language of intimacy, “War, Che!”

Ulysses, who was pacing the bridge, received the news with indifference.  “War?...  What war is that?...”  But upon learning that Germany and Austria had begun hostilities with France and Russia, and that England was just intervening in behalf of Belgium, the captain began quickly to calculate the political consequences of this conflagration.  He could see nothing else.

Toni, less disinterested, spoke of the future of the vessel....  Their misery was at last at an end!  Freightage at thirteen shillings a ton was going to be henceforth but a disgraceful memory.  They would no longer have to plead for freight from port to port as though begging alms.  Now they were on the point of achieving importance, and were going to find themselves solicited by consignors and disdainful merchants.  The Mare Nostrum was going to be worth its weight in gold.

Such predictions, though Ferragut refused to accept them, began to be fulfilled in a very short time.  Ships on the ocean routes suddenly became very scarce.  Some of them were taking refuge in the nearest neutral ports, fearing the enemy’s cruisers.  The greater part were mobilized by their governments for the enormous transportation of material that modern war exacts.  The German corsairs, craftily taking advantage of the situation, were increasing with their captures the panic of the merchant marine.

The price of freight leaped from thirteen shillings a ton to fifty, then to seventy, and a few days later to a hundred.  It couldn’t climb any further, according to Captain Ferragut.

“It will climb higher yet,” affirmed the first officer with cruel joy.  “We shall see tonnage at a hundred and fifty, at two hundred....  We are going to become rich!...”

And Toni always used the plural in speaking of the future riches without its ever occurring to him to ask his captain a penny more than the forty-five dollars that he was receiving each month.  Ferragut’s fortune and that of the ship, he invariably looked upon as his own, considering himself lucky if he was not out of tobacco, and could send his entire wages home to his wife and children living down there in the Marina.

His ambition was that of all modest sailors to buy a plot of land and become an agriculturist in his old age.  The Basque pilots used to dream of prairies and apple orchards, a little cottage on a peak and many cows.  He pictured to himself a vineyard on the coast, a little white dwelling with an arbor under whose shade he could smoke his pipe while all his family, children and grandchildren, were spreading out the harvest of raisins on the frame-hurdles.

A familiar admiration like that of an ancient squire for his paladin, or of an old subaltern for a superior officer, bound him to Ferragut.  The books that filled the captain’s stateroom recalled his agonies upon being examined in Cartagena for his license as a pilot.  The grave gentlemen of the tribunal had made him turn pale and stutter like a child before the logarithms and formulas of trigonometry.  But just let them consult him on practical matters and his skill as master of a bark habituated to all the dangers of the sea, and he would reply with the self-possession of a sage!

In the most difficult perils, days of storm and sinister shoals in the neighborhood of the treacherous coasts, Ferragut could decide to rest only when Toni replaced him on the bridge.  With him, he had no fear that, through carelessness, a wave would sweep across the deck and stop the machinery, or that an invisible ledge would drive its stony point into the vitals of the vessel.  He held the helm to the course indicated.  Silent and immovable he stood, as though sleeping on his feet; but at the right moment he always uttered the brief word of command.

He was very skinny, with the dried up leanness of the bronzed Mediterranean.  The salt wind more than his years had tanned his face, wrinkling it with deep crevices.  A capricious coloring had darkened the depths of these cracks while the part exposed to the sun appeared washed several shades lighter.  His short stiff beard extended over all the furrows and crests of his skin.  Furthermore, he had hair in his ears, hair in the nasal passages, coarse and vibrating growths, ready to tremble in moments of wrath or admiration....  But this ugliness disappeared under the light of his little eyes with pupils between green and olive color, mild eyes with a canine expression of resignation, when the captain made fun of his beliefs.

Toni was a “man of ideas.”  Ferragut only knew of his having four or five, but they were hard, crystallized, tenacious, like the mollusks that stick to the rocks and eventually become a part of the stony excrescence.  He had acquired them in twenty-five years of Mediterranean coast service by reading all the periodicals of lyric radicalism that were thrust upon him on entering the harbors.  Furthermore, at the end of every journey was Marseilles; and in one of its little side alleys was a red room adorned with symbolic columns where sailors of all races and tongues met together, fraternally understanding each other by means of mysterious signs and ritual words.

Whenever Toni entered a South American port after a long absence, he particularly admired the rapid progress of the new villages, enormous wharves constructed within the year, interminable streets that were not in existence on his former voyage, shady and elegant parks, replacing old, dried-up lakes.

“That’s only natural,” he would affirm roundly.  “With good reason they are republics!”

Upon entering the Spanish ports, the slightest deviation in the docking, a discussion with the official employees, the lack of space for a good anchorage would make him smile with bitterness.  “Unfortunate country!...  Everything here is the work of the altar and the throne!”

In the Thames, and before the docks of Hamburg, Captain Ferragut would chaff his subordinate.

“There’s no republic here, Toni!...  But, nevertheless this is rather worth while.”

But Toni never gave in.  He would contract his hairy visage, making a mental effort to formulate his vague ideas, clothing them with words.  In the very background of these grandeurs existed the confirmation of the idea he was so vainly trying to express.  Finally he admitted himself checkmated, but not convinced.

“I don’t know how to explain it; I haven’t the words for it ... but ... it’s the people who are doing all this.”

Upon receiving in Teneriffe the news of war, he summed up all his doctrines with the terseness of a victor.

“In Europe there are too many kings....  If all the nations could be republics!...  This calamity just had to come!”

And this time Ferragut did not venture to ridicule the single-mindedness of his second.

All the people of the Mare Nostrum showed great enthusiasm over the new business aspect of things.  The seamen who in former voyages were taciturn, as though foreseeing the ruin or exhaustion of their captain, were now working as eagerly as though they were going to participate in the profits.

In the forward mess room many of them set themselves to work on commercial calculations.  The first trip of the war would be equal to ten of their former ones; the second, perhaps, might bring in the profit of twenty.  And recalling their former bad business ventures, they rejoiced for Ferragut, with the same disinterestedness as the first officer.  The engineers were no longer called to the captain’s cabin in order to contrive new economies in fuel.  They had to take advantage of the time and opportunity; and the Mare Nostrum was now going at full steam, making fourteen knots an hour, like a passenger vessel, stopping only when its course was blocked at the entrance of the Mediterranean by an English destroyer, sending out an officer to make sure that they were not carrying on board enemy passengers.

Abundance reigned equally between bridge and forecastle where were the sailors’ quarters and the galley, the space respected by every one on the boat as the incontestable realm of Uncle Caragol.

This old man, nicknamed “Caracol” (snail), another old friend of Ferragut’s, was the ship’s cook, and, although he did not dare to talk as familiarly to the captain as in former times, the tone of his voice made it understood that mentally he was continuing to use the old, affectionate form.  He had known Ulysses when he used to run away from the classrooms to row in the harbor and, on account of the bad state of his eyes, he had finally retired from the navigation of coast vessels, descending to be a simple bargeman.  His gravity and corpulence had something almost priestly in character.  He was the obese type of Mediterranean with a little head, voluminous neck and triple chin, seated on the stern of his fishing skiff like a Roman patrician on the throne of his trireme.

His culinary talent suffered eclipse whenever rice did not figure as the fundamental basis of his compositions.  All that this food could give of itself, he knew perfectly.  In the tropical ports, the crews surfeited with bananas, pineapples, and alligator-pears, would greet with enthusiasm the apparition of a great frying pan of rice with cod and potatoes, or a casserole of rice from the oven with its golden crust perforated by the ruddy faces of garbanzos and points of black sausage.  At other times, under the leaden-colored sky of the northern seas, the cook made them recall their distant native land by giving them the monastic rice dish with beet roots, or buttery rice with turnips and beans.

On Sundays and the fiestas of the Valencian saints who for Uncle Caragol were the first in heaven, San Vicente Martir, San Vicente Ferrer, La Virgin de los Desamparados and the Cristo del Grao would appear the smoking paella, a vast, circular dish of rice upon whose surface of white, swollen grains were lying bits of various fowls.  The cook loved to surprise his following by distributing rotund, raw onions, with the whiteness of marble and an acrid surprise that brought tears to the eyes.  They were a princely gift maintained in secret.  One had only to break them with one blow and their sticky juices would gush forth and lose themselves in the palate like crisp mouthfuls of a sweet and spicy bread, alternating with knifefuls of rice.  The boat was at times near Brazil in sight of Fernando de Norona, yet even while viewing the conical huts of the negroes installed on an island under an equatorial sun, the crews could almost believe thanks to Uncle Caragol’s magic that they were eating in a cabin of the farmland of Valencia, as they passed from hand to hand the long-spouted jug filled with strong wine from Liria.

When they anchored in ports where fish was abundant, he achieved the great work of cooking a rice abanda.  The cabin boys would bring to the captain’s table the pot in which was boiled the rich sea food mixed with lobsters, mussels, and every kind of shell-fish available, but the chef invariably reserved for himself the honor of offering the accompanying great platter with its pyramid, of rice, every grain golden and distinct.

Boiled apart (abanda) each grain was full of the succulent broth of the stew-pot.  It was a rice dish that contained within it the concentration of all the sustenance of the sea.  As though he were performing a liturgical ceremony, the chef would go around delivering half a lemon to each one of those seated at the table.  The rice should only be eaten after moistening it with this perfumed dew which called to mind the image of an oriental garden.  Only the unfortunate beings who lived inland were ignorant of this exquisite confection, calling any mess of rice a Valencian rice dish.

Ulysses would humor the cook’s notions, carrying the first spoonful to his mouth with a questioning glance....  Then he would smile, giving himself up to gastric intoxication.  “Magnificent, Uncle Caragol!” His good humor made him affirm that only the gods should be nourished with rice abanda in their abodes on Mount Olympus.  He had read that in books.  And Caragol, divining great praise in all this, would gravely reply, “That is so, my captain.”  Toni and the other officers by this time would be chewing away with heads down, only interrupting their feast to regret that the old Ganymede should have skimped them when measuring the ambrosia.

In his estimation, oil was as precious as rice.  In the time of their money-losing navigation, when the captain was making special efforts at economy, Caragol used to keep an especially sharp eye on the great oil bottles in his galley, for he suspected that the cabin boys and the young seamen appropriated it to dress their hair when they wanted to play the dandy, using the oil as a pomade.  Every head that put itself within reach of his disturbed glance he grasped between his arms, raising it to his nose.  The slightest perfume of olive oil would arouse his wrath.  “Ah, you thief!"...  And down would fall his enormous hand, soft and heavy as a fencing gauntlet.

Ulysses believed him quite capable of climbing the bridge, and declaring that navigation could not go on because of his having exhausted the leathern bottles of amethyst-colored liquid proceeding from the Sierra de Espadan.

In the ports, his short-sighted eyes recognized immediately the nationality of the boats anchored on both sides of the Mare Nostrum.  His nose would sniff the air sadly.  “Nothing!...”  They were unsavory barks, barks from the North that prepared their dinner with lard or butter, Protestant barks, perhaps.

Sometimes he would sneak along the gunwale, following an intoxicating trail until he planted himself in front of the galley of the neighboring boat, breathing in its rich perfume.  “Hello, brothers!” Impossible to fool him, they were probably Spaniards and, if not, they were from Genoa or Naples, in short, were compatriots accustomed to live and eat in all latitudes just as though they were in their own little inland sea.  Soon they would begin a speech in the Mediterranean idiom, a mixture of Spanish, Provencal and Italian, invented by the hybrid peoples of the African coast from Egypt to Morocco.  Sometimes they would send each other presents, like those that are exchanged between tribes, fruits from distant countries.  At other times, suddenly inimical, without knowing why, they would shake their fists over the railing, yelling insults at each other in which, between every two or three words, would appear the names of the Virgin and her holy Son.

This was the signal for Uncle Caragol, religious soul, to return in haughty silence to his galley.  Toni, the mate, used to make fun of his devout enthusiasm.  On the other hand, the foremast hands, materialistic and gluttonous, used to listen to him with deference, because he was the one who doled out the wine and the choicest tid-bits.  The old man used to speak to them of the Cristo del Grao, whose pictures occupied the most prominent site in the kitchen, and they would all listen as to a new tale, to the story of the arrival by sea of the sacred image, mounted upon a ladder in a boat that had dissolved in smoke after discharging its miraculous cargo.

This had been when the Grao was no more than a group of huts far from the walls of Valencia and threatened by the raids of the Moorish pirates.  For many years Caragol, barefooted, had carried this sacred ladder on his shoulder on the day of the fiesta.  Now other men of the sea were enjoying such honor and he, old and half-blind, would be waiting among the public for the procession to pass in order that he might throw himself upon the enormous relic, touching his clothes to the wood.

All his outer garments were sanctified by this contact.  In reality they weren’t very many, since he usually strolled about the boat very lightly clad, with the immodesty of a man who sees poorly and considers himself above human preoccupations.

A shirt with the tail always floating, and a pair of pantaloons of dirty cotton or yellow flannel, according to the season, constituted his entire outfit.  The bosom of the shirt was open on all occasions, leaving visible a thatch of white hair.  The pantaloons were fastened together with a single button.  A palm leaf hat always covered his head even when he was working among his cooking pots.

The Mare Nostrum could not be shipwrecked nor suffer any harm while it carried him aboard.  In the days of tempest, when waves were sweeping the deck from prow to poop, and the sailors were treading warily, fearing that a heavy sea might carry them overboard, Caragol would stick his head out through the door of the galley, scorning a danger which he could not see.

The great water-spouts would pass over him, even putting out his fires, but only increasing his faith.  “Courage, boys!  Courage, lads!” The Cristo del Grao had special charge of them and nothing bad could happen to the ship...  Some of the seamen were silent, while others said this and that about the image without arousing the indignation of the old devotee.  God, who sends dangers to the men of the sea, knows that their bad words lack malice.

His religiosity extended to the very deeps.  He did not wish to say anything about the ocean fish, for they inspired him with the same indifference as those cold and unperfumed boats that were ignorant of olive oil, and all that was cooked with “pomade.”  They must be heretics.

He was better acquainted with the fish of the Mediterranean and even came to believe that they must be good Catholics, since in their own way they proclaimed the glory of God.  Standing near the taffrail on torrid evenings in the tropics, he would recount, in honor of the inhabitants of his distant sea, the portentous miracle which had taken place in the glen of Alboraya.

A priest was one day fording on horseback the mouth of a river in order to carry the eucharist to a dying person, when his beast stumbled and the ciborium, falling open, the Hosts fell out and were carried off by the current.  From that time on, mysterious lights glowed every night on the water, and at sunrise a swarm of little fishes would come to range themselves opposite the glen, their heads emerging from the water, in order to show the Host which each one of them was carrying in his mouth.  In vain the fishermen wished to take them away from them.  They fled to the inland sea with their treasures.  Only when the clergy, with cross erect and with the same priest, fell on their knees in the glen did they decide to approach; and one after the other deposited his Host in the ciborium, retiring then from wave to wave, gracefully waggling their little tails.

In spite of the vague hope for a jug of choice wine that was animating most of his hearers, a murmur of incredulity always arose at the end of this tale.  The devout Caragol then became as wrathful and foul-mouthed as a prophet of old when he considered his faith in danger.  “Who was that son of a flea?...  Who was that son of a flea daring to doubt what I myself have seen?...”  And what he had seen was the fiesta of the Peixet that was celebrated every year, simply listening to most learned men discoursing about the miracle in a commemorative chapel built on the banks of the glen.

This prodigy of the little fishes was almost always followed with what he called the miracle of the Peixot, endeavoring with the weight of such a marvelous fish tale to crush the doubts of the impious.

The galley of Alphonso V of Aragon (the only sailor king of Spain), upon coming out of the Gulf of Naples, once struck a hidden rock near the island of Capri which took away a side of the ship without making it leak; and the vessel continued on with all sails spread, carrying the king, the ladies of his court, and the retinue of mail-clad barons.  Twenty days afterward they arrived at Valencia safe and sound like all sailors who in moments of danger ask aid of the Virgen del Puig.  Upon inspecting the hull of the galley, the master calkers beheld a monstrous fish detach itself from its bottom with the tranquility of an upright person who has fulfilled his duty.  It was a dolphin sent by the most holy Senora in order that his side might stop up the open breach.  And thus, like a plug, it had sailed from Naples to Valencia without allowing a drop of water to pass in.

The chef would not admit any criticisms nor protests.  This miracle was undeniable.  He had seen it with his own eyes, and they were good.  He had seen it in an ancient picture in the monastery of Puig, everything appearing on the tablet with the realism of truth, the galley, the king, the peixot and the Virgin above giving the order.

At this juncture the breeze would flap the narrator’s shirt tail, disclosing his abdomen divided into hemispheres by the tyranny of its only pantaloon button.

“Uncle Caragol, look out!” warned a teasing voice.

The holy man would smile with the seraphic calm of one who sees beyond the pomps and vanities of existence, and would begin the relation of a new miracle.

Ferragut used to attribute his cook’s periods of exaltation to the lightness of his clothing in all weathers.  Within him was burning a fire incessantly renewed.  On foggy days he would climb to the bridge with some glasses of a smoking drink that he used to call calentets.  Nothing better for men that had to pass long hours in the inclement weather in motionless vigilance!  It was coffee mixed with rum, but in unequal proportions, having more alcohol than black liquid.  Toni would drink rapidly all the glasses offered.  The captain would refuse them, asking for clear coffee.

His sobriety was that of the ancient sailor, the sobriety of Father Ulysses who used to mix wine with water in all his libations.  The divinities of the old sea did not love alcoholic drinks.  The white Amphitrite and the Nereids only accepted on their altars the fruits of the earth, sacrifices of doves, libations of milk.  Perhaps because of this the seafaring men of the Mediterranean, following an hereditary tendency, looked upon intoxication as the vilest of degradations.  Even those who were not temperate avoided getting frankly drunk like the sailors of other seas, dissimulating the strength of their alcoholic beverage with coffee and sugar.

Caragol was the understudy charged with drinking all which the captain refused, together with certain others which he dedicated to himself in the mystery of the galley.  On warm days he manufactured refresquets, and these refreshments were enormous glasses, half of water and half of rum upon a great bed of sugar, a mixture that made one pass like a lightning flash, without any gradations, from vulgar serenity to most angelic intoxication.

The captain would scold him upon seeing his inflamed and reddened eyes.  He was going to make himself blind....  But the guilty one was not moved by this threat.  He had to celebrate the prosperity of the vessel in his own way.  And of this prosperity the most interesting thing for him was his ability to use oil and brandy lavishly without any fear of recriminations when the accounts were settled. Cristo del Grao!... would that the war would last forever!...

The Mare Nostrum’s third voyage from South America to Europe came suddenly to an end in Naples, where they were unloading wheat and hides.  A collision at the entrance of the port, with an English hospital ship that was going to the Dardanelles, injured her stern, carrying away a part of the screw.

Toni roared with impatience upon learning that they would have to remain nearly a month in enforced idleness.  Italy had not yet intervened in the war, but her defensive precautions were monopolizing all naval industries.  It was not possible to make the repairs sooner, although Ferragut well knew what this loss of time would represent in his business.  Valuable freight was waiting for him in Marseilles and Barcelona, but, wishing to tranquillize himself and to pacify his mate, he would say repeatedly: 

“England will indemnify us....  The English are just.”

And in order to soothe his impatience he went ashore.

Compared with other celebrated Italian cities, Naples did not appear to him of much importance.  Its true beauty was its immense gulf between hills of orange trees and pines, with a second frame of mountains one of which outlined upon the azure heavens its eternal crest of volcanic vapors.

The town did not abound in famous edifices.  The monarchs of Naples had generally been foreigners who had resided far away and had governed through their delegates.  The best streets, the palaces, the monumental fountain, had come from the Spanish viceroys.  A sovereign of mixed origin, Charles the III, Castilian by birth and Neapolitan at heart, had done the most for the city.  His building enthusiasm had embellished the ancient districts with works similar to those that he erected years afterward, upon occupying the throne of Spain.

After admiring the Grecian statuary in the museum, and the excavated objects that revealed the intimate life of the ancients, Ulysses threaded the tortuous and often gloomy arteries of the popular districts.

There were streets clinging to the slopes forming landings flanked with narrow and very high houses.  Every vacant space had its balconies, and from every railing to its opposite were extended lines spread with clothes of different colors, hung out to dry.  Neapolitan fertility made these little alleys seethe with people.  Around the open-air kitchens there crowded patrons, eating, while standing, their boiled macaroni or bits of meat.

The hucksters were hawking their goods with melodious, song-like cries, and cords to which little baskets were fastened were lowered down to them from balconies.  The bargaining and purchases reached from the depth of the street gutters to the top of the seventh floor, but the flocks of goats climbed the winding steps with their customary agility in order to be milked at the various stair landings.

The wharves of the Marinela attracted the captain because of the local color of this Mediterranean port.  Italian unity had torn down and reconstructed much of it, but there still remained standing various rows of little low-roofed houses with white or pink façades, green doors, and lower floors further forward than the upper ones, serving as props for galleries with wooden balustrades.  Everything there that was not of brick was of clumsy carpentry resembling the work of ship calkers.  Iron did not exist in these terrestrial constructions suggestive of the sailboat whose rooms were as dark as staterooms.  Through the windows could be seen great conch-shells upon the chests of drawers, harsh and childish oil paintings representing frigates, and multi-colored shells from distant seas.

These dwellings repeated themselves in all the ports of the Mediterranean just as though they were the work of the same hand.  As a child, Ferragut had seen them in the Grao of Valencia and continually ran across them in Barcelona, in the suburbs of Marseilles, in old Nice, in the ports of the western islands, and in the sections of the African coast occupied by Maltese and Sicilians.

Over the town, lined up along the Marinela, the churches of Naples reared their domes and towers with glazed roofs, green and yellow, which appeared more like pinnacles of Oriental baths than the roofs of Christian temples.

The barefooted lazzarone with his red cap no longer existed, but the crowd, clad like the workmen of all ports still gathered around the daubed poster that represented a crime, a miracle or a prodigious specific, listening in silence to the harangue of the narrator or charlatan.  The old popular comedians were declaiming with heroic gesticulations the epic octavos of Tasso, and harps and violins were sounding accompaniments to the latest melody that Naples had made fashionable throughout the entire world.  The stands of the oyster-men constantly sent forth an organic perfume from the spent wave, and all around them empty shells scattered their disks of pearly lime over the mud.

Near to the ancient Captaincy of the port, the palace of Charles III, blue and white, with an image of the immaculate conception, were assembled the unloading trucks, whose teams still preserved their ancient hybrid originality.  In some instances the shafts were occupied by a white ox, sleek with enormous and widely branching horns, an animal similar to those that used to figure in the religious ceremonies of the ancients.  At his right would be hooked a horse, at his left, a great raw-boned mule, and this triple and discordant team appeared in all the carts, standing immovable before the ships the length of the docks, or dragging their heavy wheels up the slopes leading to the upper city.

In a few days the captain grew tired of Naples and its bustle.  In the cafes of the Street of Toledo and the Gallery of Humbert I, he had to defend himself from some noisy youths with low-cut vests, butterfly neckties and little felt hats perched upon their manes, who, in low voices, proposed to him unheard-of spectacles organized for the diversion of foreigners.

He had also seen enough of the paintings and domestic objects excavated from the ancient cities.  The lewdness of the secret cabinets finally irritated him.  It appeared to him the reverse of recreation to contemplate so many childish fantasies of sculpture and painting having the antique symbol of masculinity as its principal motif.

One morning he boarded a train and, after skirting the smoking mountain of Vesuvius, passing between rose-colored villages surrounded with vineyards, he stopped at the station of Pompeii.

From the funereal solitudes of hotels and restaurants, the guides came forth like a suddenly awakened swarm of wasps, lamenting that the war had cut off the tourist trade.  Perhaps he would be the only one who would come that day. “Signor, at your service, at any price whatever!...”  But the sailor continued on alone.  Always, in recalling Pompeii, he had wished to see it again alone, absolutely alone, so as to get a more direct impression of the ancient life.

His first view of it had been seventeen years ago when, as a mate of a Catalan sailing vessel anchored in the port of Naples, he had taken advantage of the cheapness of Sunday rates and had seen everything as one of a crowd that was pushing and treading on everybody’s feet so as to listen to the nearest guide.

At the head of the expedition had been a priest, young and elegant, a Roman Monsignor, clad in silk, and with him two showy foreign women, who were always climbing up in the highest places, raising their skirts rather high for fear of the star lizards that were writhing in and out of the ruins.  Ferragut, in humble admiration, always remained below, glimpsing the country from behind their legs.  “Ay!  Twenty-two years!...”  Afterwards when he heard Pompeii spoken of, it always evoked in his memory several strata of images.  “Very beautiful!  Very interesting!” And in his mind’s eye he saw again the palaces and temples, but as a secondary consideration, like a shrouded background, while in the forefront were four magnificent legs standing forth, a human colonnade of slender shafts swathed in transparent black silk.

The solitude so long desired for his second visit was now aggressively in evidence.  In this deserted, dead city there were to-day no other sounds than the whirring of insect wings over the plants beginning to clothe themselves with springtime verdure, and the invisible scampering of reptiles under the layers of ivy.

At the gate of Herculaneum, the guardian of the little museum left Ferragut to examine in peace the excavations of the various corpses, petrified Pompeiians of plaster still in the attitudes of terror in which death had surprised them.  He did not abandon his post in order to trouble the captain with his explanations; he scarcely raised his eyes from the newspaper that he had before him.  The news from Rome, the intrigues of the German diplomats, the possibility that Italy might enter the war, were absorbing his entire attention.

Afterwards on the solitary streets the sailor found everywhere the same preoccupation.  His footsteps resounded in the sunlight as though treading the depths of the hollow tombs.  The moment he stopped, silence again enveloped him, “A silence of two thousand years,” thought Ferragut to himself, and in the midst of this primeval silence sounded far-away voices in the violence of a sharp discussion.  They were the guardians and the employees of the excavations who, lacking work, were gesticulating and insulting each other in these strongholds twenty centuries old so profoundly isolated from patriotic enthusiasm or fear of the horrors of war.

Ferragut, map in hand, passed among these groups without annoyance from insistent guides.  For two hours he fancied himself an inhabitant of ancient Pompeii who had remained alone in the city on a holiday devoted to the rural divinities.  His glance could reach to the very end of the straight streets without encountering persons or things recalling modern times.

Pompeii appeared to him smaller than ever in this solitude, an intersection of narrow roads with high sidewalks paved with polygonal blocks of blue lava.  In its interstices Spring was forming green grass plots dotted with flowers.  Carriages, of whose owners not even the dust was left, had with their deep wheels opened up ridges in the pavement more than a thousand years ago.  In every crossway was a public fountain with a grotesque mask which had spouted water through its mouth.

Certain red letters on the walls were announcements of elections to be held in the beginning of that era, candidates for aedile or duumvir who were recommended to the Pompeiian voters.  Some doors showed above, the phallus for conjuring the evil eyes; others, a pair of serpents intertwined, emblem of family life.  In the corners of the alleyways, a Latin verse engraved on the walls asked the passerby to observe the laws of sanitation, and there still could be seen on the stuccoed walls caricatures and scribbling, handiwork of the little street gamins of Caesar’s day.

The houses were lightly constructed upon floors cracked by minor earthquakes before the arrival of the final catastrophe.  The lower floors were of bricks or concrete and the others, of wood, had been devoured by the volcanic fire, only the stairways remaining.

In this gracious city of amiable and easy-going life, more Greek than Roman, all the lower floors of the plebeian houses had been occupied by petty traders.  They were shops with doors the same size as the establishment, four-sided caves like the Arabian zocos whose furthermost corners were visible to the buyer stopping in the street.  Many still had their stone counters and their large earthen jars for the sale of wine and oil.  The private dwellings had no façades, and their outer walls were smooth and unapproachable, but with an interior court providing the surrounding chambers with light as in the palaces of the Orient.  The doors were merely half-doors of escape, parts of larger ones.  All life was concentrated around the interior, the central patio, rich and magnificent, adorned with fish ponds, statues and flower-bordered beds.

Marble was rare.  The columns constructed of bricks were covered with a stucco that offered a fine surface for painting.  Pompeii had been a polychrome city.  All the columns, red or yellow, had capitals of divers colors.  The center of the walls was generally occupied with a little picture, usually erotic, painted on black varnished walls varied with red and amber hues.  On the friezes were processions of cupids and tritons, between rustic and maritime emblems.

Tired of his excursion through the dead city, Ferragut seated himself on a stone bench among the ruins of the temple, and looked over the map spread out on his knees, enjoying the titles with which the most interesting constructions had been designated because of a mosaic or a painting, Villa of Diomedes, the House of Meleager, of the wounded Adonis, of the Labryinth, of the Faun, of the Black Wall.  The names of the streets were not less interesting:  The Road of the Hot Baths, the Road of the Tombs, the Road of Abundance, the Road of the Theaters.

The sound of footsteps made the sailor raise his head.  Two ladies were passing, preceded by a guide.  One was tall, with a firm tread.  They were wearing face-veils and still another larger veil crossing behind and coming over the arms like a shawl.  Ferragut surmised a great difference in the ages of the two.  The stout one was moving along with an assumed gravity.  Her step was quick, but with a certain authority she planted on the ground her large feet, loosely shod and with low heels.  The younger one, taller and more slender, tripping onwards with little steps like a bird that only knows how to fly, was teetering along on high heels.

The two looked uneasily at this man appearing so unexpectedly among the ruins.  They had the preoccupied and timorous air of those going to a forbidden place or meditating a bad action.  Their first movement was an impulse to go back, but the guide continued on his way so imperturbably that they followed on.

Ferragut smiled.  He knew where they were going.  The little cross street of the Lupanares was near.  The guard would open a door, remaining on watch with dramatic anxiety as though he were endangering his job by this favor in exchange for a tip.  And the two ladies were about to see some tarnished, clumsy paintings showing nothing new or original in the world, nude, yellowish figures, just alike at first glance with no other novelty than an exaggerated emphasis on sex distinction.

Half an hour afterwards Ulysses abandoned his bench, for his eyes had tired of the severe monotony of the ruins.  In the street of the Hot Baths (Thermae), he again visited the house of the tragic poet.  Then he admired that of Pansa, the largest and most luxurious in the city.  This Pansa had undoubtedly been the most pretentious citizen of Pompeii.  His dwelling occupied an entire block.  The xystus, or garden, adjoining the house had been laid out like a Grecian landscape with cypresses and laurels between squares of roses and violets.

Following along the exterior wall of the garden, Ferragut again met the two ladies.  They were looking at the flowers across the bars of the door.  The younger one was expressing in English her admiration for some roses that were flinging their royal color around the pedestal of an old faun.

Ulysses felt an irresistible desire to show off in a gallant and intrepid fashion.  He wished to pay the two foreign ladies some theatrical homage.  He felt that necessity of attracting attention in some gay and dashing way that characterizes Spaniards far from home.

With the agility of a mast-climber, he leaped the garden wall in one bound.  The two ladies gave a cry of surprise, as though they had witnessed some impossible maneuver.  This audacity appeared to upset the ideas of the older one, accustomed to life in disciplined towns that rigidly respect every established prohibition.  Her first movement was of flight, so as not to be mixed up in the escapade of this stranger.  But after a few steps she paused.  The younger one was smiling, looking at the wall, and as the captain reappeared upon it she almost clapped with enthusiasm as though applauding a dangerous acrobatic feat.

Believing them to be English, the sailor spoke in that language when presenting to them the two roses that he carried in his hand.  They were merely flowers, like all others, grown in a land like other lands, but the frame of the thousand-year-old wall, the propinquity of the alcoves and drinking shops of a house built by Pansa in the time of the first Caesars, gave them the interest of roses two thousand years old, miraculously preserved.

The largest and most luxuriant he gave to the young woman, and she accepted it smilingly as her natural right.  Her companion as soon as she acknowledged the gift, appeared impatient to get away from the stranger.  “Thanks!...  Thanks!” And she pushed along the other one, who had not yet finished smiling, the two going hurriedly away.  A corner adorned with a fountain soon hid their steps.

When Ulysses, after a light lunch in the restaurant of Diomedes, came running to the station, the train was just about to start.  He was planning to see Salerno, celebrated in the Middle Ages for its physicians and navigators, and then the ruined temples of Paestum.  As he climbed into the nearest coach, he fancied that he spied the veils of the two ladies vanishing behind a little door that was just closing.

In the station of Salerno he again caught sight of them in a distant hack disappearing in a neighboring street, and during the afternoon he frequently ran across them as travelers will in a small city.  They met one another in the harbor, so fatally threatened with bars of moving sand; they saw each other in the gardens bordering the sea, near the monument of Carlo Pisacana, the romantic duke of San Juan, a precursor of Garibaldi, who died in extreme youth for the liberty of Italy.

The young woman smiled whenever she met him.  Her companion passed on with a casual glance, trying to ignore his presence.

At night they saw more of each other, as they were stopping at the same hotel, a lodging house like all those in the small ports with excellent meals and dirty rooms.  They had adjoining tables, and after a coldly acknowledged greeting, Ferragut had a good look at the two ladies who were speaking very little and in a low tone, fearing to be overheard by their neighbor.

Upon looking at the older one without her veils, he found his original impression confirmed.  In other times, perhaps, she might have destroyed the peace of male admirers, but she could now continue her hostile and distant attitude with impunity.  The captain was not at all affected by it.

She must have been over forty.  Her excessive flesh still had a certain freshness, the result of hygienic care and gymnastic exercise.  On the other hand, her white complexion showed underneath it a yellowish subcutaneous, granular condition that looked as though made up of particles of bran.  Upon her ancient switch, reddish in tone, were piled artificial curls hiding bald spots and gray hairs.  Her green pupils, when freed from their near-sighted glasses, had the tranquil opacity of ox-eyes; but the minute these gold-mounted crystals were placed between her and the outer world, the two glaucous drops took on a sharpness which fairly perforated persons and objects.  At other times they appeared a glacial and haughty void, like the circle that a sword traces.

The young woman was less intractable.  She appeared to be smiling out of the corners of her eyes, while her back was half turned to Ferragut, acknowledging his mute and scrutinizing admiration.  She had her hair loosely arranged like a woman who is not afraid of naturalness in her coiffure, and lets her waving locks peep out under her hat in all their original willfulness.

She was a dainty ash-blonde with a high color in striking contrast to her general delicacy of tone.  Her great, almond-shaped, black eyes appeared like those of an Oriental dancer, and were yet further prolonged by skillful retouching of shadows that augmented the seductive contrast with her dull gold hair.

The whiteness of her skin became very evident when her arm showed outside her sleeve and at the opening of her low-necked dress.  But this whiteness was now temporarily effaced by a ruddy mask.  Her vigorous beauty had been fearlessly exposed to the sun and the breath of the sea, and a scarlet triangle emphasized the sweet curve of her bosom, accentuating the low cut of her gown.  Upon her sunburned throat a necklace of pearls hung in moonlight drops.  Further up, in a face tanned by the inclemency of the weather, the mouth parted its two scarlet, bow-shaped lips with an audacious and serene smile, showing the reflection of her strong and handsome teeth.

Ferragut reviewed his past without finding a single woman that could be exactly compared with her.  The distant perfume of her person and her genteel elegance reminded him of certain dubious ladies who were always traveling alone when he was captain of the transatlantic liners.  But these acquaintances had been so rapid and were so far away!...  Never in his history as a world-rover had he had the good luck to chance upon a woman just like this one.

Again exchanging glances with her, he felt that throb in the heart and flash in the brain which accompany a lightning-like and unexpected discovery...  He had known that woman:  he could not recall where he had seen her, but he was sure that he must have known her.

Her face told his memory nothing, but those eyes had exchanged glances with his on other occasions.  In vain he reflected, concentrating his thoughts....  And the queer thing about it all was that, by some mysterious perception, he became absolutely certain that she was doing the same thing at the very same moment.  She also had recognized him, and was evidently making great effort to give him a name and place in her memory.  He had only to notice the frequency with which she turned her eyes toward him and her new smile, more confident and spontaneous, such as she would give to an old friend.

Had her dragon not been present, they would have talked together enthusiastically, instinctively, like two restless, curious beings wishing to clear up the mystery; but the gold-rimmed glasses were always gleaming authoritatively and inimically, coming between the two.  Several times the fat lady spoke in a language that reached Ferragut confusedly and which was not English, and their dinner was hardly finished before they disappeared just as they had done in the streets of Pompeii, the older one evidently influencing the other with her iron will.

The following morning they all met again in a first-class coach in the station of Salerno.  Undoubtedly they had the same destination.  As Ferragut began to greet them, the hostile dame deigned to return his salutation, looking then at her companion with a questioning expression.  The sailor guessed that during the night they had been discussing him while he, under the same roof, had been struggling uselessly, before falling asleep, to concentrate his recollections.

He never knew with certainty just how the conversation began.  He found himself suddenly talking in English with the younger one, just as on the preceding morning.  She, with the audacity that quickly makes the best of a dubious situation, asked him if he was a sailor.  And upon receiving an affirmative response, she then asked if he was Spanish.

“Yes, Spanish.”

Ferragut’s answer was followed by a triumphant glance toward the chaperone, who seemed to relax a little and lose her hostile attitude.  And for the first time she smiled upon the captain with her mouth of bluish-rose color, her white skin sprinkled with yellow, and her glasses of phosphorescent splendor.

Meanwhile, the young woman was talking on and on, verifying her extraordinary powers of memory.

She had traveled all over the world without forgetting a single one of the places which she had seen.  She was able to repeat the titles of the eighty great hotels in which those who make the world’s circuit may stay.  Upon meeting with an old traveling companion, she always recognized his face immediately, no matter how short a time she had seen him, and oftentimes she could even recall his name.  This last was what she had been puzzling over, wrinkling her brows with the mental effort.

“You are a captain?...  Your name is?...”

And she smiled suddenly as her doubts came to an end.

“Your name is,” she said positively, “Captain Ulysses Ferragut.”

In long and agreeable silence she relished the sailor’s astonishment.  Then, as though she pitied his stupefaction, she made further explanations.  She had made a trip from Buenos Ayres to Barcelona in a steamship which he had commanded.

“That was six years ago,” she added.  “No; seven years ago.”

Ferragut, who had been the first to suspect a former acquaintance, could not recall this woman’s name and place among the innumerable passengers that filled his memory.  He thought, nevertheless, that he must lie for gallantry’s sake, insisting that he remembered her well.

“No, Captain; you do not remember me.  I was accompanied by my husband and you never looked at me....  All your attentions on that trip were devoted to a very handsome widow from Brazil.”

She said this in Spanish, a smooth, sing-song Spanish learned in South America, to which her foreign accent contributed a certain childish charm.  Then she added coquettishly: 

“I know you, Captain.  Always the same!...  That affair of the rose at Pompeii was very well done....  It was just like you.”

The grave lady of the glasses, finding herself forgotten, and unable to understand a word of the new language employed in the conversation, now spoke aloud, rolling her eyes in her enthusiasm.

“Oh, Spain!...” she said in English.  “The land of knightly gentlemen....  Cervantes ...  Lope!...  The Cid!...”

She stopped hunting for more celebrities.  Suddenly she seized the sailor’s arm, exclaiming as energetically as though she had just made a discovery through the little door of the coach.  “Calderon de la Barca!” Ferragut saluted her.  “Yes, Senora.”  After that the younger woman thought that it was necessary to present her companion.

“Doctor Fedelmann....  A very wise woman distinguished in philology and literature.”

After clasping the doctor’s hand, Ferragut indiscreetly set himself to work to gather information.

“The Senora is German?” he said in Spanish to the younger one.

The gold-rimmed spectacles appeared to guess the question and shot a restless gleam at her companion.

“No,” she replied.  “My friend is a Russian, or rather a Pole.”

“And you, are you Polish, too?” continued the sailor.

“No, I am Italian.”

In spite of the assurance with which she said this, Ferragut felt tempted to exclaim, “You little liar!” Then, as he gazed upon the full, black, audacious eyes fixed upon him, he began to doubt....  Perhaps she was telling the truth.

Again he found himself interrupted by the wordiness of the doctor.  She was now speaking in French, repeating her eulogies on Ferragut’s country.  She could read Castilian in the classic works, but she would not venture to speak it.  “Ah, Spain!  Country of noble traditions....”  And then, seeking to relieve these eulogies by some strong contrast, she twisted her face into a wrathful expression.

The train was running along the coast, having on one side the blue desert of the Gulf of Salerno, and on the other the red and green mountains dotted with white villages and hamlets.  The doctor took it all in with her gleaming glasses.

“A country of bandits,” she said, clenching her fists.  “Country of mandolin-twangers, without honor and without gratitude!...”

The girl laughed at this outburst with that hilarity of light-heartedness in which no impressions are durable, considering as of no importance anything which does not bear directly upon its own egoism.

From a few words that the two ladies let fall, Ulysses inferred that they had been living in Rome and had only been in Naples a short time, perhaps against their will.  The younger one was well acquainted with the country, and her companion was taking advantage of this enforced journey in order to see what she had so many times admired in books.

The three alighted in the station of Battipaglia in order to take the train for Paestum.  It was a rather long wait, and the sailor invited them to go into the restaurant, a little wooden shanty impregnated with the double odor of resin and wine.

This shack reminded both Ferragut and the young woman of the houses improvised on the South American deserts; and again they began to speak of their oceanic voyage.  She finally consented to satisfy the captain’s curiosity.

“My husband was a professor, a scholar like the doctor....  We were a year in Patagonia, making scientific explorations.”

She had made the dangerous journey through an ocean of desert plains that had spread themselves out before them as the expedition advanced; she had slept in ranch houses whose roofs shed bloodthirsty insects; she had traveled on horseback through whirlwinds of sand that had shaken her from the saddle; she had suffered the tortures of hunger and thirst when losing the way, and she had passed nights in intemperate weather with no other bed than her poncho and the trappings of the horses.  Thus they had explored those lakes of the Andes between Argentina and Chile that guard in their pure and untouched desert solitude the mystery of the earliest days of creation.

Rovers over these virgin lands, shepherds and bandits, used to talk of glimpses of gigantic animals at nightfall on the shores of the lakes devouring entire meadows with one gulp; and the doctor, like many other sages, had believed in the possibility of finding a surviving prehistoric animal, a beast of the monstrous herds anterior to the coming of man, still dwelling in this unexplored section of the planet.

They saw skeletons dozens of yards long in the foot-hills of the Cordilleras so frequently agitated by volcanic cataclysms.  In the neighborhood of the lakes the guides pointed out to them the hides of devoured herds, and enormous mountains of dried material that appeared to have been deposited by some monster.  But no matter how far they penetrated into the solitude, they were always unable to find any living descendant of prehistoric fauna.

The sailor listened absent-mindedly, thinking of something else that was quickening his curiosity.

“And you, what is your name?” he said suddenly.

The two women laughed at this question, amusing because so unexpected.

“Call me Freya.  It is a Wagnerian name.  It means the earth, and at the same time liberty....  Do you like Wagner?”

And before he could reply she added in Spanish, with a Creole accent and flashing eyes: 

“Call me, if you wish, ‘the merry widow.’  The poor doctor died as soon as we returned to Europe.”

The three had to run to catch the train ready to start for Paestum.  The landscape was changing on both sides of the way, as now they were crossing over marshy portions of land.  On the soft meadows flocks of buffaloes, rude animals that appeared carved out in hatchet strokes, were wading and grazing.

The doctor spoke of Paestum, the ancient Poseidonia, the city of Neptune, founded by the Greeks of Sybaris six centuries before Christ.

Commercial prosperity once dominated the entire coast.  The gulf of Salerno was called by the Romans the Gulf of Paestum.  And this city with mountains like those of Athens had suddenly become extinguished without being swallowed up by the sea, and with no volcano to cover it with ashes.

Fever, the miasma of the fens, had been the deadly lava for this Pompeii.  The poisonous air had caused the inhabitants to flee, and the few who insisted upon living within the shadow of the ancient temples had had to escape from the Saracen invasions, founding in the neighboring mountains a new country the humble town of Capaccio Vecchio.  Then the Norman kings, forerunners of Frederick II (the father of Dona Constanza, the empress beloved by Ferragut), had plundered the entire deserted city, carrying off with them its columns and sculpture.

All the medieval constructions of the kingdom of Naples were the spoils of Paestum.  The doctor recalled the cathedral of Salerno, seen the afternoon before, where Hildebrand, the most tenacious and ambitious of the popes, was buried.  Its columns, its sarcophagi, its bas-reliefs had come from this Grecian city, forgotten for centuries and centuries and only in modern times thanks to the antiquarians and artists recovering its fame.

In the station of Paestum, the wife of the only employee looked curiously at this group arriving after the war had blocked off the trail of tourists.

Freya spoke to her, interested in her malarial and resigned aspect.  They were yet in good time.  The spring sun was warming up these lowlands just as in midsummer, but she was still able to resist it.  Later, during the summer, the guards of the ruins and the workmen in the excavations would have to flee to their homes in the mountains, handing the country over to the reptiles and insects of the marshy fields.

The lodging keeper and his wife in the little station were the only evidences of humankind still able to exist in this solitude, trembling with fever, trying to endure the corrupt air, the poisonous sting of the mosquito, and the solar fire that was sucking from the mud the vapors of death.  Every two years this humble stopping place through which passed the lucky ones of the earth, the millionaires of two hemispheres, beautiful and curious dames, rulers of nations, and great artists, was obliged to change its station-master.

The three tourists passed near the remains of an aqueduct and an antique pavement.  Then they went through the Porta della Sirena, an entrance arch into a forgotten quarter of the city, and continued along a road bordered on one side by marshy lands of exuberant vegetation and on the other by the long mud wall of a grange, through whose mortar were sticking out fragments of stones or columns.  On turning the last corner, the imposing spectacle of the dead city, still surviving in the magnificent proportions of its temples, presented itself to view.

There were three of these temples, and their colonnades stood forth like mast heads of ships becalmed in a sea of verdure.  The doctor, guide-book in hand, was pointing them out with masterly authority that was Neptune’s, that Ceres’, and that was called the Basilica without any special reason.

Their grandeur, their solidity, their elegance made the edifices of Rome sink into insignificance.  Athens alone could compare the monuments of her Acropolis with these temples of the most severe Doric style.  That of Neptune had well preserved its lofty and massive columns, as close together as the trees of a nursery, enormous trunks of stone that still sustained the high entablature, the jutting cornice and the two triangular walls of its façades.  The stone had taken on the mellow color of the cloudless countries where the sun toasts readily and the rain does not deposit a grimy coating.

The doctor recalled the departed beauties and the old covering of these colossal skeletons, the fine and compact coating of stucco which had closed the pores of the stone, giving it a superficial smoothness like marble, the vivid colors of its flutings and walls making the antique city a mass of polychrome monuments.  This gay decoration had become volatilized through the centuries and its colors, borne away by the wind, had fallen like a rain of dust upon a land in ruins.

Following an old guard, they climbed the blue, tiled steps of the temple of Neptune.  Above, within four rows of columns, was the real sanctuary, the cella.  Their footsteps on the tiled flags, separated by deep cracks filled with grass, awoke all the animal world that was drowsing there in the sun.

These actual inhabitants of the city, enormous lizards with green backs covered with black warts, ran in all directions.  In their flight they scurried blindly over the feet of the visitors.  The doctor raised her skirts in order to avoid them, at the same time breaking into nervous laughter to hide her terror.

Suddenly Freya gave a cry, pointing to the base of the ancient altar.  An ebony-hued snake, his sides dotted with red spots, was slowly and solemnly uncoiling his circles upon the stones.  The sailor raised his cane, but before he could strike he felt his arm grasped by two nervous hands.  Freya was throwing herself upon him with a pallid face and eyes dilated with fear and entreaty.

“No, Captain!...  Leave it alone!”

Ulysses thrilled upon feeling the contact of her firm, curving bosom and noting her respiration, her warm breath charged with distant perfume.  It would have suited him if she had remained in this position a long time, but Freya freed herself in order to advance toward the reptile, coaxing it and holding out her hands to it as though she were trying to caress a domestic animal.  The black tail of the serpent was just slipping away and disappearing between two square tiles.  The doctor who had fled down the steps at this apparition, by her repeated calls, obliged Freya also to descend.

The captain’s aggressive attitude awoke in his companion a nervous animosity.  She believed she knew this reptile.  It was undoubtedly the divinity of the dead temple that had changed its form in order to live among the ruins.  This serpent must be twenty centuries old.  If it had not been for Ferragut she would have been able to have taken it up in her hands....  She would have spoken to it....  She was accustomed to converse with others....

Ulysses was about to express his doubts rudely as to the mental equilibrium of the exasperated widow when the doctor interrupted them.  She was contemplating the swampy plains of acanthus and ferns trembling under the shrill chirping of the cicadas, and this spectacle of green desolation made her recall the roses of Paestum of which the poets of ancient Rome had sung.  She even recited some Latin verses, translating them to her hearers so as to make them understand that the rose bushes of this land used to bloom twice a year.  Freya smoothed out her brow and began to smile again.  She forgot her recent ill humor and expressed a great longing for one of the marvelous rose bushes:  and at this caprice of childish vehemence, Ferragut spoke to the custodian with authority.  He had to have at once a rose bush from Paestum, cost what it might.

The old fellow made a bored gesture.  Everybody asked the same thing, and he who belonged to that country had never seen a rose of Paestum....  Sometimes, just in order to satisfy the whim of tourists, he would bring rose bushes from Capaccio Vecchio and other mountain villages, rose bushes just like others with no difference except in price....  But he didn’t wish to take advantage of anybody.  He was sad and greatly troubled over the possibility of war.

“I have eight sons,” he said to the doctor, because she seemed to be the most suitable one to receive his confidences.  “If they mobilize the army, six of them will leave me.”

And he added with resignation: 

“That’s the way it ought to be if we would end forever, in one blow, our eternal enmity with the Goth.  My sons will battle against them, just as my father fought.”

The doctor stalked haughtily away, and then said in a low voice to her companions that the old guard was an imbecile.

They wandered for two hours through the ancient district of the city, exploring the network of its streets, the ruins of the amphitheater and the Porta Aurea which opened upon a road flanked with tombs.  By the Porta di Mare they climbed to the walls, ramparts of great limestone blocks, extending a distance of five kilometers.  The sea, which from the lowlands had looked like a narrow blue band, now appeared immense and luminous, a solitary sea with a feather-like crest of smoke, without a sail, given completely over to the sea-gulls.

The doctor walked stiffly ahead of them, still ill-humored about the guide’s remark and consulting the pages of her guide book.  Behind her Ulysses came close up to Freya, recalling their former contact.

He thought that it would be an easy matter now to get possession of this capricious and free-mannered woman.  “Sure thing, Captain!” The rapid triumphs that he had always had in his journeys assured him that there was not the slightest doubt of success.  It was enough for him to see the widow’s smile, her passionate eyes, and the little tricks of malicious coquetry with which she responded to his gallant advances.  “Forward, sea-wolf!"...  He took her hand while she was speaking of the beauty of the solitary sea, and the hand yielded without protest to his caressing fingers.  The doctor was far away and, sighing hypocritically, he encircled Freya’s waist with his other arm while he inclined his head upon her open throat as though he were going to kiss her pearls.

In spite of his strength, he found himself energetically repulsed and saw Freya freed from his arms, two steps away, looking upon him with hostile eyes that he had not noticed before.

“None of your child’s play, Captain!...  It is useless with me....  You are just wasting time.”

And she said no more.  Her stiffness and her silence during the rest of the walk made the sailor understand the enormity of his mistake.  In vain he tried to keep beside the widow.  She always maneuvered that the doctor should come between the two.

Upon returning to the station they took refuge from the heat in a little waiting room with dusty velvet divans.  In order to beguile the time while waiting for the train, Freya took from her handbag a gold cigarette-case and the light smoke of Egyptian tobacco charged with opium whirled among the shafts of sunlight from the partly-opened windows.

Ferragut, who had gone out in order to ascertain the exact hour of the arrival of the train, on returning stopped near the door, amazed at the animation with which the two ladies were speaking in a new language.  Recollections of Hamburg and Bremen came surging up in his memory.  His companions were talking German with the ease of a familiar idiom.  At sight of the sailor, they instantly continued their conversation in English.

Wishing to take part in the dialogue, he asked Freya how many languages she spoke.

“Very few, no more than eight.  The doctor, perhaps, knows twenty.  She knows the languages of people who passed away many centuries ago.”

And the young woman said this with gravity, without looking at him, as though she had lost forever that smile of a light woman which had so deceived Ferragut.

In the train she became more like a human being, even losing her offended manner.  They were soon going to separate.  The doctor grew less and less approachable as the cars rolled towards Salerno.  It was the chilliness that appears among companions of a day, when the hour of separation approaches and each one draws into himself, not to be seen any more.

Words fell flat, like bits of ice, without finding any echo in their fall.  At each turn of the wheel, the imposing lady became more reserved and silent.  Everything had been said.  They, too, were going to remain in Salerno in order to take a carriage-trip along the gulf.  They were going to Amalfi and would pass the night on the Alpine peak of Ravello, a medieval city where Wagner had passed the last months of his life, before dying in Venice.  Then, passing over to the Gulf of Naples, they would rest in Sorrento and perhaps might go to the island of Capri.

Ulysses wished to say that his line of march was exactly the same, but he was afraid of the doctor.  Furthermore, their trip was to be in a vehicle which they had already rented and they would not offer him a seat.

Freya appeared to surmise his sadness and wished to console him.

“It is a short trip.  No more than three days....  Soon we shall be in Naples.”

The farewell in Salerno was brief.  The doctor was careful not to mention their stopping-place.  For her, the friendship was ending then and there.

“It is probable that we shall run across each other again,” she said laconically.  “It is only the mountains that never meet.”

Her young companion was more explicit, mentioning the hotel on the shores of S. Lucia in which she lodged.

Standing by the step of the carriage, he saw them take their departure, just as he had seen them appear in a street of Pompeii.  The doctor was lost behind a screen of glass, talking with the coachman who had come to meet them.  Freya, before disappearing, turned to give him a faint smile and then raised her gloved hand with a stiff forefinger, threatening him just as though he were a mischievous and bold child.

Finding himself alone in the compartment that was carrying toward Naples the traces and perfumes of the absent one, Ulysses felt as downcast as though he were returning from a burial, as if he had just lost one of the props of his life.

His appearance on board the Mare Nostrum was regarded as a calamity.  He was capricious and intractable, complaining of Toni and the other two officials because they were not hastening repairs on the vessel.  In the same breath he said it would be better not to hurry things too much, so that the job would be better done.  Even Caragol was the victim of his bad humor which flamed forth in the form of cruel sermons against those addicted to the poison of alcohol.

“When men need to be cheered up, they have to have something better than wine.  That which brings greater ecstasy than drink ... is woman, Uncle Caragol.  Don’t forget this counsel!”

Through mere force of habit the cook replied, “That is so, my captain....”  But down in his heart he was pitying the ignorance of those men who concentrate all their happiness on the whims and grimaces of this most frivolous of toys.

Two days afterwards those on board drew a long breath when they saw the captain taken ashore.  The ship was moored in a very uncomfortable place, near some that were discharging coal, with the stern shored up so that the screw of the steamer might be repaired.  The workmen were replacing the damaged and broken plates with ceaseless hammering.  Since they would undoubtedly have to wait nearly a month, it would be much more convenient for the owner to go to a hotel; so he sent his baggage to the Albergo Partenope, on the ancient shore of S. Lucia, the very one that Freya had mentioned.

Upon installing himself in an upper room, with a view of the blue circle of the gulf framed by the outlines of the balcony, Ferragut’s first move was to change a bill for five liras into coppers, preparatory to asking various questions.  The jaundiced and mustached steward listened to him attentively with the complacency of a go-between, and at last was able to formulate a complete personality with all its data.  The lady for whom he was inquiring was the Signora Talberg.  She was at present away on an excursion, but she might return at any moment.

Ulysses passed an entire day with the tranquillity of one who awaits at a sure place, gazing at the gulf from the balcony.  Below him was the Castello dell’ Ovo connected with the land by a bridge.

The bersaglieri were occupying their ancient castle, work of the viceroy, Pedro of Toledo.  Many turrets of dark rose color were crowded together upon this narrow, egg-shaped island, where, in other days, the pusillanimous Spanish garrison was locked in the fortress for the purpose of aiming bombards and culverins at the Neapolitans when they no longer wished to pay taxes and imposts.  Its walls had been raised upon the ruins of another castle in which Frederick II had guarded his treasures, and whose chapel Giotto had painted.  And the medieval castle of which only the memory now remained had, in its turn, been erected upon the remnants of the Palace of Lucullus, who had located the center of his celebrated gardens in this little island, then called Megaris.

The cornets of the bersaglieri rejoiced the captain like the announcement of a triumphal entry.  “She’s going to come!  She’s going to come at any moment!...”  And he would look across the double mountain of the island of Capri, black in the distance, closing the gulf like a promontory, and the coast of Sorrento as rectilinear as a wall.  “There she is....”  Then he would lovingly follow the course of the little steamboats plowing across the immense blue surface, opening a triangle of foam.  In some of these Freya must be coming.

The first day was golden and full of hope.  The sun was sparkling in a cloudless sky, and the gulf was foaming with bubbles of light under an atmosphere so calm that not the slightest zephyr was rippling its surface.  The smoke plume of Vesuvius was upright and slender, expanding upon the horizon like a pine tree of white vapor.  At the foot of the balcony the strolling musicians kept succeeding each other from time to time, singing voluptuous barcarolles and love serenades....  And she did not come!

The second day was silvery and desperate.  There was fog on the gulf; the sun was no more than a reddish disk such as one sees in the northern countries; the mountains were clothed with lead; the clouds were hiding the cone of the volcano; the sea appeared to be made of tin, and a chilly wind was distending sails, skirts, and overcoats, making the people scurry along the promenade and the shore.  The musicians continued their singing but with melancholy sighs in the shelter of a corner, to keep out of the furious blasts from the sea.  “To die....  To die for thee!” a baritone voice groaned between the harps and violins.  And she came!

Upon learning from the waiter that the signora Talberg was in her room on the floor below, Ulysses thrilled with restlessness.  What would she say upon finding him installed in her hotel?...

The luncheon hour was at hand, and he impatiently awaited the usual signals before going down to the dining room.  First an explosion would be heard behind the albergo making the walls and roofs tremble, swelling out into the immensity of the gulf.  That was the midday cannonade from the high castle of S. Elmo.  Then cornets from the Castello dell’ Ovo would respond with their joyous call to the smoking olio, and up the stairway of the hotel would come the beating of the Chinese gong, announcing that luncheon was served.

Ulysses went down to take his place at table, looking in vain at the other guests who had preceded him.  Freya perhaps was going to come in with the delay of a traveler who has just arrived and has been occupied in freshening her toilet.

He lunched badly, looking continually at a great glass doorway decorated with pictures of boats, fishes, and sea gulls, and every time its polychromatic leaves parted, his food seemed to stick in his throat.  Finally came the end of the lunch, and he slowly sipped his coffee.  She did not appear.

On returning to his room, he sent the whiskered steward in search of news....  The signora had not lunched in the hotel; the signora had gone out while he was in the dining-room.  Surely she would show herself in the evening.

At dinner time he had the same unpleasant experience, believing that Freya was going to appear every time that an unknown hand or a vague silhouette of a woman pushed the door open from the other side of the opaque glass.

He strolled up and down the vestibule a long time, chewing rabidly on a cigar, and finally decided to accost the porter, an astute brunette whose blue lapels embroidered with keys of gold were peeping over the edge of his writing desk, taking in everything, informing himself of everything, while he appeared to be asleep.

The approach of Ulysses made him spring up as though he heard the rustling of paper money.  His information was very precise.  The signora Talberg very seldom ate at the hotel.  She had some friends who were occupying a furnished flat in the district of Chiaja, with whom she usually passed almost the entire day.  Sometimes she did not even return to sleep....  And he again sat down, his hand closing tightly upon the bill which his imagination had foreseen.

After a bad night Ulysses arose, resolved to await the widow at the entrance to the hotel.  He took his breakfast at a little table in the vestibule, read the newspaper, had to go to the door in order to avoid the morning cleaning, pursued by the dust of brooms and shaken rugs.  And once there, he pretended to take great interest in the wandering musicians, who dedicated their love songs and serenades to him, rolling up the whites of their eyes upon presenting their hats for coins.

Some one came to keep him company.  It was the porter who now appeared very familiar and confidential, as though since the preceding night a firm friendship, based upon their secret, had sprung up between the two.

He spoke of the beauties of the country, counseling the Spaniard to take divers excursions....  A smile, an encouraging word from Ferragut, and he would have immediately proposed other recreations whose announcement appeared to be fluttering around his lips.  But the sailor repelled all such amiability, glowering with displeasure.  This vulgar fellow was going to spoil with his presence the longed-for meeting.  Perhaps he was hanging around just to see and to know....  And taking advantage of one of his brief absences, Ulysses went off down the long Via Partenope, following the parapet that extends along the coast, pretending to be interested in everything that he met, but without losing sight of the door of the hotel.

He stopped before the oystermen’s stands, examining the valves of pearly shells piled up on the shelves, the baskets of oysters from Fusaro and the enormous conch-shells in whose hollow throats, according to the peddlers, the distant roll of the sea was echoing like a haunting memory.  One by one he looked at all the motor launches, the little regatta skiffs, the fishing barks, and the coast schooners anchored in the quiet harbor of the island dell’ Ova.  He stood a long time quietly watching the gentle waves that were combing their foam on the rocks of the dikes under the horizontal fishing rods of various fishermen.

Suddenly he saw Freya following the avenue beside the houses.  She recognized him at once and this discovery made her stop near a street-opening, hesitating whether to continue on or to flee toward the interior of Naples.  Then she came over to the seaside pavement, approaching Ferragut with a placid smile, greeting him afar off, like a friend whose presence is only to be expected.

Such assurance rather disconcerted the captain.  They shook hands and she asked him calmly what he was doing there looking at the waves, and if the repairs of his boat were progressing satisfactorily.

“But admit that my presence has surprised you!” said Ulysses, rather irritated by this tranquillity.  “Confess that you were not expecting to find me here.”

Freya repeated her smiles with an expression of sweet compassion.

“It is natural that I should find you here.  You are in your district, within sight of a hotel....  We are neighbors.”

In order more thoroughly to amuse herself with the captain’s astonishment, she made a long pause.  Then she added: 

“I saw your name on the list of arrivals yesterday, on my return to the hotel.  I always look them over.  It pleases me to know who my neighbors are.”

“And for that reason you did not come down to the dining-room?...”

Ulysses asked this question hoping that she would respond negatively.  She could not answer it in any other way, if only for good manners’ sake.

“Yes, for that reason,” Freya replied simply.  “I guessed that you were waiting to meet me and I did not wish to go into the dining-room....  I give you fair warning that I shall always do the same.”

Ulysses uttered an “Ah!” of amazement....  No woman had ever spoken to him with such frankness.

“Neither has your presence here surprised me,” she continued.  “I was expecting it.  I know the innocent wiles of you men.  ’Since he did not find me in the hotel, he will wait for me to-day in the street,’ I said to myself, upon arising this morning....  Before coming out, I was following your footsteps from the window of my room....”

Ferragut looked at her in surprise and dismay.  What a woman!...

“I might have escaped through any cross street while your back was turned.  I saw you before you saw me....  But these false situations stretching along indefinitely are distasteful to me.  It is better to speak the entire truth face to face....  And therefore I have come to meet you....”

Instinct made him turn his head toward the hotel.  The porter was standing at the entrance looking out over the sea, but with his eyes undoubtedly turned toward them.

“Let us go on,” said Freya.  “Accompany me a little ways.  We shall talk together and then you can leave me....  Perhaps we shall separate greater friends than ever.”

They strolled in silence all the length of the Via Partenope until they reached the gardens along the beach of Chiaja, losing sight of the hotel.  Ferragut wished to renew the conversation, but could not begin it.  He feared to appear ridiculous.  This woman was making him timid.

Looking at her with admiring eyes, he noted the great changes that had been made in the adornment of her person.  She was no longer clad in the dark tailor-made in which he had first seen her.  She was wearing a blue and white silk gown with a handsome fur over her shoulders and a cluster of purple heron feathers on top of her wide hat.

The black hand-bag that had always accompanied her on her journeys had been replaced by a gold-meshed one of showy richness, Australian gold of a greenish tone like an overlay of Florentine bronze.  In her ears were two great, thick emeralds, and on her fingers a half dozen diamonds whose facets twinkled in the sunlight.  The pearl necklace was still on her neck peeping out through the V-shaped opening of her gown.  It was the magnificent toilet of a rich actress who puts everything on herself, of one so enamored with jewels that she is not able to live without their contact, adorning herself with them the minute she is out of bed, regardless of the hour and the rules of good taste.

But Ferragut did not take into consideration the unsuitableness of all this luxury.  Everything about her appeared to him admirable.

Without knowing just how, he began to talk.  He was astonished at hearing his own voice, saying always the same thing in different words.  His thoughts were incoherent, but they were all clustered around an incessantly repeated statement, his love, his immense love for Freya.

And Freya continued marching on in silence with a compassionate expression in her eyes and in the corners of her mouth.  It pleased her pride as a woman to contemplate this strong man stuttering in childish confusion.  At the same time she grew impatient at the monotony of his words.

“Don’t say any more, Captain,” she finally interrupted.  “I can guess all that you are going to say, and I’ve heard many times what you have said, You do not sleep you do not eat you do not live because of me.  Your existence is impossible if I do not love you.  A little more conversation and you will threaten me with shooting yourself, if I am not yours....  Same old song!  They all say the same thing.  There are no creatures with less originality than you men when you wish something....”

They were in one of the avenues of the promenade.  Through the palm trees and glossy magnolias the luminous gulf could be seen on one side, and on the other the handsome edifices of the beach of Chiaja.  Some ragged urchins kept running around them and following them, until they took refuge in an ornamental little white temple at the end of the avenue.

“Very well, then, enamored sea-wolf,” continued Freya; “you need not sleep, you need not eat, you may kill yourself if the fancy strikes you; but I am not able to love you; I shall never love you.  You may give up all hope; life is not mere diversion and I have other more serious occupations that absorb all my time.”

In spite of the playful smile with which she accompanied these words, Ferragut surmised a very firm will.

“Then,” he said in despair, “it will all be useless?...  Even though I make the greatest sacrifices?...  Even though I give proofs of love greater than you have ever known?...”

“All useless,” she replied roundly, without a sign of a smile.

They paused before the ornamental little temple-shaped building, with its dome supported by white columns and a railing around it.  The bust of Virgil adorned the center, an enormous head of somewhat feminine beauty.

The poet had died in Naples in “Sweet Parthenope,” on his return from Greece and his body, turned to dust, was perhaps mingled with the soil of this garden.  The Neapolitan people of the Middle Ages had attributed to him all kinds of wonderful things, even transforming the poet into a powerful magician.  The wizard Virgil in one night had constructed the Castello dell’ Ovo, placing it with his own hands upon a great egg (Ovo) that was floating in the sea.  He also had opened with his magic blasts the tunnel of Posilipo near which are a vineyard and a tomb visited for centuries as the last resting place of the poet.  Little scamps, playing around the railing, used to hurl papers and stones inside the temple.  The white head of the powerful sorcerer attracted them and at the same time filled them with admiration and fear.

“Thus far and no further,” ordered Freya.  “You will continue on your way.  I am going to the high part of Chiaja....  But before separating as good friends, you are going to give me your word not to follow me, not to importune me with your amorous attentions, not to mix yourself in my life.”

Ulysses did not reply, hanging his head in genuine dismay.  To his disillusion was added the sting of wounded pride.  He who had imagined such very different things when they should see each other again together, alone!...

Freya pitied his sadness.

“Don’t be a Baby!...  This will soon pass.  Think of your business affairs, and of your family waiting for you over there in Spain....  Besides, the world is full of women; I’m not the only one.”

But Ferragut interrupted her.  “Yes, she was the only one!...  The only one!...”  And he said it with a conviction that awakened another one of her compassionate smiles.

This man’s tenacity was beginning to irritate her.

“Captain, I know your type very well.  You are an egoist, like all other men.  Your boat is tied up in the harbor because of an accident; you’ve got to remain ashore a month; you meet on one of your trips a woman who is idiot enough to admit that she remembers meeting you at other times, and you say to yourself, Magnificent occasion to while away agreeably a tedious period of waiting!...’  If I should yield to your desire, within a few weeks, as soon as your boat was ready, the hero of my love, the knight of my dreams, would betake himself to the sea, saying as a parting salute:  ‘Adieu, simpleton!’”

Ulysses protested with energy.  No:  he wished that his boat might never be repaired.  He was computing with agony the days that remained.  If it were necessary, he would abandon it, remaining forever in Naples.

“And what have I to do in Naples?” interrupted Freya.  “I am a mere bird of passage here, just as you are.  We knew each other on the seas of another hemisphere, and we have just happened to run across each other here in Italy.  Next time, if we ever meet again, it will be in Japan or Canada or the Cape....  Go on your way, you enamored old shark, and let me go mine.  Imagine to yourself that we are two boats that have met when becalmed, have signaled each other, have exchanged greetings, have wished each other good luck, and afterwards have continued on our way, perhaps never to see each other again.”

Ferragut shook his head negatively.  Such a thing could not be, he could not resign himself to losing sight of her forever.

“These men!” she continued, each time a little more irritated.  “You all imagine that things must be arranged entirely according to your caprices.  ‘Because I desire thee, thou must be mine....’  And what if I don’t want to?...  And if I don’t feel any necessity of being loved?...  If I wish only to live in liberty, with no other love than that which I feel for myself?...”

She considered it a great misfortune to be a woman.  She always envied men for their independence.  They could hold themselves aloof, abstaining from the passions that waste life, without anybody’s coming to importune them in their retreat.  They were at liberty to go wherever they wanted to, to travel the wide world over, without leaving behind their footsteps a wake of solicitors.

“You appear to me, Captain, a very charming man.  The other day I was delighted to meet you; it was an apparition from the past; I saw in you the joy of my youth that is beginning to fade away, and the melancholy of certain recollections....  And nevertheless, I am going to end by hating you.  Do you hear me, you tedious old Argonaut?...  I shall loathe you because you will not be a mere friend; because you know only how to talk everlastingly about the same thing; because you are a person out of a novel, a Latin, very interesting, perhaps, to other women, but insufferable to me.”

Her face contracted with a gesture of scorn and pity.  “Ah, those Latins!...”

“They’re all the same, Spaniards, Italians, Frenchmen....  They were born for the same thing.  They hardly meet an attractive woman but they believe that they are evading their obligations if they do not beg for her love and what comes afterward....  Cannot a man and woman simply be friends?  Couldn’t you be just a good comrade and treat me as a companion?”

Ferragut protested energetically.  No; no, he couldn’t.  He loved her and, after being repelled with such cruelty, his love would simply go on increasing.  He was sure of that.

A nervous tremor made Freya’s voice sharp and cutting, and her eyes took on a dangerous gleam.  She looked at her companion as though he were an enemy whose death she longed for.

“Very well, then, if you must know it.  I abominate all men; I abominate them, because I know them so well.  I would like the death of all of them, of every one!...  The evil that they have wrought in my life!...  I would like to be immensely beautiful, the handsomest woman on earth, and to possess the intellect of all the sages concentrated in my brain, to be rich and to be a queen, in order that all the men of the world, crazy with desire, would come to prostrate themselves before me....  And I would lift up my feet with their iron heels, and I would go trampling over them, crushing their heads ... so ... and so ... and so!...”

She struck the sands of the garden with the soles of her little shoes.  An hysterical sneer distorted her mouth.

“Perhaps I might make an exception of you....  You who, with all your braggart arrogance, are, after all, outright and simple-hearted.  I believe you capable of assuring a woman of all kinds of love-lies ... believing them yourself most of all.  But the others!... Ay, the others!...  How I hate them!...”

She looked over toward the palace of the Aquarium, glistening white between the colonnade of trees.

“I would like to be,” she continued pensively, “one of those animals of the sea that can cut with their claws, that have arms like scissors, saws, pincers ... that devour their own kind, and absorb everything around them.”

Then she looked at the branch of a tree from which were hanging several silver threads, sustaining insects with active tentacles.

“I would like to be a spider, an enormous spider, that all men might be drawn to my web as irresistibly as flies.  With what satisfaction would I crunch them between my claws!  How I would fasten my mouth against their hearts!...  And I would suck them....  I would suck them until there wasn’t a drop of blood left, tossing away then their empty carcasses!...”

Ulysses began to wonder if he had fallen in love with a crazy woman.  His disquietude, his surprise and questioning eyes gradually restored Freya’s serenity.

She passed one hand across her forehead, as though awakening from a nightmare and wishing to banish remembrance with this gesture.  Her glance became calmer.

“Good-by, Ferragut; do not make me talk any more.  You will soon doubt my reason....  You are doing so already.  We shall be friends, just friends and nothing more.  It is useless to think of anything else....  Do not follow me....  We shall see each other....  I shall hunt you up....  Good-by!...  Good-by!”

And although Ferragut felt tempted to follow her, he remained motionless, seeing her hurry rapidly away, as though fleeing from the words that she had just let fall before the little temple of the poet.