Mare Nostrum (Our Sea)
Vicente Blasco Ibanez
Part 4 out of 9
"I used to dance naked, with a transparent veil tied around my hips and
another floating from my head ... I would dance for hours and hours,
just like a Brahman priestess before the image of the terrible Siva,
and the 'eye of the morning' would follow my dances with elegant
undulations ... I believe in the divine Siva. Don't you know who Siva
Ferragut uttered an impatient aside to the gloomy god. What he wanted
to know was the reason that had taken her to Java, the paradisiacal and
"My husband was a Dutch commandant," she said. "We were married in
Amsterdam and I followed him to Asia."
Ulysses protested at this piece of news. Had not her husband been a
great student?... Had he not taken her to the Andes in search of
Freya hesitated a moment in order to be sure, but her doubts were
"So he was," she said as a matter of course. "That professor was my
second husband. I have been married twice."
The captain had not time to express his surprise. Over the top of the
tank, on the crystalline surface silvered by the sun, passed a human
shadow. It was the, silhouette of the keeper. Down below, the three
shapeless bags began to move. Freya was trembling with emotion like an
enthusiastic and impatient spectator.
Something fell into the water, descending little by little, a bit of
dead sardine that was scattering filaments of meat and yellow scales.
An odd community interest appeared to exist among these monsters: only
the one nearest the prey bestirred himself to eat. Perhaps they
voluntarily took turns; perhaps their glance only reached a little
beyond their tentacles.
The one nearest to the glass suddenly unfolded itself with the violence
of a spring escaping from an explosive projectile. He gave a bound,
remaining fastened to the ground by one of his radiants, and raised the
others like a bundle of reptiles. Suddenly he converted himself into a
monstrous star, filling almost the entire glassy tank, swollen with
rage, and coloring his outer covering with green, blue, and red.
His tentacles clutched the miserable prey, doubling it inward in order
to bear it to his mouth. The beast then contracted, and flattened
himself out so as to rest on the ground. His armed feet disappeared and
there only remained visible a trembling bag through which was passing
like a succession of waves, from one extreme to the other, the
digestive swollen mass which became a bubbling, mucous pulpiness in a
dye-pot that colored and discolored itself with contortions of
assimilative fury; from time to time the agglomeration showed its
stupid and ferocious eyes.
New victims continued falling down through the waters and other
monsters leaped in their turn, spreading out their stars, then
shrinking together in order to grind their prey in their entrails with
the assimilation of a tiger.
Freya gazed upon this horrifying digestive process with thrills of
rapture. Ulysses felt her resting instinctively upon him with a contact
growing more intimate every moment. From shoulder to ankle the captain
could see the sweet reliefs of her soft flesh whose warmth made itself
perceptible through her clothing and filled him with nervous tremors.
Frequently she turned her eyes away from the cruel spectacle, glancing
at him quickly with an odd expression. Her pupils appeared enlarged,
and the whites of her eyes had a wateriness of morbid reflection.
Ferragut felt that thus the insane must look in their great crises.
She was speaking between her teeth, with emotional pauses, admiring the
ferocity of the cuttlefish, grieving that she did not possess their
vigor and their cruelty.
"If I could only be like them!... To be able to go through the streets
... through the world, stretching out my talons!... To devour!... to
devour! They would struggle uselessly to free themselves from the
winding of my tentacles.... To absorb them!... To eat them!... To cause
them to disappear!..."
Ulysses beheld her as on that first day near the temple of the poet,
possessed with a fierce wrath against men, longing extravagantly for
Their digestion finished, the polypi had begun to swim around, and were
now horizontal skeins, fluting the tank with elegance. They appeared
like torpedo boats with a conical prow, dragging along the heavy, thick
and long hair of their tentacles. Their excited appetite made them
glide through the water in all directions, seeking new victims.
Freya protested. The guard had only brought them dead bodies. What she
wanted was the struggle, the sacrifice, the death. The bits of sardine
were a meal without substance for these bandits that had zest only for
food seasoned with assassination.
As though the pulps had understood her complaints, they had fallen on
the sandy bottom, flaccid, inert, breathing through their funnels.
A little crab began to descend at the end of a thread desperately
moving its claws.
Freya pressed still closer to Ulysses, excited at the thought of the
approaching spectacle. One of the bags, transformed into a star,
suddenly leaped forward. Its arms writhed like serpents seeking the
recent arrival. In vain the guard pulled the thread up, wishing to
prolong the chase. The tentacles clamped their irresistible openings
upon the body of the victim, pulling upon the line with such force that
it broke, the octopus falling on the bottom with his prey.
Freya clapped her hands in applause.
"Bravo!..." She was exceedingly pale, though a feverish heat was
coursing through her body.
She leaned toward the crystal in order to see better the devouring
activity of that pyramidal stomach which had on its sharp point a
diminutive parrot head with two ferocious eyes and around its base the
twisted skeins of its arms full of projecting disks. With these it
pressed the crab against its mouth, injecting under its shell the
venomous output of its salivary glands, paralyzing thus every movement
of existence. Then it swallowed its prey slowly with the deglutition of
a boa constrictor.
"How beautiful it is!" she said.
The other beasts also seized their live victims, paralyzed and devoured
them, moving their flabby bodies in order to permit the passage of
their swelling nutritive waves and clouds of various colors.
Then the guard tossed in a crab, but one without any string whatever.
Freya screamed with enthusiasm.
This was the kind of hunt that takes place in the ferocious mystery of
the sea, a race with death, a destruction preceded with emotional agony
and hazards. The poor crustacean, divining its danger, was swimming
towards the rocks hoping to take refuge in the nearest crevice. A
polypus came up behind it, whilst the others continued their digestion.
"It's escaping!... It's escaping!" cried Freya, palpitating with
The crab scrambled through the stones, sheltering itself in their
windings. The polypus was no longer swimming; it was running like a
terrestrial animal, climbing over the rocks by its armed extremities,
which were now serving as apparatus of locomotion. It was the struggle
of a tiger with a mouse. When the crab had half of its body already
hidden within the green lichens of a hole, one of the heavy serpents
fell upon its back clutching it with the irresistible suction of his
air-holes, and causing it to disappear within his skein of tentacles.
"Ah!" sighed Freya, throwing herself back as though she were going to
faint on Ulysses' breast.
He shuddered, feeling that a serpentine band of tremulous pressure had
encircled his body. The acts of that unbalanced creature were fraying
He felt as though a monster of the same class as those in the tank but
much larger--a gigantic octopus from the oceanic depths--must have
slipped treacherously behind him and was clutching him in one of its
tentacles. He could feel the pressure of its feelers around his waist,
growing closer and more ferocious.
Freya was holding him captive with one of her arms. She had wound
herself tightly around him and was clasping his waist with all her
force, as though trying to break his vigorous body in two.
Then he saw the head of this woman approaching him with an aggressive
swiftness as if she were going to bite him.... Her enlarged eyes,
tearful and misty, appeared to be far off, very far off. Perhaps she
was not even looking at him.... Her trembling mouth, bluish with
emotion, a round and protruding mouth like an absorbing duct, was
seeking the sailor's mouth, taking possession of it and devouring it
with her lips.
It was the kiss of a cupping-glass, long, dominating, painful. Ulysses
realized that he had never before been kissed in this way. The water
from that mouth surging across her row of teeth, discharged itself in
his like swift poison. A shudder unfamiliar until then ran the entire
length of his back, making him close his eyes.
He felt as if all his interior had turned to liquid. He had a
presentiment that his life was going to date from this kiss, that with
it was going to begin a new existence, that he never would be able to
free himself from these deadly and caressing lips with their faint
savor of cinnamon, of incense, of Asiatic forests haunted with
sensuousness and intrigue.
And he let himself be dragged down by the caress of this wild beast,
with thought lost and body inert and resigned, like a castaway who
descends and descends the infinite strata of the abyss without ever
THE WILES OF CIRCE
After that kiss, the lover believed that all his desires were about to
be immediately realized. The most difficult part of the road was
already passed. But with Freya one always had to expect something
absurd and inconceivable.
The midday gun aroused them from a rapture that had lasted but a few
seconds as long as years. The steps of the guard, growing nearer all
the time, finally separated the two and unlocked their arms.
Freya was the first to calm herself. Only a slight haze flitted across
her pupils now, like the vapor from a recently extinguished fire.
"Good-by.... They are waiting for me."
And she went out from the Aquarium followed by Ferragut, still
stammering and tremulous. The questions and petitions with which he
pursued her while crossing the promenade were of no avail.
"So far and no further," she said at one of the cross streets of
Chiaja. "We shall see one another.... I formally promise you that....
Now leave me."
And she disappeared with the firm step of a handsome huntress, as
serene of countenance as though not recalling the slightest
recollection of her primitive, passional paroxysm.
This time she fulfilled her promise. Ferragut saw her every day.
They met in the mornings near the hotel, and sometimes she came down
into the dining-room, exchanging smiles and glances with the sailor,
who fortunately was sitting at a distant table. Then they took strolls
and chatted together, Freya laughing good-naturedly at the amorous vows
of the captain.... And that was all.
With a woman's skillfulness in sounding a man's depth and penetrating
into his secrets,--keeping fast-locked and unapproachable her own,--she
gradually informed herself of the incidents and adventures in the life
of Ulysses. Vainly he spoke, in a natural reciprocity, of the island of
Java, of the mysterious dances before Siva, of the journeys through the
lakes of the Andes. Freya had to make an effort to recall them. "Ah!...
Yes!" And after giving this distracted exclamation for every answer,
she would continue the process of delving eagerly into the former life
of her lover. Ulysses sometimes began to wonder if that embrace in the
Aquarium could have occurred in his dreams.
One morning the captain managed to bring about the realization of one
of his ambitions. He was jealous of the unknown friends that were
lunching with Freya. In vain she affirmed that the doctor was the only
companion of the hours that she passed outside of the hotel. In order
to tranquillize himself, the sailor insisted that the widow should
accept his invitations. They ought to extend their strolls; they ought
to visit the beautiful outskirts of Naples, lunching in their gay
little _trattorias_ or eating-houses.
They ascended together the funicular road of Monte Vomero to the
heights crowned by the castle of S. Elmo and the monastery of S.
Martino. After admiring in the museum of the abbey the artistic
souvenirs of the Bourbon domination and that of Murat, they entered
into a nearby _trattoria_ with tables placed on an esplanade from whose
balconies they could take in the unforgetable spectacle of the gulf,
seeing Vesuvius in the distance and the chain of mountains smoking on
the horizon like an immovable succession of dark rose-colored waves.
Naples was extended in horseshoe form on the bow-shaped border of the
sea tossing up from its enormous white mass, as though they were bits
of foam, the clusters of houses in the suburbs.
A swarthy oysterman, slender, with eyes like live coals, and enormous
mustaches, had his stand at the door of the restaurant, offering
cockles and shell fish of strong odor that had been half a week perhaps
in ascending from the city to the heights of Vomero. Freya jested about
the oysterman's typical good looks and the languishing glances that he
was forever casting toward all the ladies that entered the
establishment ... a prime discovery for a tourist anxious for
adventures in local color.
In the background a small orchestra was accompanying a tenor voice or
was playing alone, enlarging upon the melodies and amplifying the
measures with Neapolitan exaggeration.
Freya felt a childish hilarity upon seating herself at the table,
seeing over the cloth the luminous summit. Bisected in the foreground
by a crystal vase full of flowers, the distant panorama of the city,
the gulf, and its capes spread itself before her eager eyes. The air on
this peak enchanted her after two weeks passed without stirring outside
of Naples. The harps and violins gave the situation a pathetic thrill
and served as a background for conversation, just as the vague murmurs
of a hidden orchestra give the effect in the theater of psalmody or of
melancholy verses moving the listener to tears.
They ate with the nervousness which joy supplies. At some tables
further on a young man and woman were forgetting the courses in order
to clasp hands underneath the cloth and place knee against knee with
frenzied pressure. The two were smiling, looking at the landscape and
then at each other. Perhaps they were foreigners recently married,
perhaps fugitive lovers, realizing in this picturesque spot the billing
and cooing so many times anticipated in their distant courtship.
Two English doctors from a hospital ship, white haired and uniformed,
were disregarding their repast in order to paint directly in their
albums, with a childish painstaking crudeness, the same panorama that
was portrayed on the postal cards offered for sale at the door of the
A fat-bellied bottle with a petticoat of straw and a long neck
attracted Freya's hands to the table. She ridiculed the sobriety of
Ferragut, who was diluting with water the reddish blackness of the
"Thus your ancestors, the Argonauts, must have drunk," she said gayly.
"Thus your grandfather, Ulysses, undoubtedly drank."
And herself filling the captain's glass with an exaggeratedly careful
division of the parts of water and wine, she added gayly:
"We are going to make a libation to the gods."
These libations were very frequent. Freya's peals of laughter made the
Englishmen, interrupted in their conscientious work, turn their glances
toward her. The sailor felt himself overcome by a warm feeling of
well-being, by a sensation of repose and confidence, as though this
woman were unquestionably his already.
Seeing that the two lovers, terminating their luncheon hastily, were
arising with blushing precipitation as though overpowered by some
sudden desire, his glance became tender and fraternal.... Adieu, adieu,
The voice of the widow recalled him to reality.
"Ulysses, make love to me.... You haven't yet told me this whole day
long that you love me."
In spite of the smiling and mocking tone of this order, he obeyed her,
repeating once more his promises and his desires. Wine was giving to
his words a thrill of emotion; the musical moaning of the orchestra was
exciting his sensibilities and he was so touched with his own eloquence
that his eyes slightly filled with tears.
The high voice of the tenor, as though it were an echo of Ferragut's
thought, was singing a romance of the fiesta of Piedigrotta, a
lamentation of melancholy love, a canticle of death, the final mother
of hopeless lovers.
"All a lie!" said Freya, laughing. "These Mediterraneans.... What
comedians they are for love!..."
Ulysses was uncertain as to whether she was referring to him or to the
singer. She continued talking, placid and disdainful at the same time,
because of their surroundings.
"Love,... love! In these countries they can't talk of anything else. It
is almost an industry, somewhat scrupulously prepared for the credulous
and simple people from the North. They all harp on love: this howling
singer, you ... even the oysterman...."
Then she added maliciously:
"I ought to warn you that you have a rival. Be very careful, Ferragut!"
She turned her head in order to look at the oysterman. He was occupied
in the contemplation of a fat lady with grisled hair and abundant
jewels, a lady escorted by her husband, who was looking with
astonishment at the vendor's killing glances without being able to
The lady-killer was stroking his mustache affectedly, looking from time
to time at his cloth suit in order to smooth out the wrinkles and brush
off the specks of dust. He was a handsome pirate disguised as a
gentleman. Upon noticing Freya's interest, he changed the course of his
glances, poised his fine figure and replied to her questioning eyes
with the smile of a bad angel, making her understand his discretion and
skillfulness in ingratiating himself behind husbands and escorts.
"There he is!" cried Freya with peals of laughter. "I already have a
The swarthy charmer was restrained by the scandalous publicity with
which this lady was receiving his mysterious insinuations. Ferragut
spoke of knocking the scamp down on his oyster shells with a good pair
"Now don't be ridiculous," she protested. "Poor man! Perhaps he has a
wife and many children.... He is the father of a family and wants to
take money home."
There was a long silence between the two. Ulysses appeared offended by
the lightness and cruelty of his companion.
"Now don't you be cross," she said. "See here, my shark! Smile a bit.
Show me your teeth.... The libations to the gods are to blame. Are you
offended because I wished to compare you with that clown?... What if
you are the only man that I appreciate at all!... Ulysses, I am
speaking to you seriously,--with all the frankness that wine gives. I
ought not to tell you so, but I admit it.... If I should ever love a
man, that man would be you."
Ferragut instantly forgot all his irritation in order to listen to her
and envelop her in the adoring light of his eyes. Freya averted her
glance while speaking, not wishing to meet his eye, as though she were
weighing what she was saying while her glance wandered over the
Ulysses' origin was what interested her most. She who had traveled over
almost the entire world, had trodden the soil of Spain only a few
hours, when disembarking in Barcelona from the transatlantic liner
which he had commanded. The Spaniards inspired her both with fear and
attraction. A noble gravity reposed in the depths of their ardent
"You are an exaggerated being, a meridional who enlarges everything and
lies about everything, believing all his own lies. But I am sure that
if you should ever be really in love with me, without fine phrases or
passionate fictions, your affection would be more sane and deep than
that of other men.... My friend, the doctor, says that you are a crude
people and that you have only simulated the nervousness, unbalanced
behavior, and intrigues that accompany love in other civilized
countries even to refinement."
Freya looked at the sailor, making a long pause.
"Therefore you strike," she continued, "therefore you kill when you
feel love and jealousy. You are brutes but not mediocre. You do not
abandon a woman intentionally; you do not exploit her.... You are a new
species of man for me, who has known so many. If I were able to believe
in love, I would have you at my side all my life.... All my life long!"
A light, gentle music, like the vibration of fragile and delicate
crystal, spread itself over the terrace. Freya followed its rhythm with
a light motion of the head. She was accustomed to this cloying music,
this _Serenata_ of Toselli,--a passionate lament that always touches
the soul of the tourist in the halls of the grand hotels. She, who at
other times had ridiculed this artificial and refined little music, now
felt tears welling up in her eyes.
"Not to be able to love anybody!" she murmured. "To wander alone
through the world!... And love is such a beautiful thing!"
She guessed what Ferragut was going to say,--his protest of eternal
passion, his offer to unite his life to hers forever, and she cut his
words short with an energetic gesture.
"No, Ulysses, you do not know me; you do not know who I am.... Go far
from me. Some days ago it was a matter of indifference to me. I hate
men and do not mind injuring them, but now you inspire me with a
certain interest because I believe you are good and frank in spite of
your haughty exterior.... Go! Do not seek me. This is the best proof of
affection that I can give you."
She said this vehemently, as if she saw Ferragut running toward danger
and was crying out in order to ward him from it.
"On the stage," she continued, "there is a role that they call 'The
Fatal Woman,' and certain artists are not able to play any other part.
They were born to represent this personage.... I am a 'Fatal Woman,'
but really and truly.... If you could know my life!... It is better
that you do not know it; even I wish to ignore it. I am happy only when
I forget it.... Ferragut, my friend, bid me farewell, and do not cross
my path again."
But Ferragut protested as though she were proposing a cowardly thing to
him. Flee? Loving her so much? If she had enemies, she could rely upon
him for her defense; if she wanted wealth, he wasn't a millionaire,
"Captain," interrupted Freya, "go back to your own people. I was not
meant for you. Think of your wife and son; follow your own life. I am
not the conquest that is cherished for a few weeks, no more. Nobody can
trust me with impunity. I have suckers just like the animals that we
saw the other day; I burn and sting just like those transparent
parasols in the Aquarium. Flee, Ferragut!.... Leave me alone....
And the image of the immense barrenness of her lonely future made the
tears gush from her eyes.
The music had ceased. A motionless waiter was pretending to look far
away, while really listening to their conversation. The two Englishmen
had interrupted their painting in order to glare at this _gentleman_
who was making a lady weep. The sailor began to feel the nervous
disquietude which a difficult situation creates.
"Ferragut, pay and let us go," she said, divining his state of mind.
While Ulysses was giving money to the waiters and musicians, she dried
her eyes and repaired the ravages to her complexion, drawing from her
gold-mesh bag a powder puff and little mirror in whose oval she
contemplated herself for a long time.
As they passed out, the oysterman turned his back, pretending to be
very much occupied in the arrangement of the lemons that were adorning
his stand. She could not see his face, but she guessed, nevertheless,
that he was muttering a bad word,--the most terrible that can be said
of a woman.
They went slowly toward the station of the funicular road, through
solitary streets and between garden walls one side of which was yellow
in the golden sunlight and the other blue in the shade. She it was who
sought Ulysses' arm, supporting herself on it with a childish abandon
as if fatigue had overcome her after the first few steps.
Ferragut pressed this arm close against his body, feeling at once the
stimulus of contact. Nobody could see them; their footsteps resounded
on the pavements with the echo of an abandoned place. The fermented
ardor of those libations to the gods was giving the captain a new
"My poor little darling!... Dear little crazy-head!..." he murmured,
drawing closer to him Freya's head which was resting on one of his
He kissed her without her making any resistance. And she in turn kissed
him, but with a sad, light, faint-hearted kiss that in no way recalled
the hysterical caress of the Aquarium. Her voice, which appeared to be
coming from afar off, was repeating what she had counseled him in the
"Begone, Ulysses! Do not see me any more. I tell you this for your own
good.... I bring trouble. I should be sorry to have you curse the
moment in which you met me."
The sailor took advantage of all the windings of the streets in order
to cut these recommendations short with his kisses. She advanced limply
as though towed by him with no will power of her own, as though she
were walking in her sleep. A voice was singing with diabolic
satisfaction in the captain's brain:
"Now it is ripe!... Now it is ripe!..."
And he continued pulling her along always in a direct line, not knowing
whither he was going, but sure of his triumph.
Near the station an old man approached the pair,--a white-haired,
respectable gentleman with an old jacket and spectacles. He gave them
the card of a hotel which he owned in the neighborhood, boasting of the
good qualities of its rooms. "Every modern comfort.... Hot water."
Ferragut spoke to her familiarly:
"Would you like?... Would you like?..."
She appeared to wake up, dropping his arm brusquely.
"Don't be crazy, Ulysses.... That will never be.... Never!"
And drawing herself up magnificently, she entered the station with a
haughty step, without looking around, without noticing whether Ferragut
was following her or abandoning her.
During the long wait and the descent to the city Freya appeared as
ironical and frivolous as though she had no recollection of her recent
indignation. The sailor, under the weight of his failure and the
unusual libations, relapsed into sulky silence.
In the district of Chiaja they separated. Ferragut, finding himself
alone, felt more strongly than ever the effects of the intoxication
that was dominating him, the intoxication of a temperate man overcome
by the intense surprise of novelty.
For a moment he had a forlorn idea of going to his boat. He needed to
give orders, to contend with somebody; but the weakness of his knees
pushed him toward his hotel and he flung himself face downward on the
bed,--whilst his hat rolled on the floor,--content with the sobriety
with which he had reached his room without attracting the attention of
He fell asleep immediately, but scarcely had night fallen before his
eyes opened again, or at least he believed that they opened, seeing
everything under a light which was not that of the sun.
Some one had entered the room, and was coming on tiptoe towards his
bed. Ulysses, who was not able to move, saw out of the tail of one eye
that what was approaching was a woman and that this woman appeared to
be Freya. Was it really she?...
She had the same countenance, the blonde hair, the black and oriental
eyes, the same oval face. It was Freya and it was not, just as twins
exactly alike physically, nevertheless have an indefinable something
which differentiates them.
The vague thoughts which for some time past had been slowly undermining
his subconsciousness with dull, subterranean labor, now cleared the air
with explosive force. Whenever he had seen the widow this
subconsciousness had asserted itself, forewarning him that he had known
her long before that transatlantic voyage. Now, under a light of
fantastic splendor, these vague thoughts assumed definite shape.
The sleeper thought he was looking at Freya clad in a bodice with
flowing sleeves adjusted to the arms with filagree buttons of gold;
some rather barbarous gems were adorning her bosom and ears, and a
flowered skirt was covering the rest of her person. It was the classic
costume of a farmer's wife or daughter of other centuries that he had
seen somewhere in a painting. Where?... Where?...
Freya was the counterpart of that august Byzantian queen. Perhaps she
was the very same, perpetuated across the centuries, through
extraordinary incarnations. In that moment Ulysses would have believed
Besides he was very little concerned with the reasonableness of things
just now; the important thing to him was that they should exist; and
Freya was at his side; Freya and that other one, welded into one and
the same woman, clad like the Grecian sovereign.
Again he repeated the sweet name that had illuminated his infancy with
romantic splendor. "Dona Constanza! Oh, Dona Constanza!..." And night
overwhelmed him, cuddling his pillow as when he was a child, and
falling asleep enraptured with thoughts of the young widow of "Vatacio
When he met Freya again the next day, he felt attracted by a new
force,--the redoubled interest that people in dreams inspire. She might
really be the empress resuscitated in a new form as in the books of
chivalry, or she might simply be the wandering widow of a learned
sage,--for the sailor it was all the same thing. He desired her, and to
his carnal desire was added others less material,--the necessity of
seeing her for the mere pleasure of seeing her, of hearing her, of
suffering her negatives, of being repelled in all his advances.
She had pleasant memories of the expedition to the heights of S.
"You must have thought me ridiculous because of my sensitiveness and my
tears. You, on the other hand, were as you always are, impetuous and
daring.... The next time we shall drink less."
The "next time" was an invitation that Ferragut repeated daily. He
wanted to take her to dine at one of the _trattorias_ on the road to
Posilipo where they could see spread at their feet the entire gulf,
colored with rose by the setting sun.
Freya had accepted his invitation with the enthusiasm of a school girl.
These strolls represented for her hours of joy and liberty, as though
her long sojourns with the doctor were filled with monotonous service.
One evening Ulysses was waiting for her far from the hotel so as to
avoid the porter's curious stares. As soon as they met and glanced
toward the neighboring cab-stand, four vehicles advanced at the same
time--like a row of Roman chariots anxious to win the prize in the
circus--with a noisy clattering of hoofs, cracking of whips, wrathful
gesticulations and threatening appeals to the Madonna. Listening to
their Neapolitan curses, Ferragut believed for an instant that they
were going to kill one another.... The two climbed into the nearest
vehicle, and immediately the tumult ceased. The empty coaches returned
to occupy their former place in the line, and the deadly rivals renewed
their placid and laughing conversation.
An enormous upright plume was waving on their horses' heads. The
cabman, in order not to be discourteous to his two clients, would
occasionally turn half-way around, giving them explanations.
"Over there," and he pointed with his whip, "is the road of
Piedigrotta. The gentleman ought to see it on a day of fiesta in
September. Few return from it with a firm step. _S. Maria di
Piedigrotta_ enabled Charles III to put the Austrians to flight in
He moved his whip like a fishing rod over the upright plume, increasing
the steed's pace with a professional howl.... And as though his cry
were among the sweetest of melodies, he continued talking, by
association of ideas:
"At the fiesta of _Piedigrotta_, when I was a boy, were given out the
best songs of the year. There was proclaimed the latest fashionable
love song, and long after we had forgotten it foreigners would come
here repeating it as though it was a novelty."
He made a short pause.
"If the lady and gentleman wish," he continued, "I will take them, on
returning, to _Piedigrotta_. Then we'll see the little church of _S.
Vitale_. Many foreign ladies hunt for it in order to put flowers on the
sepulcher of a hunch-back who made verses,--Giacomo Leopardi."
The silence with which his two clients received these explanations made
him abandon his mechanical oratory in order to take a good look at
them. The gentleman was taking the lady's hand and was pressing it,
speaking in a very low tone. The lady was pretending not to listen to
him, looking at the villas and the gardens at the left of the road
sloping down toward the sea.
With noble magnanimity, however, the driver still wished to instruct
his indifferent clients, showing them with the point of his whip the
beauty and wonders of his repertoire.
"That church is _S. Maria del Parto_, sometimes called by others the
_Sannazaro._ _Sannazaro_ was also a noted poet who described the loves
of shepherdesses, and Frederick II of Aragon made him the gift of a
villa with gardens in order that he might write with greater comfort...
Those were other days, sir! His heirs converted it into a church
The voice of the coachman stopped short. Behind him the pair were
talking in an incomprehensible language, without paying the slightest
attention to him, without acknowledging his erudite explanations.
Ignorant foreigners!... And he said no more, wrapping himself in
offended silence, relieving his Neapolitan verbosity with a series of
shouts and grunts to his horse.
The new road from Posilipo, the work of Murat, skirted the gulf, rising
along the mountain edge and constantly emphasizing the declivity
between the covering of its feet and the border of the sea. On this
hanging slope may be seen villas with white or rosy facades midst the
splendor of a vegetation that is always green and glossy. Beyond the
colonnades of palm trees and parasol pines, appeared the gulf like a
blue curtain, its upper edge showing above the murmuring tops of the
An enormous edifice appeared facing the water. It was a palace in
ruins, or rather a roofless palace never finished, with thick walls and
huge windows. On the lower floor the waves entered gently through doors
and windows which served as rooms of refuge for the fishermen's skiffs.
The two travelers were undoubtedly talking about this ruin, and the
forgiving coachman forgot his snub in order to come to their aid.
"That is what many people call the Palace of Queen Joanna.... A
mistake, sir. Ignorance of the uneducated people! That is the _Palazzo
di Donn' Anna_, and _Donna Anna Carafa_ was a great Neapolitan
_signora_, wife of the Duke of Medina, the Spanish viceroy who
constructed the palace for her and was not able to finish it."...
He was about to say more but stopped himself. Ah, no! By the
Madonna!... Again they had begun to talk, without listening to him....
And he finally took refuge in offended silence, while they chattered
continually behind his back.
Ferragut felt an interest in the remote love-affairs of the Neapolitan
great lady with the prudent and aristocratic Spanish magnate. His
passion had made the grave viceroy commit the folly of constructing a
palace in the sea. The sailor was also in love with a woman of another
race and felt equal desires to do whimsical things for her.
"I have read the mandates of Nietzsche," he said to her, by way of
explaining his enthusiasm,--"'seek thy wife outside thy country.' That
is the best thing."
Freya smiled sadly.
"Who knows?... That would complicate love with the prejudices of
national antagonism. That would create children with a double country
who would end by belonging to none, who would wander through the world
like mendicants with no place of refuge.... I know something about
And again she smiled with sadness and skepticism.
Ferragut was reading the signs of the _trattorias_ on both sides of the
highway: "The Ledge of the Siren," "The Joy of Parthenope," "The
Cluster of Flowers."... And meanwhile he was squeezing Freya's hand,
putting his fingers upon the inner side of her wrist and caressing her
skin that trembled at every touch.
The coachman let the horse slowly ascend the continuous ascent of
Posilipo. He was now concerned in not turning around and not being
troublesome. He knew well what they were talking about behind him.
"Lovers,--people who do not wish to arrive too soon!" And he forgot to
be offended, gloating over the probable generosity of a gentleman in
such good company.
Ulysses made him stop on the heights of Posilipo. It was there where he
had eaten a famous "sailor's soup," and where they sold the best
oysters from Fusaro. At the right of the road, there arose a
pretentious and modern edifice with the name of a restaurant in letters
of gold. On the opposite side was the annex, a terraced garden that
slipped away down to the sea, and on these terraces were tables in the
open air or little low roofed cottages whose walls were covered with
climbing vines. These latter constructions had discreet windows opening
upon the gulf at a great height thus forestalling any outside
Upon receiving Ferragut's generous tip, the coachman greeted him with a
sly smile, that confidential gesture of comradeship which passes down
through all the social strata, uniting them as simple men. He had
brought many folk to this discreet garden with its locked dining-rooms
overlooking the gulf. "A good appetite to you, _Signore_!"
The old waiter who came to meet them on the little sloping footpath
made the identical grimace as soon as he spied Ferragut. "I have
whatever the gentleman may need." And crossing a low, embowered terrace
with various unoccupied tables, he opened a door and bade them enter a
room having only one window.
Freya went instinctively toward it like an insect toward the light,
leaving behind her the damp and gloomy room whose paper was hanging
loose at intervals. "How beautiful!" The gulf pictured through the
window appeared like an unframed canvas,--the original, alive and
palpitating,--of the infinite copies throughout the world.
Meanwhile the captain, while informing himself of the available dishes,
was secretly following the discreet sign language of the waiter. With
one hand he was holding the door half open, his fingers fumbling with
an enormous archaic bolt on the under side which had belonged to a much
larger door and looked as though it were going to fall from the wood
because of its excessive size.... Ferragut surmised that this bolt was
going to count heavily, with all its weight, in the bill for dinner.
Freya interrupted her contemplation of the panorama on feeling
Ferragut's lips trying to caress her neck.
"None of that, Captain!... You know well enough what we have agreed.
Remember that I have accepted your invitation on the condition that you
leave me in peace."
She permitted his kiss to pass across her cheek, even reaching her
mouth. This caress was already an accepted thing. As it had the force
of custom, she did not resist it, remembering the preceding ones, but
fear of his abusing it made her withdraw from the window.
"Let us examine the enchanted palace which my true love has promised
me," she said gayly in order to distract Ulysses from his insistence.
In the center there was a table made of planks badly planed and with
rough legs. The covers and the dishes would hide this horror. Passing
her eyes scrutinizingly over the old seats, the walls with their loose
papering and the chromos in greenish frames, she spied something dark,
rectangular and deep occupying one corner of the room. She did not know
whether it was a divan, a bed or a funeral catafalque. The shabby
covers that were spread over it reminded one of the beds of the
barracks or of the prison.
"Ah, no!..." Freya made one bound toward the door. She would never be
able to eat beside that filthy piece of furniture which had come from
the scum of Naples. "Ah, no! How loathesome!"
Ulysses was standing near the door, fearing that Freya's discoveries
might go further, and hiding with his back that bolt which was the
waiter's pride. He stammered excuses but she mistook his insistence,
thinking that he was trying to lock her in.
"Captain, let me pass!" she said in an angry voice. "You do not know
me. That kind of thing is for others.... Back, if you do not wish me to
consider you the lowest kind of fellow...."
And she pushed him as she went out, in spite of the fact that Ulysses
was letting her pass freely, reiterating his excuses and laying all the
responsibility on the stupidity of the servant.
She stopped under the arbor, suddenly tranquillized upon finding
herself with her back to the room.
"What a den!"... she said. "Come over here, Ferragut. We shall be much
more comfortable in the open air looking at the gulf. Come, now, and
don't be babyish!... All is forgotten. You were not to blame."
The old waiter, who was returning with table-covers and dishes, did not
betray the slightest astonishment at seeing the pair installed on the
terrace. He was accustomed to these surprises and evaded the lady's eye
like a convicted criminal, looking at the gentleman with the forlorn
air which he always employed when announcing that there was no more of
some dish on the bill of fare. His gestures of quiet protection were
trying to console Ferragut for his failure. "Patience and tenacity!"...
He had seen much greater difficulties overcome by his clientele.
Before serving dinner he placed upon the table, in the guise of an
aperitive, a fat-bellied bottle of native wine, a nectar from the
slopes of Vesuvius with a slight taste of sulphur. Freya was thirsty
and was suspicious of the water of the _trattoria_. Ulysses must forget
his recent mortification.... And the two made their libations to the
gods, with an unmixed drink in which not a drop of water cut the
jeweled transparency of the precious wine.
A group of singers and dancers now invaded the terrace. A coppery-hued
girl, handsome and dirty, with wavy hair, great gold hoops in her ears
and an apron of many colored stripes, was dancing under the arbor,
waving on high a tambourine that was almost the size of a parasol. Two
bow-legged youngsters, dressed like ancient lazzarones in red caps,
were accompanying with shouts the agitated dance of the _tarantella_.
The gulf was taking on a pinkish light under the oblique rays of the
sun, as though there were growing within it immense groves of coral.
The blue of the sky had also turned rosy and the mountain seemed aflame
in the afterglow. The plume of Vesuvius was less white than in the
morning; its nebulous column, streaked with reddish flutings by the
dying light, appeared to be reflecting its interior fire.
Ulysses felt the friendly placidity that a landscape contemplated in
childhood always inspires. Many a time he had seen this same panorama
with its dancing girls and its volcano there in his old home at
Valencia; he had seen it on the fans called "Roman Style" that his
father used to collect.
Freya felt as moved as her companion. The blue of the gulf was of an
extreme intensity in the parts not reflected by the sun; the coast
appeared of ochre; although the houses had tawdry facades, all these
discordant elements were now blended and interfused in subdued and
exquisite harmony. The shrubbery was trembling rhythmically under the
breeze. The very air was musical, as though in its waves were vibrating
the strings of invisible harps.
This was for Freya the true Greece imagined by the poets, not the
island of burned-out rocks denuded of vegetation that she had seen and
heard spoken of in her excursions through the Hellenic archipelago.
"To live here the rest of my life!" she murmured with misty eyes. "To
die here, forgotten, alone, happy!..."
Ferragut also would like to die in Naples ... but with her!... And his
quick and exuberant imagination described the delights of life for the
two,--a life of love and mystery in some one of the little villas, with
a garden peeping out over the sea on the slopes of Posilipo.
The dancers had passed down to the lower terrace where the crowd was
greater. New customers were entering, almost all in pairs, as the day
was fading. The waiter had ushered some highly-painted women with
enormous hats, followed by some young men, into the locked dining-room.
Through the half-open door came the noise of pursuit, collision and
rebound with brutal roars of laughter.
Freya turned her back, as if the memory of her passage through that den
The old waiter now devoted himself to them, beginning to serve dinner.
To the bottle of Vesuvian wine had succeeded another kind, gradually
losing its contents.
The two ate little but felt a nervous thirst which made them frequently
reach out their hands toward the glass. The wine was depressing to
Freya. The sweetness of the twilight seemed to make it ferment, giving
it the acrid perfume of sad memories.
The sailor felt arising within him the aggressive fever of temperate
men when becoming intoxicated. Had he been with a man he would have
started a violent discussion on any pretext whatever. He did not relish
the oysters, the sailor's soup, the lobster, everything that another
time, eaten alone or with a passing friend in the same site, would have
appeared to him as delicacies.
He was looking at Freya with enigmatical eyes while, in his thought,
wrath was beginning to bubble. He almost hated her on recalling the
arrogance with which she had treated him, fleeing from that room.
"Hypocrite!..." She was just amusing herself with him. She was a
playful and ferocious cat prolonging the death-agony of the mouse
caught in her claws. In his brain a brutal voice was saying, as though
counseling a murder: "This will be her last day!... I'll finish her
to-day!... No more after to-day!..." After several repetitions, he was
disposed to the greatest violence in order to extricate himself from a
situation which he thought ridiculous.
And she, ignorant of her companion's thought, deceived by the
impassiveness of his countenance, continued chatting with her glance
fixed on the horizon, talking in an undertone as though she were
recounting to herself her illusions.
The momentary suggestion of living in a cottage of Posilipo, completely
alone, an existence of monastic isolation with all the conveniences of
modern life, was dominating her like an obsession.
"And yet, after all," she continued, "this atmosphere is not favorable
to solitude; this landscape is for love. To grow old slowly, two who
love each other, before the eternal beauty of the gulf!... What a pity
that I have never been really loved!..."
This was an offense against Ulysses who expressed his annoyance with
all the aggressiveness that was seething beneath his bad humor. How
about him?... Was he not loving her and disposed to prove it to her by
all manner of sacrifices?...
Sacrifices as proof of love always left this woman cold, accepting them
with a skeptical gesture.
"All men have told me the same thing," she added; "they all promise to
kill themselves if I do not love them.... And with the most of them it
is nothing more than a phrase of passionate rhetoric. And what if they
did kill themselves really? What does that prove?... To leave life on
the spur of a moment that gives no opportunity for repentance;--a
simple nervous flash, a posture many times assumed simply for what
people will say, with the frivolous pride of an actor who likes to pose
in graceful attitudes. I know what all that means. A man once killed
himself for me...."
On hearing these last words Ferragut jerked himself out of his sullen
silence. A malicious voice was chanting in his brain, "Now there are
"I saw him dying," she continued, "on a bed of the hotel. He had a red
spot like a star on the bandage of his forehead,--the hole of the
pistol shot. He died clutching my hands, swearing that he loved me and
that he had killed himself for me ... a tiresome, horrible scene....
And nevertheless I am sure that he was deceiving himself, that he did
not love me. He killed himself through wounded vanity on seeing that I
would have nothing to do with him,--just for stubbornness, for
theatrical effect, influenced by his readings.... He was a Roumanian
tenor. That was in Russia.... I have been an actress a part of my
The sailor wished to express the astonishment that the different
changes of this mysterious wandering existence, always showing a new
facet, were producing in him; but he contained himself in order to
listen better to the cruel counsels of the malignant voice speaking
within his thoughts.... He was not trying to kill himself for her.
Quite the contrary! His moody aggressiveness was considering her as the
next victim. There was in his eyes something of the dead _Triton_ when
in pursuit of a distant woman's skirt on the coast.
Freya continued speaking.
"To kill one's self is not a proof of love. They all promise me the
sacrifice of their existence from the very first words. Men don't know
any other song. Don't imitate them, Captain."
She remained pensive a long time. Twilight was rapidly falling; half
the sky was of amber and the other half of a midnight blue in which the
first stars were beginning to twinkle. The gulf was drowsing under the
leaden coverlet of its water, exhaling a mysterious freshness that was
spreading to the mountains and trees. All the landscape appeared to be
acquiring the fragility of crystal. The silent air was trembling with
exaggerated resonance, repeating the fall of an oar in the boats that,
small as flies, were slipping along under the sky arching above the
gulf, and prolonging the feminine and invisible voices passing through
the groves on the heights.
The waiter went from table to table, distributing candles enclosed in
paper shades. The mosquitoes and moths, revived by the twilight, were
buzzing around these red and yellow flowers of light.
Her voice was again sounding in the twilight air with the vagueness of
one speaking in a dream.
"There is a sacrifice greater than that of life,--the only one that can
convince a woman that she is beloved. What does life signify to a man
like you?... Your profession puts it in danger every day and I believe
you capable of risking your life, when tired of land, for the slightest
She paused again and then continued.
"Honor is worth more than life for certain men,--respectability, the
preservation of the place that they occupy. Only the man that would
risk his honor and position for me, who would descend to the lowest
depths without losing his will to live, would ever be able to convince
me.... That indeed would be a sacrifice!"
Ferragut felt alarmed at such words. What kind of sacrifice was this
woman about to propose to him?... But he grew calmer as he listened to
her. It was all a fancy of her disordered imagination. "She is crazy,"
again affirmed the hidden counselor in his brain.
"I have dreamed many times," she continued, "of a man who would rob for
me, who would kill if it was necessary and might have to pass the rest
of his years in prison.... My poor thief!... I would live only for him,
spending night and day near the walls of his prison, looking through
the bars, working like a woman of the village in order to send a good
dinner to my outlaw.... That is genuine love and not the cold lies, the
theatrical vows of our world."
Ulysses repeated his mental comment, "She certainly is crazy"--and his
thought was so clearly reflected in his eyes that she guessed it.
"Don't be afraid, Ferragut," she said, smiling. "I have no thought of
exacting such a sacrifice of you. All this that I am talking about is
merely fancy, a whimsy invented to fill the vacancy of my soul. 'Tis
the fault of the wine, of our exaggerated libations,--that to-day have
been without water,--to the gods.... Just look!"
And she pointed with comical gravity to the two empty bottles that were
occupying the center of the table.
Night had fallen. In the dark sky twinkled infinite eyes of starry
light. The immense bowl of the gulf was reflecting their sparkles like
thousands of will o' the wisps. The candle shades in the restaurant
were throwing purplish spots upon the table covers, casting upon the
faces of those who were eating around them violent contrasts of light
and shade. From the locked rooms were escaping sounds of kisses,
pursuit and falling furniture.
"Let us go!" ordered Freya.
The noise of this vulgar orgy was annoying her as though it were
dishonoring the majesty of the night. She needed to move about, to walk
in the darkness, to breathe in the freshness of the mysterious shade.
At the garden gate they hesitated before the appeals of various
coachmen. Freya was the one who refused their offers. She wished to
return to Naples on foot, following the easy descent of the road of
Posilipo after their long inaction in the restaurant. Her face was warm
and flushed because of the excess of wine.
Ulysses gave her his arm and they began to move through the shadows,
insensibly impelled in their march by the ease of the downward slope.
Freya knew just what this trip would mean. At the very first step the
sailor advised her with a kiss on the neck. He was going to take
advantage of all the windings of the road, of the hills and terraces
cut through in certain places to show the phosphorescent gulf across
the foliage, and of the long shadowy stretch broken only now and then
by the public echoes or the lanterns of carriages and tramways....
But these liberties were already an accepted thing. She had taken the
first step in the Aquarium: besides, she was sure of her ability to
keep her lover at whatever distance she might choose to fix.... And
convinced of her power of checking herself in time, she gave herself up
like a lost woman.
Never had Ferragut had such a propitious occasion. It was a
trysting-place in the mystery of the night with plenty of time ahead of
them. The only trouble was the necessity of walking on, of accompanying
his embraces and protests of love with the incessant activity of
walking. She protested, coming out from her rapture every time that the
enamored man would propose that they sit down on the side of the road.
Hope made Ulysses very obedient to Freya, desirous of reaching Naples
as soon as possible. Down there in the curve of the light near the gulf
was the hotel, and the sailor looked upon it as a place of happiness.
"Say yes," he murmured in her ear, punctuating his words with kisses,
"say that it will be to-night!..."
She did not reply, leaning on the arm that the captain had passed
around her waist, letting herself be dragged along as if she were
half-fainting, rolling her eyes and offering her lips.
While Ulysses was repeating his pleadings and caresses the voice in his
brain was chanting victoriously, "Here it is!... It's settled now....
The thing now is to get her to the hotel."
They roamed on for nearly an hour, fancying that only a few minutes had
Approaching the gardens of the _Villa Nazionale_, near the Aquarium,
they stopped an instant. There were fewer people and more life here
than in the road to Posilipo. They avoided the electric lights of the
_Via Caracciolo_ reflected in the sea,--the two instinctively
approaching a bench, and seeking the ebony shade of the trees.
Freya had suddenly become very composed. She appeared annoyed at
herself for her languor during the walk. Finding herself near the
hotel, she recovered her energy as though in the presence of danger.
"Good-by, Ulysses! We shall see each other again to-morrow.... I am
going to pass the night in the doctor's home."
The sailor withdrew a little in the shock of surprise. "Was it a
jest?..." But no, he could not think that. The very tone of her words
displayed firm resolution.
He entreated her humbly with a thick and threatening voice not to go
away. At the same time his mental counselor was rancorously chanting,
"She's making a fool of you!... It's time to put an end to all this....
Make her feel your masculine authority." And this voice had the same
ring as that of the dead _Triton_.
Suddenly occurred a violent, brutal, dishonorable thing. Ulysses threw
himself upon her as though he Were going to kill her, holding her
tightly in his arms, and the two fell upon the bench, panting and
struggling. But this only lasted an instant.
The vigorous Ferragut, trembling with emotion, was only using half of
his powers. He suddenly sprang back, raising his two hands to his
shoulders. He felt a sharp pain, as though one of his bones had just
broken. She had repelled him with a certain Japanese fencing trick that
employs the hands as irresistible weapons.
"Ah!... _Tal!_..." he roared, hurling upon her the worst of feminine
And he fell upon her again as though he were a man, uniting to his
original purpose the desire of maltreating her, of degrading her, of
making her his.
Freya awaited him firmly... Seeing the icy glitter of her eyes, Ulysses
without knowing why recalled the "eye of the morning," the
companionable reptile of her dances.
In this furious onslaught he was stopped by the simple contact on his
forehead of a diminutive metal circle, a kind of frozen thimble that
was resting on his skin.
He looked... It was a little revolver, a deadly toy of shining nickel.
It had appeared in Freya's hand, drawn secretly from her clothes, or
perhaps from that gold-mesh bag whose contents seemed inexhaustible.
She was looking at him fixedly with her finger on the trigger. He
surmised her familiarity with the weapon that she had in her hand. It
could not be the first time that she had had recourse to it.
The sailor's indecision was brief. With a man, he would have taken
possession of the threatening hand, twisting it until he broke it,
without the slightest fear of the revolver. But he had opposite him a
woman ... and this woman was entirely capable of wounding him, and at
the same time placing him in a ridiculous situation.
"Retire, sir!" ordered Freya with a ceremonious and threatening tone as
though she were speaking to an utter stranger.
But it was she who retired finally, seeing that Ulysses stepped back,
thoughtful and confused. She turned her back on him at the same time
that the revolver disappeared from her hand.
Before departing, she murmured some words that Ferragut was not able to
understand, looking at him for the last time with contemptuous eyes.
They must be terrible insults, and just because she was uttering them
in a mysterious language, he felt her scorn more deeply.
"It cannot be.... It is all ended. It is ended forever!..."
She said this repeatedly before returning to her hotel. And he thought
of it during all the wakeful night between agonizing attacks of
nightmare. When the morning was well advanced the bugles of the
_bersaglieri_ awakened him from a heavy sleep.
He paid his bill in the manager's office and gave a last tip to the
porter, telling him that a few hours later a man from the ship would
come for his baggage.
He was happy, with the forced happiness of one obliged to accommodate
himself to circumstances. He congratulated himself upon his liberty as
though he had gained this liberty of his own free will and it had not
been imposed upon him by her scorn. Since the memory of the preceding
day pained him, putting him in a ridiculous and gross light, it was
better not to recall the past.
He stopped in the street to take a last look at the hotel. "Adieu,
accursed _albergo_!... Never will I see you again. Would that you might
burn down with all your occupants!"
Upon treading the deck of the _Mare Nostrum_, his enforced satisfaction
became immeasurably increased. Here only could he live far from the
complications and illusions of terrestrial life.
All those aboard who in previous weeks had feared the arrival of the
ill-humored captain, now smiled as though they saw the sun coming out
after a tempest. He distributed kindly words and affectionate grasps of
the hand. The repairs were going to be finished the following day....
Very good! He was entirely content. Soon they would be on the sea
In the galley he greeted Uncle Caragol.... That man _was_ a
philosopher. All the women in the world were not in his estimation
worth a good dish of rice. Ah, the great man!... He surely was going to
live to be a hundred! And the cook flattered by such praises, whose
origin he did not happen to comprehend, responded as always,--"That is
so, my captain."
Toni, silent, disciplined and familiar, inspired him with no less
admiration. His life was an upright life, firm and plain, as the road
of duty. When the young officials used to talk in his presence of
boisterous suppers on shore with women from distant countries, the
pilot had always shrugged his shoulders. "Money and pleasure ought to
be kept for the home," he would say sententiously.
Ferragut had laughed many times at the virtue of his mate who, timid
and torpid, used to pass over a great part of the planet without
permitting himself any distraction whatever, but would awake with an
overpowering tension whenever the chances of their voyage brought him
the opportunity of a few days' stay in his home in the _Marina_.
And with the tranquil grossness of the virtuous stay-at-home, he was
accustomed to calculate the dates of his voyages by the age of his
eight children. "This one was on returning from the Philippines....
This other one after I was in the coast trade in the Gulf of
His methodical serenity, incapable of being perturbed by frivolous
adventures, made him guess from the very first the secret of the
captain's enthusiasm and wrath. "It must be a woman," he said to
himself, upon seeing him installed in a hotel in Naples, and after
feeling the effects of his bad humor in the fleeting appearances that
he made on board.
Now, listening to Ferragut's jovial comments on his mate's tranquil
life and philosophic sagacity, Toni again ejaculated mentally, without
the captain's suspecting anything from his impassive countenance: "Now
he has quarreled with the woman. He has tired of her. But better so!"
He was more than ever confirmed in this belief on hearing Ferragut's
plans. As soon as the boat could be made ready, they were going to
anchor in the commercial port. He had been told of a certain cargo for
Barcelona,--some cheap freight,--but that was better than going
empty.... If the cargo should be delayed, they would set sail merely
with ballast. More than anything else, he wished to renew his trips.
Boats were scarcer and more in demand all the time. It was high time to
stop this enforced inertia.
"Yes, it's high time," responded Toni who, during the entire month, had
only gone ashore twice.
The _Mare Nostrum_ left the repair dock coming to anchor opposite the
commercial wharf, shining and rejuvenated, with no imperfections
recalling her recent injuries.
One morning when the captain and his second were in the saloon under
the poop undecided whether to start that night--or wait four days
longer, as the owners of the cargo were requesting,--the third officer,
a young Andalusian, presented himself greatly excited by the piece of
news of which he was the bearer. A most beautiful and elegant lady (the
young man emphasized his admiration with these details) had just
arrived in a launch and, without asking permission, had climbed the
ladder, entering the vessel as though it were her own dwelling.
Toni felt his heart thump. His swarthy countenance became ashy pale.
"_Cristo!_... The woman from Naples!" He did not really know whether
she was from Naples; he had never seen her, but he was certain that she
was coming as a fatal impediment, as an unexpected calamity.... Just
when things were going so well, too!...
The captain whirled around in his arm chair, jumped up from the table,
and in two bounds was out on deck.
Something extraordinary was perturbing the crew. They, too, were all on
deck as though some powerful attraction had drawn them from the orlop,
from the depths of the hold, from the metallic corridors of the engine
rooms. Even Uncle Caragol was sticking his episcopal face out through
the door of the kitchen, holding a hand closed in the form of a
telescope to one of his eyes, without being able to distinguish clearly
the announced marvel.
Freya was a few steps away in a blue suit somewhat like a sailor's, as
though this visit to the ship necessitated the imitative elegance and
bearing of the multi-millionaires who live on their yachts. The seamen,
cleaning brass or polishing wood, were pretending extraordinary
occupations in order to get near her. They felt the necessity of being
in her atmosphere, of living in the perfumed air that enveloped her,
following her steps.
Upon seeing the captain, she simply extended her hand, as though she
might have seen him the day before.
"Do not object, Ferragut!... As I did not find you in the hotel, I felt
obliged to visit you on your ship. I have always wanted to see your
floating home. Everything about you interests me."
She appeared an entirely different woman. Ulysses noted the great
change that had taken place in her person during the last days. Her
eyes were bold, challenging, of a calm seductiveness. She appeared to
be surrendering herself entirely. Her smiles, her words, her manner of
crossing the deck toward the staterooms of the vessel proclaimed her
determination to end her long resistance as quickly as possible,
yielding to the sailor's desires.
In spite of former failures, he felt anew the joy of triumph. "Now it
is going to be! My absence has conquered her...." And at the same time
that he was foretasting the sweet satisfaction of love and triumphant
pride, there arose in him a vague instinct of suspicion of this woman
so suddenly transformed, perhaps loving her less than in former days
when she resisted and advised him to be gone.
In the forward cabin he presented her to his mate. The crude Toni
experienced the same hallucination that had perturbed all the others on
the boat. What a woman!... At the very first glance he understood and
excused the captain's conduct. Then he fixed his eyes upon her with an
expression of alarm, as though her presence made him tremble for the
fate of the steamer: but finally he succumbed, dominated by this lady
who was examining the saloon as though she had come to remain in it
For a few moments Freya was interested in the hairy ugliness of Toni.
He was a true Mediterranean, just the kind she had imagined to
herself,--a faun pursuing nymphs. Ulysses laughed at the eulogies which
she passed on his mate.
"In his shoes," she continued, "he ought to have pretty little hoofs
like a goat's. He must know how to play the flute. Don't you think so,
The faun, wrinkled and wrathful, took himself off, saluting her
stolidly as he went away. Ferragut felt greatly relieved at his
absence, since he was fearful of some rude speech from Toni.
Finding herself alone with Ulysses, she ran through the great room from
one side to the other.
"Is here where you live, my dear shark?... Let me see everything. Let
me poke around everywhere. Everything of yours interests me. You will
not say now that I do not love you. What a boast for Captain Ferragut!
The ladies come to seek him on his ship...."
She interrupted her ironic and affectionate chatter in order to defend
herself gently from the sailor. He, forgetting the past, and wishing to
take advantage of the happiness so suddenly presented to him, was
kissing the nape of her neck.
"There,... there!" she sighed. "Now let me look around. I feel the
curiosity of a child."
She opened the piano,--the poor piano of the Scotch captain--and some
thin and plaintive chords, showing many years' lack of tuning, filled
the saloon with the melancholy of resuscitated memories.
The melody was like that of the musical boxes that we find forgotten in
the depths of a wardrobe among the clothes of some deceased old lady.
Freya declared that it smelled of withered roses.
Then, leaving the piano, she opened one after the other, all the doors
of the staterooms surrounding the saloon. She stopped at the captain's
sleeping room without wishing to pass the threshold, without loosening
her hold on the brass doorknob in her right hand. Ferragut behind her,
was pushing her with treacherous gentleness, at the same time repeating
his caresses on her neck.
"No; here, no," she said. "Not for anything in the world!... I will be
yours, I promise you; I give you my word of honor. But where I will and
when it seems best to me.... Very soon, Ulysses!"
He felt complete gratification in all these affirmations made in a
caressing and submissive voice, all possible pride in such spontaneous,
affectionate address, equivalent to the first surrender.
The arrival of one of Uncle Caragol's acolytes made them recover their
composure. He was bringing two enormous glasses filled with a ruddy and
foamy cocktail,--an intoxicating and sweet mixture, a composite of all
the knowledge acquired by the _chef_ in his intercourse with the
drunkards of the principal ports of the world.
She tested the liquid, rolling up her eyes like a greedy tabby. Then
she broke forth into praises, lifting up the glass in a solemn manner.
She was offering her libation to Eros, the god of Love, the most
beautiful of the gods, and Ferragut who always had a certain terror of
the infernal and agreeable concoctions of his cook, gulped the glass in
one swallow, in order to join in the invocation.
All was arranged between the two. She was giving the orders. Ferragut
would return ashore, lodging in the same _albergo_. They would continue
their life as before, as though nothing had occurred.
"This evening you will await me in the gardens of the _Villa
Nazionale_.... Yes, there where you wished to kill me, you
Before he should clearly recall that night of violence, Freya continued
her recollections with feminine astuteness.... It was Ulysses who had
wanted to kill her; she reiterated it without admitting any reply.
"We shall visit the doctor," she continued. "The poor woman wants to
see you and has asked me to bring you. She is very much interested in
you because she knows that I love you, my pirate!"
After having arranged the hour of meeting, Freya wished to depart. But
before returning to her launch, she felt curious to inspect the boat,
just as she Had examined the saloon and the staterooms.
With the air of a reigning princess, preceded by the captain and
followed by the officials, she went over the two decks, entered the
galleries of the engine room and the four-sided abyss of the hatchways,
sniffing the musty odor of the hold. On the bridge she touched with
childish enthusiasm the large brass hood of the binnacle and other
steering instruments glistening as though made of gold.
She wished to see the galley and invaded Uncle Caragol's dominions,
putting his formal lines of casseroles into lamentable disorder, and
poking the tip of her rosy little nose into the steam arising from the
great stew in which was boiling the crew's mess.
The old man was able to see her close with his half-blind eyes. "Yes,
indeed, she was pretty!" The frou-frou of her skirts and the frequent
little clashes that he had with her in her comings and goings,
perturbed the apostle. His _chef_-like, sense of smell made him feel
annoyed by the perfume of this lady. "Pretty, but with the smell of
..." he repeated mentally. For him all feminine perfume merited this
scandalous title. Good women smelled of fish and kitchen pots; he was
sure of that.... In his faraway youth, the knowledge of poor Caragol
had never gone beyond that.
As soon as he was alone, he snatched up a rag, waving it violently
around, as though he were driving away flies. He wished to clear the
atmosphere of bad odors. He felt as scandalized as though she had let a
cake of soap fall into one of his delicious rice compounds.
The men of the crew crowded to the railings in order to follow the
course of the little launch that was making toward shore.
Toni, standing on the bridge, also contemplated her with enigmatic
"You are handsome, but may the sea swallow you up before you come
A handkerchief was waving from the stern of the little boat. "Good-by,
Captain!" And the captain nodded his head, smiling and gratified by the
feminine greeting while the sailors were envying him his good luck.
Again one of the men of the crew carried Ferragut's baggage to the
_albergo_ on the shore of _S. Lucia_. The porter, as though foreseeing
the chance of getting an easy fee from his client, took it upon himself
to select a room for him, an apartment on a floor lower than on his
former stay, near that which the _signora_ Talberg was occupying.
They met in mid-afternoon in the _Villa Nazionale_, and began their
walk together through the streets of Chiaja. At last Ulysses was going
to know where the doctor was hiding her majestic personality. He
anticipated something extraordinary in this dwelling-place, but was
disposed to hide his impressions for fear of losing the affection and
support of the wise lady who seemed to be exercising so great a power
They entered into the vestibule of an ancient palace. Many times the
sailor had stopped before this door, but had gone on, misled by the
little metal door plates announcing the offices and counting-houses
installed on the different floors.
He beheld an arcaded court paved with great tiled slabs upon which
opened the curving balconies of the four interior sides of the palace.
They climbed up a stairway of resounding echoes, as large as one of the
hill-side streets, with broad turnings which in former time permitted
the passage of the litters and chairmen. As souvenirs of the
white-wigged personages and ladies of voluminous farthingales who had
passed through this palace, there were still some classic busts on the
landing places, a hand-wrought iron railing, and various huge lanterns
of dull gold and blurred glass.
They stopped on the first floor before a row of doors rather
weather-beaten by the years.
"Here it is," said Freya.
And thereupon she pointed to the only door that was covered with a
screen of green leather displaying a commercial sign,--enormous, gilded
and pretentious. The doctor was lodging in an office.... How could he
ever have found it!
The first room really was an office, a merchant's room with files for
papers, maps, a safe for stocks, and various tables. One employee only
was working here,--a man of uncertain age with a childish face and a
clipped beard. His obsequious and smiling attitude was in striking
contrast to his evasive glance,--a glance of alarm and distrust.
Upon seeing Freya he arose from his seat. She greeted him, calling him
Karl, and passed on as though he were a mere porter. Ulysses upon
following her, surmised that the suspicious glance of the writer was
fixed upon his back.
"Is he a Pole, too?" he asked.
"Yes, a Pole.... He is a protege of the doctor's."
They entered a salon evidently furnished in great haste, with the
happy-go-lucky and individual knack of those accustomed to traveling
and improvising a dwelling place;--divans with cheap and showy
chintzes, skins of the American llama, glaring imitation-Oriental rugs,
and on the walls, prints from the periodicals between gilt moldings. On
a table were displayed their marble ornaments and silver things, a
great dressing-case with a cover of cut leather, and a few little
Neapolitan statuettes which had been bought at the last moment in order
to give a certain air of sedentary respectability to this room which
could be dismantled suddenly and whose most valuable adornments were
acquired _en route_.
Through a half-drawn portiere they descried the doctor writing in the
nearby room. She was bending over an American desk, but she saw them
immediately in a mirror which she kept always in front of her in order
to spy on all that was passing behind her.
Ulysses surmised that the imposing dame had made certain additions to
her toilette in order to receive him. A gown as close as a sheath
molded the exuberance of her figure. The narrow skirt drawn tightly
over the edge of her knees appeared like the handle of an enormous
club. Over the green sea of her dress she was wearing a spangled white
tulle draped like a shawl. The captain, in spite of his respect for
this wise lady, could not help comparing her to a well-nourished
mother-mermaid in the oceanic pasture lands.
With outstretched hands and a joyous expression on her countenance
irradiating even her glasses, she advanced toward Ferragut. Her meeting
was almost an embrace.... "My dear Captain! Such a long time since I
have seen you!..." She had heard of him frequently through her young
friend, but even so, she could not but consider it a misfortune that
the sailor had never come to see her.
She appeared to have forgotten her coldness when bidding him farewell
in Salerno and the care which she had taken to hide from him her home
Neither did Ferragut recall this fact now that he was so agreeably
touched by the doctor's amiability. She had seated herself between the
two as though wishing to protect them with all the majesty of her
person and the affection of her eyes. She was a real mother for her
young friend. While speaking, she was patting Freya's great locks of
hair, which had just escaped from underneath her hat, and Freya,
adapting herself to the tenderness of the situation, cuddled down
against the doctor, assuming the air of a timid and devoted child while
she fixed on Ulysses her eyes of sweet promise.
"You must love her very much, Captain," continued the matron. "Freya
speaks only of you. She has been so unfortunate!... Life has been so
cruel to her!..."
The sailor felt as though he were in the placid bosom of a family. That
lady was discreetly taking everything for granted, speaking to him as
to a son-in-law. Her kindly glance was somewhat melancholy. It was the
sweet sadness of mature people who find the present monotonous, the
future circumscribed, and taking refuge in memories of the past, envy
the young who enjoy the reality of what they can taste only in memory.
"Happy you!... You love each other so much!... Life is worth living
only because of love."
And Freya, as though irresistibly affected by these counsels, threw
one arm around the doctor's globular, corseted figure, while
convulsively clasping Ulysses' right hand.
The gold-rimmed spectacles, with their protecting gleam, appeared to
incite them to even greater intimacy. "You may kiss each other...." And
the imposing dame, trumping up an insignificant pretext, so as to
facilitate their love-making was about to go out when the drapery of
the door between the salon and office was raised.
There entered a man of Ferragut's age, but shorter, with a
weather-beaten face. He was dressed in the English style with
scrupulous correctness. It was plain to be seen that he was accustomed
to take the most excessive and childish interest in everything
referring to the adornment of his person. The suit of gray wool
appeared to have achieved its finishing touch in the harmony of cravat,
socks, and handkerchief sticking out of his pocket,--all in the same
tone. The three pieces were blue, without the slightest variation in
shade, chosen with the exactitude of a man who would undoubtedly suffer
cruel discomfort if obliged to go out into the street with his cravat
of one color and his socks of another. His gloves had the same dark tan
tone as his shoes.
Ferragut thought that this dandy, in order to be absolutely perfect,
ought to be clean shaved. And yet, he was wearing a beard, close
clipped on the cheeks and forming over the chin a short, sharp point.
The captain suspected that he was a sailor. In the German fleet, in the
Russian, in all the navies of the North where they are not shaved in
the English style, they use this traditional little beard.
The newcomer bowed, or, more properly speaking, doubled himself over at
right angles, with a brusque stiffness, upon kissing the hands of the
two ladies. Then he raised his impertinent monocle and fixed it in one
of his eyes while the doctor made the introduction.
"Count Kaledine ... Captain Ferragut."
The count gave the sailor his hand, a hard hand, well-cared for and
vigorous, which for a long time enclosed that of Ulysses, wishing to
dominate it with an ineffectual pressure.
The conversation continued in English which was the language employed
by the doctor in her relations with Ulysses.
"The gentleman is a sailor?" asked Ferragut in order to clarify his
The monocle did not move from its orbit, but a light ripple of surprise
appeared to cross its luminous convexity. The doctor hastened to reply.
"The count is an illustrious diplomat who is now on leave, regaining
his health. He has traveled a great deal, but he is not a sailor."
And she continued her explanations.
The Kaledines were of a Russian family ennobled in the days of
Catherine the Great. The doctor, being a Polish woman, had been
connected with them for many years.... And she ceased speaking, giving
Kaledine his cue in the conversation.
At the beginning the count appeared cold and rather disdainful in his
words, as though he could not possibly lay aside his diplomatic
haughtiness. But this hauteur gradually melted away.
Through his "distinguished friend,--Madame Talberg," he had heard of
many of Ferragut's nautical adventures. Men of action, the heroes of
the ocean, were always exceedingly interesting to him.
Ulysses suddenly noticed in his noble interlocutor a warm affection, a
desire to make himself agreeable, just like the doctor's. What a lovely
home this was in which everybody was making an effort to be gracious to
The count, smiling amiably, ceased to avail himself of his English, and
soon began talking to him in Spanish, as though he had reserved this
final touch in order to captivate Ulysses' affection with this most
irresistible of flatteries.
"I have lived in Mexico," he said, in order to explain his knowledge of
the language. "I made a long trip through the Philippines when I was
living in Japan."
The seas of the extreme Far East were those least frequented by
Ulysses. Only twice had he entered the Chinese and Nipponese harbors,
but he knew them sufficiently to keep up his end of the conversation
with this traveler who was displaying in his tastes a certain artistic
refinement. For half an hour, there filed through the vulgar atmosphere
of this salon, images of enormous pagodas with superimposed roofs whose
strings of bells vibrated in the breeze like an Aeolian harp, monstrous
idols--carved in gold, in bronze, or in marble-houses made of paper,
thrones of bamboo, furniture with mother-of-pearl inlay, screens with
flocks of flying storks.
The doctor disappeared, bored by a dialogue of which she could only
understand a few words. Freya, motionless, with drowsy eyes, and a knee
between her crossed hands, held herself aloof, understanding the
conversation, but without taking any part in it, as though she were
offended at the forgetfulness in which the two men were leaving her.
Finally she slipped discreetly away, responding to the call of a hand
peeping through the portieres. The doctor was preparing tea and needed
The conversation continued on in no way affected by their absence.
Kaledine had abandoned the Asiatic waters in order to pass to the
Mediterranean, and there he anchored himself with admirable insistence.
Another sign of affection for Ferragut who was finding him more and
more charming in spite of his slightly glacial attitude.
He suddenly noticed that it was not as a Russian count that he was
speaking since, with brief and exact questions, he was making Ferragut
reply just as though he were undergoing an examination.
These signs of interest shown by the great traveler in the little _mare
nostrum_, and especially in the details of its western bowl which he
wished to know most minutely, pleased Ferragut greatly.
He might ask him whatever he wished. Ferragut knew mile for mile all
its shores,--Spanish, French, and Italian, the surface and also its
Perhaps because he was staying in Naples, Kaledine insisted upon
learning especially about that part of the Mediterranean enclosed
between Sardinia, southern Italy, and Sicily,--the part which the
ancients had called the Tyrrhenian Sea.... Did the captain happen to
know those little frequented and almost forgotten islands opposite
"I know all about all of them," replied the sailor boastfully. And
without realizing exactly whether it was curiosity on the part of the
listener, or whether he was being submitted to an interesting
examination, he talked on and on.
He was well acquainted with the archipelago of the Lipari Islands with
their mines of sulphur and pumice-stone,--a group of volcanic peaks
which rise up from the depths of the Mediterranean. In these the
ancients had placed Aeolus, lord of the winds; in these was Stromboli,
vomiting forth enormous balls of lava which exploded with the roar of
thunder. Its volcanic slag fell again into the chimneys of the crater
or rolled down the mountain slopes, falling into the waves.
More to the west, isolated and solitary in a sea free from shoals, was
Ustica,--an abrupt and volcanic island that the Phoenicians had
colonized and which had served as a refuge for Saracen pilots. Its
population was scant and poor. There was nothing to see on it, apart
from certain fossil shells interesting to men of science.
But the count showed himself wonderfully interested in this extinct and
lonely crater in the midst of a sea frequented only by fishing smacks.
Ferragut had also seen, although far off, at the entrance of the harbor
of Trapani, the archipelago of the Aegadian Islands where are the great
fishing grounds of the tunny. Once he had disembarked in the island of
Pantellaria, situated halfway between Sicily and Africa. It was a very
high, volcanic cone that came up in the midst of the strait and had at
its base alkaline lakes, sulphurous fumes, thermal waters, and
prehistoric constructions of great stone blocks similar to those in
Sardinia and the Balearic Islands. Boats bound for Tunis and Tripoli
used to carry cargoes of raisins, the only export from this ancient
Between Pantellaria and Sicily the ocean floor was considerably
elevated, having on its back an aquatic layer that in some points was
only twelve yards thick. It was the great shoal called the Aventura, a
volcanic swelling, a double submerged island, the submarine pedestal of
The ledge of Aventura also appeared to interest the count greatly.
"You certainly know the sea well," he said in an approving tone.
Ferragut was about to go on talking when the two ladies entered with a
tray which contained the tea service and various plates of cakes. The
captain saw nothing strange in their lack of servants. The doctor and
her friend were to him a pair of women of extraordinary customs, and so
he thought all their acts were logical and natural. Freya served the
tea with modest grace as though she were the daughter of the house.
They passed the rest of the afternoon conversing on distant voyages.
Nobody alluded to the war, nor to Italy's problem at that moment as to
whether she should maintain or break her neutrality. They appeared to
be living in an inaccessible place thousands of leagues from all human
The two women were treating the count with the well-bred familiarity of
persons in the same rank of life, but at times the sailor fancied that
he noted that they were afraid of him.
At the end of the afternoon this personage arose and Ferragut did the
same, understanding that he was expected to bring his visit to an end.
The count offered to accompany him. While he was bidding the doctor
good-by, thanking her with extreme courtesy for having introduced him
to the captain, Ferragut felt that Freya was clasping his hand in a
"Until to-night," she murmured lightly, hardly moving her lips. "I
shall see you later.... Expect me."
Oh, what happiness!... The eyes, the smile, the pressure of her hand
were telling him much more than that.
Never did he take such an agreeable stroll as when walking beside
Kaledine through the streets of Chiaja toward the shore. What was that
man saying?... Insignificant things in order to avoid silence, but to
him they appeared to be observations of most profound wisdom. His voice
sounded musical and affectionate. Everything about them seemed equally
agreeable,--the people who were passing through the streets, the
Neapolitan sounds at nightfall, the dark seas, the entire life.
They bade each other good-by before the door of the hotel. The count,
in spite of his offers of friendship, went away without mentioning his
"It doesn't matter," thought Ferragut. "We shall meet again in the
He passed the rest of his watch agitated alternately by hope and
impatience. He did not wish to eat; emotion had paralyzed his
appetite.... And yet, once seated at the table, he ate more than ever
with a mechanical and distraught avidity.
He needed to stroll around, to talk with somebody, in order that time
might fly by with greater rapidity, beguiling his uneasy wait. She
would not return to the hotel until very late.... And he therefore
retired to his room earlier than usual, believing with illogical
superstition that by so doing Freya might arrive earlier.
His first movement upon finding himself alone in his room, was one of
pride. He looked up at the ceiling, pitying the enamored sailor that a
week before had been dwelling on the floor above. Poor man! How they
must have made fun of him!... Ulysses admired himself as though he were
an entirely new personality, happy and triumphant, completely separated
from that other creature by dolorous periods of humiliations and
failures that he did not wish to recall.
The long, long hours in which he waited with such anxiety!... He
strolled about smoking, lighting one cigar with the remnant of the
preceding one. Then he opened the window, wishing to get rid of the
perfume of strong tobacco. She only liked Oriental cigarettes.... And
as the acrid odor of the strong, succulent Havana cigar persisted in
the room, he searched in his dressing-case and sprinkled around the
contents of various perfumed essences which he had long ago forgotten.
A sudden uneasiness disturbed his waiting. Perhaps she who was going to
come did not know which was his room. He was not sure that he had given
her the directions with sufficient clearness. It was possible that she
might make a mistake.... He began to believe that really she had made a
Fear and impatience made him open his door, taking his stand in the
corridor in order to look down toward Freya's closed room. Every time
that footsteps sounded on the stairway or the grating of the elevator
creaked, the bearded sailor trembled with a childish uneasiness. He
wanted to hide himself and yet at the same time he wanted to look to
see if she was the one who was coming.
The guests occupying the same floor kept seeing him withdraw into his
room in the most inexplicable attitudes. Sometimes he would remain
firmly in the corridor as though, worn out with useless calling, he
were looking for the domestics; and at other times they surprised him
with his head poking out of the half-open door or hastily withdrawing
it. An old Italian count, passing by, gave him a smile of intelligence
and comradeship.... He was in the secret! The man was undoubtedly
waiting for one of the maids of the hotel.
He ended by settling himself in his room, but leaving his door ajar.
The rectangle of bright light that it marked on the floor and wall
opposite would guide Freya, showing her the way....
But he was not able to keep up this signal very long. Scantily clad
dames in kimonos and gentlemen in pyjamas were slipping discreetly down
the passage way in soft, slipper-clad silence, all going in the same
direction, and casting wrathful glances toward the lighted doorway.
Finally he had to close the door. He opened a book, but it was
impossible to read two paragraphs consecutively. His watch said twelve
"She will not come!... She will not come!" he cried in desperation.
A new idea revived his drooping spirits. It was ridiculous that so
discreet a person as Freya should venture to come to his room while
there was a light under the door. Love needed obscurity and mystery.
And besides, this visible hope might attract the notice of some curious
He snapped off the electric light and in the darkness found his bed,
throwing himself down with an exaggerated noise, in order that nobody
might doubt that he had retired for the night. The darkness reanimated
"She's going to come.... She will come at any moment."
Again he arose cautiously, noiselessly, going on tiptoe. He must
overcome any possible difficulty at the entrance. He put the door
slightly ajar so as to avoid the swinging noise of the door-fastening.
A chair in the frame of the doorway easily held it unlatched.
He got up several times more, arranging things to his satisfaction and
then threw himself upon the bed, disposed to keep his watch all night,
if it was necessary. He did not wish to sleep. No, he ought not to
drowse.... And half an hour later he was slumbering profoundly without
knowing at what moment he had slid down the soft slopes of sleep.
Suddenly he awoke as if some one had hit his head with a club. His ears
were buzzing.... It was the rude impression of one who sleeps without
wishing to and feels himself shaken by reviving restlessness. Some
moments passed without his taking in the situation. Then he suddenly
recalled it all.... Alone! She had not come!... He did not know whether
minutes or hours had passed by.
Something besides his uneasiness had brought him back to life. He
suspected that in the dark silence some real thing was approaching. A
little mouse appeared to be moving down the corridor. The shoes placed
outside one of the doors were moved with a slight creaking. Ferragut
had the vague impression of air that is displaced by the slow advance
of a body.
The door trembled. The chair was pushed back, little by little, very
gently pushed. In the darkness he descried a moving shadow, dark and
dense. He made a movement.
"Shhhh-h!" sighed a ghostly voice, a voice from the other world. "It is
Instinctively he raised his right hand to the wall and turned on the
Under the electric light it was she,--a different Freya from any that
he had ever seen, with her wealth of hair falling in golden serpents
over her shoulders covered with an Asiatic tunic that enveloped her
like a cloud.
It was not the Japanese kimono, vulgarized by commerce. It was made in
one piece of Hindustanic cloth, embroidered with fantastic flowers and
capriciously draped. Through its fine texture could be perceived the
flesh as though it were a wrapping of multicolored air.
She uttered a protest. Then, imitating Ulysses' gesture, she reached
her hand toward the wall ... and all was darkness.
* * * * *
Upon awakening, he felt the sunlight on his face. The window, whose
curtains he had forgotten to draw, was blue,--blue sky above and the
blue of the sea in its lower panes.
He looked around him.... Nobody! For a moment he believed he must have
been dreaming, but the sweet perfume of her hair still scented the
pillow. The reality of awakening was as joyous for Ulysses, as sweet as
had been the night hours in the mystery of the darkness. He had never
felt so strong and so happy.
In the window sounded a baritone voice singing one of the songs of
Naples,--"Oh, sweet land, sweet gulf!..." That certainly was the most
beautiful spot in the world. Proud and satisfied with his fate, he
would have liked to embrace the waves, the islands, the city, Vesuvius.
A bell jangled impatiently in the corridor. Captain Ferragut was
hungry. He surveyed with the glance of an ogre the _cafe au lait_, the
abundant bread, and the small pat of butter that the waiter brought
him. A very small portion for him!... And while he was attacking all
this with avidity, the door opened and Freya, rosy and fresh from a
recent bath and clad like a man, entered the room.
The Hindu tunic had been replaced with masculine pyjamas of violet
silk. The pantaloons had the edges turned up over a pair of white
Turkish slippers into which were tucked her bare feet. Over her heart
there was embroidered a design whose letters Ulysses was not able to
decipher. Above this device the point of her handkerchief was sticking
out of the pocket. Her opulent hair, twisted on top of her head and the
voluptuous curves that the silk was taking in certain parts of her
masculine attire were the only things that announced the woman.
The captain forgot his breakfast, enthusiastic over this novelty. She
was a second Freya,--a page, an adorable, freakish novelty.... But she
repelled his caresses, obliging him to seat himself.
She had entered with a questioning expression in her eyes. She was
feeling the disquietude of every woman on her second amorous interview.
She was trying to guess his impressions, to convince herself of his
gratitude, to be certain that the fascinations of the first hours had
not been dissipated during her absence.
While the sailor was again attacking his breakfast with the familiarity
of a lover who has achieved his ends and no longer needs to hide and
poetize his grosser necessities, she seated herself on an old _chaise
longue_, lighting a cigarette.
She cuddled into this seat, her crossed legs forming an angle within
the circle of one of her arms. Then she leaned her head on her knees,
and in this position smoked a long time, with her glance fixed on the
sea. He guessed that she was about to say something interesting,
something that was puckering her mental interior, struggling to come
Finally she spoke with deliberation, without taking her eyes off the
gulf. From time to time she would stop this contemplation in order to
fasten her eyes on Ulysses, measuring the effect of her words. He
stopped occupying himself definitely with the breakfast tray,
foreseeing that something very important was coming.
"You have sworn that you will do for me whatever I ask you to do....
You do not wish to lose me forever."
Ulysses protested. Lose her?... He could not live without her.
"I know your former life; you have told me all about it.... You know
nothing about me and you ought to know about me--now that I am really
The sailor nodded his head; nothing could be more just.
"I have deceived you, Ulysses. I am not Italian."
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