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For three weeks Anna lay at the point of death, prey to a violent attack of scarlet fever, alternating between delirium and stupor, and always moaning in her pain; while Laura, Stella Martini, and a Sister of Charity watched at her bedside.

But she did not die. The fever reached its crisis, and then, little by little, day by day, abated.

At last her struggle with death was finished, but Anna had lost in it the best part of her youth. Thus a valorous warrior survives the battle indeed, but returns to his friends the phantom of himself—an object of pity to those who saw him set forth, strong and gallant.

When the early Neapolitan spring began to show itself, at the end of February, she was convalescent, but so weak that she could scarcely support the weight of her thick black hair. Stella Martini tried very patiently to comb it so gently that Anna should not have to move, braiding it in two long plaits; in this way it would seem less heavy. From time to time a big tear would roll down the invalid's cheek.

She was weeping silently, slowly; and when Laura or Stella Martini, or Sister Crocifissa would ask her: "What is it; what can we do for you?" Anna would answer with a sign which seemed to say: "Let me weep; perhaps it will do me good to weep."

"Let her weep, it will do her good to weep," was what the great doctor Antonio Amati had said also. "Let her do whatever pleases her; refuse her nothing if you can help it."

So her nurses, obedient to the doctor, did not try to prevent her weeping, did not even try to speak comforting words to her. Perhaps it was not so much an active sorrow that made her shed these tears, as a sort of sad relief.

Cesare Dias during this anxious time put aside his occupations of a gay bachelor, and called two or three times a day at the palace in Piazza Gerolomini to inquire how Anna was. The two girls had no nearer relative than he; and he, indeed, was not a relative: he was their guardian, an old friend of their father's, a companion of the youthful sports of Francesco Acquaviva. The young wife of Francesco had died five years after the birth of her second daughter, Laura, who resembled her closely: and thereupon her husband had proceeded to shorten his own life by throwing himself into every form of worldly dissipation. The two children, growing up in the house, motherless in the midst of profuse luxury, could exert no restraining influence upon their father, who seemed bent upon enjoying every minute of his existence as if he realised that its end was near. His constant companion was the cold, calm, sceptical Cesare Dias, a man who appeared to despise the very pleasures it was his one business to pursue. And when Francesco Acquaviva fell ill, and was about to die, he could think of nothing better than to make the partner of his follies the guardian of his children.

Cesare Dias had discharged his duties, not without some secret annoyance, with a gentlemanlike correctness; never treating his wards with much familiarity, rarely showing himself in public with them, keeping them at a distance, indeed, and feeling very little interest in them. He was their guardian—he, a man who, of all things, had least desired to have a family, who spent the whole of his income upon himself, who hated sentiment, who had no ideal of friendship. Cesare Dias, a man without tenderness, without affection, without sympathy, was the guardian of two young girls. He was this by the freak of Francesco Acquaviva. Dias would be glad enough when the day came for the girls to marry. When people congratulated him upon his situation as a rich bachelor with no obligations, he responded with a somewhat sarcastic smile: "Pity me rather; I've got two children—a legacy from Francesco Acquaviva."

"Oh, they'll soon be married."

"I hope so," he murmured devoutly.

As he watched the girls grow up, the character of Laura, haughty, and reserved, and silent, as if she had already known a thousand disillusions, began vaguely to please him, as if he saw obscurely in a looking-glass a face that distantly resembled his own: a faint admiration which was really but reflex admiration of himself. The character of Anna, on the contrary, open, loyal, impressionable and impulsive, a character full of strong likes and dislikes—imaginative, enthusiastic, generous—had always roused in him a certain antipathy.

In her presence he seemed even colder and more indifferent than elsewhere; merciless for all human weakness, disdainful of all human interests.

It would have been a miracle if two such incompatible natures, each so positive, had not repelled each other. Sometimes, though, Anna could not help feeling a certain secret respect for this man, who perhaps had good reasons—reasons born of suffering—for the contempt with which he regarded his fellow-beings; and sometimes Dias told himself that it was ridiculous to be angry with this strange child, for she was a worthy daughter of Francesco Acquaviva, a man who had tossed his life to the winds of pleasure. Dias asked himself scornfully, "What does it matter?"

And so, when he learned that his ward had fallen in love with an obscure and penniless youth, he shrugged his shoulders, murmuring, "Rhetoric!" He deemed it wiser not to speak to her about the matter, for he knew that the flame of love is only fanned by the wind of contradiction; besides, it is always useless to talk sensibly to a silly girl.

When Giustino Morelli had called upon him and humbly asked for Anna's hand, Dias opposed to the ingenuous eloquence of love the cynical philosophy of the world, and thought his trouble ended when he saw the young man go away, pale and resigned. "Rhetoric, rhetoric!" was his mental commentary; and he had a theory that what he called rhetoric could be trusted to die a natural death. So he went back to his usual occupation, giving the affair no further thought.

But chemical analysis cannot explain spontaneous generation; criticism cannot explain genius; and no more can cold reason explain or understand youthful passion.

When it came to the knowledge of Cesare Dias that Anna had left her home to give herself into the keeping of a poor nobody, he was for a moment stupefied; he seemed for a moment to have a vision of that force whose existence he had hitherto doubted, which can lift hearts up to dizzy heights, and human beings far above convention. He was a man of few words, a man of action, but now he was staggered, nonplussed. A child who could play her reputation and her future like this, inspired him with a sort of vague respect, a respect for the power that moved her. Ah, there was a convulsion in the soul of Cesare Dias, the man of fixed ideas and easy aphorisms, who suddenly found himself face to face with a moral crisis in which the life of his young ward might be wrecked. And he felt a pang of self-reproach. He ought to have watched more carefully over her; he ought to have been kinder to her; he ought not to have left her to walk unguided in the dangerous path of youth and love.

He felt a certain pity for the poor weak creature, who had gone, as it were, headlong over a precipice without calling for help. He thought that, if she had been his own daughter, he would have endeavoured to cultivate her common sense, to show her that it was impossible for people to live constantly at concert pitch. He had, therefore, failed in his duty towards her, in his office of protector and friend; and yet what faith her dead father, Francesco Acquaviva, had had in him, in his wisdom, in his affection! Anna, who had hitherto inspired him only with that disdain which practical men feel for sentimentalists, now moved him to compassion, as a defenceless being exposed to all the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune. And during his drive from Naples to Pompeii he promised himself that he would be very kind to her, very gentle. If she had flown from her home, it was doubtless because the love that Giustino Morelli bore her had appeared greater to her than the love of her own people; and doubtless, too, there are hearts to whom love is as necessary as bread is to the body. Never before had Cesare Dias felt such an emotion as beset him now during that long drive to Pompeii; for years he had been on his guard against such emotions.

And, accordingly, after that fatal day on which he brought her back to her house, he and Laura and Stella Martini all tried to create round Anna a peaceful atmosphere of kindness and indulgence, as if she had committed a grave but generous error, by whose consequences she alone was hurt. Laura—silent, thoughtful, with her dreamy grey eyes, her placid face—nursed Anna through her fever with quiet sisterly devotion. Cesare Dias called every morning, entering the room on tiptoe, inquiring with a glance how the sufferer was doing, then seating himself at a distance from the bed, without speaking. If Anna looked up, if he felt her big sorrowful black eyes turned upon his face, he would ask in a gentle voice, the voice of that day, how she felt; she would answer with a faint smile, "Better," and would shut her eyes again, and go back to her interior contemplations.

Cesare Dias, after that, would get up noiselessly and go away, to come again in the afternoon, and still again in the evening, perhaps for a longer visit.

Laura, always dressed in white, would meet him in the sitting-room; and he would ask, "Is she better?"

"She seems to be."

"Has she been asleep to-day?"

"No, I don't think she has been asleep."

"Has she said anything."

"Not a word."

"Who is to watch with her to-night."


"You will wear yourself out."

"No, no."

Nothing else passed between them.

Often he would arrive in the evening wearing his dress-suit; he had dined at his club, and was off for a card-party or a first night at a theatre. Then he would remain standing, with his overcoat open, his hat in his hand. At such a time, a little warmed up by the dinner he had eaten, or the amusements that awaited him, Cesare Dias was still a handsome man; his dull eyes shone with some of their forgotten brightness; his cheeks had a little colour in them; and his smooth black hair gave him almost an appearance of youth. One who had seen him in the morning, pale and exhausted, would scarcely have recognised him. Laura would meet him and part with him, never asking whence he came or whither he was bound; when he had said good-night she would return to Anna, slowly, with her light footsteps that merely brushed the carpet.

Cesare Dias told himself that if he wished to make his sick ward over morally, now was the time to begin, while her body was weak and her soul malleable. It would be impossible to transform her spirit after she had once got back her strength. Anna was completely prostrated, passing the entire day without moving, her arms stretched out at full length, her hands pale and cold, her face turned on the side, her two rich plaits of black hair extended on her pillow; bloodless her cheeks, her lips, her brow; lifeless the glance of her eyes. When spoken to, she answered with a slight movement of the head, or, at most, one or two words—always the same.

"How do you feel?"


"Do you wish for anything?"


"Is there nothing you would like?"

"No, thanks."

Whereupon she would close her eyes again, exhausted. Nothing more would be said by those round her, but Anna knew that they were there, silent, talking together by means of significant glances.

One day, Cesare Dias and Laura Acquaviva felt that they could mark a progress in Anna's convalescence, because two or three times she had looked at them with an expression of such earnest penitence, with such an eager prayer for pardon, in her sad dark eyes, that words were not necessary to tell what she felt. Soon afterwards she seemed to wish to be left alone with Dias, as if she had a secret to confide to him; but he cautiously thought it best to defer any private talk. However, one morning it so happened that he found himself alone in her room. He was reading a newspaper when a soft voice said:


Cesare Dias looked at her. Her black eyes were again beseeching forgiveness, and Anna stammered:

"What must you have thought—what must you have said of me!"

"You must not excite yourself, my dear," he said kindly.

"I was so wicked," she sobbed.

"Don't talk like that, dear Anna; you were guilty of nothing more than a girlish folly."

"A sin, a sin."

"You must call things by their right names, and not let your imagination get the better of you," he answered, somewhat coldly. "A youthful folly."

"Well, be it as you wish," she said, humbly; "but if you knew——"

"There, there," murmured Cesare Dias with the shadow of a smile, "calm yourself; we'll speak of this another day."

Laura had come back into the room, and her presence cut short their talk.

That evening, by the faint light of a little lamp that hung before an image of the Virgin at her bedside, Anna saw the big grey eyes of Laura gazing at her inquiringly; and therewith she raised herself a little on her pillow and called her sister to her.

"You are good; you don't know——"

"You mustn't excite yourself."

"You are innocent, Laura, but you are my sister. Don't judge me harshly."

"I don't judge you, Anna."

"Laura, Laura——"

"Be quiet, Anna."

Laura's tone was a little hard, but with her hand she gently caressed her sister's cheek; and Anna said nothing more.

As her recovery progressed, an expression of humility, of contrition, seemed to become more and more constant upon her face when she had to do with Laura or with Dias.

They were very kind to her, with that pitying kindness which we show to invalids, to old people, and to children—a kindness in marked contrast to their former indifference, which awoke in her an ever sharper and sharper remorse. She felt a great difference between herself and them: they were sane in body and mind, their blood flowed tranquilly in their veins, their consciences were untroubled; while she was broken in health, disturbed in spirit, and miserable in thinking of her past, its deceits, its errors, its thousand shameful aberrations, its lack of maidenly decorum—and for whom? for whom? For a fool, a simpleton, a fellow who had neither heart nor courage, who had never loved her, who was cruel and inept. When she drew a mental comparison between Giustino Morelli and these two persons whom she had wished to desert for him—between Giustino, so timid, so poor in all right feeling, so bankrupt in passion, and them, so magnanimous, so forgetful of her fault—her repentance grew apace. It was the exaggerated repentance of a noble nature, which magnifies the moral gravity of its own transgressions. She felt herself to be quite undeserving of the sympathy and affection with which they treated her. Their kindness was an act of gratuitous charity beyond her merits.

She would look from Laura to Cesare Dias and murmur: "You are good; you are good." And then at the sound of her own voice she would be so moved that she would weep; and pale, with great dark circles under her eyes, she would repeat, "So good, so good."

Her sole desire was to show herself absolutely obedient to whatever her guardian demanded, to whatever her sister advised.

She gave herself over, bound hand and foot, to these two beings whom she had so cruelly forgotten on the day of her mad adventure; in her convalescence she found a great joy in throwing herself absolutely upon their wisdom and their goodness.

Little by little it seemed to her that she was being born again to a new life, quiet, placid, irresponsible; a life in which she would have no will of her own, in which, passively, gladly, she would be guided and controlled by them. So, whenever they spoke to her, whenever they asked for her opinion—whether a window should be opened or closed, whether a bouquet of flowers should be left in the room or carried out, whether a note should be written to a friend who had called to inquire how she was—she always said, "Yes," or "As you think best," emphasising her answer with a gesture and a glance.

"Yes" to whatever Cesare Dias suggested to her; Cesare Dias who had grown in her imagination to the proportions of a superior being, far removed from human littleness, invincible, dwelling in the highest spheres of abstract intellect; and "Yes" to whatever Laura Acquaviva suggested, Laura the pure, the impeccable, who had never had the weakness to fall in love, who would die rather than be wanting to her ideal of herself. "Yes" even to whatever her poor governess, Stella Martini, suggested; Stella so kind, so faithful, whom in the past she had so heartlessly deceived. "Yes" to the good Sister of Charity, Maria del Crocifisso, who passed her life in self-sacrifice, in self-abnegation, in loving devotion to others. "Yes" to everybody. Anna said nothing but "Yes," because she had been wrong, and they had all been right.

She was getting well. Nothing remained of her illness except a mortal weakness, a heaviness of the head, an inability to concentrate her mind upon one idea, a desire to rest where she was, not to move from her bed, from her room, not to lift her hands, to keep her eyes closed, her cheek buried in her pillow. Cesare Dias called daily after luncheon, at two o'clock, an hour when men of the world have absolutely nothing to do, for visits are not in order till four. The girls waited for him every afternoon; Laura with her appearance of being above all earthly trifles, showing neither curiosity nor eagerness; Anna with a secret anxiety because he would bring her a sense of calmness and strength, a breath of the world's air, and especially because he seemed so firm, so imperturbable, that she found it restorative merely to look at him, as weaklings find restorative the sight of those who are robust. He would chat a little, giving the latest gossip, telling where last night's ball had been held, who had gone upon a journey, who had got married, but always with that tone of disdain, that tone of the superior being who sees but is not moved, and yet who seeks to conceal his boredom, which was characteristic of him.

Sometimes, though, he would laugh outright at the society he moved in, at its pleasures, at its people, burlesquing and caricaturing them, and ridiculing himself for being led by them.

"Oh, you!" cried Anna, with an indescribable intonation of respect.

She listened eagerly to everything he said. Her fragile soul was like a butterfly that lights on every tiniest flower. These elegant and meaningless frivolities, these experiences without depth or significance, these axioms of a social code that turned appearances into idols, all this worthless baggage delighted her enfeebled imagination. Her heart seemed to care for nothing but little things. She admired Cesare Dias as a splendid and austere man whom destiny had thrown amidst inferior surroundings, and who adapted himself to them without losing any of his nobler qualities. She told herself that his was a great soul that had been born too soon, perhaps too late; he was immeasurably above his times, yet with quiet fortitude he took them in good part. When he displayed his scorn for all human ambitions, speaking of how transitory everything pertaining to this world is in its nature; when he derided human folly and human beings who in the pursuit of follies lose their fortunes and their reputations; when he said that the only human thing deserving of respect was success; when he said that all generosity was born of some secret motive of selfishness, that all virtue was the result of some weakness of character or of temperament—she, immensely impressed, having forgotten during her fever the emotional reasons to be opposed to such effete and corrupt theories, bowed her head, answering sadly, "You are right."

Now that she was able to sit up they were often alone together. Laura would leave them to go and read in the sitting-room, or to receive callers in the drawing-room, or to walk out with Stella Martini. She could always find some pretext for taking herself off. She was a reserved, silent girl, who knew neither how to live nor how to love as others did. It was best to leave her to her taste for silence, for self-absorption. Cesare Dias, a little anxious about her, asked Anna:

"What is the matter with Laura?"

"She is good—she is the best girl alive," Anna answered, with the feeling she always showed when she named her sister.

Cesare Dias looked at her fixedly. He looked at her like this whenever her voice betrayed emotion. It seemed to him that it was her old nature revealing itself again; he wished to stamp it out, to suffocate it. Her heart was defenceless, too impressionable, the heart of a child: he wished to turn it into a heart of bronze, which would be unaffected by the breath of passion. Always, therefore, when Anna allowed her soul to vibrate in her voice, Cesare Dias, naturally serious and composed enough, seemed to become more serious, more austere; his eye hardened into glass, and Anna felt that she had displeased him. She knew that she displeased him as often as anything in her manner could recall that wild adventure which had sullied the innocence of her girlhood: as often as she gave any sign of being deeply moved: if she turned pale, if she bowed her head, if she wept. Cesare Dias hated all such manifestations of sentimental weakness. Sometimes, when Anna could no longer control herself, and her emotion could not be prevented from shining in her eyes, he would pretend not to notice it. Sometimes he would demand, "What is the matter?"

"Nothing," said she, timidly conscious that by her timidity she but displeased him the more.

"Always the same—incorrigible," he murmured, shaking his head hopelessly.

"Forgive me; I can't help it," she besought him with an imploring glance.

"You shouldn't say of anything that you can't help it. You should be strong enough to govern yourself in all circumstances," was the axiom of Cesare Dias.

"I will try."

One day in April, Stella Martini, coming home from a walk with Laura, brought her some flowers—some beautiful wild rosebuds, which in Naples blossom so early in the year. Anna was seated in an easy-chair near the window, through which entered the soft spring air; and when she saw Laura and Stella come into the house—Laura dressed in white, breathing peace and youth from every line of her figure—Stella with her face that seemed to have been scalded and shrivelled up by tears shed long ago, both bearing great quantities of fresh sweet roses, the poor girl's heart swelled with indescribable tenderness.

Holding the roses in her hand, she caressed them, touched them with her face, buried her lips in them, and said under her voice: "Thank you, thank you," as if in her weakness she could find no other words to express her pleasure.

Cesare Dias, arriving a little later, found her in rapt contemplation over her flowers, her great fond eyes glowing with joy. A shadow crossed his face.

"See, they have brought me these flowers," she said. "Aren't they lovely?"

"I see them," he said, drily.

"Aren't you fond of flowers? They're so fresh and fragrant. I hope you're fond of them; I adore them."

And in the fervour of her last phrase she closed her eyes.

It occurred to him that she had doubtless not so very long ago spoken the same words of a man; and he realised that, in spite of her illness, in spite of her repentance, she was ever the same Anna Acquaviva who had once flown from her home and people. He lifted his eyebrows, and his ebony walking-stick beat rather nervously against his chair.

"Would you like a rose?" she asked, to placate him.


"Why not?"

"Because I don't care for flowers."

"What! Not even to wear in your button-hole when you go into society?" she asked, trying to jest.

"They're not de rigueur. Flowers are pretty enough in their way; but I assure you I have never had the weakness to weep over them, or to say that I adore them."

"I was wrong, I said too much."

"You always say too much. You lack a sense of proportion. There are a great many things a girl shouldn't say, lest, if she begins by saying them, she should end by doing them, The woman who says too much is lost."

Anna turned as white as the collar of her frock. It had come at last, the reproof she had so long been waiting for, and secretly dreading. He had put it in a single brief sentence. The woman who says too much is lost. Once upon a time, six months ago for instance, she would have endured such a reproof from no one, such a bitter reference to her past; she would have retorted hotly, especially if the speaker had been Cesare Dias. But now! So weakened was she by her illness and her sorrow, there was not a fibre in her that resented it; her blood slept in her veins; her heart contained nothing but penitence. "The woman who says too much is lost!" Cesare Dias was right.

"It is true," she said.

And yet, as she said it, a new grief was born within her, as if she had renounced some precious possession of her soul, broken some holy vow.

Cesare's face cleared. He had won a victory.

"Anna," he went on, "every time that you allow yourself to be carried away by sentimentalism, that you employ exaggerated expressions, that you indulge in emotional rhetoric, I assure you, you displease me greatly. How ridiculous if life were to be passed in saying of people, houses, landscapes, flowers, 'I adore them!' Don't you see what a convulsive, hysterical frame of mind that is? As if life were nothing but a smile, a tear, a kiss! Do you know to what this sort of thing inevitably leads? You know——"

"Spare me, I entreat you."

"I can't, dear. First you must agree with me that your attitude towards life, though a generous one if you like, is not a wise one, and that it leads to the gravest errors. Am I right?"

"You are right."

"You must agree with me that that sort of thing can only make ourselves and others miserable, whereas our duty is to be as happy and to make others as happy as we can. Everything else is rhetoric. Am I right?"

"You are right. You are always right."

"Finally, you must agree that it is better to be reasonable than to be sentimental; better to be arid than to be rhetorical, better to be silent than to speak out everything that is in one's heart; better to be strong than to be weak. Am I not right?"

"You are right, always right."

"Anna, do you know what life is?"

"No, I don't know what it really is."

"Life is a thing which is serious and absurd at the same time."

She made no answer; she was silent and pensive.

"It is serious because it is the only thing we know anything about; because every man and every woman, in whatever rank or condition, is bound to be honest, well-behaved, worthy and proper; because if one is rich and noble it is one's duty to be moral in a given way; if one is poor and humble, it is one's duty to be moral in another way."

He saw that she was listening to him eagerly; he saw that he might hazard a great stroke.

"Giustino Morelli——" he began softly.

"No!" she cried, pressing her hands to her temples, her face convulsed with terror.

"Giustino Morelli——" he repeated calmly.

"For Heaven's sake, don't speak of him."

Cesare Dias appeared neither to see nor hear her. He wished to go to the bottom of the matter, courageously, pitilessly.

"—was a serious person, an honest man," he concluded.

"He was an infamous traitor," said Anna, in a low voice, as if speaking to herself.

"Anna, he was an honest man. You ought to believe it. You will believe it."

"Never, never."

"Yes, you will. You ought to do him justice. I, who am a man, I must do him justice. He might have issued from his obscurity; he might have had money, a beautiful wife, a wife whom he loved, for he loved you——"

"No, no."

"Everybody loves in his own way, my dear," retorted Cesare, icily. "He loved you. But because he did not wish to be thought self-interested, because he did not wish the world to say of him that he had loved you for your money, because he did not wish to hear you, Anna, some day say the same thing; because he could not endure the accusation of having seduced a young girl for her fortune; because he was not willing to let you suffer, as for some years, at any rate, you would have had to suffer, from poverty and obscurity, he renounced you. Do you understand? He renounced you because he was honest. He renounced you, though in doing so he had to face your anger and your scorn. My dear, that man was a martyr to duty, to use one of your own phrases. Will you allow me to say something which may appear ungracious, but which is really friendly?"

Anna consented with a sign.

"Well, you have no just notion of the seriousness of life. All its responsibilities can be scattered by a caprice, by a passion, to quote what you yourself have said. You would brush aside all obstacles; and you would run the risk of losing all respect, all honour, all peace, all health, thereby. Life, Anna, is a very serious affair."

With a bowed head, she could only answer by a gesture, a gesture that said "Yes."

"And, at the same time, it's a trifling matter, Anna."

It was the corrupt, effete nobleman who now re-appeared, the viveur who had drunk at every fountain, who was always bored and always curious; it was he who now took the place of the moral teacher. Anna looked up, surprised and shocked.

"Life is absurd, ridiculous, contemptible. The world is full of cruel parents, of false friends, of wives who betray their husbands, of husbands who maltreat their wives, of well-dressed swindlers, of thieving bankers. All of them in turn are judges and criminals. All appearances are deceitful; all faces lie. If by chance there turns up a man who seems really honest, nobody believes in him; or, if people believe in him, they despise him. The man who sacrifices himself, who makes some great renunciation—poor Morelli—gets nothing but disdain."

"But—if all this is true?" cried Anna sadly.

"Then, one must have the strength to keep one's own real feelings hidden; one must wear a mask; one must take other men and women at their proper value; one must march straight forward."

"Whether happy or miserable?"

She put this question with great anxiety, for she felt that when it was answered her soul's point of interrogation would be changed to a full stop.

"The strong are happy; the weak are miserable. Only the strong can triumph."

She was silent, oppressed and pained by his philosophy, by its bitterness, its sterile pride, its egotism and cruelty. It seemed as if he had built a sepulchre from the ruins of her illusions. She felt that she no longer understood either her own nature or the external world; a sense of fear and of confusion had taken the place of her old principles and aspirations. And there was a great home-sickness in her heart for love, for devotion, for tenderness, for enthusiasm; a great melancholy at the thought that she would never thrill with them again, that she would never weep again. She felt a great indefinable longing, not for the past, not for the present, not for the future, a longing that related itself to nothing. And she realised that what Cesare Dias had said was true—horribly, dreadfully, certainly true. She could be sure of nothing after this, she had lost her pole-star, she was being swept round and round in a spiritual whirlpool. And he who had led her into it inspired her with fear, respect, and a vague admiration. He himself had got beyond the whirlpool, he was safe in port. Perhaps, in despair, he had thrown overboard into the furious waves the most precious part of his cargo; perhaps he was little better than a wreck; but what did it matter? He was safe in harbour.

She was not sure whether it was better to brave out the tempest, to lose everything nobly and generously for the sake of love, or to save appearances, make for still waters, and in them enjoy a selfish tranquillity.

"You are strong?" she said.

"Yes," he assented.

"And are you happy—really?"

"Very happy. As happy as one can be."

By-and-by she asked: "Have you always been happy?"

Cesare Dias did not answer.

"Tell me, tell me, have you always been happy?"

"What does the past matter? Nothing."

"And—have you ever loved?"

"The person who says too much is lost; the person who wants to know too much suffers. Don't ask."

She chose a rose and offered it to him. He took it and put it into his button-hole.

At that instant Laura Acquaviva entered the room.

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