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CHAPTER 6
Anna's letter to Cesare Dias ran thus:

"I don't know what name to call you by, whether by your own name, so soft and proud, or whether by that of Friend, which says so much, and yet says nothing. I don't know whether I should write here the word that my respect for you imposes upon me, or the word that my heart inspires. Perhaps I had better call you by no name at all; perhaps I ought not to struggle against the unconquerable superior will that dominates me. I am so poor a creature, I am so devoid of moral strength, that the best part of my soul is unconscious of what it does, and when I attempt to act, I am defeated from the outset; is it not true? Ah, there is never an hour of noble and fruitful battle in my heart! Only an utter ignorance of things, of feelings, a complete surrender to the sweetness of love, and, thereby, the loss of all peace, all hope!

"How you must despise me. You are just and wise. You can't help despising a poor weak thing like me, a woman whose heart is always open, whose imagination is always ready to take fire, whose changeable mind is never fixed, whose veins, though cured of their great fever, are still burning, as if her rebellious blood could do nothing but burn, burn, burn. If you despise me—and your eyes, your voice, your manner, all tell me that you do—you are quite right. I never seem to be doing wrong, yet I am always doing it; and then, when I see it, it is too late to make good my error, to recover my own happiness, or to restore that of others. Ah, despise me, despise me; you are right to despise me. I bend to every wind that blows, like a broken reed. I am overturned and rent by the tempest, for I know neither how to defend myself nor how to die. Despise me; no one can despise me as you can, no one has so good a right to do it.

"When you are away from me, I can think of you with a certain amount of courage, trusting to your kindness, to your charity, to forgive me my lack of strength. When you are away from me, I feel myself more a woman, braver; I can dream of being something to you, not an equal, no, but a humble follower in the things of the soul. Dreams, dreams! When you are with me, all my faith in myself disappears; I recognise how feeble I am, how extravagant, how incoherent; no more, never more, can I hope for your indulgence.

"I think of my past—justly and cruelly you reproached me with it—and I find in it such a multitude of childish illusions, such an entirely false standard of life and love, such a monstrous abandonment of all right womanly traditions, that my shame rushes in a flame to my face. Have you not noticed it?

"Before that fatal day at Pompeii—the first day of my real existence—I had a treasury of feelings, of impressions, of ideas, my own personal ones, by which my life was regulated, or rather by which it was disturbed; they were swept away, they were destroyed, they disappeared from my soul on that day. To you, who showed me how great my fault was, to you, who trampled down all that I had cared for, I bow my head, I bow my spirit. You were right. You are right. You only are right. You are always right. I want to convince you that I see the truth clearly now. Let me walk behind you, let me follow you, as a servant follows her master. Ah, give me a little strength you who are strong, you who have never erred, you who have conquered yourself and the world. Give me strength, you who seem to me the model of calmness and justice—above all hazards, because you have known how to suffer in silence, above all human joy, because you understand its emptiness; and yet so kind, so indulgent, so quick to forgive, because you are a man and never forget to be a man.

"You despise me, that is certain; for all strong natures must despise weakness. But it is also certain that you pity me, because I am buffeted about by the storms of life, without a compass, without a star. I have already once been wrecked; in that wreck I left behind me years of health and hope, the best part of my youthful faith. And now I am in danger of being wrecked again, utterly and for ever, unless you save me.

"Say what you will to me; do what you will with me. Insult me, after having despised me. But don't leave me to my weakness, don't withdraw your support from me. It is my only help.

"What shall I call you? Friend?

"Friend, I shall be lost if you do not save me, if you refuse to allow my soul to follow yours, strengthened by your strength, if you cast me out from your spiritual presence, if you do not give me the support that my life finds in yours. Friend, friend, friend, don't cast me off. Say what you will, do what you will, but don't separate me from you. If you do, I shall die. I, a beggar, knock at your door."

The letter continued—

"You wounded me profoundly when you said that it was perhaps Giustino Morelli, the man for whose sake I refused to marry Luigi Caracciolo. I can't hear the bare name of Morelli, without shuddering with contempt. It isn't that I am angry with him, no, no. It is that he does not exist for me; he is the vain shadow of a dead man. On the evening of "The Huguenots,"—ah me! that music sings constantly in my soul, I shall never forget it—he was there, and I didn't see him, I wouldn't see him. I don't hate him. He was a poor, weak fool; honest perhaps, for you have said so; but small in heart and mind! And thus my contempt for him is really contempt for myself, who made an idol of him. How was I ever able to be so blind? When I think of it, I wring my hands in desperation, for it was before him that I burned the first pure incense of my heart. I shall never forgive myself."

Cesare Dias read this letter twice through. Then he left his house to go about his affairs and his pleasures. Returning home, he read it for a third time. Thereupon he wrote the following note, which he immediately sent off.

"Dear Anna,—All that you say is very well; but I don't know yet who the man is that you love.—Very cordially, Cesare Dias."

She read it, and answered with one line: "I love you.—Anna Acquaviva."

Cesare Dias waited a day before he replied: "Dear Anna,—Very well. And what then?—Cesare Dias."

In the exaltation of her passion she had taken a step whereby she risked her entire future happiness; and she knew it. She had taken the humiliating step of declaring her love. Would Dias hate her? She had expected an angry letter from him, a letter saying that he would never see her again; instead of which she had received a colourless little note, neither warm nor cold, treating her declaration as he might have treated any most ordinary incident of his day.

That was the unkindest cut of all. Cesare Dias was simply indifferent. For her, love was a tragedy; for him, it was an ordinary incident of his day.

What to do now? She could not think. What to do? What to do? Had he himself not asked, with light curiosity: "And what then?" He had asked it with the sort of curiosity one might show for the continuation of a novel one was reading.

All night long she sobbed upon her pillow.

"What is the matter?" asked Laura, waking up.

"Nothing. Go to sleep."

In the morning she wrote to him again:

"Why do you ask me what then? I don't know; I cannot answer. God has allowed me to love a second time. I know nothing of 'then.' I only know one thing—I love you. Perhaps you have known it too, this long while. My eyes, my voice, my words wherein my soul knelt before you, must have told you that I loved you. Have you not seen me bow my proud head daily in humility before you? I began to love you that evening when we came home together from Pompeii, when my fever was beginning. Afterwards, my whole nature was transformed by my love of you. I don't ask you to love me. Perhaps you are bound by other loves, past loves. Perhaps you have never loved, and wish never to love. Perhaps I don't please you, either spiritually or bodily. What is passing in your mind? Who knows? I only know that you are strong and wise, that you never turn aside, that you follow your noble path tranquilly, in the triumphant calm of your greatness. Have you loved? Will you love? Who knows? All I ask is that you will let me love you, without being separated from you. I ask that you will promise to wish me well, not as your ward, not as your sister, but as a poor girl who loves you with all her soul and life. I don't ask you to change your habits in any way; the least of your habits, the least of your desires, is sacred to me. Live as you have always lived, only remember that in a corner of Naples there is a heart that finds its only reason for existence in your existence, and continue from time to time to give it a minute of your presence. My love will be a silent companion to you.

"Are you not the same man who said to me, with a voice that trembled with pity, in that dark, empty room at the inn in Pompeii, while I felt that I was dying—are you not the same man who said, My poor child, my poor child?

"You pitied me. You do pity me. You will pity me. I know it, I know it. And that is the 'then' of my love.

"Don't write to me. I should be afraid to read what you might write.

"Ah, how I love you! How I love you!

"Anna Acquaviva."

Cesare Dias was very thoughtful after he had read this letter. His vanity, the vanity of a man of forty, was flattered by it. And Anna's love, for the present, at any rate, seemed to be entirely obedient and submissive. But would it remain so? Cesare Dias had had a good deal of experience. Anna's he knew to be a proud and self-willed character; would it always remain on its knees, like this? Some day she would not be content only to love, she would demand to be loved in return.

He did not answer the letter. He was an enemy to letter writing in general, to the writing of love letters in particular; and, anyhow, what could he say?

For two days he did not call upon her. On the third day, he arrived as usual, at two o'clock.

Anna, during these days, had lived in a state of miserable suspense and nervousness.

"What is the matter with her?" Stella Martini asked of Laura.

"I don't know."

But the governess tormented her with questions, and at last she answered impatiently: "I think she is in love."

"Again?"

"Yes, again."

"And with whom?"

"She has never told me to tell you," cried Laura, leaving the room.

"What is the matter with you?" Stella asked of Anna. "You are suffering. Why do you conceal your sorrow from me?"

"If I am suffering, it's my own fault," said Anna. "Only God can help me."

"Can't I help you? You are in deep grief."

"Deep grief."

"You have placed your hopes where they can't be realised? Again?"

"Again."

"Why, dear? Explain it to me."

"Because it is my destiny, perhaps."

"You are young, beautiful, and rich. You ought to be the mistress of your destiny. It is only poor solitary people who have to submit to destiny."

"I am poorer than the poorest beggar that asks for alms in the street."

"Don't talk like that," said Stella, gently, taking her hand. "Tell me about it."

"I can't tell you about it, I can't. It is stronger than I am," said Anna, and her anguish seemed to suffocate her.

"Tell me nothing, then, darling. I understand. I'm only a poor servant; but I love you so. And I want to tell you, Anna, that there are no sorrows that can't be outlived."

"If Heaven doesn't help me, my sorrow will kill me."

"The only irremediable sorrow in this world is the death of some one whom we love," said Stella, shaking her head. "You will see."

"I would rather die than live like this."

"But is the case quite desperate? Is there no ray of light?"

"Perhaps."

"Is it a man on whom your hope depends?"

"Yes."

"Do I know him?"

But Anna put her fingers on her lips, to silence Stella. The bell had rung. And, at the sound of it, Stella heard a great sigh escape from Anna's breast.

"What is it?" she asked.

"Nothing, nothing," said Anna, passing her pocket-handkerchief over her face. "Go to the drawing-room."

"Must I leave you alone?"

"I beg you to. I am so upset. I want a minute of peace."

"And you will come afterwards?"

"I'll come when I can—when I am calm again."

Stella went slowly away. In the drawing-room she found Dias, who was showing a copy of the illustrated Figaro to Laura. Dias bowed and asked, "And Anna?"

"She will come presently."

"Is she well?"

"Not ill."

"Then she is not well?"

"I don't think so. But you will see for yourself."

He and Laura returned to the engravings in the Figaro, which were very good. Stella left them.

Anna entered the room. Her heart was beating wildly. She did not speak. She sat down at the opposite side of the table on which the newspaper was spread out.

Dias said, referring to the pictures, "They're very clever."

"Very clever," agreed Laura.

Dias bowed to Anna, smiling, and asking, "How do you do?"

"Well," she answered.

"Signora Martini told me that she feared you were not very well."

"It's her affection for me, that imagines things. I am quite well." In his tone she could feel nothing more than pity for her. "I am only a little nervous."

"It's the weather, the sirocco," said Dias.

"Yes, the sirocco," repeated Anna.

"You'll be all right when the sun shines," said he.

"When the sun shines, perhaps," she repeated mechanically.

Laura rose, and left the room.

After a silence, Cesare Dias said, "It is true, then, that you love me?"

Anna looked at him. She could not speak. She made a gesture that said yes.

"I should like to know why," he remarked, playing with his watch-chain.

She looked her surprise, but did not speak.

"Yes, why," he went on. "You must have a reason. There must be a reason if a woman loves one man and not another. Tell me. Perhaps I have virtues whose existence I have never suspected."

Anna, confused and pale, looked at him in silence. He was laughing at her; and she besought him with her gaze to have pity upon her.

"Forgive me, Anna. But you know it is my bad habit not to take seriously things that appear very serious to others. My raillery hurts you. But some day you must really try to tell me why you care for me."

"Because you are you," she said softly.

"That's a very profound reason," he answered smiling. "But it would require many hours of meditation to be understood. And, of course, you will always love me?"

"Always."

"May I say something that will pain you?"

"Say it," she sighed.

"It seems to me, then, that you are slightly changeable. A year ago you thought you loved another, and would love him always. Confess that you have utterly forgotten him. And in another year—what will my place be?"

But he checked himself. She had become livid, and her eyes were full of tears.

"I have pained you too much. Nothing gives pain like the truth," he said. "But there, smile a little. Don't you think smiles are as interesting as tears? You're very lovely when you smile."

And obediently she smiled.

"Well, then, this eternal love," he went on, "what are we to do about it?"

"Nothing. I only love you."

"Does that suffice?"

"I must make it suffice."

"You are easily satisfied. Will you always be so modest in your hopes?"

"The future is in the hands of God," said she, not having the courage to lie.

"Ah! that is what I want to talk about—the future. You are hoping something from the future. Otherwise you would not be satisfied. The future, indeed! You are twenty. You have never thought of my age, have you?"

"It doesn't matter. For me you are young."

"And I will come to love you? That is your hope?"

"I have asked for nothing. Don't humiliate me."

He bowed, slightly disconcerted.

He put his hand in his pocket and drew out a little portfolio in red leather, which he opened, drawing forth two or three letters.

"I have brought your letters with me. Letters are so easily lost, and other people read them. So, having learned their contents, I return them to you."

She did not take them.

"What!" he cried, "aren't you glad to get them back? But there's nothing women wish so much as to get back the letters they have written."

"Tear them up—you," she murmured.

"It's not nice to tear up letters."

"Tear them, tear them."

"As you like," he said, tearing them up.

She closed her eyes while he was doing it. Then she said with a sad smile:

"So, it is certain, you don't care for me?"

"I mustn't contradict you," he answered gallantly.

He took her hand to bid her good-bye.

Slowly she went back to her bedroom.

There she found Stella Martini.

"Do you remember, Stella, that day I left you in the Church of Santa Chiara?"

"Yes; I remember."

"Well, now I tell you this—never forget it. On that day I signed my own death-sentence."
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