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CHAPTER 7
The Villa Caterina was embowered amongst the flowering orange-trees of Sorrento. On the side towards the town the villa had a beautiful Italian garden, where white statues gleamed amidst green leaves, and where all day long one could listen to the laughing waters of fountains. From the garden a door led directly into a big drawing-room. On the other side of the house a broad terrace looked over the sea.

This was the summer home of the Acquaviva family. It was bigger and handsomer than the house in Naples. There was greater freedom, greater luxury, greater cheerfulness here, than in the gloomy palace of the Piazza dei Gerolomini. The girls were very fond of Villa Caterina, and their father, Francesco Acquaviva, had been very fond of it. He had named it for his wife. It was here that the couple had passed all the summers of their married life; it was here that Caterina Acquaviva had died. The girls had a sweet, far-away memory of their mother; in her room at the Villa she was almost like a living presence to them.

When the spring came Anna began to speak of going to Sorrento. She felt that if she could get away from Naples she might experience a change of soul. The broad light and ceaseless murmur of the sea would calm her and strengthen her. When Laura or Stella asked her, "What is the matter?" she would answer, "I don't like being here."

She said nothing of her great sorrow. She shut it into her heart, and felt that it was killing her by inches. She passed long hours in silent meditation, her eyes fixed vaguely upon the air; when spoken to, she would start nervously, and look at her interlocutor as if she had suddenly been called back from a distant land of dreams.

Those who loved her saw her moral and physical trouble. She stayed in the house day after day; she gave up her walks; she went no more to the theatre. She had lost her interest in the things that used to please her. She was very gentle, very kind to everybody. To Cesare Dias she showed an unfailing tenderness. She was often silent before him. When he spoke to her, she would reply with a look, a look of such deep melancholy that even his hard heart was touched. She was very different to the impetuous creature of former times.

When the spring came, with its languorous warmth, her weakness increased. In spite of all her efforts to conquer her desire to do so, she would spend long hours writing to Cesare. It was her only way of showing the love that was consuming her. It was a great comfort, and, at the same time, a great pain. She wrote at great length, confusedly, with the disorder and the monotony of a spirit in distress; and as she wrote she would repeat her written phrases aloud, as if he were present, and could respond. She wrote thrilling with passion, and her cheeks burned. But, after she had committed her letters to the post, she would wish them back, they seemed so cold, so absurd, so grotesque, and she cursed the moment in which she had put pen to paper.

Cesare Dias never answered her. How could she expect him to, indeed? Had he not torn her first letters up, under her eyes?

Whenever his servant brought him one of Anna's letters he received it with a movement of impatience. He was not altogether displeased, however. He read them with a calm judicial mind, amused at their "rhetoric," and forbore to answer them. He went less frequently to her house than formerly. They were rarely alone together now. But sometimes it happened that they were; and then, observing her pale face, her eyes red from weeping, he asked: "What is it? Why do you go on like this?"

"What do you wish me to do?" she returned.

"I want you to be merry, to laugh."

"That—that is impossible," she said, drooping her eyes to hide the tears in them.

And Dias, fearing a scene, was silent.

He was a man of much self-control, but he confessed to himself that he would not be able, as she was, to bear an unrequited love with patience.

Anna was a woman, a woman in the full sense of the word. She had hoped to win his heart; but now she relinquished hope. And one day, in May, she wrote him a letter of farewell; she would never write again; it was useless, useless. She bade him farewell; she said she would like to go away, go away from Naples to Sorrento, to the Villa Caterina, where her mother had loved and died.

She begged Laura and Stella to take her to Sorrento. And Stella wrote to Dias to ask his permission. He replied at once, saying he thought the change of air would be capital for Anna. They had best leave at once. He could not call to bid them good-bye, but he would soon come to see his dear girls at the Villa.

Stella said: "Dias has written to me."

"When?" asked Anna.

"Yesterday. He says he can't come to bid us good-bye, he's too busy."

"Of course—too busy. Will you give me the letter?"

"It's a very kind letter," said Stella. She saw that Anna's hand was trembling as it held the white paper. Anna did not return it.

"Dias is very kind," said Anna.

They left Naples on the last day of May.

When they reached the villa, the two girls went directly to their mother's room. Laura opened the two windows that looked out upon the sea and let in the sunlight, and she moved from corner to corner, taking note of the dust on the furniture. Anna knelt at the praying-desk, above which hung a cross, an image of the Virgin, and a miniature of her mother.

Laura asked:

"Are you going to stay here?"

Anna did not answer.

"When you come away bring me the key," said the wise Minerva, and went off, softly closing the door behind her.

"Where is Anna?" asked Stella.

"She is still up there," said Laura.

"What is she doing?"

"Weeping, or praying, or thinking. I don't know."

"Poor Anna," sighed Stella.

How long did Anna remain on her knees before the image of the Virgin and the portrait of her mother? No one disturbed her. She kept murmuring: "Oh, Holy Virgin! Oh, my mother!" alternately.

When she came away, having closed the windows and locked the door, she was so pale that Stella said:

"You have stayed up there too long. It has done you harm."

"No, no," Anna answered; "I am very well; I am so much better. I am glad we have come here. I should like to live here always."

But Stella was not reassured. And at night the thought of her pupil troubled her and would not let her sleep. Sometimes she would get up and go to the door of Anna's room. There was always a light burning within. Two or three times she had entered; Anna lay motionless on her bed, with her eyes closed. Then Stella had put out the light.

"Why do you leave your light burning at night?" she asked Anna one day.

"Because I am afraid of the dark."

Thereupon Stella had prepared a little lamp for her, with a shade of opalescent crystal that softened its light; and almost every night Stella would go to Anna's room to see whether she was asleep. Her pale face in the green rays of the lamp had the semblance of a wreck slumbering at the bottom of the sea. Sometimes, hearing Stella's footsteps, Anna opened her eyes and smiled upon her; then relapsed into her stupor. For it was not sleep; it was a sort of bodily and mental torpor that kept her motionless and speechless. Stella returned to her own room, in no wise reassured. And what most worried this good woman was the long visit which Anna made every day to the room of her dead mother.

The villa was delightful during these first weeks of the summer, with its fragrant garden, its big, airy, cheerful, luxurious apartments, its splendid view of the sea. In the cool and perfumed mornings, in the evenings that palpitated with starlight, every window and balcony had its special fascination. But Anna saw and felt nothing of all this; her mother's room alone attracted her. There she passed long hours kneeling beside the bed, or seated at a window, silent, gazing off at the sea, with a white expressionless face. Sometimes Stella came to the door and called:

"Anna—Anna!"

"Here I am," she answered, starting out of her reverie.

"Come away; it is late."

"I am coming."

But she did not move; it was necessary to call her again and again.

Her stations there exhausted her. She would return from them with dark circles under her eyes, her lips colourless, the line of her profile sharpened and accentuated.

Stella felt a great pity for her, a great longing to be of help to her. She tried to persuade her to cut short her vigils in her mother's room.

"You ought not to stay so long. It is bad for you."

"No, no," Anna answered. "If you knew the peace I find there."

"But a young girl like you ought to wish for the excitements of life, not the peace."

"There are no more flowers for Margaret," quoted Anna, going to the window and looking towards the sea.

During the whole month of June, a lovely month at Sorrento, where the mornings are warm and the evenings fresh, Anna fell away visibly in health and spirits. Laura and Stella did not interfere with her, but it saddened them to witness her decline. Stella's anxiety was almost motherly. When she saw Anna's pale, peaked face, when she noticed her transparent hands, a voice from within called to her that she must do something for the poor girl.

One day she said, "Signor Dias has promised to come here for a visit. But he's delaying a little. Perhaps he'll come for the bathing season."

"You will see. He'll not come at all," replied Anna, her eyes suddenly filling with tears.

"He's so kind, and he has promised. He will come."

"I don't believe it," Anna answered sadly.

Indeed, he neither came nor wrote. The first fortnight of July had passed; the bathing season had already begun. Sorrento was full of people. In the evening, till late into the night, from every window, from every balcony, and from the big brilliantly lighted drawing-rooms of the hotels, came the sounds of singing and dancing, the tinkling of mandolines, the laughter of women—a gay, passionate, summer music. The villas were protected from the sun by blue and white striped awnings, which fluttered in the afternoon breeze like the sails of ships. At night the moon bathed houses, country, and sea in a radiance dazzling as snow. Anna, in the midst of all this merriment, this health and beauty, felt only the more profoundly a great longing to end her life. It was seldom now that she so much as moved from one room to another. In the evening, when Stella and Laura would go out to call upon their friends, Anna would seat herself in an easy-chair on the terrace of the Villa, and fix her eyes upon the sky, where the Milky Way trembled in light. And on the sea beyond her, people were singing in boats, or sending up fireworks from yachts. Round about her sounded the thousand voices of the glorious summer night, voices of joy, voices of passion. Anna neither saw nor heard.

But in Stella's face she could not help noticing an expression of sympathy which seemed to say, "I have divined—I have guessed." And in the kiss which Stella gave her, before going out, on the evening of the 17th of July, Anna felt an even deeper affection than usual. Laura and Stella were going to a dance at the Villa Victoria.

"Be strong and you will be happy," Stella said, and her kiss seemed meant as a promise of good news.

But the poor child did not understand. She took Stella's words as one of those vague efforts at consolation which people make for those who are inconsolable, and shook her head, smiling sadly. Lovely in her white frock, Laura too came and kissed her. And then she heard the carriage drive away. Anna left the drawing-room and went out upon the terrace. There was a full moon; its light was so brilliant one might have read by it. There was something divinely beautiful in the view—from the horizon to the arch of the sky, from the hills behind her, covered with olives and oranges, to the sea before her. And she felt all the more intensely the sorrow of her broken life.

She lay back in her easy-chair, with her eyes closed.

"Good evening," said Cesare Dias.

She opened her eyes, but she could not speak. She could only look at him, and she did so with such an expression of desolate joy that he told himself: "This woman really loves me."

He appeared to be very thoughtful. He drew up a chair, and sat down next to her.

"Are you surprised to see me, Anna? Didn't I promise to come?"

"I thought—that you had forgotten. It is so easy to forget."

"I always keep my promise," he declared.

When had she heard him speak like this before, with this voice, this inflexion—when? Ah, she remembered: when she was ill, when they thought she was going to die. So it was pity for one threatened with death that had brought him to Sorrento; it was pity that banished its habitual irony from his voice.

"The air of Sorrento hasn't cured you," he said, bending a little to look at her.

"It hasn't cured me. It has cured me of nothing. I think I shall never be cured. There is no country in the world that can cure me."

"There is only one doctor who can do you any good—that doctor is yourself."

He opened his silver cigarette-case, took out a cigarette, and lit it.

She watched the vacillating flame of his match, and for a moment did not speak.

"It is easy to say that," she went on finally, with a feeble voice. "But you know I am a weak creature. That is why you have so much compassion for me. I shall never be cured, Cesare."

"Are you sure?"

"I am sure. I have tried. My love has proved itself stronger than I. It is destroying me. My heart can no longer endure it."

He looked off into the clear air of the night, watching the spiral of his cigarette smoke.

"And all those beautiful spiritual promises," he said, "that wonderful structure of abnegation, of sacrifice, of unrequited love, has come to nothing! Those plans for the future, which you conceived in such lofty unselfishness, have failed?"

"Failed, failed," she exclaimed, with a sigh, gazing up at the starry sky, as if to reproach it with her own unhappiness. "All that I wrote to you was absurd, a pas............
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