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Anna was as good as her word, and on her return to Naples shut herself up in solitude and silence, receiving no one, visiting no one, spending much of her time in her own room, going in the morning for long walks in the hope of tiring herself out, speaking but little, and living in a sort of moral somnolence that seemed to dull her sorrows. Her husband and sister continued to enjoy their liberty, as they had enjoyed it at Sorrento. She left them to themselves. She was alternately consumed by suspicions and remorseful for them. In vain she sought comfort from religion, her piety could not bear the contact of her earthly passion, and was destroyed by it. She had gone to her confessor, meaning to tell him everything, but when she found herself kneeling before the iron grating, her courage failed her; she dared not accuse her husband and her sister to a stranger. So she spoke confusedly and vaguely, and the good priest could give her only vague consolation.

She abandoned herself to a complete moral prostration. She passed long hours motionless in her easy-chair, or on her bed, in a sort of stupor and often was absent from table, on one pretext or another.

"The Signora came home an hour ago, and is lying down," said Cesare's man-servant.

"Very good. Don't disturb her," returned his master, with an air of relief.

"The Signora has a headache, and will not come to luncheon," said Anna's maid to Laura.

"Very good. Stay within call, if she should wish for anything," responded Laura, serene and imperturbable.

And Cesare and Laura merrily pursued their intimacy, never bestowing a thought upon her whom they thereby wounded in every fibre of her body, and in the essence of her soul. The anguish of jealousy is like the anguish of death, and Anna suffered it to the ultimate pang, at the same time despising herself for it, telling herself that she was the most unjust of women. Her sister was purity itself; her husband was incapable of evil; they were superior beings, worthy of adoration; and she was daily thinking of them as criminals, and covering them with mire. Often and often, in the rare moments when her husband treated her affectionately, she longed to open her heart and tell him everything. But his manner intimidated her, and she dared not. She wondered whether she might not be mad, and whether her jealousy was not the figment of an infirm mind. She had hoped to find peace in flying from Sorrento; now her hope was undeceived; and Anna understood that her pain came from within, not from without. To see her sister and her husband together, seated side by side, walking arm in arm, pressing each other's hands, looking and smiling at each other, was more than she could bear; she fled their presence; she left the house for long wanderings in the streets, or shut herself up in her own room, knowing but too well that they would not notice her absence. Indeed, it would be like a burden taken from their shoulders, for she was a burden to them, with her pallor and her speechlessness.

"They are gay, and I bore them," she told herself.

On several occasions, Cesare twitted her on the subject of her continual melancholy, demanding its cause; but Anna, smarting under his sarcasms, could not answer him. One day, in great irritation, he declared that she had no right to go about posing as a victim, for she wasn't a victim, and her sentimental vapourings bored him immensely.

"Ah, I bore you; I bore you," cried Anna, shaking with suppressed sobs.

"Yes, unspeakably. And I hope that some day or another you'll stop boring me, do you hear?"

"I had better die. That would be best," she sighed.

"But can't you live and be less tiresome? Is it a task, a mission, that you have undertaken, to bore people?"

"I had better die, better die," she sobbed.

He went off abruptly, cursing his lot, cursing above all the monstrous error he had made in marrying this foolish creature. And she, who had wished to ask his pardon, found herself alone. Later in the same day she noticed that Laura treated her with a certain contempt, shrugging her shoulders at the sight of her eyes red from weeping.

Anna determined that she would try to take on at least the external appearances of contentment. The beautiful Neapolitan winter was beginning. She had eight or ten new frocks made, and resolved to become frivolous and vain. Whenever she went out she invariably met Luigi Caracciolo; it was as if she had forewarned him of her itinerary. He had divined it, with that fine intuition which lovers have. They never stopped to speak, however; they simply bowed and passed on. But in his way of looking at her she could read the words of their understanding—"Remember, every day, till four o'clock."

She threw herself into the excitements of society, going much to the theatre and paying many calls. Cesare encouraged this new departure.

The people amongst whom she moved agreed that she was very attractive, but whispered that one day or another she would do something wild.


"Oh, something altogether extravagant."

One evening towards the end of January Anna was going to the San Carlo; it was a first night. At dinner she asked Laura if she would care to accompany her.

"No," answered Laura, absently.

"Why not?"

"I've got to get up early to-morrow morning, to go to Confession."

"Ah, very well. And you—will you come, Cesare?"

"Yes," he said, hesitating a little.

"Cousin Scibilia is coming too," Anna added.

"Then, if you will permit me, I'll not come till the second act." And he smiled amiably.

"Have you something to do?"

"Yes; but we'll come home together."

Anna turned red and white. There was something half apologetic in her husband's tone, as if he had a guilty conscience in regard to her. But what did that matter? The prospect of coming home together, alone in a closed carriage, delighted her.

She went to dress for the theatre. She put on for the first time a gown of blue brocade, with a long train, bold in colour, but admirably setting off the rich ivory of Anna's complexion. In her black hair she fixed three diamond stars. She wore no bracelets, but round her throat a single string of pearls. When she was dressed, she sent for her husband.

"You're looking most beautiful," he said.

He took her hands and kissed them; then he kissed her fair round arms; and then he kissed her lips. She thrilled with joy and bowed her head.

"We'll meet at the theatre," he said, "and come home together."

She called for the Marchesa Scibilia, who now lived in the girls' old house in the Via Gerolomini. And they drove on towards the theatre. But when they reached the Toledo they were met by a number of carriages returning. The explanation of this the two ladies learned under the portico of the San Carlo. Over the white play-bill a notice was posted announcing the sudden indisposition of the prima-donna, and informing the public that there would accordingly be no performance that evening. Anna had a lively movement of disappointment, jumping out of her coupé to read the notice for herself.

Luigi Caracciolo was waiting in the shadow of a pillar, sure that she would come.

"Marchesa, you have a very ferocious cousin," he said, stepping forward to kiss the old lady's hand, and laughing at Anna's manifest anger. Then he bowed to her, and in his eyes there was the eternal message, "Remember, I wait for you every day."

She shook her head in the darkness. She was bitterly disappointed. Her evening was lost—the evening during which she had counted upon being alone with Cesare in their box, alone with him in the carriage, alone with him at home. And her beautiful blue gown; she had put it on to no purpose.

"What shall we do?" she asked her cousin.

"I'm going home. I don't care to go anywhere else. And you?"

"I'm going home, too."

She half hoped that she might still find Cesare at the house, and so have at least a half hour with him before he went out. He was very slow about dressing; he never hurried, even when he had an urgent appointment. Perhaps she would find him in his room, tying his white tie, putting a flower in his button-hole. She deposited the Marchesa Scibilia at the palace in the Via Gerolomini, and bade her coachman hurry home.

"Has the Signore gone out?" she asked the porter.

No, he had not gone out. The porter was about to pull his bell-cord, to ring for a footman, but Anna instinctively stopped him. She wished to surprise her husband. She put her finger to her lips, smiling, as she met one of the maids, and crossed the house noiselessly, arriving thus at the door of Cesare's room, the door that gave upon the vestibule, not the one which communicated with the passage between his room and Anna's.

The door was not locked. She opened it softly. She would surprise her husband so merrily. But, having opened the door, she found herself still in darkness, for Cesare had lowered the two portières of heavy olive velvet.

A sudden interior force prevented Anna's lifting the curtains and showing herself. She remained there behind them, perfectly concealed, and able to see and hear everything that went on in the room, through an aperture.

Cesare was in his dress-suit, with an immaculate white waistcoat, a watch-chain that went from his waistcoat-pocket to the pocket of his trousers, with a beautiful white gardenia in his button-hole, his handsome black moustaches freshly curled, and his whole air one of profound satisfaction. He was seated in a big leather arm-chair, his fine head resting on its brown cushions, against which the pallor of his face stood out charmingly.

He was not alone.

Laura, dressed in that soft white wool which seemed especially woven for her supple and flowing figure, with a bouquet of white roses in the cincture that passed twice loosely round her waist, with her blonde hair artistically held in place by small combs of tortoise-shell, and forming a sort of aureole about her brow and temples, the glory of her womanly beauty—Laura was in Cesare's room.

She was not seated on one of his olive velvet sofas, nor on one of his stools of carved wood, nor in one of his leather easy-chairs. She was seated on the arm of the chair in which he himself reclined; she was seated side wise, swinging one of her little feet, in a black slipper richly embroidered with pearls, and an open-work black silk stocking.

One of her arms was extended across the cushion above Cesare's head; and, being higher up than he, she had to bend down, to speak into his face. She was smiling, a strange, deep smile, such as had never been seen before upon the pure red curve of her lips.

Cesare, with his face turned up, was looking at her; and every now and then he took her hand and kissed it, a kiss that lingered, lingered while she changed colour.

He kissed her hand, and she was silent, and he was silent; but it was not a sad silence, not a thoughtful silence. It was a silence in which they seemed to find an unutterable pleasure. They found an unutterable pleasure in their silence, their solitude, their freedom, their intimate companionship, in the kiss he had just given her, and which was the forerunner of many others.

Anna had arrived behind the curtain at the very moment when Cesare was kissing Laura's hand. She saw them gazing into each other's eyes, speechless with their emotion. Anna could hear nothing but the tumultuous beating of her own heart, a beating that leapt up to her throat, making it too throb tumultuously.

The fine white hand of Laura remained in Cesare's, softly surrendered to him; then, as if the mere contact were not enough, his and her fingers closely interlaced themselves. The girl, who had not removed her eyes from his, smiled languorously, as if all her soul were in her hand, joined now for ever to the hand of Cesare; a smile that confessed herself conquered, yet proclaimed herself triumphant.

They did not speak. But their story spoke for itself.

Anna saw how close they were to each other, saw how their hands were joined, saw the glances of passionate tenderness that they exchanged. Clearly, in every detail, she witnessed this silent scene of love. Her heart, her temples, her pulses, pounded frightfully; her nerves palpitated; and she said to herself:

"Oh, I am dreaming, I am dreaming."

Like one dreaming, indeed, she was unable to move, unable to cry out; her tongue clove to the roof of her mouth; she could not lift the curtains; she could not advance, she could not tear herself away. She could only stand there rigid as stone, and behold the dreadful vision. Every line of it, every passing expression on Cesare's or Laura's face, burned itself into her brain with fierce and terrible precision. And in her tortured heart she was conscious of but one mute, continuous, childlike prayer—not to see any longer that which she saw—to be freed from her nightmare, waked from her dream. And all her inner forces were bent upon the effort to close her eyes, to lower her eyelids, and put a veil between her and that sight. Her prayer was not answered; she could not close her eyes.

Laura took her bouquet of white roses from her belt, and playfully struck Cesare's shoulder with them. Then she raised them to her face, breathing in their perfume, and kissing them. Smiling, she offered Cesare the roses that she had kissed, and he with his lips drank her kisses from them. After that, she kissed them again, convulsively, turning away her head. Their eyes burned, his and hers. Again he sought her kisses amongst the roses; and she put down her face to kiss them anew, at the same time with him. And slowly, from the cold, fragrant roses, their lips turned, and met in a kiss. Their hands were joined, their faces were near together, their lips met in a kiss, and their eyes that had burned, softened with fond light.

"Perhaps I am mad," Anna said to herself, hearing the wild blows of the blood in her brain.

And, to make sure, wishing to be convinced that it was all an hallucination, she prayed that they might speak; perhaps they were mere phantoms sent to kill her. No sound issued from their lips.

"Lord, Lord—a word," she prayed in her heart. "A sound—a proof that they are real, or that they are spectres."

She heard, indeed, a deep sigh. It came from Laura, after their long kiss. The girl jumped up, freed her hands from Cesare's, and took two or three steps into the room. She was nearer to Anna now. Her cheeks were red, her hair was ruffled; and she, with a vague, unconscious movement, lifted it up behind her ears. Her lips were parted in a smile that revealed her dazzling teeth. Her gaze wandered, proud and sad.

"Heaven, heaven give her strength to go away. Give her strength, give me strength," prayed Anna, in her dream, in her madness.

But Laura had not the strength to go away. She returned to Cesare; she sat down at his feet, looking up at him, smiling upon him, holding his hand, adoring him. And Cesare, his eyes filled with tears, kissed her lips again and again—a torrent of kisses.

"Cesare cannot weep. They are phantoms. I am mad," said Anna. A terrible fire leapt from her heart to her brain, making her tremble as in a fever; and then a sudden cold seemed to freeze her. She had heard. These phantoms had spoken. They were a man and a woman; they were her husband, Cesare, and her sister Laura. Laura had drawn away from Cesare's fury of kisses, and was standing beside him, while he, still seated, held her two hands. They were smiling upon each other.

"Do you love me?" he asked.

"I love you," answered Laura.

"How much do you love me?"

"So much! So much!"

"But how much?"


"And—how long will you love me, Laura?"


Now Anna was shivering with cold. She was not mad. She was not dreaming. Her teeth chattered. It seemed as if she had been standing there for a century. She dreaded being discovered, as if she were guilty of a crime. But she could not move, she could not go away. It was too much, too much; she could not endure it! She covered her mouth with her fan, to suffocate her voice, to keep from crying out, and cursing God and love. Laura began to speak.

"Do you love me?" she asked.

"Yes, I love you."

"How much do you love me?"

"With all my heart, Laura."

"How long have you loved me?"


"How long will you love me?"


Unendurable, unendurable! A wild anger tempted Anna to enter the room, to tear down the curtains, to scream. It was unendurable.

Cesare said to Laura, very softly, "Go away now."

"Why, love?"

"Go away. It is late. You must go."

"Ah, you're a bad love—bad!"

"Don't say that. Don't look like that. Go away, Laura."

And fondly, he put his arm round her waist and led her to the door.

She moved reluctantly, leaning her head upon his shoulder, looking up at him tenderly.

At the door they kissed again.

"Good-bye, love," said Laura.

"Good-bye, love," said Cesare.

The girl went away.

Cesare came back, looking exhausted, deathlike. He lit a cigarette.

Anna, holding her breath, crossed the vestibule, the smoking-room, the drawing-room, and at last reached her own room, and shut her door behind her. She had run swiftly, instinctively, with the instinct that guides a wounded animal. Her maid came and knocked. She called to her that she did not need her. Then some one else knocked.

"Anna, Anna," said the calm voice of her husband.

"What do you want?" She had to lean on a chair, to keep from falling; her voice was dull.

"Was there no performance? Or were you ill?"

"There was no performance."

"Have you just returned?"

"Yes, just returned." But the lie made her blush.

"And your Highness is invisible? I should like to pay your Highness my respects."

"No," she answered, with a choking voice.

"Good-bye, love," he called.

"Oh, infamous, infamous!" she cried.

But he had already moved away, and did not hear.

For a long while she lay on her bed, burying her face in her pillow, biting it, to keep down her sobs. She was shivering with cold, in spite of the feather coverlet she had drawn over her. All her flesh and spirit were in furious revolt against the thing that she had seen and heard.

She rose, and looked round her room. It was in disorder—the dress she had worn, her fan, her jewels tossed pell-mell hither and thither. Slowly, with minute care, she gathered these objects up, and put them in their places.

Then she rang the bell.

Her maid came, half asleep.

"What time is it?" asked Anna, forgetting that on the table beside her stood the clock that Cesare had given her.

"It's one," responded the maid.

"So late?" inquired her mistress. "You may go to bed."

"And your Excellency?"

"You can do nothing for me."

But the maid began to smooth down the bed. Feeling the pillow wet with tears, she said, with the affectionate familiarity of Neapolitan servants, "Whoever is good suffers."

The words went through her heart like a knife. Perhaps the servant knew. Perhaps she, Anna, had been the only blind member of the household. The whole miserable story of her desertion and betrayal was known and commented upon by her servants; and she was an object of their pity! Whoever is good suffers!

"Good night, your Excellency, and may you sleep well," said the maid.

"Thank you. Good-night."

She was alone again. She had not had the courage to ask whether her husband had come home; he was most probably out, amusing himself in society.

For a half hour she lay on her sofa; then she got up. A big lamp burned on her table, but before going away her maid had lighted another lamp, a little ancient Pompeian lamp of bronze that in old times had doubtless lighted Pompeian ladies to their trysts.

Anna took this lamp and left her room. The house was dark and silent. She moved towards Laura's room; and suddenly she remembered another night, like this, when she had stolen through a dark sleeping house to join Giustino Morelli on the terrace, and offer to fly with him. Giustino Morelli, who was he? what was he? A shadow, a dream. A thing that had passed utterly from her life.

At her sister's door she paused for a moment, then she opened it noiselessly, and guided by the light of her lamp, approached her sister's bed. Laura was sleeping peacefully; Anna held up her lamp and looked at her.

She smiled in her sleep.

"Laura!" Anna called, so close to her that her breath fell on her cheek. "Laura!"

Her sister moved slightly, but did not wake.

"Laura! Laura!"

Her sister sat up. She appeared frightened for a moment, but then she composed herself with an effort.

"It is I, Laura," said Anna, putting her lamp on a table.

"I see you," returned Laura.

"Get up and come with me."

"What for?"

"Get up and come, Laura."

"Where, Anna?"

"Get up and come," said Anna, implacably.

"I won't obey you."

"Oh, you'll come," cried Anna, with an imperious smile.

"You're mistaken. I'll not come."

"You'll come, Laura."

"No, Anna."

"You're very much afraid of me then?"

"Here I am. I'll go where you like," Laura said, proudly, resenting the imputation of fear. And she began to dress.

Anna waited for her, standing up. Laura proceeded calmly with her toilet. But when she came to put on her frock of white wool, Anna had a mad access of rage, and covered her face with her hands, to shut out the sight. Four hours ago, only four hours ago, in that same frock, Laura had been kissed by Cesare. Her sister seemed to her the living image of treachery.

Laura moved about the room as if she was hunting for something.

"What are you doing?" asked Anna.

"I am looking for something."

And she drew from under a pocket-handkerchief her bunch of white roses.

"Throw those flowers away," cried Anna.

"And why?"

"Throw those flowers away, Laura, Laura."


"By our Lady of Sorrows, I beseech you, throw them away."

"You have threatened me. You have no further right to beseech me," said Laura quietly, putting the flowers in her belt.

"Oh God!" cried Anna, pressing her hands to her temples.

"Let us go," she said at last.

Laura followed her across the silent house to her room.

"Sit down," said Anna.

"I am waiting," said Laura.
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