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CHAPTER 5
Anna got up and opened her window, to let in the sun, but it was a grey morning, grey in sky and sea. Lead-coloured clouds rested on the hill of Posillipo; and the wide Neapolitan landscape looked as if it had been covered with ashes. Few people were in the streets; and the palm in the middle of the Piazza Vittoria waved its long branches languidly in the wintry breeze.

Her eyes were burning and her eyelids were heavy. She went into her dressing-room and bathed her face in cold water. Then she combed her hair and fastened it up with a big gold pin. And then she put on a gown of black wool, richly trimmed with jet, a morning street costume. Was she going out? She did not know. She dressed herself in obedience to the necessity which women feel at certain hours of the day to occupy themselves with their toilets. But when she came to fasten her brooch, a clover leaf set with black pearls, that Laura had given her for a wedding-present, she discovered that one of the pearls was gone. The clover-leaf brings luck, but now this one was broken, and its power was gone.

Eleven o'clock struck, and somebody tapped discreetly at the door. She could not find her voice, to answer.

The knock was repeated.

"Come in," she said feebly.

Cesare entered, calm and composed, carrying his hat and ebony walking-stick in his hand.

"Good-morning. Are you going out?" he asked tranquilly.

"No. I don't know," she answered, with a vague gesture.

All her nerves were tingling, as she looked at the traitor's handsome, wasted face, a face so quiet and smiling.

"You had something to say to me?" he reminded her, wrinkling his brow a little.

"Yes."

"I came home late. I didn't want to disturb you," he said, producing a cigarette, and asking permission with a glance to light it.

"You would not have disturbed me."

"I suppose it's nothing of much importance."

"It's a thing of great importance, Cesare."

"As usual," he said, with the shadow of a smile.

"I swear to you by the memory of my mother that nothing is more important."

"Goodness gracious! Act three, scene four!" he exclaimed ironically.

"Scene last," she said, dully, tearing a few beads from her dress, and fingering them.

"So much the better, if we are near the end. The play was rather long, my dear." He was tapping his boot with his walking-stick.

"We will cut it short, Cesare. I have a favour to ask of you. Will you grant it?"

"Ask, oh lovely lady; and in spite of the fact that last night you closed your door upon me, here I am, ready to serve you."

"I have a favour to ask, Cesare."

"Ask it, then, before I go out."

"I want to make a long journey with you—to be gone a year."

"A second honeymoon? The like was never known."

"A journey of a year, do you understand? Take me as your travelling companion, your friend, your servant. For a year, away from here, far away."

"Taking with us our sister, our governess, our dog, our cat, and the whole menagerie?"

"We two alone," she said.

"Ah," said he.

"What is your decision?"

"I will think about it."

"No. You must decide at once."

"What's the hurry? Are we threatened with an epidemic?"

"Decide now."

"Then I decide—no," he said.

"And why?" she asked, turning pale.

"Because I won't."

"Tell me your reason."

"I don't wish to travel."

"You have always enjoyed travelling."

"Well, I enjoy it no more. I am tired, I am old, I will stay at home."

"I implore you, let us go away, far from here."

"But why do you want to go away?"

"Listen. Don't ask me. Say yes."

"Why do you want to go away, Anna?"

"Because, I want to go. Do me the favour."

"Is my lady flying from some danger that threatens her virtue? From some unhappy love?"

"There's something more than my virtue in danger. I am flying from an unhappy love, Cesare," she said gravely, shutting her eyes.

"Heavens! And am I to mix myself up in these tragical complications? No, Anna, no, I sha'n't budge."

"Is there no prayer that can move you. Will you always answer no?"

"I shall always say no."

"Even if I begged you at the point of death?"

"Fortunately your health is excellent," he rejoined, smiling slightly.

"We may all die—from one moment to another," she answered, simply. "Let us go away together, Cesare."

"I have said no, and I mean no, Anna. Don't try to change me. You know it's useless."

"Then will you grant me another favour? This one you will grant."

"Let's hear it."

"Let us go and live alone in the palace in Via Gerolimini."

"In that ugly house?"

"Let us live there alone together."

"Alone? How do you mean?"

"Alone, you and I."

"Without Laura?"

"Without Laura."

"Ah," he said.

She looked at him pleadingly, and in her brown eyes he must have been able to read the sorrowful truth. But he had no pity; he would not spare her the bitter confession of it.

"Be frank," he said, with some severity. "You wish to separate from your sister!"

"Yes."

"And why? Tell me the reason."

"I can't tell you. I wish to separate from Laura."

"When?"

"At once. To-day."

"Indeed? Have you had a quarrel? I'll be peacemaker."

"I doubt it," she said, with a strange smile.

"If you'll tell me what you've quarrelled about, I'll make peace between you."

"But why do you ask these questions and make these offers? I want to separate from my sister. That is all."

"And I don't wish to," he said, looking coldly into his wife's eyes.

"You don't wish to be parted from Laura!" she cried, feeling her feet giving way beneath her.

"I don't indeed."

"Then I will go away myself, she cried, her brain reeling.

"Do as you like," he answered, calmly.

"Oh, heaven help me," she murmured, under her breath, staggering, losing all her strength.

"Now we have come to the fainting-fit," said Cesare, looking at her scornfully, "and so will end this scene of stupid jealousy."

"What jealousy! Who has spoken of jealousy?" she asked haughtily.

"Must I inform you that you have done nothing else for the past half-hour! It strikes me that you have lost the little good sense you ever had. And I give you notice that I'm not going to make myself ridiculous on your account."

"You wish to stay with Laura!"

"Not only I, but you too. For the sake of the world's opinion, as well as for our own sakes, we can't desert the girl. She's been confided to our protection. It would be a scandal which I'll not permit you to make. If I have to suffer a hundred deaths, I'll not allow you to make a scandal. Do you understand!"

She looked at him, changing colour, feeling that her last hope was escaping her.

"And then," he went on, "I don't know your reasons for not wishing to live any longer with your sister. She's good, she's well-behaved, she's serious; she gives you no trouble; you have no right to find fault with her. It's one of your whims—it's your everlasting desire to be unhappy. Anyhow, your idiotic caprice will soon enough be gratified. Laura will soon be married."

"Do you wish Laura to marry!"

"I wish it earnestly."

"You'll be glad of it!"

"Most glad," he answered, smiling.

Ah, in the days of her womanly innocence, before her mind had been opened to the atrocious revelations of their treason, she would not have understood the import of that answer and that smile; but she knew now the whole depth of human wickedness. He smiled, and curled his handsome black moustaches. Anna lost her head.

"Then you are more infamous than Laura," she cried.

"The vocabulary of Othello," he cried, calmly. "But, you know, it has been proved that Othello was epileptic."

"And he killed Desdemona," said Anna.

"Does it strike you that I look like Desdemona?"

"Not you, not you."

"And who then?"

"Laura."

"Your folly is becoming dangerous, Anna."

"Imminently, terribly dangerous, Cesare."

"Fortunately you take it out in words, not in actions," he concluded, smiling.

She wrung her hands.

"Last night Laura owed her life to a miracle," she said.

"But what has been going on here?" he exclaimed, agitated, rising to his feet. "And where is Laura?"

"Oh, fear nothing, fear nothing on her account. I've not harmed her. She's alive. She's well. She's very well. No wrinkle troubles her beauty, no anxiety disturbs her mind. Fear nothing. She is a sacred person. Your love protects her. Listen, Cesare; she was here last night alone in this room with me; and I had over her the right given me by heaven, given me by men; and I did not kill her."

Cesare had turned slightly pale; that was all.

"And if it is permitted to talk in your own high-sounding rhetoric, what was the ground of your right to kill her?" he asked, looking at the handle of his walking-stick, and emphasising the disdainful you.[F]

"Laura has betrayed me. She's in love with you."

"Nothing but this was lacking! That Laura should be in love with me! I'm glad to hear it. You are sure of it? It's an important matter for my vanity. Are you sure of it?"

"Don't jeer at me, Cesare. You don't realise what you are doing. Don't smile like that. Don't drive me to extremes."

"There are two of you in love with me—for I suppose you still love me, don't you? It's a family misfortune. But since you both adore me, it's probably not my fault."

"Cesare, Cesare!"

"And confess that I did nothing to win you."

"You have betrayed me, Cesare. You are in love with Laura."

"Are you sure of it?"

"Sure, Cesare."

"But bear in mind that certainties are somewhat rare in this world. For the past few minutes I've been examining myself, to discover if indeed I had in my soul a guilty passion for Laura. Perhaps I am mad about her, without knowing it. But you, who are an expert in these affairs, you are sure of it. Have the goodness to explain to me, oh, passionate Signora Dias, in what manner I have betrayed you, loving your sister. Describe to me the whole blackness of my treason. Tell me in what my—infamy—consists. Wasn't it infamy you called it? I'm not learned in the language of the heart."

"Oh, God! oh, God!" sobbed Anna, her face buried in her hands, horrified at what she heard and saw.

"I hope we've not to pass the morning invoking the Lord, the Virgin, and the Saints. What do you suppose they care for your idiocy, Anna? They are too wise; and I should be wiser if I cared nothing for it, either. But when your rhetoric casts a slur upon others, it can't be overlooked. I beg you, Signora Dias, to do your husband the kindness of stating your accusations precisely. Set forth the whole atrocity of his conduct. I fold my hands, and sit here on this chair like a king on his judgment-seat. I wait, only adding that you have already used up a good deal of my patience."

"But has Laura told you nothing?"

"Nothing, my dear lady."

"Where is she?"

"She's gone to church, I hear."

"Quietly gone to church?"

"Do you fancy that all women dance in perpetual convulsions to the tune of their sentiments, Signora Dias? No, for the happiness of men, no. Our dear and wise Minerva has gone to mass, for to-day is Sunday."

"With that horrible sin on her conscience! Does she think she can lie even to God? But it's a sacrilege."

"Ah, we're to have a mystical drama, a passion-play now, are we? Dear lady, I see that you have nothing to say to me, and I make my adieux."

He started to go, but she barred the way to him.

"Don't go, Cesare; don't leave me. Since you will have it so, you shall hear from my lips, though they tremble with horror in pronouncing it, the story of your infamy. I will repeat it to you to-day as I repeated it to Laura last night; and I hope it may burn in your heart as it burns in mine. Ah, you laugh; you have the boldness to laugh. You treat this talk as a joke. You sneer at my anger. You would like to get away from me. I annoy you. My voice wearies you. And what I have to say to you will perhaps bring a blush of shame even to your face, corrupt man that you are. But you cannot leave me. You are obliged to remain here. You must give me an account of your betrayal. Ah, don't smile, don't smile; that will do no good; your smile can't turn me aside. I won't allow you to leave me. Remember, Cesare, remember what you did last evening. Remember and be ashamed. Remember how cruel, how wicked, how atrocious it was, what happened last evening between you and my sister. Under my eyes Cesare, and for long minutes, so that I could have no doubt. I could not imagine that I was mad or dreaming. I saw it all, my ears heard the words you spoke, the sound of your kisses, your long kisses. I could not doubt. Oh, how horrible it is for a woman who loves to see the proof that she is betrayed! What new, unknown capacities for sorrow open in her soul! Oh, what have you done to me, Cesare, you whom I adored! You and my sister Laura, what have you done to me!"

She fell into a chair, crushing her temples between her hands.

"Is it your habit to listen at doors? It's not considered good form," said Cesare coldly.

"Do you wish me to die, Cesare? How could you forget that I loved you, that I had given you my youth, my beauty, all my heart, all my soul, that I adored you with every breath, that you alone were the reason for my being? You have forgotten all this, forgotten that I live only for you, my love—you have forgotten it?"

"These sentiments do you honour, though they're somewhat exaggerated. Buy a book of manners, and learn that it's not the thing to listen at doors."

"It was my right to listen, do you understand? I was defending my love, my happiness, my all; but the terrible thing I saw has destroyed for ever everything I cared for."

"Did you really see such a terrible thing?" he asked, smiling.

"If I should live a thousand years, nothing could blot it from my mind. Oh, I shall die, I shall die; I can only forget it by dying."

"You are suffering from cerebral dilatation. It was nothing but a harmless scene of gallantry—it was a jest, Anna."

"Laura said that she loved you. I heard her."

"Of course, girls of her age always say they're in love."

"She kissed you, Cesare. I saw her."

"And what of that? Girls of her age are fond of kissing. They're none the worse for it."

"She was in your arms, Cesare, and for so long a time that to me it seemed a century."

"It's not a bad place, you know, Signora Dias," he responded, smiling.

"Oh, how low, how monstrous! And you, Cesare, you told her that you loved her. I heard you."

"A man always loves a little the woman that is with him. Besides, I couldn't tell her that I hated her; it would scarcely have been polite. I know my book of manners. There's at least one member of our family who preserves good form."

"Cesare, you kissed her."

"I'd defy you to have done otherwise, if you'd been a man. You don't understand these matters."

"On the lips, Cesare."

"It's my habit. It's not a custom of my invention, either. It's rather old. I suspect it took its rise with Adam and Eve."

"But she's a young girl, an innocent young girl, Cesare."

"Girls are not so innocent as they used to be, Anna. I assure you the world is changing."

"She is my sister, Cesare."

"That's a circumstance quite without importance. Relationship counts for nothing."

She looked at him with an expression of intense disgust.

"You, then, Cesare," she said, "have no sense of the greatness of this infamy. She at least, Laura, the other guilty person, turned pale, was troubled, trembled with passion and with terror. You—no! Here you have been for an hour absolutely imperturable; not a shade of emotion has crossed your brazen face; your voice hasn't changed; you feel no fear, no love, no shame; you are not even surprised. She at least shuddered and cried out; she is an Acquaviva! It is true that, though she saw my anger and my despair, she had neither pity nor compunction, but her passion for you, at least, was undisguised. She had feeling, strength, will. But you—no. You, like her, indeed, could see me weep my heart out, could see me convulsed by the most unendurable agony, and have not an ounce of pity for me; but your hardness does not spring, like hers, from love; no, no; from icy indifference. You are as heartless as a tombstone. She, at least, has the courage, the audacity, the effrontery of her wickedness; she declares boldly that she loves you, that she adores you, that she will never cease to love you, that she will always adore you. She is my sister. In her heart there is the same canker that is in mine—a canker from which we are both dying. You—no! Love? Passion? Not even an illusion. Nothing but a harmless scene of gallantry! A half-hour of amusing flirtation, without consequence! But what does it mean, then, to say that we love? Is it a lie that a man feels justified in telling any woman? And what is a kiss? A fugitive contact of the lips, immediately forgotten? So many false kisses are given in the course of a day and night! Nonsense, triviality, rubbish! It's bad form to spy at doors; its exaggeration to call a thing infamous; it's madness to be jealous. And the sin that you have committed, instead of originating in passion, which might in some degree excuse it, you reduce to an every-day vulgarity, a commonplace indecency; my sister becomes a vulgar flirt, you a vulgar seducer, and I a vulgar termagant screaming out her morbid jealousy. The whole affair falls into the mud. My sister's guilty love, your caprice, my despair, all are in the mud, among the most disgusting human garbage, where there is no spiritual light, no cry of sorrow, where everything is permissible, where the man expires and the beast triumphs. Do you know what you are, Cesare?"

"No, I don't know. But if you can tell me, I shall be indebted for the favour."

"You are a man without heart, without conscience; a soul without greatness and without enthusiasm; you are a lump of flesh, exhausted by unworthy pleasures and morbid desires. You are a ruin, in heart, in mind, in senses; you belong to the class of men who are rotten; you fill me with fright and with pity. I did not know that I was giving my hand to a corpse scented with heliotrope, that I was uniting my life to the mummy of a gentleman, whose vitiated senses could not be pleased by a young, beautiful, and loving wife, but must crave her sister, her pure, chaste, younger sister! Have you ever loved, Cesare? Have you ever for a moment felt the immensity of real love? In your selfishness you have made an idol of yourself, an idol without greatness. A thing without viscera, without pulses, without emotion! You are corrupt, perverted, depraved, even to the point of betraying your wife who adores you, with her sister whom you do not love! Ah, you are a coward, a dastard; that's what you are, a dastard!"

She wrung her hands and beat her temples, pacing the room as a madwoman paces her cell. But not a tear fell from her eyes, not a sob issued from her breast.

He stood still, his face impenetrable; not one of her reproaches had brought a trace of colour to it. She threw herself upon a sofa, exhausted; but her eyes still burned and her lips trembled.

"Now that you have favoured me with so amiable a definition of myself," said he, "permit me to attempt one of you."

His tone was so icy, he pronounced the words so slowly, that Anna knew he was preparing a tremendous insult. Instinctively, obeying the blind anger of her love, she repeated, "You are a dastard; that's what you are, a dastard."

"My dear, you are a bore—that's what you are."

"What do you say?" she asked, not understanding.

"You're a bore, my dear."

The insult was so atrocious, that for the first time in the course of their talk her eyes filled with tears, and a sigh burst from her lips—lips that were purple, like those of a dying child. It seemed as if something had broken in her heart.

"Nothing but a bore. I don't employ high-sounding words, you see. I speak the plain truth. You're a bore."

Another sigh, a sigh of insupportable physical pain, as if the hard word bore had cut her flesh, like a knife.

"You flatter yourself that you're a woman of grand passions," he went on, after looking at his watch, and giving a............
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