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   Chapter 5 No.5

Across the Plains, with Other Memories and Essays By Robert Louis Stevenson Characters: 45549

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:04


Archie was precariously perched on the side of his little Una-rigged, red-sailed boat, looking with dancing blue eyes at the rocky coast all smothered in billows and sunlit spray some quarter of a mile ahead, and wondering if he would be able to make the harbour of Silorno on this tack. He wondered also what was the best thing to do if he could not. There seemed to be two alternatives, the one to beat out to sea again and come in on another tack, the other to run before the wind to the head of the bay, away to the right, where he knew there was a sandy beach, tumble himself out as best he might, and, he was afraid, see his beloved Amphitrite being pounded to bits by the rollers; for, with all his optimism, he could not picture himself hauling her up out of harm's way. But even this seemed preferable to the other alternative, for to beat out again in such a sea seemed really a challenge to the elements to swamp him, in which case he was like to lose the Amphitrite and his own life as well.

The wind was blowing with all the violence of a summer Italian gale straight down the bay from the open sea. A high wall of rock against which the breakers smashed themselves, and would smash anything else that rode them, was in front of him; then came the narrow opening into Silorno harbour for which he was making, after which the rocks, on the top of which ran the road to Santa Margharita, continued right up to the head of the bay. It had been rough when he started to sail there, in order to get some cigarettes, which now were stowed away in his coat which he had wrapped round them and placed where it would receive as small a share as possible of the spray that from time to time fell in a solid sheet into the boat. That seemed almost the most important thing of all, to keep the cigarettes dry, for it would be too futile to have taken all this trouble, and so greatly have ventured himself and his Amphitrite, if at the end the cigarettes should prove to be a mash of tobacco and salt water, for they were only in a cardboard box. And next in importance came the need of demonstrating to his mother and Harry and Helena and Jessie that he had been perfectly wise and prudent in sailing across to Santa Margharita, in spite of their land-lubber fears, in a freshening gale and a lumpy sea, in order to get these Egyptian cigarettes instead of the despised Italian brand. He made no doubt that the whole party of them were at this moment watching him through glasses from the terraced garden of the Castello that sat perched at the top of the steep, olive-clothed hill in front of him, and he spared a second to wave a hand in their direction in case they were there. But he did it in a rather hurried manner, for he wanted that hand to be ready to loosen the sheet in case any more wind was on its way to him, and the other hand must retain its hold on the tiller.

Archie was clad in a jersey stained and whitened with salt-water, and the rest of his attire consisted of grey flannel trousers. His coat was defending to its last dry stitch the trophy of cigarettes; his shoes he had put under his coat, for it was just as well to keep them dry, while, if by any chance he had to swim, they would be of no use to him either dry or wet. The sleeves of his jersey rolled up nearly to his shoulder, disclosed slim, strong arms, incredibly browned with a month of sea-bathing, and his sockless feet were of the same fine tan of constant exposure. His hair, thick and dripping from the spray, had for the present lost its tawny curliness, and he had to throw back his head from time to time, in order to keep it out of his eyes. And in his mind there was the same wildness of out-of-doors rapture that characterized the youth of his supple body: he could have laughed with pleasure at the mere fact of this doubtful battle between himself and the wind-maddened sea. But all the time in some secret chamber of his brain there sat, so to speak, a steadfast and keen observer, who was making notes with all his might, and pushing them down into the cool caves of memory, to be brought forth (in case Archie came safely to land) from their cold storage, and fitted with words which should reproduce the exultation of wind and sun and sea. And in a chamber more secret yet, a chamber not in his brain but in his heart, sat the knowledge that among the others his second cousin, Helena Vautier, in particular was surely looking at him from the terraced garden high above the cliff. She should see (and, for that matter, so should her sister Jessie) how to handle a boat. She had been strong in her dissuasion of his starting at all, and that, if Archie was quite honest with himself, was one of the principal reasons why he had insisted on doing so. She had mentioned casually the other day that there was nothing in the world she liked better than the careless "go-to-the-deuce" attitude towards danger which to her represented manliness, and Archie had been only too delighted to give her this vigorous exhibition of it. But it tremendously pleased him that, on his announcement of his intention to go across the bay, she should have so strenuously dissuaded him. To his mind that conveyed the impression that she liked him as much as she liked exhibitions of manliness.

He was already opposite the opening into the harbour and still several hundred yards distant, and for the time all the attention of the observer who some day was going to put this experience into words, and of the other observer who knew that Helena was watching him, was diverted to the job that engaged his more superficial self. But that part of him, intent and eager though it was on the hazard that lay before it, sang and shouted with glee at the fact that he was alone out here on the sea. For this very sane and healthy personage, Archie Morris, might almost be described as an aqua-maniac, so intense was his passion for that gladdest and most glorious creature of God. He did not want to be a sailor, for a sailor inhabited an impregnable fort which, though surrounded by sea, was still impenetrably removed from it, and defied it by means of colossal cylinders and pounding pistons and steel sides. Best of all was to be swimming in the sea, but not far removed from that was to coax and wheedle the sea through the medium of a big sail and a tiny boat: being alone with the sea, as with all lovers, was necessary to the full realization of passion. A river was a fair substitute for the sea or a lake; but there had to be a quantity of water. He loved to dive, and open his eyes under water, so as to see the sun shining through it. That was a very early passion, dating from the time when he had stepped out of a boat in his anxiety about a pike that was on the end of his line…

Then, for a moment, all other considerations were subordinated to keen physical activity. The wind was sweeping him across the mouth of the harbour, and he had either to put about at once to avoid being taken onto the rocks at its northern end, or, risking being swamped, put his helm even harder a-port, and tighten his sheet. With his habit of swift decision, he determined to go for it, and, throwing his leg across the tiller, he pulled on his sheet with both hands. The spray from the waves that broke themselves on the rocks fell solid and drenched him, but next moment, with but a yard or two to spare, he skimmed by them into the broadening harbour. There the promontory on which the Castello stood came between him and the wind, his sail flapped idly, and in dead calm he picked up his sculls to row the Amphitrite to her anchorage. But, before he took them up, he laughed aloud.

"Gosh, what sport!" he said.

* * * * *

The anchorage of the Amphitrite lay in a bay not far from the entrance to the harbour, screened by the steep-climbing olive groves belonging to this Castello of Silorno which Archie's mother had taken for the months of May and June: Silorno itself, that incredibly picturesque huddle of pink and yellow walls, of campaniles, and lacemakers, who, with bright coloured kerchiefs over their comely heads, plied their wooden bobbins all day in the shade of its narrow streets, rose, roof over roof, at the head of the harbour. A big cobbled piazza sloped down to the quay wall where sailors chatted and dozed in the shadow all day, putting to sea for their night-fishing by the light of flares about the time of sunset. The village was impenetrable to wheeled traffic, for the road along the bay came to an end at its outskirts, and thereafter became a narrow cobbled track, built in steps where the steepness of its streets demanded. Round the town rose an amphitheatre of hills broken only by the low saddle, where the final promontory on which the Castello stood swam out seawards in three wooded humps of hills. And, sitting here, you could observe on days like these the breakers crashing on the reefs to the right, where the seas rolled in from the open Mediterranean, while the land-locked harbour, into which Archie had just brought his boat, lay smooth as a mirror at your feet towards the left. Straight in front ran the ascending path that passed below the Castello to the head of the promontory, where enlightened Italian enterprise was building an execrable and totally useless lighthouse to supplant the little Madonna chapel that had stood there for centuries.

Archie took down his sail, anchored the Amphitrite, and punted himself across in a small boat to the landing-stage at the foot of the hill on which the Castello stood. Here the trees stood untroubled by the gale that poured high over them from the south, though on the other side of the harbour the wind roared in the olives, and turned their green to the grey of the underleaf, and the great surges beat and burst on the rocks he had narrowly avoided. But here that tumultuous stir was unfelt, and the resinous smell of pines and the clean odour of the eucalyptus-trees hung in the warm and sheltered air. Out of that denser shade he passed into the belt of olives that grew higher on the slope, mixed with angled and contorted fig-trees, where the fruit was already beginning to swell and ripen. Above rose the great grey bastion of the retaining fortress wall, tufted with stone-crop and valerian that was rooted in the crevices, and above that again was spread the umbrella of the stone-pine that grew at the corner of the garden. The path he followed wound round the base of this wall and passed below its easterly side, where he came into the blast of the warm south wind again that swept along the face of the Castello, and made the cypresses bend and buckle like fishing-rods which feel the jerk and pull of some hooked giant of the waters. The hillside here plunged very precipitously downwards to the bay three hundred feet below, wrinkled with waves, and feathered with foam, and, lover of the sea though he was, he felt content to observe that tumult of windy water. Not a sail was visible right across to the farther shore of the gulf, and to-night there would be no illumination of the fishing-boats that in calm weather rode out there, twinkling and populous as a town. But he stood looking at the sea a moment before he turned into the narrow stone passage that led to the gate of the house, as a man may look with love on his horse that, unruly and obstreperous, has yet carried him so gallantly.

A girl came up the cobbled way from the town just as he turned in. She had on a very simple linen dress that the wind blew close to her body, and a flapping linen sunbonnet, tied below her chin, to prevent the wind capturing it. She was tall and slight, moved easily, as with a boyish carelessness; a very pleasant face, also boyish and quite plain, peered from under her flapping bonnet. Her hands were noticeable: they were large but extremely well shaped, and the fingers showed both perception and efficiency. It may be remarked that Archie had never noticed her hands at all.

"Hullo, Jess," said he. "I'm just back. Lord, I've had such a ripping afternoon. And the cigarettes are quite dry. Where have you been?"

"Just down into Silorno. Cousin Marion wanted a telegram sent about their sleeping-berths to-morrow."

Archie frowned. He had noticed that Jessie was often sent on errands.

People who can absolutely be relied on usually are.

"I should have thought my mother might have sent Pasqualino," he observed.

The girl laughed.

"Oh, she wanted to, but I said I would go instead. You see, Cousin Marion and Helena were getting in what might be called rather a state about you. I tried to infect them with my own calm, but they wouldn't catch it. So I thought a little walk would be pleasant."

"Oh, was Helena frightened?" asked Archie rather greedily.

"Yes. So was Cousin Marion. I wasn't."

"Then you were beastly unsympathetic. I had an awful shave getting into the harbour," remarked Archie.

"But you knew what you were about, and I didn't, nor did Helena. So I preferred to have confidence in you and go for a walk, rather than observe you in what looked remarkably like danger."

Archie had walked up from the landing-stage with his shoes and his coat under his arm. The coat was too wet to put on, so he dusted his feet with it, and resumed his shoes.

"Oh, a ripping afternoon," he said again.

The sound of the clanging gate into the Castello was heard out in the garden, and as they walked up the dim stone-flagged passage that led out into it, another girl came running in. She, like her sister, was tall and slight, but there the resemblance altogether ended. A delicate, small-featured face, entirely feminine, gleamed below yellow hair; her eyes, set rather wide apart, giving her an adorably childish look, opened very widely below their dark eyelashes. Beside her, Jessie looked somewhat like a well-bred plough-boy.

"Oh, Archie!" she cried. "How horribly rash of you! Your mother and I have had a terrible half-hour."

"I bring you cigarettes to soothe your disordered nerves," said Archie sententiously. "I am happy to say that they are dry, though I am not."

Jessie had walked on, with that pleasant expression on her face that might or might not be a smile, and the two were left alone for a moment.

"As if I cared about the cigarettes," she said.

"You did this morning. But you weren't really anxious, were you?"

"Indeed I was. You were naughty to sail back in this gale. Do be good now and change your clothes at once. I will bring you some fresh tea into the garden. Cousin Marion and I have had tea. We drank cup after cup to fortify ourselves, and looked over the wall at your boat between each sip. Then we trembled and had another sip. Before you got past that horrid rock, we had drained the teapot and broken our chairs with our tremblings."

The strict veracity of this entertaining summary did not of course concern Archie; it was sufficient that it had Helena's light and picturesque touch. It made a tableau that caused him to smile to himself as he changed his shirt, that was now stiffening with salt, and put on a pair of socks over his tanned feet. All this he did hurriedly, for it was the last evening, so he told himself, that they would all be together, by which he really meant that it was the last evening on which Helena would be here, since to-morrow, at break of dawn, she and his mother would start for England, leaving Jessie, Harry Travers, and himself to follow after another fortnight. When, a week before, that scheme had been suggested, it seemed to Archie the most admirable of plans, since, though his mother and Helena would be gone, he would secure another fortnight of intercourse with his beloved sea instead of inhabiting that smoky cave known as London. But since then Helena had begun to dawn on him, though as yet it would be an exaggeration to say that he was in love with her. But she was dawning, her light illuminated the sky above the horizon, and, if the plan was to be suggested again to him in his present attitude of attracted expectancy, it is probable that he would have voted for London and Helena, rather than an extension of his days at the Castello.

The scheme had originally been Helena's, and, like all her plans, had been exceedingly well thought out, before it was produced in the guise of an impulse, prompted by kindliness and thought for others. It was, when edited as an impulse, of the simplest and most considerate sort. The hot weather did not really suit Cousin Marion, so why should not Cousin Marion go back to England with herself, Helena, as travelling companion? Of course Silorno was the most delicious place, and she would be ever so sorry to go, but certainly Cousin Marion felt the heat, and, though she was far too unselfish to suggest breaking up the party, she would be glad to go northwards earlier than the end of June, when her two months' tenancy expired.

Helena had produced this plan to Archie one morning as they sat after breakfast under the stone-pine.

"But my mother would not in the least mind going home alone, if she preferred to go before the end of June," he said.

Helena shook her head.

"Oh, I know she would say she didn't mind," she said, "or she would stop on in spite of her headaches sooner than break up the party-"

"Has she been having headaches?" asked Archie.

"Yes, but you mustn't know that. She told me not to tell any one," said

Helena, with complete self-possession. "Promise, Archie."

"All right."

Helena felt quite safe now.

"So she must go back sooner than at the end of June," she continued, "and clearly I am the right person to go with her, for she hates travelling alone."

"Oh, we'll all go then," said Archie.

"It isn't the least necessary. Jessie or I must go with her, for she certainly wouldn't hear of your going, and Jessie is enjoying this so much that I couldn't bear that she should have her days here cut short. So it's for me to go."

"That's awfully good of you," said he, only as yet half convinced.

"It isn't the least. It's a necessity, though you are so kind as to make a virtue of it. And then there's this as well. Cousin Marion would never consent to go, if she thought it was for her sake that I was going with her. So you must go to her, and say you think that it's me whom the heat doesn't suit, and you will see if she doesn't say at once that she will go back with me. And the real reason for her going will be our secret, just yours and mine."

Archie looked at her for a moment in silence, and the silence was one of unspoken admiration. Somehow this kindly thoughtful plan kindled his appreciation of her beauty: her beauty took on a tenderer and more touching look. Before now, it had vaguely occurred to him that, of the two sisters, it was Jessie who most gave up her own way to serve the ways of others; but this secret of Helena's made him feel that he had done her an injustice.

"But I don't want you to give up your time here if you enjoy it," he said.

"Ah, don't make me tell a fib, and say that I don't enjoy it," she said. "I will if you press me. I'll say it bores me frightfully, sooner than give up my plan."

"Well, I think it's wonderfully kind of you," he said. "Now I'm to tell my mother that you are feeling the heat, and see what she says. Is that it?"

"Yes, just that," said Helena.

Archie had strolled indoors to put this plan to the test, and before he returned a quarter of an hour later with his mother Helena had approved of her own ingenuity very warmly. She had, if her scheme succeeded, secured for herself an additional fortnight of the London season, for she and Jessie were, for the present, going to make their home with their cousins and she was already satisfied that her unselfishness had made a considerable impression on Archie. This was the most important thing: hitherto she felt she had failed to make her mark, so to speak. He was on excellent friendly terms with her, just as he was with Jessie, but she wanted (or at any rate wished for) something more than that. It was not that she wanted him to flirt with her; she had much more serious ends in view. She wanted (and here was her perspicacity) to dazzle his eyes by means of touching his heart, for she guessed, with clear-sighted vision, that he was the kind of young man who, if he did not mean everything, would mean nothing, and she believed that she could not entangle his affection by mere superficial appeals. And, indeed, she was not a flirt herself; she was poor, and clever, and attractive, and she proposed to use her cleverness and attraction in the legitimate pursuit of securing a husband who was not poor. That Archie was now Lord Davidstow, and at his father's death would be Lord Tintagel, was in his favour, and to make an impression on him, and then to go self-sacrificingly away, seemed to her a very promising manoeuvre. She was not in the least afraid of leaving Jessie with him, for, with her habitual adroitness, she had conveyed to her sister, by little sighs, glances, and words that seemed to escape from her lips unawares, what her design (yet without making it appear a design) on Archie was. She had but allowed her feelings, all unconsciously, to betray themselves, as when she said "Darling, wouldn't it be lovely to be Archie's sister, instead of only cousin?" That put it quite plainly enough, and she felt sure that Jessie understood. And, in addition to this impregnable safeguard of Jessie's loyalty, she was satisfied that Jessie's friendliness with Archie was of the most unsentimental character. Indeed, to speak of her sense of security with regard to Jessie would be a labouring of the point: she was so secure that her security scarcely struck her, any more than the security of a house consciously strikes its inhabitant.

* * * * *

The week that had passed between the acceptance of her plan and this, the last night of her stay at Silorno, confirmed the soundness of her strategy. Archie's frank friendliness towards herself had undergone a subtle change, while his relations with her sister remained precisely on the same calm tableland of comradeship. But below his comradeship with herself, like the sun glowing faintly through a mist without heat at present, but with penetration of light, she knew that there was growing an emotional brightness. It was with light and with a nameless quickening that his eye dwelt on her, and now as they sat in the deep dusk of the garden, illumined only by the stars that twinkled like minute golden oranges in the boughs of the stone-pine, she knew that he was looking at the pale wraith of her face, which was all the starlight left her with, in a manner that was not yet a week old. It w

as so dark, here in the deep shade, that she saw nothing of his sun-tanned face beyond a featureless oval, but when, from time to time, he drew on his cigarette, it leaped into distinctness. There was emotion there, or, at any rate, the stuff from which emotion is made; there was need, not yet wholly conscious of itself, but waiting, like buried treasure, to be released.

And on her side, also, something was astir behind her calculated plan. She felt sorry, until the wisdom of her project laid its calming hand upon her again, that she was being so unselfish as to accompany Cousin Marion back to town. It would have been extraordinarily pleasant to sit here many times more with Archie, and both watch and take part in the growth of the situation of which the seed had been deliberately planted by herself. It was but a weak little spike as yet, but undeniably there was the potentiality of growth in it.

Suddenly his face leapt into light, as he struck a match, and the gain of a fortnight's London season seemed to her insignificant. And the success of her plan, the wisdom of which she still endorsed, was but a frigid triumph, for she felt to a degree yet unknown to her his personal charm.

"Oh, Archie, I wish I wasn't going away," she said. "It has been a nice time. I wish-no, I suppose that's selfish of me."

"I want to know what is selfish of you," said he.

"Do you? Well, as it's our last evening you shall. I wish I thought you would miss me more."

He moved just a shade closer to her.

"Oh, I shall miss you quite enough," he said.

She laughed.

"I don't think you will," she said. "You'll have your bathing and your boating and your writing. I expect you will have a very jolly time."

He seemed to think over this.

"Yes, I shall have all those things," he said. "And I like them. Why shouldn't I? But-no, like you, I won't say that."

"But I did," she remarked.

"Well, I will too. I shall miss you much more than I should have missed you if you had gone away a week ago."

She, too, hesitated a moment. Then very coolly she replied:

"Thank you very much."

There was calculation in that: she had thought over her polite, chilly manner swiftly but carefully. And she had calculated rightly. He chucked away the cigarette he had only just lit.

"Helena, have I offended you?" he asked. "Why do you speak like that?"

Again she traversed a second's swift thought.

"Of course you haven't offended me," she said lightly. "You'll have to try harder than that if you want to offend me. My dear, do try again. Try to make me feel hurt."

Archie was a little excited. There was some small intimate contest going on, that affected him physically, with secret delight, just as he was affected in his limbs by some cross-current to the direction of his swimming, or in his brain by the tussle for the word he wanted when he was writing. He was sparring with something dear to him.

"Try to hurt me," she said softly.

"Very well," said he. "I'm glad you're going away to-morrow. Will that do?"

She laughed again.

"It would do excellently well if you meant it," she said. "But you don't mean it."

"You're very hard to please," said he.

"Not in the least. If you want to please me, say that you'll be very glad to see me again in a few weeks."

"I certainly shall, but I shan't say it. You know it quite well enough without my assurance."

She leaned forward a little.

"But say it all the same, Archie," she said. "Say it quite out loud."

Archie threw back his head and shouted at the stone-pine.

"I shall be very glad to see you again in-what was it?-in a few weeks," he cried.

"Ah, that is nice of you. No, I'm not sure that it's nice, because you've brought Jessie and Mr. Harry out into the garden."

That seemed to be the case, for undeniably the two moved out into the bright square of light cast from the lit passage within. Archie got up swiftly and suddenly, with a bubble of laughter.

"Oh, let's be like the garden scene in Faust," he whispered. "Don't you know, when the two couples wander about? Ah, they've seen us: they don't do that in well-conducted opera."

This was true enough, for immediately Helena's name was called by her sister. She gave a little sigh.

"Yes, darling," she said.

"Cousin Marion thinks it's time you went to bed," said Jessie. "And is

Archie there too? She wants to see him."

Archie and Helena exchanged a quick glance in the darkness. They knew it, rather than saw it: Helena, at any rate, was quite certain of it.

"I must go in then," he said. "Your fault for making me shout."

Helena recollected a revue that she and Archie had seen together.

"The woman pays," she said in a histrionic falsetto, and without further word ran into the house, feeling very well satisfied with herself. She was sure that she had made herself a little enigmatical to him, had roused his curiosity. Decidedly he wanted to know more…

* * * * *

Archie always slept in a hammock slung between the stone-pine and the acacia in the garden, for though that year which he had spent at Grives, with which our history of his childhood closed, seemed to have eradicated the deadly seeds, he was still recommended to pass as much of his time as possible out of doors. The fourteen years that had elapsed since then had given him six feet of robust height, and there seemed now but little danger of the hereditary foe again beleaguering him. He had spent five years at Eton, and now had just finished his course at Cambridge, where he had contrived to combine classics and rowing in a thoroughly satisfactory manner, distinguishing himself in each. Even as he seemed to have outgrown his physical weakness, so too he had outgrown, to all appearance, those strange abnormal experiences which had been his in childhood, his power of automatic writing and the inexplicable communications from his dead brother. Certainly since his fourteenth year there had been no more of them; it was as if they had belonged entirely to the years when he trailed the clouds of glory that hang about childhood. But even now, in the normal vigour of his young manhood, they did not seem to him to be in the least unreal; indeed, they were to him, in spite of their fantastic and unusual nature, the most substantial treasures in his store-house of memory. The difference was that now they were sealed up: some key had been turned on them in his interior life, and they were inaccessible to him. But never for a moment did he doubt that they were there: out of reach they might be, but he still possessed them, and, though he made no effort to unlock the door, he believed that the key to them was neither lost nor broken, but, rusted, maybe, with unuse, still existed within him. Some day, he felt sure, the impulse would come to him, either from without or within, to search for it, and he knew precisely where, with every prospect of finding, he would look for it. For he still had the power of letting himself lapse into that trance-condition in which he sank into a depth of sunlit waters, and in that mysterious abyss he knew he could find the key to the sealed treasures. It was long since he had penetrated there, but he knew his way.

* * * * *

To-night, as he lay in his hammock, he felt no wish or inclination to sleep, but lay with eyes open looking into the sombre dark of the pine above his head, where the stars twinkled at the edge of the needles of the foliage. The gale that had raged that afternoon had blown itself out: not a breath of breeze sighed in the pine, and of the fierceness of those uproarious hours there was nothing left but the ever-diminishing thunder of the waves three hundred feet below. From horizon to zenith the sky was bare and kirtled with stars, and to the east over the hills across the bay, the dove-colour that precedes the rising of the moon was soaking through the heavens. A faint odour from the thicket of tobacco-plants that grew at the foot of his hammock were spreading through the air, ineffably fragrant, and the dew brought with it the smell of damp and fruitful earth.

Archie lay quite still, content to rest without sleep; he was sure that he would go to sleep soon, imperceptibly to himself, and he waited quite tranquilly for the soft tide to engulf him, letting his memory hover now and then over his adventures of the afternoon, but always bringing it back to the half-hour he had sat with Helena, close to where he now lay. He had, as sleep approached, the vague sense of sinking into some quiet depth; but his mind was too tranquilly disposed to do more than register this impression, and then, quite suddenly, without the transition state of drowsiness, he went fast asleep. He had noticed just before that the moon had risen.

He slept long and dreamlessly, and then began to dream with extraordinary vividness. He dreamed that he had not gone to sleep at all, but still lay in his hammock, in the shade of the pine, while the garden outside was full of the white blaze of the moonlight and ebony clear-cut shadows. The thunder of the surf had quite died away, the tobacco-plants still gave out their odour, and the stars, a little quenched by the moon, had faded in the boughs of the pine. And then he perceived (but with no sense of strangeness) that there was something new in the garden, for, close to the door into the house, was standing a white marble statue. This brought his legs over the side of his hammock, and he got up to go and look at it, and then remembered, so he thought, all about it. It was the statue of Helena, which she had told him was a gift from her to him, and it did not seem at all unnatural that it should have been brought out and put in the garden. But, as he had not seen it yet, he walked now across to it, and found an admirable and lovely figure. It was clad in a long Greek chiton, low at the throat and reaching nearly to her feet, which were sandalled. One hand was advanced to him with a beckoning gesture; the other, with its exquisite arm bare to the shoulder, hung by her side. The statue was life-size, for, as it stood on its low marble plinth, the face was just on a level with his. Exquisite in its fidelity and its beauty was that small head on its slender neck, and it endorsed the message of her beckoning hand. The lips, uncurled in a half-smile, mysteriously invited him; the body, too, was a little inclined forward towards him; next moment, surely, she would step down from her pedestal, and, like Galatea, shake off the semblance of stone, and declare herself his.

Standing there, entranced and strangely excited, Archie drank in the amazing loveliness of the figure. White and flawless, without speck or stain, the snow of the Parian quarries gleamed in the moonlight. And then he saw that, just where the neck flowed, with the strength and tenderness of a river, into the shoulders, there was a small dark spot, and, taking a step nearer, he put out his hand to flick it away. But it did not come away: it was as if some little excrescence had stuck to the marble, and, making a second attempt, he felt that it was soft, and that it grew a little longer. It moved, too; it wriggled like the head of a worm, and then, with a faint feeling of disgust, he saw that it was indeed the head of a worm protruding from the marble, just as a worm comes up through earth. Even as he looked, there came another such speck near the mouth; this also grew and wriggled, then came another on the arm which was put forward to welcome him.

Archie stood there, transfixed no longer by admiration and wonder, but by an ever-growing sense of horror. Everywhere, from face and hair and hand, and from the folds of the lovely Greek drapery there started out those loathsome reptiles. Some nightmare of catalepsy invaded him; he could not move, he could not call out, he could not turn away his eyes, but he had to watch until where lately this masterpiece of lovely limbs had stood, there was a column, as high as himself, of wriggling corruption, bred apparently from within. Then, horror adding itself to horror, this portent of decay began to move slowly towards him.

Still he could not move, but at last, when it was not more than a foot or two from him, he found his voice, and could scream for help. He could just hear himself shouting, but no help came. Already he could feel the touch of those horrible things, and with a supreme effort he managed to move his head away from that myriad loathsome touch, and lo! he was seated upright in his hammock, and the moon was low in the west, and over the eastern hills was the light that preceded day. His face streamed with the agony of the nightmare.

He sat still a little while, drinking in reassurance from the miracle of the tranquil dawn, and wondering at the suddenness with which he had gone to sleep, so that his disquieting dream had seemed the uninterrupted continuation of his consciousness. And, as his fright faded, there faded also the memory of what his dream had been: there had been something about a statue, something about worms, something connected with Helena. Even as he thought about it, it continued to recede from him, and before he dozed off again, the whole thing had slipped out of his memory, and when, an hour later, he got up to accompany the travellers on their early start, as far as the station, there was nothing whatever left of it. He knew only that he had awoke in a state of inexplicable terror, arising from some dream which had vanished from his memory like a mist at dawn.

The three left behind adjusted themselves, as friends can do, to their narrowed circle, and moved sensibly closer to each other. They all had their tasks to sweeten the enjoyment of their leisure, for to Jessie fell the Martha-cares of the house, which she transacted by the aid of an Italian dictionary with the cook Assunta; to Harry Travers, now a junior don at Cambridge, the preparation of a course of history lectures next term; to Archie the incessant practice in the endless and elusive art of writing prose. The love of expressing what he loved in words was no less than a passion with him, and it is almost needless to add that the sea was his inspiring theme. He certainly had the prime essential of devotion both to his subject and to the technique of his art, and these little essays, called Idylls of the Sea, promised, if ever he could persuade himself to finish them, to be a really exquisite piece of work. They were the simplest sketches of fishers and ships and the like, but to satisfy him, the sea had to sound in every line of them, even as it sounded in the ears of those about whom he wrote. Just now he was trying to recapture all that had made the ecstasy to him of that risky voyage homewards across the bay a few days before, and to fire his words with that thrill which he never quite despaired of communicating.

As a rule, their day arranged itself very regularly: early breakfast was succeeded by a couple of hours of task, and a couple more were spent in bathing, no affair of hurried undressing, of chilly immersion and a huddling on of clothes, but of long baskings on the shore, and a mile-long ploughing, for Archie at least, out into the bay or along the coast and round beyond the furthest promontory. Much though he liked the companionship of the others, he was never sorry when first Jessie, and then Harry turned shorewards again, for the companionship of the sea was closest to him when he was alone. He would burrow his way through it on the sidestroke, buried in the foam of his progress, and, when exhausted and breathless, turn on to his back to be cradled and rocked by it, secure in its enveloping presence, even as in the days of childhood he would lie happy and serene in the knowledge that Blessington was close by him. Or he would dive deep and see through "the fallen day" the dazzle of the sun of the surface far above him, and then swim up again, and, after the greenness and the paleness below, find a red and glowing firmament. But best of all was it to swim out very far from land, and then just exist with arms and legs spread wide, encompassed and surrounded by mere sea. He did not want to think about anything at all, or to belabour his brain with strivings to cast into words the sea-sense; that would come afterwards, when with gnawed pencil and erased sentences he sat in the garden; but he only opened himself out to it, and drank it in through eye and ear and skin and widespread limbs… And all this, even when physically he most realized this sea-sense, was but a symbol, and the more vivid the physical consciousness of the sea became, the dimmer it also became in the light of what it stood for. For even as the sea, eternally incorruptible, received into itself, without stain, all that the putrefying land with its ordure and sewers poured into it, so round human life, with its sores and its decay, there lay an immense and eternal incorruption, which purified all life as it passed into it, and turned it into something pellucid and immortal. Dying would be like that, dying was no more than being poured into this jubilant ocean, and becoming part of its clean, exuberant life…

But Archie had no intention of dying just yet, and indeed these metaphysical speculations only reached him like the sound of chimes blown across the water, while far clearer was Harry's voice, calling from the beach, "Archie, it's after twelve"; and thereupon Archie would turn on his chest and swim back to land, with a frill of foam encircling his sunburnt throat and a wake of bubbles following the strokes of his strong legs. Thereafter he would cast himself onto the beach with a straw hat tipped over his eyes, and his sun-tanned legs and arms spread star-fish fashion, and lie there drinking in the sun, while Harry and Jessie reviled him for causing lunch, for which they hungered, to be again half an hour behind the scheduled time. And Archie, lighting a cigarette, turned on his elbow and called them greedy hogs for thinking about lunch, when it was possible to lie in the sun, and swim in the sea. Then, as likely as not, he would himself be aware of a celestial appetite, and step into a pair of flannel trousers and a sea-stained shirt, and in turn revile their tardiness in climbing the olived terraces that lay between them and the Castello.

They lunched in the garden, in a strip of shade outside the house, and thereafter, without any pretence at all about the matter, Harry and Jessie went to their rooms for an honest Italian siesta, with no excuse of lying on beds and reading, but with the avowed object of lying on beds and sleeping. But this two hours' swimming and basking and communion with the sea, instead of making Archie sleepy, gave him his most productive hours of work, and wide-eyed and eager he would sit with jotted notes and scribbling-paper round him, read over the last few pages of his current story, and correct and erase and rewrite with an unquenchable optimism. There would be moments of despair, moments of wrestling with a recalcitrant sentence, when he walked about in the blaze of the sun, and bit his pencil till his teeth cracked through into the lead, moments of triumph when the impalpable sensation he wished to record seemed to surrender itself to the embrace of verbs and adjectives. Up till tea-time, when the others shuffled (or so he termed it) out of the house after their slumbers, he tasted the glories and the travail of creation, or, it might be, the pangs of fruitless labour; but he knew, at any rate, the joys of ecstatic mental activity.

On one such day, some weeks after his mother and Helena had gone back to England, he felt himself fit to burst with all that he had stored within him, ready for expression. As they drank their coffee he had employed himself in sharpening a couple of pencils (for the work of transcription into ink came later in the day), so as not to interrupt, by any physical intrusion, the flow of all he knew was ready to be crystallized into words. Sometimes the least distraction broke some kind of thread when he was in communication with the sea… It may be added that no one was ever less pompous about his aspirations.

To-day Harry observed the sharpening of the pencils, and commented.

"So a masterpiece is signalled, Archie," he said.

Archie blew the lead-dust from his finger.

"Quite right, old boy," he said. "Lord! I'm full of great thoughts. Do go to bed, and then I'll begin."

Jessie joined in.

"Archie, do let me hold your pencils for you," she said, "like Dora in David Copperfield. I shall feel as if I was doing something."

Archie laughed.

"You would be," he remarked. "You would be making an uncommon nuisance of yourself."

"You are polite."

"No, I'm not, I'm rude. I'm being rude on purpose. I want you to be offended and go away. I want Harry to go away too. I want you both to lie on your beds and snore like hogs."

"I was thinking of getting a book and reading out here," said Jessie. "I feel it's unsociable to leave you alone."

"When you've finished being funny," remarked Archie, "you may go to bed.

You may get down at once. Say your grace and get down. You, too, Master

Harry. Oh, Harry, do you remember how you used to come to tea in the

nursery and Blessington made us behave properly till tea was over?"

"Then did you behave improperly?" asked Jessie.

"I don't think we did really. Once we went into the shrubbery and changed clothes. At least I put on yours, but you couldn't put on mine because they were too small. That's what Browning calls 'Time's Revenges.' I couldn't put on yours now, could I? The Italian authorities would prosecute me for indecency. Lord! what a little fellow you are, Harry! Time for a little fellow to go to bed. Oh, don't rag; I never said you weren't strong. Yes, Jessie, you're strong too, and it's like a girl to pull my hair. Ah, do shut up."

Archie had reasonable cause for complaint. Jessie had suddenly come behind him, and taken a great handful of touzled hair into her grasp, so that Archie's head was held immovable, while Harry tickled his ribs. You can do nothing with your arms if your head is held quite still. Presently the wicked ceased from troubling, and Archie was left alone. But after Jessie had gone to her room she stood still a moment before making herself comfortable for her nap, and then she laid across her nose and mouth the outspread hand that had grasped Archie's hair. In her fingers there remained some faint odour of warm sea-salt, and, as by a separate memory of their own, there remained in them the sense of their closing over that brown, bright, springy handful.

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