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pursuit of her invisible personality.

"She's just doing it to lead me on!..." he exclaimed. "It's got to come
to an end! I won't stand any more bull-baiting.... I'll just show her
that I'm able to live without her!"

He swore not to seek her any more. It was an agreeable diversion for
the weeks that he had to spend in Naples, but why keep it up when she
was fatiguing him in such an insufferable way?...

"All is ended," he said again, clenching his hands.

And the following day he was waiting outside of the hotel just as on
other days. Then he would go for his customary stroll, afterwards
entering the Aquarium in the same, old hope of seeing her before the
tanks of the cuttlefish.

He finally met her there one morning, about midday. He had been over to
his boat and on returning entered, through force of habit, sure that at
this hour he would find nobody but the employees feeding the fishes.

His dazzled eyes were affected with almost instantaneous blindness
before becoming accustomed to the shadows of the greenish galleries....
And when the first images began to be vaguely outlined on his retina,
he stepped hastily backward, so great was his surprise.

He couldn't believe it and raised his hand to his eyes as though
wishing to clarify his vision with an energetic rubbing. Was that
really Freya?... Yes, it was she, dressed in white, leaning on the bar
of iron that separated the tanks from the public, looking fixedly at
the glass which covered the rocky cavern like a transparent door. She
had just opened her hand-bag, giving some coins to the guardian who was
disappearing at the end of the gallery.

"Oh, is that you?" she said, on seeing Ferragut, without any surprise,
as if she had left him but a short time before.

Then she explained her presence at this late hour. She had not visited
the Aquarium for a long time. The tank of cuttlefish was to her like a
cage of tropical birds, full of colors and cries that enlivened the
solitude of a melancholy matron.

She always adored the monsters living on the other side of these
crystals, and before going to lunch she had felt an irresistible desire
to see them. She feared that the guard had not been taking good care of
them during her absence.

"Just see how beautiful they are!..."

And she pointed to a tank that appeared empty. Neither in its quiet
still waters nor on the floor of the oily sand could be seen the
slightest animal motion. Ferragut followed the direction of her eyes
and after long contemplation discovered there three occupants. With the
amazing mimicry of their species, they had changed themselves to appear
like minerals. Only a pair of expert eyes would have been able to
discover them, heaped together, each one huddled in a crack of the
rocks, voluntarily raising his smooth skin into stone-like
protuberances and ridges. Their faculty of changing color permitted
them to take on that of their hard base and, disguised in this way like
three rocky excrescences, they were treacherously awaiting the passing
of their victim, just as though they were in the open sea.

"Soon we shall see them in all their majesty," continued Freya as
though she were speaking of something belonging to her. "The guardian
is going to feed them.... Poor things! Nobody pays any attention to
them; everybody detests them. To me they owe whatever they get between
meals."

As if scenting the proximity of food, one of the three stones suddenly
shuddered with a polychromatic chill. Its elastic covering began
swelling. There passed over its surface stripes of color, reddish
clouds changing from crimson to green, circular spots that became
inflated in the swelling, forming tremulous excrescences. Between two
cracks there appeared a yellowish eye of ferocious and stupid fixity; a
darkened and malignant globe like that of serpents, was now looking
toward the crystal as though seeing far beyond that diamond wall.

"They know me!" exclaimed Freya joyously. "I'm sure that they know
me!..."

And she enumerated the clever traits of these monsters to whom she
attributed great intelligence. They were the ones that, like astute
builders, had dappled the stones piled up on the bottom, forming
bulwarks in whose shelter they had disguised themselves in order to
pounce upon their victims. In the sea, when wishing to surprise a
meaty, toothsome oyster, they waited in hiding until the two valves
should open to feed upon the water and the light, and had often
introduced a pebble between the shells and then inserted their
tentacles in the crevice.

Their love of liberty was another thing which aroused Freya's
enthusiasm. If they should have to endure more than a year of enclosure
in the Aquarium, they would become sick with sadness and would gnaw
their claws until they killed themselves.

"Ah, the charming and vigorous bandits!" she continued in hysterical
enthusiasm. "I adore them. I should like to have them in my home, as
they have gold-fishes in a globe, to feed them every hour, to see how
they would devour...."

Ferragut felt a recurrence of the same uneasiness that he had
experienced one morning in the temple of Virgil.

"She's crazy!" he said to himself.

But in spite of her craziness, he greatly enjoyed the faint perfume
that exhaled through the opening at her throat.

He no longer saw the silent world that, sparkling with color, was
swimming or paddling behind the crystal. She was now the only creature
who existed for him. And he listened to her voice as though it were
distant music as it continued explaining briefly all the particulars
about those stones that were really animals, about those globes that,
on distending themselves, showed their organs and again hid themselves
under a gelatinous succession of waves.

They were a sac, a pocket, an elastic mask, in whose interior existed
only water or air. Between their armpits was their mouth, armed with
long jaw bones, like a parrot's beak. When breathing, a crack of their
skin would open and close alternately. From one of their sides came
forth a tube in the form of a tunnel that swallowed equally the
respirable water and drew it through both entrances into its branching
cavity. Their multiple arms, fitted out with cupping glasses,
functioned like high-pressure apparatus for grasping and holding prey,
for paddling and for running.

The glassy eye of one of the monsters appearing and disappearing among
its soft folds, stirred Freya's memories. She began speaking in a low
tone as if to herself, without paying any attention to Ferragut who was
perplexed at the incoherence of her words. The appearance of this
octopus brought to her mind "the eye of the morning."

The sailor asked: "What is the 'eye of the morning'?"... And he again
told himself that Freya was crazy when he learned that this was the
name of a tame serpent, a reptile of checkered sides that she wore as
necklace or bracelet over there in her home in the island of Java, - an
island where groves exhaled an irresistible perfume, covered in the
sunlight with trembling and monstrous flowers like animals, peopled at
night with phosphorescent stars that leaped from tree to tree.

"I used to dance naked, with a transparent veil tied around my hips and
another floating from my head ... I would dance for hours and hours,
just like a Brahman priestess before the image of the terrible Siva,
and the 'eye of the morning' would follow my dances with elegant
undulations ... I believe in the divine Siva. Don't you know who Siva
is?..."

Ferragut uttered an impatient aside to the gloomy god. What he wanted
to know was the reason that had taken her to Java, the paradisiacal and
mysterious island.

"My husband was a Dutch commandant," she said. "We were married in
Amsterdam and I followed him to Asia."

Ulysses protested at this piece of news. Had not her husband been a
great student?... Had he not taken her to the Andes in search of
prehistoric beasts?...

Freya hesitated a moment in order to be sure, but her doubts were
short.

"So he was," she said as a matter of course. "That professor was my
second husband. I have been married twice."

The captain had not time to express his surprise. Over the top of the
tank, on the crystalline surface silvered by the sun, passed a human
shadow. It was the silhouette of the keeper. Down below, the three
shapeless bags began to move. Freya was trembling with emotion like an
enthusiastic and impatient spectator.

Something fell into the water, descending little by little, a bit of
dead sardine that was scattering filaments of meat and yellow scales.
An odd community interest appeared to exist among these monsters: only
the one nearest the prey bestirred himself to eat. Perhaps they
voluntarily took turns; perhaps their glance only reached a little
beyond their tentacles.

The one nearest to the glass suddenly unfolded itself with the violence
of a spring escaping from an explosive projectile. He gave a bound,
remaining fastened to the ground by one of his radiants, and raised the
others like a bundle of reptiles. Suddenly he converted himself into a
monstrous star, filling almost the entire glassy tank, swollen with
rage, and coloring his outer covering with green, blue, and red.

His tentacles clutched the miserable prey, doubling it inward in order
to bear it to his mouth. The beast then contracted, and flattened
himself out so as to rest on the ground. His armed feet disappeared and
there only remained visible a trembling bag through which was passing
like a succession of waves, from one extreme to the other, the
digestive swollen mass which became a bubbling, mucous pulpiness in a
dye-pot that colored and discolored itself with contortions of
assimilative fury; from time to time the agglomeration showed its
stupid and ferocious eyes.

New victims continued falling down through the waters and other
monsters leaped in their turn, spreading out their stars, then
shrinking together in order to grind their prey in their entrails with
the assimilation of a tiger.

Freya gazed upon this horrifying digestive process with thrills of
rapture. Ulysses felt her resting instinctively upon him with a contact
growing more intimate every moment. From shoulder to ankle the captain
could see the sweet reliefs of her soft flesh whose warmth made itself
perceptible through her clothing and filled him with nervous tremors.

Frequently she turned her eyes away from the cruel spectacle, glancing
at him quickly with an odd expression. Her pupils appeared enlarged,
and the whites of her eyes had a wateriness of morbid reflection.
Ferragut felt that thus the insane must look in their great crises.

She was speaking between her teeth, with emotional pauses, admiring the
ferocity of the cuttlefish, grieving that she did not possess their
vigor and their cruelty.

"If I could only be like them!... To be able to go through the streets
... through the world, stretching out my talons!... To devour!... to
devour! They would struggle uselessly to free themselves from the
winding of my tentacles.... To absorb them!... To eat them!... To cause
them to disappear!..."

Ulysses beheld her as on that first day near the temple of the poet,
possessed with a fierce wrath against men, longing extravagantly for
their extermination.

Their digestion finished, the polypi had begun to swim around, and were
now horizontal skeins, fluting the tank with elegance. They appeared
like torpedo boats with a conical prow, dragging along the heavy, thick
and long hair of their tentacles. Their excited appetite made them
glide through the water in all directions, seeking new victims.

Freya protested. The guard had only brought them dead bodies. What she
wanted was the struggle, the sacrifice, the death. The bits of sardine
were a meal without substance for these bandits that had zest only for
food seasoned with assassination.

As though the pulps had understood her complaints, they had fallen on
the sandy bottom, flaccid, inert, breathing through their funnels.

A little crab began to descend at the end of a thread desperately
moving its claws.

Freya pressed still closer to Ulysses, excited at the thought of the
approaching spectacle. One of the bags, transformed into a star,
suddenly leaped forward. Its arms writhed like serpents seeking the
recent arrival. In vain the guard pulled the thread up, wishing to
prolong the chase. The tentacles clamped their irresistible openings
upon the body of the victim, pulling upon the line with such force that
it broke, the octopus falling on the bottom with his prey.

Freya clapped her hands in applause.

"Bravo!..." She was exceedingly pale, though a feverish heat was
coursing through her body.

She leaned toward the crystal in order to see better the devouring
activity of that pyramidal stomach which had on its sharp point a
diminutive parrot head with two ferocious eyes and around its base the
twisted skeins of its arms full of projecting disks. With these it
pressed the crab against its mouth, injecting under its shell the
venomous output of its salivary glands, paralyzing thus every movement
of existence. Then it swallowed its prey slowly with the deglutition of
a boa constrictor.

"How beautiful it is!" she said.

The other beasts also seized their live victims, paralyzed and devoured
them, moving their flabby bodies in order to permit the passage of
their swelling nutritive waves and clouds of various colors.

Then the guard tossed in a crab, but one without any string whatever.
Freya screamed with enthusiasm.

This was the kind of hunt that takes place in the ferocious mystery of
the sea, a race with death, a destruction preceded with emotional agony
and hazards. The poor crustacean, divining its danger, was swimming
towards the rocks hoping to take refuge in the nearest crevice. A
polypus came up behind it, whilst the others continued their digestion.

"It's escaping!... It's escaping!" cried Freya, palpitating with
interest.

The crab scrambled through the stones, sheltering itself in their
windings. The polypus was no longer swimming; it was running like a
terrestrial animal, climbing over the rocks by its armed extremities,
which were now serving as apparatus of locomotion. It was the struggle
of a tiger with a mouse. When the crab had half of its body already
hidden within the green lichens of a hole, one of the heavy serpents
fell upon its back clutching it with the irresistible suction of his
air-holes, and causing it to disappear within his skein of tentacles.

"Ah!" sighed Freya, throwing herself back as though she were going to
faint on Ulysses' breast.

He shuddered, feeling that a serpentine band of tremulous pressure had
encircled his body. The acts of that unbalanced creature were fraying
his nerves.

He felt as though a monster of the same class as those in the tank but
much larger - a gigantic octopus from the oceanic depths - must have
slipped treacherously behind him and was clutching him in one of its
tentacles. He could feel the pressure of its feelers around his waist,
growing closer and more ferocious.

Freya was holding him captive with one of her arms. She had wound
herself tightly around him and was clasping his waist with all her
force, as though trying to break his vigorous body in two.

Then he saw the head of this woman approaching him with an aggressive
swiftness as if she were going to bite him.... Her enlarged eyes,
tearful and misty, appeared to be far off, very far off. Perhaps she
was not even looking at him.... Her trembling mouth, bluish with
emotion, a round and protruding mouth like an absorbing duct, was
seeking the sailor's mouth, taking possession of it and devouring it
with her lips.

It was the kiss of a cupping-glass, long, dominating, painful. Ulysses
realized that he had never before been kissed in this way. The water
from that mouth surging across her row of teeth, discharged itself in
his like swift poison. A shudder unfamiliar until then ran the entire
length of his back, making him close his eyes.

He felt as if all his interior had turned to liquid. He had a
presentiment that his life was going to date from this kiss, that with
it was going to begin a new existence, that he never would be able to
free himself from these deadly and caressing lips with their faint
savor of cinnamon, of incense, of Asiatic forests haunted with
sensuousness and intrigue.

And he let himself be dragged down by the caress of this wild beast,
with thought lost and body inert and resigned, like a castaway who
descends and descends the infinite strata of the abyss without ever
reaching bottom.



CHAPTER VI


THE WILES OF CIRCE

After that kiss, the lover believed that all his desires were about to
be immediately realized. The most difficult part of the road was
already passed. But with Freya one always had to expect something
absurd and inconceivable.

The midday gun aroused them from a rapture that had lasted but a few
seconds as long as years. The steps of the guard, growing nearer all
the time, finally separated the two and unlocked their arms.

Freya was the first to calm herself. Only a slight haze flitted across
her pupils now, like the vapor from a recently extinguished fire.

"Good-by.... They are waiting for me."

And she went out from the Aquarium followed by Ferragut, still
stammering and tremulous. The questions and petitions with which he
pursued her while crossing the promenade were of no avail.

"So far and no further," she said at one of the cross streets of
Chiaja. "We shall see one another.... I formally promise you that....
Now leave me."

And she disappeared with the firm step of a handsome huntress, as
serene of countenance as though not recalling the slightest
recollection of her primitive, passional paroxysm.

This time she fulfilled her promise. Ferragut saw her every day.

They met in the mornings near the hotel, and sometimes she came down
into the dining-room, exchanging smiles and glances with the sailor,
who fortunately was sitting at a distant table. Then they took strolls
and chatted together, Freya laughing good-naturedly at the amorous vows
of the captain.... And that was all.

With a woman's skillfulness in sounding a man's depth and penetrating
into his secrets, - keeping fast-locked and unapproachable her own, - she
gradually informed herself of the incidents and adventures in the life
of Ulysses. Vainly he spoke, in a natural reciprocity, of the island of
Java, of the mysterious dances before Siva, of the journeys through the
lakes of the Andes. Freya had to make an effort to recall them. "Ah!...
Yes!" And after giving this distracted exclamation for every answer,
she would continue the process of delving eagerly into the former life
of her lover. Ulysses sometimes began to wonder if that embrace in the
Aquarium could have occurred in his dreams.

One morning the captain managed to bring about the realization of one
of his ambitions. He was jealous of the unknown friends that were
lunching with Freya. In vain she affirmed that the doctor was the only
companion of the hours that she passed outside of the hotel. In order
to tranquillize himself, the sailor insisted that the widow should
accept his invitations. They ought to extend their strolls; they ought
to visit the beautiful outskirts of Naples, lunching in their gay
little _trattorias_ or eating-houses.

They ascended together the funicular road of Monte Vomero to the
heights crowned by the castle of S. Elmo and the monastery of S.
Martino. After admiring in the museum of the abbey the artistic
souvenirs of the Bourbon domination and that of Murat, they entered
into a nearby _trattoria_ with tables placed on an esplanade from whose
balconies they could take in the unforgetable spectacle of the gulf,
seeing Vesuvius in the distance and the chain of mountains smoking on
the horizon like an immovable succession of dark rose-colored waves.

Naples was extended in horseshoe form on the bow-shaped border of the
sea tossing up from its enormous white mass, as though they were bits
of foam, the clusters of houses in the suburbs.

A swarthy oysterman, slender, with eyes like live coals, and enormous
mustaches, had his stand at the door of the restaurant, offering
cockles and shell fish of strong odor that had been half a week perhaps
in ascending from the city to the heights of Vomero. Freya jested about
the oysterman's typical good looks and the languishing glances that he
was forever casting toward all the ladies that entered the
establishment ... a prime discovery for a tourist anxious for
adventures in local color.

In the background a small orchestra was accompanying a tenor voice or
was playing alone, enlarging upon the melodies and amplifying the
measures with Neapolitan exaggeration.

Freya felt a childish hilarity upon seating herself at the table,
seeing over the cloth the luminous summit. Bisected in the foreground
by a crystal vase full of flowers, the distant panorama of the city,
the gulf, and its capes spread itself before her eager eyes. The air on
this peak enchanted her after two weeks passed without stirring outside
of Naples. The harps and violins gave the situation a pathetic thrill
and served as a background for conversation, just as the vague murmurs
of a hidden orchestra give the effect in the theater of psalmody or of
melancholy verses moving the listener to tears.

They ate with the nervousness which joy supplies. At some tables
further on a young man and woman were forgetting the courses in order
to clasp hands underneath the cloth and place knee against knee with
frenzied pressure. The two were smiling, looking at the landscape and
then at each other. Perhaps they were foreigners recently married,
perhaps fugitive lovers, realizing in this picturesque spot the billing
and cooing so many times anticipated in their distant courtship.

Two English doctors from a hospital ship, white haired and uniformed,
were disregarding their repast in order to paint directly in their
albums, with a childish painstaking crudeness, the same panorama that
was portrayed on the postal cards offered for sale at the door of the
restaurant.

A fat-bellied bottle with a petticoat of straw and a long neck
attracted Freya's hands to the table. She ridiculed the sobriety of
Ferragut, who was diluting with water the reddish blackness of the
Italian wine.

"Thus your ancestors, the Argonauts, must have drunk," she said gayly.
"Thus your grandfather, Ulysses, undoubtedly drank."

And herself filling the captain's glass with an exaggeratedly careful
division of the parts of water and wine, she added gayly:

"We are going to make a libation to the gods."

These libations were very frequent. Freya's peals of laughter made the
Englishmen, interrupted in their conscientious work, turn their glances
toward her. The sailor felt himself overcome by a warm feeling of
well-being, by a sensation of repose and confidence, as though this
woman were unquestionably his already.

Seeing that the two lovers, terminating their luncheon hastily, were
arising with blushing precipitation as though overpowered by some
sudden desire, his glance became tender and fraternal.... Adieu, adieu,
companions!

The voice of the widow recalled him to reality.

"Ulysses, make love to me.... You haven't yet told me this whole day
long that you love me."

In spite of the smiling and mocking tone of this order, he obeyed her,
repeating once more his promises and his desires. Wine was giving to
his words a thrill of emotion; the musical moaning of the orchestra was
exciting his sensibilities and he was so touched with his own eloquence
that his eyes slightly filled with tears.

The high voice of the tenor, as though it were an echo of Ferragut's
thought, was singing a romance of the fiesta of Piedigrotta, a
lamentation of melancholy love, a canticle of death, the final mother
of hopeless lovers.

"All a lie!" said Freya, laughing. "These Mediterraneans.... What
comedians they are for love!..."

Ulysses was uncertain as to whether she was referring to him or to the
singer. She continued talking, placid and disdainful at the same time,
because of their surroundings.

"Love,... love! In these countries they can't talk of anything else. It
is almost an industry, somewhat scrupulously prepared for the credulous
and simple people from the North. They all harp on love: this howling
singer, you ... even the oysterman...."

Then she added maliciously:

"I ought to warn you that you have a rival. Be very careful, Ferragut!"

She turned her head in order to look at the oysterman. He was occupied



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