The passport restored, he plunged out into the night. It was pitch-black in the gardens and the rain drove down with the guttural rush of a midsummer storm. So fierce was its fall that it seemed to suck up the earth in its black eddies, and he felt himself swept along over a heaving hissing surface, with wet boughs lashing out at him as he fled. From one terrace to another he dropped to lower depths of buffeting dripping darkness, till he found his hand on the gate-latch and swung to the black lane below the wall. Thence on a run he wound to the tanners’ quarter by the river: a district commonly as foul-tongued as it was ill-favoured, but tonight clean-purged of both evils by the vehement sweep of the storm. Here he groped his way among slippery places and past huddled out-buildings to the piles of the wharf. The rain was now subdued to a noiseless vertical descent, through which he could hear the tap of the river against the piles. Scarce knowing what he fled or whither he was flying, he let himself down the steps and found the flat of a boat’s bottom underfoot. A boatman, distinguishable only as a black bulk in the stern, steadied his descent with outstretched hand; then the bow swung round, and after a labouring stroke or two they caught the current and were swept down through the rushing darkness.
BOOK III. THE CHOICE.
The Vision touched him on
the lips and said:
Hereafter thou shalt eat me in thy bread,
Drink me in all thy kisses, feel my hand
Steal ’twixt thy palm and Joy’s, and see me stand
Watchful at every crossing of the ways,
The insatiate lover of thy nights and days.
It was at Naples, some two years later, that the circumstances of his flight were recalled to Odo Valsecca by the sound of a voice which at once mysteriously connected itself with the incidents of that wild night.
He was seated with a party of gentlemen in the saloon of Sir William Hamilton’s famous villa of Posilipo, where they were sipping the ambassador’s iced sherbet and examining certain engraved gems and burial-urns recently taken from the excavations. The scene was such as always appealed to Odo’s fancy: the spacious room, luxuriously fitted with carpets and curtains in the English style, and opening on a prospect of classical beauty and antique renown; in his hands the rarest specimens of that buried art which, like some belated golden harvest, was now everywhere thrusting itself through the Neapolitan soil; and about him men of taste and understanding, discussing the historic or mythological meaning of the objects before them, and quoting Homer or Horace in corroboration of their guesses.
Several visitors had joined the party since Odo’s entrance; and it was from a group of these later arrivals that the voice had reached him. He looked round and saw a man of refined and scholarly appearance, dressed en abbe, as was the general habit in Rome and Naples, and holding in one hand the celebrated blue vase cut in cameo which Sir William had recently purchased from the Barberini family.