No Post in Heaven

I WAS alone in the Villa Monacone. Maria had long since said ‘A rivederla’ and gone down the path to the Marina Grande, where her fisher father lived. Miss Tony, too, had come and gone. The shouts of the swimmers far below echoed faintly to the terrace, where I sat reading, for the second time, Axel Munthe’s Story of San Michele, I had reached the passage describing the excitement in Anacapri over the telegram that had lain unopened on Munthe’s desk for days. This time I understood.

On my desk lay letters, dozens of them — not unopened, but unanswered. Somewhere in Naples there was a package waiting to be claimed by me. The postmaster at the Mergellina station had told Signorina Fabricatori that I must come in person to get it. La signorina had written me. The Capri postmaster had recommended that I go to Naples to get the package. I did not know what that package was. I did not care. I said so. And with great joy I read again what Munthe had written: ‘I had no time for the world outside Capri. There is no post in Heaven.’

I looked from my book to the sea beyond, to the water that changed from purple to blue to mauve, to the rugged stone of the Faraglioni, red-brown in the rust-gold light of late afternoon. In the distance a clipper ship sailed serenely on the crest of a wave.

A purple blossom fell upon my open book. I turned the page, and read: ‘“Was it true there was war between Italy and the Turks?” I did not know. I did not care in the least if there was a war so long as I was left in peace to dig in my garden.’

And for him Capri was peace, first the peace of San Michele, then the cool darkness in the old tower of the Materita, where he still seeks refuge from the white light of San Michele. ‘Lord of Light, be it so,’ he had said, when his blindness came upon him. For him Capri was peace.

The white sails were a gray blur far away. Close to the rocks a submarine, half submerged, moved silently through the water, a black smear upon the blue. Far below I could see a swimmer, poised with arms uplifted for a dive, stand motionless, staring at the gliding thing. Then there was only the blue sea, and the brown rocks, and a ripple of white where the waves broke.

Of a sudden there echoed the dull boom of cannon from the town of Capri, less than a mile away. Twice, three times I heard it, followed by a silence so deep it seemed to beat upon the ears. I wondered if Dr. Munthe, in his tower, had heard. If it were war, I thought, as I hurried along the path to the piazza, frightening the lizards that scuttled out of my way ... if it were war . . .

Not once in all those weeks had anyone mentioned the war. That there would be a war was taken for granted. Yet it seemed there were those who would care — R. Uotto, for one. His five brothers would have to go. Matteo Sarno, the artist, and his Heidelberg wife, they would care. Old Gioanina would care — already lemons were too expensive. Miss Tony would care — there would be fewer foreigners to teach. And Miss Zela, the elder of the Russian sisters from whom we rented the Vilia, Monacone? She would care most of all, for war was not the way of Saint Francis.

The piazza was crowded with people, subdued, quiet. There was about the place an air of expectancy. Elbowing my way through the crowd, I took the short cut to the café. Uotto was standing in the doorway. Little Edoardo came running out to show me to a table. Still breathless from the rapid walk in the warm dusk, I said, ‘È la guerra?’

His laugh rippled through the silence.

‘No, signorina! Il cardinale!’ And his brown eyes danced as he asked me what kind of ice cream I wanted.

The cardinal — come from Naples for the week-end! Not war, but the cardinal! One might as well eat gelati.

Porters laden with luggage crossed and recrossed the little square. Maria, in her red-checked dress, moved among the crowd, a tub of water balanced on her head. The oyster man, crowned with his burden, called his wares. The peanut vender, stooped and bent, brushed by my table. A peasant woman walked leisurely by, the basket on her head green and gold and purple with its burden of fruit. The blue and gold of the clock tower faded into the dusk of evening. The piazza was itself again. Capri was peace. Yet into it had come the threat of war, a black smear on a purple sea.

Matteo Sarno and his wife joined me at my table. A Neapolitan engineer pulled up his chair. Over the caffè espresso we talked. The liquid sounds of Italian, the deeper note of German, the staccato of French, and the sibilance of Russian blended into a pleasing murmur against the patter of sandaled feet on stone.

Our little party went beyond the funicolare to look out upon the sea. Far below were the lights of the Marina Grande. The post boat to Amalfi was about to leave. The lights of Naples and Posilipo were strung like a necklace of amber across the Mediterranean. Vesuvius was dark in the distance.

Homeward we walked, the Good Companion and I, round the turn to the Via Tragara, with its oleanders and roses, its myrtle and almonds, its white villas silvered by the moon. Fragrance of jasmine floated down about us, reminding us that we had passed the last villa on the path. We approached the sharp turn, beyond which lay the open sea, the Faraglioni, and the Villa Monacone. Always we stopped there; always it was as if we looked for the first time upon that view. What should we see this night, when the moon was at the full?

We rounded the turn. The Tyrrhenian Sea was liquid silver. The Faraglioni stood out sharp and clear against the silver light, which etched into being every needle of the pines along the path. A thin streak of silver shone between the two great rocks. And the moon . . .

I remembered the first evening we had seen it in Capri. There had been a faint throbbing of water, with streaks of light across it, and a silver slip of a new moon. On every side the lights of the fishing boats were scattered across the sea, a milky way of yellow stars. Another night, and the moon was a silver shadow on the sea. Still another, and the light had deepened, until the water was a shimmer of black light. To-night the moon was at the full, and we looked upon a breathtaking beauty.

The Russian sisters were waiting for us. The moonlight shone through the wide doorway of their living room upon the large painting of Saint Francis. Wherever one went, the eyes of the ‘little poor man of Assisi’ seemed to follow. Miss Zela, his disciple, spoke, welcoming us to her home. Theround table was laid for five. There were the four of us, and a daughter of the house of Miradois. We talked long, of their country and ours, of Germany and Italy, the while we ate tiny sandwiches of anchovy and cucumber, drank Russian punch, and crumbled cakes of coffee cream.

It was late when we climbed the stone stairway to our villa. The moon shone through the skylight, and the mosquito netting cast a checkered pattern upon my bed.

I was awakened by the pleasant thin sound of rain falling upon the skylight, a sound that ceased even as I listened. I ran out to the terrace to look at the sea. The water was touched with silver, silver laid on blue that deepened to turquoise near the rocks, to purple shadows in the distance.

Maria, impressed by our impending departure, came down the path half an hour early, the basket on her head filled with fresh rolls and butter, eggs and milk, for our breakfast. How she stared at us; for the blue and red sandals of Capri, the bathing suits and bandannas, the cool, comfortable clothes, had all been packed. She had not seen our traveling clothes before.

Soon after lunch, the porters came for the luggage. Everything was ready. There was no further excuse for lingering in the villa. Maria came up to me and said, ‘To-morrow — I need not come?’

‘No, Maria,’ I replied.

‘Ah-h-h,’ she sighed; and her eyes were bright with tears.

First Miss Zela, then Miss Tony, put her arms around us, and kissed us, once on each cheek. Old Gioanina stood on the terrace, waiting. When we passed, she kissed our hands and curtsied, then covered her face with her apron. And we — we said, ‘ A rivederla,‘ and walked silently down the familiar path for the last time.

There were few people on the two-o’clock boat to Naples. We watched the island grow fainter in the distance, until it was only a misty haze on the horizon.

The harbor of Naples was filled with battleships and cruisers. A troopship was being loaded. At Genoa a troopship was being loaded. The Straits of Gibraltar were strangely crowded.

And I wondered — how much longer would Capri be peace?