Salvatore returns to Italy in a steamer ship. He gets into a rowboat and is brought to shore, where his father, mother, and two brothers—now grown up—stand waving to him. Salvatore searches the crowd with eyes but can’t find the girl waiting for him.
Salvatore’s family cover him in kisses. Full of emotion, they cry when they exchange greetings. Salvatore asks where the girl is. His mother says she doesn’t know, and that Salvatore’s family hasn’t seen the girl for two or three weeks.
That evening, Salvatore walks down to the Grande Marina to see her. The moon shines over the still sea and the lights of Naples twinkle in the distance. The girl sits on the doorstep with her mother. Salvatore is shy to speak to her because he hasn’t seen her in such a long time. He asks if she received the letter announcing his arrival. The girl says she did receive it, and she also learned from another of the island boys that Salvatore was ill.
Salvatore confirms this is true, and that his illness is why he could return. He asks if it isn’t a piece of luck. The girl, somewhat surprised to hear him call it luck, replies that she had heard Salvatore would never be healthy again. Salvatore says the doctor talked a lot of nonsense, but Salvatore knew he would recover now that he is home.
The girl is silent until her mother nudges her. The girl speaks with a blunt directness when she tells him she cannot marry a man who will never be strong enough to work like a man. She says that she and her parents have made up their minds about the decision to end the engagement, and that her father would never give his consent to see them wed.
After returning home, Salvatore learns that his family already knew about the broken engagement. The girl’s father had told them, but they hadn’t had enough courage to tell Salvatore. Salvatore cries on his mother’s chest. Although he is very unhappy, he doesn’t blame the girl. He knows that a fisherman’s life is hard and that a fisherman needs strength and endurance. He knows a girl can’t risk marrying a man who might not be able to support her. Salvatore has a sad smile and the eyes of a punished dog, but he doesn’t complain, and he says nothing cruel about the girl he had loved.
A few months pass. Salvatore settles down to working in his father’s vineyard and fishing. His mother tells him that a young woman in the village is willing to marry Salvatore. His mother says the woman’s name is Assunta. Salvatore replies that Assunta is “ugly as the devil.”
The narrator comments that Assunta is older than Salvatore—either twenty-four or twenty-five. She was engaged to a man who was killed in Africa during his military service. She has some money of her own and if Salvatore marries her, she can buy him a boat. They can also take possession of a vineyard that is luckily without a tenant at the moment. Salvatore’s mother tells Salvatore Assunta saw him at the festa—a religious festival in the town—and fell in love with him. Salvatore smiles sweetly and says he will think about it.
Maugham continues to build on the themes of economic hardship, work, disability, and virtuousness. Upon returning to Capri, Salvatore cannot see his fiancée from the boat he takes to shore. Her absence foreshadows the heartbreak he is about to face. Although he asks his parents where she is, they feign ignorance and conceal the truth, simply saying they haven’t seen her in weeks.
Ignorant of the disappointment that awaits him, Salvatore goes to visit the girl at her home. As if expecting him, the girl’s mother is waiting with the girl out front. The girl informs Salvatore that news of his rheumatism traveled to her, and she has decided, with her parents’ input, that he cannot marry her.
The girl’s blunt delivery, spoken in front of her mother after her mother nudges her, suggests that her parents have pressured her into rejecting him. Believing his disability may prevent him from working, the girls’ parents refuse to give their consent to the union. In this devastating moment, Maugham unites the story’s major themes. Because of the need to support one’s family through fishing, Salvatore’s disability stands in the way of him being with the girl he loves.
However, his virtuousness shines through, despite his devastation. He understands the financial risk the girl would take in marrying him and so doesn’t hold the decision against her or her parents. With a sad smile, he accepts his life for what it is, never complaining about the girl or speaking ill of her.
Within a few months, Salvatore learns of a new opportunity to marry. A local widow is interested in him, and she can buy him a rowboat of his own, meaning he can earn money as a fisherman. Although Salvatore initially reacts to the news of Assunta’s interest by calling her “ugly as the devil,” he smiles in his innocent, good-natured way and considers the option.