The Man From Aidone
AT the farm below Aggira, the horses of master Turi, those that had not been led to the fair, had remained shut up in the stall, while the owner and his herders were at Castrogiovanni. Now, the men having returned, the good beasts were glad to run free again through the meadows to crop the grass.
“ I wager that old Baia will feel herself lonely for the horses that have been sold,” observed Pietro, beating with his clasp knife the bark of an oleander twig, in order to make a whistle.
“ And why not ? ” answered Felice. “ Poor mare, so many colts she brings into the world, and so many must go away to do their duty. After the colts are weaned, it appears as if she did not care so much for them ; but that is not altogether true, — only they no longer have need of her. Sometimes, when a colt has been sold, and the buyer has taken the halter to lead it away, I have seen la Baia stretch her neck in order to look after it until she lost it from sight; just as I saw my mother watch me the day that I went for a soldier. They have great hearts, the horses ! ” “ And also the horses that were not born of old Baia, —she is fond of them.”
“ This, too, is true : horses are friends among themselves, like Christians. And they don’t talk against one another, nor bring lawsuits. Look out, there, Pietro ! Run in the cream-colored colt; he is too near the edge of those rocks.”
The pretty little beast made a sudden right-about-face and galloped as Pietro chased him into safety.
Felice had planned to return to Castrogiovanni, to take his business of a carrier, as soon as Lorenzo Burgio should have had a few days of practice among the horses. But as fate willed, during the last day of the fair, some Neapolitans who were drinking at the wineshop of master Gianandrea Burgio had set up a quarrel among themselves as to who ought to pay for the wine. The old man had begged them, for the honor of his shop, to quit scuffling. But they would not hear him, and even gave him ugly titles. Comare Santa, behind the counter with the bottles, screamed. The son, Lorenzo, leaving the spigot out of a cask, so that the wine spread over the floor, ran to aid his father, on whom the tipsy customers had laid hands. Lorenzo freed him. “ And if you have anything to say, here ’s this bust! ”
In fact, Lorenzo had a chest powerful like that of an ox, to take their fists upon. But, four against one, they handled him badly before some friends of his, hearing the noise, ran from the street and enforced order. Lorenzo had held firm, until a Neapolitan whom he had thrown down crawled along the floor and gave him an ugly cut with a clasp knife on the shin of the right leg. So Lorenzo had to go to bed, while one of his friends took his place in the shop.
Now that it would take time for the cure of Lorenzo’s leg, so that he would be in condition to run after the horses, Felice would not abandon them. “ I was herder before I was betrothed,”said he. “ And also, my Marina will say that I have done right to stay with the horses and keep the place for Lorenzo when he shall be cured, instead of letting master Turi find another fellow.”
But Lorenzo’s ailment was to be rather long ; and, as says the proverb, long things become serpents. There was dead flesh in the wound ; and although the doctor did his best, it delayed to heal. When this was told to Felice, he said, “ And should it take a year, I ’ll stay with the horses. So you will not lose the place.” But when Arcangela Burgio repeated that to Marina, and praised Felice who was so good to her brother, the promised bride turned pale, thinking within herself, “ Felice puts his friend and his horses before me.”
Now that she was betrothed, and her lad always away, Marina did not enjoy the dances in the piazza as before ; for the young men respected Felice’s rights even too much, and did not often invite Marina to dance. Instead, she sat on a bench beside her mother and comare Nunziata Mendola, just like a married woman, only without her man; while Felice remained with those blessed beasts down there near Aggira. And who could assure her, moreover, that there were no pretty girls at Aggira ? Of course there were some — and who knows ? She had leisure to think of these things when, in the long May evenings, she chose to stay sometimes in the house, and would not go into the piazza. There the guitars sounded, and the other girls had each her lad, or else was free to dance with whom she pleased.
“He’s done right, has Felice,” said neighbor Burgio, who was smoking in the dooryard with daddy Calogero.
“ That’s what I say,” answered the father. “ Women are n’t amiss, but I like a fellow who minds his trade and is loyal to his friend.”
“He might lose the girl this way,” whimpered uncle Mommu Bricca. “ ‘T is forty-five years ago that Maruzza Giuffrida planted me because I neglected to cut the canes for her to make shields for her fingers in gleaning. Then I took that good soul of Agnese, and it was the life of a dog she led me ! And I have seen with my eyes the stranger from Aidone, that handsome dark fellow, near mistress Agata’s tavern in these days.”
“ And you, Mommu, never lack fables to tell,” said master Burgio. “ To you flies look the size of hares.”
So, in order to make peace, daddy Calogero hastened to speak about the weather.
Every Saturday, as usual, Felice came home. He never failed to visit Lorenzo, as well as to pass what time he could with Marina. The sight of him, so honest, so kind, reassured Marina. He did not leave her time to think of harm, with his stories about old Baia and the new colt that already showed paces like its father, throwing out its little legs and arching its neck. “ We call it Silver Star,” he said, “ for it has a white spot on the forehead. It nibbles a little clover in order to appear like a grown horse, while truly it is n’t bigger than uncle Mommu’s dog. I wish that you could see it, girls.”
For when compare Felice talked about horses, Rosaria always wanted to listen. But when, to judge by certain glances of his, and words spoken softly, she believed that the conversation would become sugar on honey, as she called it, she preferred the company of the roan.
“ Oh, Riuzzu, follow me. Give me your hoof. Bravo ! Here ’s a crust of bread for you. Eh, my little horse, I’m fond of you ! ” She would throw her arms around the neck of the roan, while his black mane fell over her head like a veil; she felt of his slender black legs up and down with her hands. “ Don’t fear that compare Felice will make knots come on your legs with drawing heavy loads, my dear Riuzzu, because Felice is good always.”
And the horse returned her affection ; he rubbed her face and hands with his muzzle, and mumbled her little wrists with his lips. “ We are great friends, Riuzzu! ”
While Felice was near her, Marina repented of all her discontent and of what slight jealousies she had imagined. But she said nothing of this. Only she was gentle and submissive with him, like a bride, and looked at him with her great timid eyes, which were like those of the bay filly that shied in the twilight. They talked of the marriage and of their way of life in the future. Marina appeared to wish to content him in everything, humbly, as if to make amends for some fault toward him. Then she would become gay, laughing and chatting.
More than once, in the times when he was in Castrogiovanni to pass the Sunday, it seemed to Felice that the girls in the piazza looked at him with a little malice. Sometimes, also, Lorenzo Burgio, as Felice talked with him at his bedside, half opened his mouth as if to speak words which he afterwards decided to swallow, and instead made inquiries about the horses. One day, Caterina, in the stable where she came to admire the cart that had been master Crocco’s, newly painted, looked at Felice with anxiety.
“What are you thinking of, little sister ? ”
“ I ? Of this cart, so fine that it dazzles the sight. It deserves to be drawn by Riuzzu.”
This indeed was true. The man of the paintbrush had not been niggardly of color nor of design. On the four sides were depicted scenes from the life of Cristoforo Colombo; without whom, in fact, master Crocco could n’t have gone to America, and, consequently, Felice could n’t have bought the cart at a bargain.
“ We ought to give praise where it is due,”Felice said when he ordered the painting.
The groundwork of the cart was a fine flame-red, against which the four scenes stood out, framed in lines of black and gold. There was Colombo with his son begging bread at the gates of the monastery; Colombo before the king and queen of Spain ; Colombo among the sailors who wished to make a mutiny, like the rascals that they were ; and lastly, Colombo landing upon American soil, with the cross of his sword held on high. That was a cart, as padre Serafino observed, which would give instruction on the history of the world every time it went along the road. But the trouble was that compare Felice must leave it in the stable until Lorenzo Burgio could come to take his place with master Turi.
The truth was that all those persons who looked curiously at him would have liked to know whether compare Felice had heard that every week — but about the middle of it, Wednesday or Thursday, when he was certain to be away — the dark stranger from Aidone came to Castrogiovanni as if all at once he had great business there. Sometimes he brought lemons and oranges, vegetables or wine, in his cart. Other times it was not known for what purpose he came, riding in the saddle of Mureddu. But always he hovered about the tavern of comare Agata, so that it was plain that he sought Marina.
“ Oh, is n’t one lad enough for comare Marina,” said Sabedda Burgio at the fountain, “ but she will have also that man from Aidone ? ”
“ To me he is n’t pleasing,” returned master Neddu Longo’s Grazia. “ He is black, with such eyes that he looks like a demon.”
“Felice is really a simpleton to stay down there at Aggira with the horses of master Turi. It would be a charity to let him know how comare Marina deceives him,” observed Peppa Longo.
“ That is true,” said Arcangela Burgio ; “ although he does it from kindness to my brother. But to be too good, one loses by it. Make yourself a lamb, and the wolf will eat you, says the proverb.”
“And what right, then, has Marina to take for herself all the lads ? She has certain ways, that girl, which I don’t understand, nor wish to understand.”
“ You know, Peppuzza, it has been said that compare Felice had a thought of you, formerly. Who knows that you won’t have him some day ? ”
“ True as I live, Arcangela, were he made of gold and of royal blood, I would n’t marry Felice Mendola. I say no harm of him, but so it is ; he has never been to my taste.”
“Nor mine!” “Nor mine!” All those girls whom Felice had never courted now refused him in chorus. As for them, compare Felice must remain a bachelor, should he live the years of the patriarch Methuselah.
“ Too good, Felice is, so that he is like soft cheese. And that other from Aidone, I would n’t take him, either. I should be afraid of him. So much the better that there are not lacking lads in the town! ”
The fact was that master Antonio Morreale had not smiled upon those girls, only upon Marina Borello. Therefore they could not know how gay and kind he was. But although people may be gossips and say so many things behind the shoulders of a neighbor, ’t is an ugly business to speak plainly to one’s face. The girls told nothing about Antonio Morreale when they met Felice. He was frank and joyous, with a carnation in the buttonhole of his jacket and his hat on the side of his head, as if he had no fear of anybody. The girls had not the heart to disturb his contentment. Also Lorenzo Burgio, for delicacy, kept silence. Neither was it spoken of at home. Daddy Calogero did not mind women’s business, and preferred to talk about the crop of grain soon to be cut.
When, one night, his wife asked his advice whether she ought to warn Felice that Antonio Morreale was buzzing around the tavern, the old man answered her that ’t is a fine thing to speak little. Also, at a tavern everybody is master to come as he pleases ; and Marina might have no fault in the affair. Later, if it were the will of Heaven that their son should marry the daughter of comare Agata, provided that no harm had been said, no bad blood would have been made, and the two families would live in peace like one.
“ And because of this, Nunziata, say nothing about it to Felice. Either there ’s nothing amiss, and all will end well, or else there’s a cat crouching in it ; and our son is n’t a simpleton, to let himself be caught like a mouse.”
So that mamma Nunziata had to sew up her mouth, as one might say, and keep silence. She recommended as much to Caterina, who answered. “I will do as you tell me, mamma. But if Marina betrays my brother, there ’s no littlefinger friendship that holds.”
Caterina wept for pity of that brother who was so content away among the horses, and suspected nothing of harm, as harm he never did to any one, Christian or beast.
The next time that he had passed the holiday at home, Caterina, as she put the bread and onions into his bag on Monday morning, said to him, “ I wish, oh, I wish that you could stay at home the whole week, little brother ! ”
He, undisturbed, like a brave horse that fears neither shadows nor noise, answered her, “ We ’re fond of each other, is n’t that true, my Caterinedda? ”
He kissed his sister, and sprang into the saddle. Riuzzu bore him away at a square trot. Marina, as he passed her window and waved his hand to her, smiling, felt a thorn in her heart.
“ This is how you leave me ! Who knows whether you love me truly ? You have not said any more of those fine things, as on the day when you had my promise. ”
One Wednesday came master Antonio Morreale in the cart drawn by Mureddu, and with him were two women. These were his aunt, Lucia Palma, and her daughter, cousin Barbara, the wife of the farmer Menico Santorelli, from Calascibetta. They wished to make the acquaintance of mistress Agata, of whom they had heard so much good from cousin Morreale. They were honest, tidy women. Aunt Lucia had white hair and a sweet face that appeared to say, “ Patience, for so we reach Paradise.” Cousin Barbara Santorelli was really quite a great lady, to judge by her solid gold earrings and cross, and the silk gown that rustled like dry lupine pods when she moved. She was, moreover, tall and dark, with a smile like Antonio’s. She had brought her baby on her shoulder, and handed it to Rosaria to tend on the doorstep, while she and her mother made the visit to mistress Agata. Antonio went about his business. Meanwhile his relatives talked about Marina’s marriage to master Felice, and examined her outfit.
“ Beautiful, beautiful indeed ! ” said cousin Barbara. “ ‘T is a pity that your man will have to be always on the road, like the Wandering Jew, — speaking with respect, — so that he cannot take you about to let these fine things be seen.”
Also aunt Lucia agreed that a carrier was, one might say, the servant of whoever wanted a cask of wine or a bag of grain. Her husband, of happy memory, had been a miller, and used to say in his lifetime, “ I make the river serve me ; but who runs here and there, as people call him, to bring grain and carry meal, is compare Biagio, the carrier, so that he is n’t his own master, poor fellow.” Afterwards, aunt Lucia had come to live with her daughter, la Santorelli, whose husband was a farmer, like Antonio Morreale, and his fields were blessed so that in his house nothing was lacking.
After Antonio returned to the tavern the two women took leave with many compliments. Rosaria put the baby into its mamma’s arms as she sat in the cart; and Mureddu, plump and glossy, moved off toward Calascibetta.
“ How civil those women are ! ” said mistress Agata. “ It is plain that they are persons of the right sort.”
“Why did they come, mamma?” asked Rosaria.
“ Oh, what a fine question ! Because master Antonio had spoken of having come to my house at the time of the fair.”
“So many people came then.”
“ Certainly it was very courteous of mistress Lucia.”
But when Arcangela Burgio told her brother about the visit of the two women from Calascibetta, he said, “ True as I live, I ‘ll tell the doctor to make short work. Either he must cure my leg quick, or else cut it off and throw it away, so that I can go, even with a wooden leg, to take Felice’s place with the horses. For my sake, there is a chance he will lose too much.”
But the doctor told Lorenzo to have patience, for already the leg was better, and he ought not to talk of having it cut off.
The next day, Antonio Morreale, who had gone only as far as Calascibetta, to take his aunt and cousin to their house, returned to comare Agata’s tavern. He told Marina that she had made an excellent impression upon his relatives.
“ Aunt Lucia says that the cloth which you weave could not be surpassed, not even when she was young; and cousin Barbara has told her husband, as with these ears I heard her, that you seem to her beautiful as a princess, with that face which is a rose, and eyes that are two lights of heaven.”
“ It is your cousin Barbara who is beautiful, rather. As for me, I’m nothing fine.”
“ And then said my cousin, ‘ How rejoiced I should be to see her enter my house!’ ”
“She ’s very kind. And what a rich gown mistress Barbara has! ”
“ Her husband satisfies every whim of hers. He is a farmer, and last year the olives were a fortune for him. Also I have lands on rent, you know, comare Marina, and if I took a wife I should give her more than one silk gown, and conduct her about to festivals, to make people envy me.”
“ Your wife will be fortunate, compare Antonio. Have you made a choice yet ? If not, there ’s my friend Caterina Mendola, good and beautiful, who would do for you.” For Marina was recalled to her duty, now that master Neddu Longo was ringing the bell for Ave Maria.
“ By this holy voice ! ” swore Antonio, “ if you will not marry me, comare Marina, I won’t have a wife. Neither Caterina Mendola nor another will do for me; only you.”
She pushed him away. “ You know that I have given my word to Felice.”
“ And words are made of air. You have n’t been before the syndic and the priest.”
“ The estimate of the dowry has been sent to his mother.”
“ And I ’ll take you without a dowry, — I ’ll take you.”
“ But I wear Felice’s ring.”
“ Exchange it for mine ! ”
“ Don’t say these things. We ’re doing wrong. Go away, and do not come again until I am married, compare Antonio. I am ashamed that you think so badly of me, making me these proposals. I shall marry Felice Mendola.”
“Who knows? He does not ask you to fix the day, because he wishes to wait for Lorenzo Burgio. If I were in the clothes of Felice, I’d marry you to-morrow, and would n’t wait for a thousand Lorenzos, nor for their saint.”
“ But, the horses ? ”
“ Eh, horses are horses, and with that boy Pietro they could stay very well. It appears to me, Marina, that Felice thinks first for his friend and for the beasts, and afterwards for you ; while I, if I had a glimpse through the mountain side of an enchanted treasure of gold and jewels, I’d turn my shoulders to them to look at you, comare Marina, — I swear it to you.”
Who knows how the talk might have ended if Rosaria had not come to ask how much grain she should give Mureddu ? As for her, she would have liked to give him more than usual, because he was come from Calascibetta that day, and was to depart the same evening for Aidone. To see that little one so occupied playing the hostler, Antonio laughed. — that open-throated, laugh of his that did one good to hear.
“Come on, little horsewoman,” he said. “ You ’re so given to horses that yon ought to be Felice’s bride, instead of mistress Marina, here present.”
“ I have no intention to marry,” said Rosaria seriously.
“ Do you want to be a little nun ? ”
“ No, but it appears to me that the lads are troubles. If I were a boy, I would beg master Turi Lucernini to hire me.”
“ Eh, there ’s time, little one. You ’re not quite fourteen. In a few years the husband will come also for you,” said Antonio, as Rosaria held the wooden measure of oats under Mureddu’s muzzle.
“ Do you love Mureddu, master Antonio? ”
“ Do I love him ! Ask Mureddu whether I have ever given him a blow or a hard word, and he cannot say that I have.”
“ That is true, since he has n’t speech, poor beast. But I can judge for rayself. You are as good to Mureddu as compare Felice is to Riuzzu. I know that by the way that the horse pricks his ears and rubs his head against your arm.”
After Antonio was gone away, as Marina and Rosaria stood in the dooryard watching the stars come out in the twilight, the little sister said : —
“ I like master Antonio, because he is good to Mureddu. And also he says things that make me laugh. Do you know, he told mamma that not even his aunt Lucia makes bread as good as hers.
I believe that he comes here so often in order to eat at mamma’s table.”
“ Of course,” said Marina.
Rosaria ran away to make sure that the hencoop was tightly closed against the fox and the weasel. She threw another bunch of hay to the cow, and lastly stood calculating the weight of the pig ; while Marina, with her hands in her lap, seated on the doorstep, thought over what Antonio had said to her. Felice set her after his horses and his friends; if not, he would be in the town, to pay her the attention due a betrothed. Not every person appeared born to love. There was Rosaria : very young, it was true ; but Marina, at the little sister’s age, already took thought for her outfit of linen and woolen ; while Rosaria liked better to lead the cow to pasture, or even to curry a horse. Felice, certainly, was born for horses ; the roof of his house would seem too tight for him, who was used to eat and sleep under the skies, whether there were the rain or the lights of heaven.
Mamma Agata came to the door.
“ Are you here, Marina ? ”
“ I ’m here.”
“ And what are you doing ? ”
“I’m waiting for Rosaria, who never comes to an end of looking after the beasts.”
“ Listen. It does n’t please me to have master Antonio come here so often. Certainly he has done us an honor to bring his relatives. But people will murmur; and I won’t have an offense given to the family of compare Mendola. I ’m good for warning master Morreale not to come so often ! ”
Now that the mamma spoke so plainly, Marina learned that without Antonio’s visits life would no longer appear beautiful to her. He was so kind, and his love consoled her for the carelessness of Felice, who would stay away from her for a reason or without one.
“ Don’t say anything, mamma. Who knows whether he will come again ? ”
“ He knows very well that you are to marry Felice.”
“Yes, he knows it; inasmuch as this evening we were talking about Felice and the marriage.”
“ Another time, if he comes, you must go into the kitchen in my place, and I will put the dishes on the table, or else keep my eyes upon you and send the dishes by Rosaria.”
Lorenzo Burgio, now that he could walk a few steps, was at the door of his house with his sisters. “ Listen, Arcangela. To-morrow I ’ll take the small cart and the donkey and go to Aggira, so that compare Felice can come home.”
“What are you saying? If you go, you ‘ll leave a leg there.”
“ My legs, both of them, shall accompany me wherever I go, and return. But all this that is done, I have it on my conscience until I can send home Felice Mendola.”
“And what will the doctor say ? ”
“ In the beard of the doctor, I swear that I will go to Aggira! ”
And so, in fact, he did, the next day; while at the door comare Santa scolded and the sisters whimpered to think of Lorenzo who would kill himself and do no good to anybody.
“ As for me, I think that compare Lorenzo has done a very fine thing,” observed Caterina Mendola, who had been told about it by Sabedda. And for the first time it came into her mind that Lorenzo was a handsome fellow, as he guided the donkey along the street.
It had been wholly an idea of Rosaria’s that Antonio Morreale was to return to Aidone that night, and Mureddu had had more grain than usual under false pretenses, so to say. For his master put him into the stall of farmer Santorelli at Calascibetta, and they passed the night in that town. So that the next day, Marina, gathering mushrooms in a meadow, was surprised to see a shadow fall on the ground before her, and to hear the voice of Antonio Morreale : —
“ Are you alone, comare Marina ? ”
“ Sabedda Burgio and Rosaria are with me, but at the moment I don’t see them.”
“ I was coming to your house.”
“ Don’t come there any more, Antonio. Mamma does not wish it.”
“And you, do you want to drive me away ? What harm have I done to you, Marina ? ”
“No harm, compare Antonio.”
“ To me, on the contrary, you have done a great harm. You take away my sleep, from me who dedicated all my dreams to you. I am strong as a lion, and you make me tremble only to look at you. Marina, you have robbed the heart out of my breast; and you wish to make me die, sending me away ! ”
“ What if the girls should come back and find you here ? Compare Antonio, if I listen any longer to you, I must confess it to padre Serafino, for it is a sin.”
“ For your sake, Marina, I would commit a sin, a hundred ! I would kill a man ! I would let myself be killed ! ”
“ You make me afraid ! ”
“Of you, little girl, I would n’t even twist a hair. See, I kiss the hem of your gown, and I ask nothing, only that you null say that you care for me.”
“It would ho of no use. If my mother should hear of this, she would shut me up in the house and bolt the doors and the windows.”
“ Surely. It is because of this that I will have your answer here, at this moment. I love you, I love you, Marina.
If you will marry me, I swear that I will make you happy.”
He laid his hand on his heart as for a solemn oath, and raised his eyes to her face, as he knelt before her. She was silent, uncertain what to do.
“ Marina, beautiful Marina, how shall I speak ? How can I make you understand what your life might be with a man who adores you, instead of that great boy who is just like his horses?”
Also Felice had often said of himself that he was all one with the horses ; it must be true, Marina thought.
“ Come with me, Marina ! ”
“I cannot.” The girl was weeping so that it was a pity to see. She had let fall her apron, and the mushrooms were crushed under Antonio’s feet as he arose and stood beside her.
“ Let these be the last tears shed for cause of me, my Marina. Come with me. I swear to you that I will respect you like a saint, like the Madonna del Carmine. I have near here Mureddu with the cart. If you do me the honor to mount into it, I will not even touch you with a finger. I will bring you to the house of cousin Barbara and consign you to aunt Lucia, a holy woman if ever any was, who will act as a mother to you until the syndic and the parish priest shall give you to me.”
“ Oh, I cannot ! ”
“ I’m a fellow of honor, and you do not trust me. But if you drive me away, I shall return. You will have to be my wife sooner or later. Come, Marina.”
She looked around the fields, vast and solitary. Rosaria and Sabedda were not to be seen. And more than usual the image of Felice Mendola was pallid in her mind ; for the Sunday before he had not come home, but had sent word that a horse was ill, so much so that the farier had been called, and Felice would not leave the poor beast, not for an hour, until it should be better. “ Always those horses, as if they were brothers of his ! ” thought Marina bitterly. Antonio Morreale stood there, humbly, awaiting her decision. Then he took out his handkerchief and gently wiped away her tears.
“ Come, Marina, we must not lose time.”
That man truly loved her. He would risk for her sake more than a horse. The girls might return from moment to moment, and at home there would be new troubles. And it was only a halfhour to go to Calascibetta, to those good women whom even her mother had approved. Marina, without saying a word, followed Antonio to the spot where Mureddu, in the shade of a little thicket of brambles, stood with the cart.
By the time, that same afternoon, that Lorenzo Burgio’s good little donkey had taken him to the meadows near Aggira, the sick horse was already much better, so that Felice believed that he could go home as usual on Saturday. Pietro, on a rock, was blowing his whistle and kicking his bare feet in the air.
“ Look, master Felice ! There is your friend, master Lorenzo.”
“ It can’t be he, for he is still infirm.‘’
“ But it is truly he, with a little red donkey and a cart.”
Felice ran to meet his friend. " What is there of news, ‘Renzo ? ”
“ Of news there ’s this : that I am come to send you home, for you have interests there. Master Morreale of Aidone is courting comare Marina. You must forgive me for the ugly tidings, and also that I have said nothing before. But this week he has been in the town three days in succession. You will do well to go home and maintain your rights. Meanwhile, I am here to help Pietro with the horses.”
The field and the air whirled before Felice’s eyes.
“ I ought to speak about it with master Turi. This evening, when he comes to the stable, I shall ask his leave.” He heard his own voice dull and distant, as though it had been that of another man.
“ And how is the horse ? ”
Then they talked of the opinion of the farrier, and how he had bled the poor beast, which now would soon be cured.
Having obtained the consent of master Turi, Felice mounted Riuzzu while yet the day-star was the only light in the sky, and set forth for Castrogiovanni. Lorenzo stayed beside the horse that was ill, and Pietro with the others in the meadow. Felice felt himself all in a confusion ; the news had arrived like a blow between head and neck, so that he could not take it in. Oh, why would Antonio Morreale play him such an ugly trick ? And Marina, so gentle and affectionate, how could she let herself be so led away ?
He had not believed people could be disloyal like that; for, simple as he was, he knew that a man does not pay so much court to a girl who says no and keeps to it. He felt like a dead man. Then, gradually, as the light spread above the hills of Leonforte, and Riuzzu, who knew that he was going home, quickened his pace, Felice took courage again.
“ Who knows whether the thing has gone so badly ? Lorenzo’s sisters have tongues that sting, and it may be from them that he had the story.”
But when he came to Castrogiovanni, Felice could see with his own eyes that there was trouble. The women were buzzing like irritated bees around His mother, who was telling a story, shaking her finger in their faces. Caterina, in tears, told him how Sabedda Burgio and Rosaria, perceiving that Marina was not with them, had turned to seek her, and had seen her mount into master Antonio Morreale’s cart and go away with him. Rosaria, greatly grieved, and Sabedda, between amazement and curiosity, had run to their houses to tell what they had seen.
“ Let me go, Caterina,” stammered Felice, who felt a knife in his heart. “ I must give Riuzzu some water and grain and put him in the stall.” For he would not make a scene before all those women.
Meanwhile, comare Nunziata Mendola, with a train of women at her heels, went to the tavern of mistress Agata Borello. The hostess was at the door as if expecting her.
“ I have something to say to you, mistress Agata.” And comare Nunziata tore into pieces the paper with the estimate of Marina’s dowry, and threw them in the face of the other.
Comare Agata, pale, with red eyes, let her do it. Then she said, “ You have reason to complain, mistress Nunziata; but not to have it against me, for I have no fault in the matter.”
“ And if you have brought up your daughter to insult an honest fellow and his family ! ”
“ Rather I wish that I had n’t brought, her into the world ! ”
The neighbors, to see comare Agata so humble, began to think that there might be no quarrel. Not that they wished that two respected women should come to injurious words and hair-pulling, — the saints forbid ; but if such were to take place, one would not lose the sight of it. However, they were not to be disappointed. Comare Nunziata dug up some old stories of the time when mistress Agata was young. “ And said the Crab, ‘ Walk straight, my daughters ! ’ ”
Then strife began, — so violently that padre Serafino, issuing from the church with master Neddu Longo, the sacristan, felt it his duty to come across the piazza to the tavern to make peace. Just then Felice arrived with daddy Calogero. The latter put a hand upon his wife’s shoulder and drove her before him to their house. At sight of Felice comare Agata’s face changed, and became like stone.
“Ah, poor Felice! How badly my daughter has treated you ! ”
Comare Agata, as if suffocated, said not a word more, but, with her arm raised on high, shook her hand as if to curse Marina. Felice prayed her with clasped hands, “ Don’t cast a judgment, comare Agata, for at a mother’s curse heaven opens to hear it ! ”
Her face was terrible, but she comprehended what Felice said ; and as angry mothers do, she said good words, which, however, burned the ears that heard : “ May you return one day to my arms, Marina ! ” Then she fell crouching on the doorstep, with her head between her hands, tearing her hair, until Felice Mendola raised her gently and led her into the tavern. That was the end of it, and the women went back to their houses. Felice took refuge in the stable, where he sobbed like a child, with his face leaning on the neck of the roan,
Now Felice Mendola was a man of honor, although he did not wish to play the bravo among the women in the piazza. Therefore, after his horse had eaten and rested, he rode down to Calascibetta for news of master Antonio Morreale. There on the gallery of the house of the farmer Menico Santorelli was the whole fine company. Mistress Barbara, dressed as if for a holiday, sat with her hands on her belt to enjoy the sun. Beside aunt Lucia was Marina, who, with downcast eyes, listened to Antonio as he stood talking to her. Master Menico was smoking a pipe, with his babies around his knees.
“ Here I come to disturb,” said Felice to himself. Then he called out, “ Master Antonio, if you will come down into the street, I should like to ask you whether you find the black horse just as I recommended him.”
“ O Madonna ! ” exclaimed Marina. “There’s Felice come to do who knows what ? ”
“And what should, he do,” said mistress Barbara, " now that you are among friends ? ”
Meanwhile, Antonio had gone down into the street. " An excellent horse, master Felice, so that not even the king could desire a better. And I should like to ask you how much grain you are accustomed to give him daily.”
The two men went away together into the barn of master Santorelli, where Mureddu was tied by the halter. He whinnied as the roan came near, and Riuzzu answered him.
“ Now that we are here, master Antonio, I wish you to render an account of what you have done. You have robbed me of my bride.”
“ I swear to you that she came with me willingly; that I have respected her like the Madonna del Carmine. And I shall marry her as soon as the priest will give us the blessing.”
“I did not know whether I ought to give you a challenge,” said Felice.
“ Do as you will. If you have anything to say to me, I ’m here.”
“ If it has been the will of mistress Marina ” —
“ Her will and mine. I wanted Marina, and you left her alone. It was my occasion.”
“ I have done my duty to master Turi and to my friend Lorenzo, and Marina understood it. You have robbed me of her.”
“ Now it appears that the challenge can come from me, if you say these things.”
At that moment Marina entered the stable with Barbara. The two men eyed each other, red and surly. Felice turned to Marina.
“ Is it true, Marina, that you came here of your own will, and that Antonio Morreale has acted in all respects like an honest man ? ”
“ It is true.”
“ I came here not knowing what I should do. Now, so much faith I have in your word and his that, if you will, I shall set you in the saddle of Riuzzu and take you back to your mother’s house, in order to marry you in presence of the people. Then, whoever has anything to say, let him say it to me.”
“ You are very generous, Felice, and I thank you. I merit it, and I do not merit it,” answered Marina.
“ Choose freely between Antonio and me.”
Antonio, with his arms crossed on his breast, had not moved nor lifted his frowning gaze from the ground. Marina approached him, and thrust her hand under his arm.
“I stay with Antonio.”
“ If it is so, mistress Marina, I have only to say good-day to you.”
Felice went to mount his horse. Barbara Santorelli followed him.
“ Do not be angry with my mother and me for the visit that we made to mistress Agata. Antonio wished it; and I don’t know why, but in our family Antonio always commands. If I have done you a wrong, master Felice, I beg you to forgive it.”
“ No wrong have you done me, mistress Barbara. If Marina does not care for me, better to know it now than later.” He sprang into the saddle, and rode away toward Castrogiovanni.
In the town they made no end of talk about the affair. The mammas said it was a real scandal, and that a bride who ran away with her man could never hope for the benediction of Heaven. And it must be indeed a grief for poor comare Agata, who, however, ought to have looked better after her daughter. For pigs and children go as they are taught, says the proverb.
Antonio and Marina were married at the house of the Santorelli, and aunt Lucia acted as mother to the bride. Nobody at Castrogiovanni knew even the day of the wedding until afterward, when master Menico Santorelli, who had not too many fine feelings, came with a cart drawn by two mules to take what outfit mistress Agata might wish to let her daughter have.
“ And of Marina’s stuff I don’t want any in the house,” said the mother.
So master Menico loaded everything in the cart, and returned to Calascibetta, where the married pair were waiting for the goods in order to depart for Aidone. Marina wept to see all those things which lacked the mother’s blessing, but her husband said : —
“ Perhaps one day the mamma will forgive us. And meanwhile you have your Antonio, who loves you more than even mothers know how to love.”
So, among Antonio’s kisses, Marina lost the grace of penitence.
The grain, blond and ripe, waited in the fields for Antonio and his men to mow it, and bent itself as if to say,
“ Come, cut off my head.” So that as soon as Antonio returned to the farm he had at once to think about the harvest.
While he was at Calascibetta, delaying until he could marry Marina Borello, the foul fog called the “ wolf, " which blows from the distant sea, had touched the olives then forming upon the trees ; so that it was to be suspected that they were ruined. But of olive-trees one cannot with certainty judge before September. And since now was the time of the grain, master Antonio, after Swearing and stamping his feet a little for cause of the accursed “ wolf,” gave orders to begin the mowing. But he was very sorry about the olives, for he had counted on them to balance the expenses, more than usual, of the horse that he had bought at the fair, of the gold ornaments given to his bride, and of household goods.
“If the olives go to the bad, how shall I do in order to pay don Cosimo Mascarelli ? ” he said. Since for what he had bought he had paid in cash, little remained in his pocket.
But the grain called him to work, as it saluted him when the wind passed over the fields. The men of the neighborhood came to the mowing. Some women helped Marina with the macaroni, which would be carried out to the field in kneading-trays, at which seven men could eat it together by handfuls. The women made compliments to the bride, and vied in sparing labor to her beautiful little hands. Out in the fields, under the fiery lash of the June sun, the men bent to the scythe, in companies of seven in a line. The leaders incited the others with songs and shouts : “ Praise to the Holy Sacrament! Viva Maria del Carmine ! ”
They talked of the grain, how fine it was after so many perils. In April a drought had cracked the soil, although the women had fixed pictures of the saints upon canes at the limits of the fields. Then the people went in procession, singing litanies, barefoot, beating their breasts, to the sound of the trumpet and drum, and carrying about the statues of the saints. “ Mercy ! ” “ Pity ! ”
They lamented, until they felt themselves comforted, and began to shout, " Viva beautiful Mamma ! ” Then came rain, with wind and thunder, as if San Marco, “ the farmer of the air,” had lost his judgment. “ But with measure, San Marco,” they said; and they left his image out in a field all night, while the other saints were sheltered inside the church, in order to let him try such weather for himself. And the next morning the sun shone so that it was a consolation to see. The grain rose up tall and unharmed. They forgave San Marco, and put him back in his place with the other holy images.
“ That time we made the saint hear reason,” they said, as during the harvest they recalled the past troubles.
Master Antonio, on Mureddu, rode up and down the fields to oversee the men. “ Bravi ! That’s well! " he encouraged them ; for he was a farmer who knew that, even with donkeys, the voice is worth more than the stick. And the leaders repeated, “ Courage, boys! Viva Maria ! ” as the wheat fell before them.
Twenty-four times in the day, as is the rule, the casks of wine were carried around. The men gave long kisses to the bung-hole, and praised in pious verses the Sacrament and the Madonna del Carmine. For the grain harvest is a holy festival, and foolish songs are not sung. Because he had brought a bride into his house, master Antonio ordered that the men should have plenty of cheese on the macaroni, and split herrings, moreover. So they said that they had eaten well. And those who carried out the kneading-trays from the kitchen reported that mistress Marina was beautiful as an eye of the sun, and appeared like the daughter of a baron with all her fingers covered with solid gold rings. Also, to cheer the mowers, Antonio called two players with the bagpipe and the drum into the field ; and they never ceased to make music, as the grasshoppers never ceased to sing and to leap.
Then came the day when the grain was taken from the stack and spread on the threshing-floor. Some of the men tossed it with pitchforks, to scatter it. Others guided the mules, harnessed in pairs, dragging after them a heavy stone. The animals trotted here and there over the sheaves, this way and that, to the centre, and then to the edge, of the threshing-floor ; while the chaff rose in clouds, so that the sun looked dim, although it scorched.
“ Oh, mule ! ” “ Oh, my white one ! ” “ Oh, the little black ! ” “ Run with the wind! ” “Wake up, my life ! ” “ Go on ! ” “ A lively eye ! ” “ Oh, mule ! ” shouted the drivers, cracking the whips in cadence.
But Antonio would not have the lash touch any beast, for he had Mureddu there, harnessed with a chestnut mare that he owned before. “ And what does n’t do for Mureddu also does n’t do for other animals,” said master Antonio. “ So much so that, whoever gives the lash to a beast, I ‘ll make him feel it around his own legs.”
After a few times that he maintained his word, they lashed only the air. An hour passed; the song was changed: “ Here ’s good news for you, mules ! You go to rest. I stay to toil.” They led away the beasts to let them breathe, while the men turned over the straw, that all should be threshed. The mules came back unwillingly, with rough coats, moist and dusty. But the drivers put courage into them, crying : ” Oh, mule ! ” " Oh, the bay ! ” “ Oh, my sorrel! ” " Look alive ! ” “ Oh, mule ! ”
The animals trotted over the sheaves with new force. So before the wind went down with the sun — for San Marco had sent them a good breeze to carry away the chaff — the grain was well threshed. “ Cheer up, mules, for the straw is done! ” The mowers blessed all the saints for whose names they could find rhymes in their songs. They washed the skin of the mules, where there were any bruises, with vinegar and water, and led them into the stalls. At last, dead tired, the men threw themselves on the ground, stretching their legs and arms, to await the supper which would refresh them, and put them into the vein of singing and telling tales and riddles.
Marina, now that she stood at the window, and saw the moon which flooded the wide country, thought of Castrogiovanni. There so many times she had gone with the mother and Rosaria to the church of the Madonna del Carmine, among a joyous crowd. There the air was odorous with incense, and the choir sang as the men brought, with full hands, the finest of the wheat in order to make an offering of it to the Madonna, the Queen of Castrogiovanni. Who knew whether in that town Marina’s name was any longer spoken, — the woman who had deceived her mother and her betrothed, and let herself be carried off by the dark stranger from Aidone ? She felt the need to see her mother, to ask for pardon and blessing. The moon that watched her saw also the tavern at Castrogiovanni, with the fig-tree by the door, and the mamma and the little sister seated on the threshold. Perhaps compare Felice was passing that way ; and perhaps, hearing the slow jar of the wheels and the step of the horse, the mamma and Rosaria would turn aside their faces and reënter the house, not to see the poor fellow who had been so cruelly disappointed. But then, how dear was Antonio ! Marina wept softly, giving herself up to the melancholy of the night and of the silent fields. Then she heard Antonio’s jovial voice that called her. Now that he had finished his day’s work he wanted to take Marina on his knees and caress her, calling her so many little names. And her sadness passed as it came.
At Castrogiovanni, meanwhile, peace was made between the families of the Mendola and the Borello, and thus it happened: One Sunday, the roan, who was nibbling grass in the dooryard of daddy Calogero’s house, had all at once the idea that it was a long time since he had eaten a crust of bread from the hands of Rosaria. So he slipped away, trotting gayly until he reached the door of the tavern, where he gave a gentle whinny.
“ There’s Felice coming,” said Rosaria, and then remembered that Felice no longer came there. But she went to the door, welcomed the horse, and let him eat from her hand. She caressed him as she was used to do, while his long mane fell over her head. In a little while Felice passed on the other side of the piazza. Rosaria called him :
“ Compare Felice ! Ohè, compare Felice ! ”
He turned his face to look at her.
“Riuzzu is here with me. Come to take him.”
In short, what is gained by keeping anger against a good little girl like that one ? Felice crossed the street, and Rosaria came to meet him, with the horse following her. Comare Agata showed herself at the window, and somewhat timidly wished Felice a good-day. He answered her with kindness. In the evening he returned to the tavern, this time accompanied by his mother, who came with the pretext of asking advice about a hen that absolutely would not sit. Of Marina they did not speak. But so, by means of the horse that missed his lump of bread, things went smoothly between the two families.
Also little Rosaria had suffered her part, with that mortification of Marina’s misconduct and the grief of her mamma. The girl was become all at once quite womanly, with great serious eyes that seldom laughed. She had taken the ways of a little housewife, now that she must help her mamma in place of Marina. Don Carmelo Fantozzi, the brigadier, perceived this, and he began to offer compliments to Rosaria instead of the sugarplums which he was accustomed to bring her. But she did not heed him more than so much. The lads now cared to ask Rosaria to dance in the piazza ; and the girls said that to them she did not appear anything of a beauty. They even asked don Carmelo however it was that she could please him, a poor little thing like a grasshopper, who could n’t put two words together. To which the brigadier, with so much metal galloon and the fine mustache that he wore, answered, “ To me, Rosaria Borello is more pleasing than all the other girls.” And the colloquies ended just there.
Meanwhile, the roan came when he could to get a lump of bread from Rosaria’s hand. So that Felice said, " I shall have to give him the name of Brother Riuzzu of the Quest.”
There was much to do on the Caltanisetta road ; and the flame-red cart, pictured with the deeds of Cristoforo Colombo, went and came with many loads. “ This trade is better than herding in the meadows,” said Felice, as he saw the savings increase in the little bag which he kept under his holiday clothes, at the bottom of the poplar-wood chest.
If it had not been for that grief about Marina, of whom they rarely spoke, the two families would have been truly content.
Now, true it is that the Lord does not pay on Saturdays; and those who have done evil give themselves a false peace because a judgment of the air is not fallen upon them. So, in the long, hot days of the summer, in the house amid the fields of sunburnt stubble, Marina laughed and sang. She drove away every thought of Felice whom she had betrayed, of the mamma and the little sister she had made ashamed, and of the house where she was born. Antonio’s kisses made her believe that all her troubles were passed like a storm, and the clouds dispersed in the skies.
The summer being ended, there returned to Antonio the thought of the olives, which now would show whether they had been ruined by the fog that in June came from the sea to eat them up. He went to the olive grove. There stood the old trees as his father and grandfather had seen them, — those good souls who also had been tenants of don Cosimo Mascarelli, and of the old don Cosimo before him. On the twisted boughs the foliage resembled a thick smoke. The crooked roots grasped the earth and drew from it their sustenance, as don Cosimo took the earnings of him who rented the grove. Antonio stared up among the branches and saw how they lacked fruit.
“ You that show empty hands to my need, I’d like to lay the axe to you ! ” he told those olive-trees.
Now came don Cosimo Mascarelli along the road, riding a large white horse. He dismounted, tied the animal to a bush, and entered the olive grove.
“ Here is the proprietor, who comes to have a reckoning with me,” said Antonio to himself ; and then aloud, “ Goodday, don Cosimo.”
“ Good-day, master Morreale.” Then he, too, set himself to looking up among the branches, with his big nose in the air and his bristling chin thrust forward. “ This year there are no olives, it appears to me.”
“ It is only too true, your excellency. This year, neither for the lamp nor for the table. It has been for cause of the ‘ wolf,’ we know. Ugly beast, it comes from the sea. May the sea eat it! But, in short, these are things that happen, and we must have patience.”
For he did not wish to inflame the mind of don Cosimo, not even against that foul-smelling fog; because, if angry, the proprietor might be hard on him with the rent, since certainly vengeance could not be taken on the “ wolf; ” and as says the proverb, he who cannot beat the beast beats the saddle. But it was in order to get his money that don Cosimo was come to the farm.
“ Now that we are here, master Morreale, I have to speak with you about the rent. This month it falls due, as you know, who saw your father, of happy memory, count the money into my hands every September.”
“Your worship knows that this year I have had expenses more than usual.”
“ Also I have had extraordinary expenses, I have had them, with my son who has set up a shop at Catania, and has bought the goods with my money. Children, you see, are like this : first you fill their beaks, and afterwards they pluck out your feathers. I don’t say that my son does worse than the others. But so it is, master Morreale ; you have to pay me the rent of these lands.”
“If you give me time, don Cosimo.”
“ And to me who gives time ? All those people down there at Catania want to be paid. And they write me certain letters, also, by hand of the lawyers. I have told my wife in plain words, ‘ Anniria, it would have been better that you had borne a girl instead of a son, because the dowry is once, but the expenses of this fellow never end.‘ That’s what I told her. In fact, master Antonio, I need the money of the rent.”
“ A little patience yet, don Cosimo.”
“ And with patience can I hatch money ? What do you count upon ? After the olives there is no crop to be gathered.”
“ I know it. True as I live, don Cosimo, I had counted on these olives that have failed. And so I have nothing. I am a poor man, and you are rich, your excellency.”
“ Rich, think you ! Also I am poor, I tell you. I have to pay taxes to the government on property both stable and movable. So that if I don’t end in the poorhouse, it will be by favor of my saint. He who may call himself poor is the landowner ; and those who take his land on rent rob him, laying the blame to the bad year. I must pay money enough to build a church, there at Catania. And if I don’t collect what is due me, how shall I be able to pay ? I’m like the river, which without the rills can’t turn the mills.”
“ And I have empty pockets, your worship.”
“ ’T is your fault that you would buy a horse and golden things in order to make a show before the eyes of a girl. I have heard of the ugly trick that you played on mistress Agata Borello of Castrogiovanni, a respected woman; and how you betrayed the horse-herder of master Turi Lucernini. These are things which are talked about.”
“ Here you don’t come into the matter, don Cosimo.”
“Yes, I come into it, when you have robbed me of money in order to court a girl who was already promised, to say nothing of that handsome black horse, such as I don’t have under me when I am in the saddle.”
Antonio chewed a blade of grass in order not to utter blunders. Then he said, " Mureddu earns his grain.”
“ Of the horse I’m not talking, but rather of the woman " —
“And of my woman, only I speak.”
“ The bride you stole from one man ; and to maintain her you steal from another, who am I! Look out for yourself, for she will betray you, as for your sake she betrayed the horse-herder, — that woman! ”
What flesh is cut and does not ache ? says the proverb. To hear such things said of Marina, Antonio’s blood boiled in the veins. If he spoke, he should say something very injurious. “Tobacco in the mouth! " he warned himself.
“ When she shall have dishonored you, remember that I have told you so,” said don Cosimo, presuming on that silence of Antonio.
Now everything was red before Antonio’s eyes, and he roared like a bull of Modica: “ Take heed what you say, don Cosimo of my boots ! Artillery, razors, and nails be in your heart ! Since you would n’t take a challenge from me who am only a peasant, I don’t know what holds me from cutting your throat like a sheep’s. I let you know that to speak again of my woman you will have said your last word.”
He took out his clasp knife and laid it across his palm. The blade gleamed like lightning under the red sun of the late dogdays. Also don Cosimo Mascarelli had quite lost his judgment. He shook his fingers in the face of Antonio and cried, “An evil woman, as is fit for you, brigand ! Now I will have the money of the rent, or I’ll send the carabineers to take you, and the sheriff to make the sale of your goods.”
Antonio did not listen ; only he made a pass with the knife as he howled, “ At you ! ”
Don Cosimo turned about with his hands groping in the air ; then fell to the earth, face downward. So he lay, while the dark blood gradually made a pool among the distorted roots of an olive-tree.
“ You would have it so,” said Antonio to that body which moved no longer. “ You wished to take away my bread and the good fame of my woman, and honor has willed that I should take your life.”
Then he cleaned the knife, thrusting it into the earth, and replaced it in the pocket of his trousers before leaving the olive grove. Near the road, as he went, some men were digging around the roots of the prickly pears of a hedge ; but he did not notice them. Passing by the horse of don Cosimo, he struck the animal lightly with his hand. “ To you the master will not come any more ! ”
The horse — who knows why ? — snorted and plunged so that he broke the bridle, and then went off at full gallop toward the olive grove, where he had seen the master enter. Antonio was seized with a shudder that a horse should appear to feel horror of him. The men passed him, running after the animal that was frightened as if witchridden. When they caught the horse, they saw don Cosimo Mascarelli dead under the olive-tree.
Meanwhile, Antonio walked as if in a dream. The sense came to him of what he had done, and it seemed to him as if he already had the carabineers at his heels.
“ Now farewell, my Marina, for I ’m going to the galleys, and afterward to the hot house forever.”
Then, as if to hide from men and from devils, he thrust himself among the brambles of a thicket. He crouched there, pressing his head between his palms that it might not burst before he should have thought over his case. On the road he heard galloping hoofs.
“Now they’re going for the carabineers, and to tell donn’ Anniria that her man is murdered,” he said within himself. And he began to recall fragments of the holy verses and prayers that his mother had taught him when a little child ; and these mixed in his head with the insults spoken to him by don Cosimo.
“ I did right, and my saint knows it,” he thought. “ A fellow of honor is he who can make justice for himself as I did.”
The hours passed. From the town of Aidone — somewhat distant from the farm of Antonio — the bells rang for Ave Maria. Marina stood at the door of the house, waiting for her husband. The sun set as if in a lake of fire, promising another hot day. The wind of the sirocco — which brings anger and disturbance into the mind — now was quiet. Oh, why did Antonio delay so ? Always before Ave Maria he came singing along the road, joyous at the thought of seeing his wife again, and with an appetite for the dish that she would set hot upon the table. The shadows deepened. Marina was frightened, without being able to give herself a reason for it.
“ Little souls of the beheaded,” she prayed, “ bring my man home, all mine, safe and sound! ”
And she listened, with the blood ringing in her ears, for some sound from which to have a sign, for good or for ill fortune. But everything was silent. Then she ran out into the road and called a neighbor : “ Oh, Lucia ! ”
From within a house the woman answered, “ Comare Marina, just now I cannot come, for I’m unswaddling my baby.”
She gave the voice to another : “ Oh, Filomena! ”
But the door of comare Filomena’s house was shut; and she, inside with her family, was like a deaf woman.
“ I know that my man has had a fight, and has got the worst of it,” sobbed Marina. “ He will come home no more.” And she went into the house. “ Now this door and this hearth are of a widow’s house,”she said. She veiled the fire with ashes, and threw herself, face downward, on the bed. “ He will come home no more, my Antonio ! ”
But it was not to be so. She knew Antonio’s step as the door was flung open. She threw herself upon his neck, kissing him, passing her hands over his arms as if to certify to herself that it was not a spirit. Without her saying it, Antonio knew what she had suffered.
“ Better for her,” he thought, “ if I lay under that olive-tree. For so, she could have mourned for one who would have been buried like a Christian ; but as it is, woes are beginning that will never end.”
Marina, meanwhile, had lighted the lamp and revived the fire, on which she set the pan of minestra. Now she dished the macaroni, and stood by the table.
“ Come to eat, ’Ntoni, for you have worked late, and must have a great appetite.”
He looked at her, and then fixedly at the floor. “ First I have to wash my hands.”
He washed them, and threw the basinful of water out of the door. Then he seated himself at table. But although he took a spoon in his hand he did not eat a mouthful.
“ What’s the matter with you this evening, ’Ntoni ? ” said Marina, laughing. “ If the macaroni is a trifle smoked, cut yourself a slice of bread.”
She pushed the loaf and the knife toward him. At sight of the blade gleaming in the lamplight, and the bread, a good gift of the Lord, which in that moment appeared to Antonio like Christian flesh, he rose from the table, and stood with folded arms near the door.
“ I have blood on my hands, Marina, and there’s no water that can avail to wash them of it. I have killed don Cosimo Mascarelli down there in the olive grove, and I shall go to end in the galleys.”
“ What are you saying ? ” She stood away from him, with the table between them.
“ I say that I have killed don Cosimo. But you, my Marina, have not to fear me. I don’t say it to exculpate myself, but what I have done has been to defend your fame. He dared to throw it in my face that we played an ugly trick on Felice Mendola, and that — in short, he said certain injuries.”
“ I understand: he spoke ill of me. And you have done it for my sake ! ” Marina ran to her husband and clasped him, kissing him between her sobs.
“ You must love me no longer, Marina. You are good, you are beautiful, you are not in fault. But I am damned, and because it is for your sake I neither lament nor repent. You would have done better to stay in your mother’s house, and then pass to that of Felice, who would have been a good man to you, and would not have caused you shame. Now, Marina, I give you a kiss as if I were at the point of death, for I am going out to meet the carabineers. And when I shall be in the galleys you must think no more of me. You will be left the widow of a living man.”
“ And where you go, I go with you ! ”
“ You cannot.”
“ Listen, Antonio. Let us take Mureddu and the light cart, and go far, far away.”
“You would come with me, did you say ? ”
She pressed her thumb and forefinger together and thrust them into the flame of the lamp, as is done in order to take an oath upon fire.
“ By this holy light of the Lord, I will follow you wherever you go,” said Marina, and did not even feel her fingers burnt.
“ If it is so, I will not let myself be taken by the guards. You have thought well, Marina. Put together a few things, the most necessary. Meanwhile, I will harness Mureddu to the cart, and we will go away together, as in that day when you trusted yourself to me and we went to cousin Barbara’s house.”
Soon after, Antonio came in from the stable. “ Are you ready ? I have thought that, with the trade which I learned at Girgenti, they will give me work in the sulphur mines near Caltanisetta. There no one is acquainted with me. Down in those galleries I shall be like a wolf that knows the woods ; and they will hunt me in vain, they will hunt me ! ”
Marina listened, hanging on the lips that spoke so boldly. Then were heard on the road voices, mournful and angry, and the tramp of feet. Antonio looked through a crack of the shutters. “ They are carrying don Cosimo to his house.”
In fact, the carabineers were marching by the light of lanterns that gleamed on their muskets and on the metal braid of their uniforms. With them came some peasants, one of whom led the white horse. The corpse of don Cosimo hung like a bag across the back of the animal.
“ They are coming to take you ! They have to kill me first, and then break my arms that clasp you ! ” said Marina.
“ Don’t be frightened, my girl. Even a man who should have seen me raise the knife would not say a word about it. They ‘re fellows of honor; so much so that even before justice they will look at the floor and say the least possible. They are little men of the Lord, and will not sing unless they shall be forced to it.”
The procession of death now reached the turn of the road. The lanterns cast a glare on the white haunches of the horse. Then they passed out of sight, like black shadows in the dusk.
“ Who knows what sort of grief that poor beast must feel, now that he carries the master dead ? ” said Antonio.
When the road was lonely, in that moonless evening, they set forth toward Caltanisetta. “ To-morrow they will find the house empty, and suspicions will arise, but we shall be far away,” said Antonio. “ But what would my father have said if he had known that his son was one day to leave the roof in this way, in order not to end in the galleys? ”
At the sound of the cart on the dry road the dogs barked from the farmhouses. Few lights were seen in the windows. The air was heavy and heated, and the stars of the Hen and Chickens looked dim through the vapors. As the cart passed the house of don Cosimo Mascarelli, lights were moving within; the door was open, and people entered and came out. The sharp cries of donn’ Anniria were heard among the lamentations of the women who chanted, as in a litany, the praises of the pillar of the house that was fallen, invoking maledictions and an ill death upon the murderer. Those threatening voices, it appeared to Antonio, followed the cart along the road. Marina did not cease to pass the rosary between her fingers, stammering so many Ave Marias.
“ You can get the sense of it, Madonna blessed. As for me who am in this confusion, I don’t know any longer what I am saying.”
They journeyed for hours along the road, dark and silent, odorous with herbs under the dew. The next day they arrived at a rough waste between Pietraperzia and Caltanisetta, where is the mine called the Casa di Cifaru. The sciara, black and ugly, spread around the mouth of the pit, from which came a stench of sulphur, — so much so that, not amiss, it had gotten the name of Lucifer’s house. The workers were passing in companies: the picconieri with strong, bent shoulders, and the carusi, puny boys, crooked and hectic, who appeared to have no age, so ruined they were with that toil worse than the pains of purgatory. At one side, beyond the storehouse, a path led to a stall that could give shelter to a few beasts.
“ Good-day,” said Antonio to one of the miners.
“ Good-day,” was replied to him.
“ Could you tell me whether a picconiere is wanted here ? ”
“ I don’t know anything about it. Go to that stall and ask for master Vito Dauria, the gabelloto ; he may have need of a good man. Do you know the trade ? ”
“ I know it.”
“ You have good arms to give blows.”
“Not amiss. I salute you.”
Antonio drove the cart toward the stable of master Dauria. The contractor was there, looking at an empty stall as though he would like to see a beast in it. By fortune he wanted a miner, but one who would n’t spare labor ; and to see Antonio, robust and handsome, it seemed to him that he had found his affair.
“ And if you have the intention to sell your horse, I would take him, for mine has lately died, poor beast. Now that you will be down there at work you will have no more need of the horse and the cart.”
So also that bargain was made, and Antonio took, on rent, a rickety hut beyond the sciara, on the road to the town.
“ To this I ’ve brought you, my poor Marina! You had done better to marry master Felice, and stay up there among the beautiful cornfields of the Queen of Castrogiovanni, for here it is like the kingdom of hell.”
“ But near you I stay in paradise,” Marina answered him, for she had not yet proved what sort of a life one leads there at the sulphur mines, and she still felt in her blood the stir of all that had happened since Antonio had told her that he had killed don Cosimo.
In the hut, black and close, was found place for the few things which they had brought from the farmhouse at Aidone. On the smoked and dirty walls Marina hung the pictures of the saints, and over the head of the bed the branch of olive, now dry and rattling, that had been blessed on Palm Sunday. The few kettles and pans, the shell of a pumpkin that held the knives and forks, the crockery, did not appear the same which had been in the farmhouse, where the sun and the air entered. Before Ave Maria, the miners began to pass, like a human river, along the road that crosses the waste, toward the town of Caltanisetta. Their heavy tread and their voices made a dull noise that put Marina in fear. She would never dare to go out of the house without Antonio, among these ugly people, dirty and sinister; some with faces of excommunicated men, who might be runaways from the galleys. For, Antonio had told her, in the mines no books are kept to register the names. There, underground, in the darkness, the lowest of malefactors might hide themselves, as indeed would hide Antonio Morreale, whose name must at that hour be in the mouth of every carabineer of the province. Nor were witnesses lacking against him ; for although no one, man, woman, or child, who knew what honor was, would speak to his harm, even the walls of his deserted house declared him guilty. Already justice would have set the dogs on his track. Already the news of his misdeed would have been carried to Marina’s mother, to give her a new sorrow.
Of these things little was spoken between Antonio and Marina, and this silence was like a disaffection between the two. Better take out a thorn, even with the point of a knife, than carry it in the flesh. And so it is with a forbidden subject between husband and wife. All that great love which they bore to each other suffered from the blow given to don Cosimo Mascarelli ; for, as says the proverb, a drop of blood troubles the sea.