The Man From Aidone
AT Castrogiovanni, the harvest had been gathered, and the Madonna del Carmine had sent a fine day for the procession. Felice Mendola carried the banner, which was blue like the skies and golden like the wheat, all embroideries and fringes and tassels, and so heavy that only by miracle he did not break his back handling the standard in all sorts of ways to make a fine show before the people. Then there were hundreds of bags of grain to be carried to Caltanisetta, — because in the country they toil, and in the towns they eat, — so that Felice and his horse went up and down the road like the souls of purgatory; only that the carrier and the roan were content and worked with a good will, not discounting their sins. Instead there was a fine little heap of money in the bottom of the poplar-wood chest.
“ I don’t know, Riuzzu, whether I have a heart of leather, but so it is, the disappointment about mistress Marina no longer torments me,” Felice told the horse.
Indeed, that love had been like a fire of straw, quickly lighted and soon spent; and who knows that, if Felice had had it to do over again, he would have wanted Marina ? “ She was not made for me,” he said to the roan. “ She was like a lady, with certain qualities — I don’t know what — that I never could succeed in understanding.”
Sometimes, in the evening, Riuzzu was allowed to graze by the roadside, and he would run away to the inn, where Rosaria was always glad to see him.
Rosaria became more beautiful; she was like a woman, and also like a child. But toward the brigadier and others who came to the tavern she was reserved ; so much so that, if they paid her compliments, she would have her mother carry the dishes to the table. With those whom she knew well she was always the same little Rosaria.
It happened, one evening, when Felice came to take the horse after he had made the usual visit to the girl, that all at once Rosaria said : —
“ I’m always thinking about a thing that I do not know how to disentangle : whether horses think and talk like Christians, but in their own way. Here’s Riuzzu who never fails to whinny at sight of me, — sometimes on one tone, sometimes on another; so that he must mean different things. I should like to know what the good horse wanted to say to me this evening; he spoke plainly, if only I had the faculty of comprehending him.”
Now one of those rare moments of wit came to Felice Mendola and made him a fine surprise.
“ I can tell you what Riuzzu says, if you like, comare Rosaria.”
“ I ought to have thought of that, because you, who stayed so long with the horses of master Turi, must, better than others, understand their speech.”
“ This time,” Felice congratulated himself, “my thick head does n’t lack ideas, as a pumpkin doesn’t lack seeds.” And he said aloud, “ Listen, little comare : Riuzzu says, ' Mistress Rosaria, if you will marry my master, here present, you will do us a fine honor.’
“ Did he say that ? ”
“ Surely he said it. He speaks for himself and for me, that horse. He has great judgment, and knows how to make the choice for me.”
“ But — I have no intention to marry, compare Felice. I have always said so.”
“ That makes no difference. I and Riuzzu beg you to change your mind.”
“ And you were to marry my sister.”
“ And ’t is true that I would have married her, but she would not have me, and preferred master Morreale. No harm she did me, Rosaria; the love which I felt for her I feel no longer. It was like the plough that in autumn breaks up the ground, so that later, with the blessing of Maria del Carmine, there may sprout the beautiful grain. And that grain is like the love which now I bear to you, who are grown into a fine little woman. If you will, Rosaria, we shall bind that wheat before the altar of the Queen of Castrogiovanni.”
“ All this is said to me, compare Felice, but I do not merit so much.”
“ And if you will marry me, you know, you will also command Riuzzu, who will be proud to obey the dear little mistress.”
“ And I could feed him, and curry him. and take him out of the shafts when he returned from the journeys?”
“ As it may please you. But listen, Rosaria. We know that you are fond of Riuzzu ; are you a little fond also of me? It is this that I must know.”
“ And if I don’t know, myself ? ”
“ Shall we ask Riuzzu ? ”
“ No, because he might say what is not true.”
“ And the truth ? ”
“ Oh, why will you tease me so, compare Felice? You are good to me always, and I should like to take care of your horse, and I don’t wish him to answer for me — because ” —
“ Tell me why, Rosaria,”
“ Because — he might say that I am not fond of you, compare Felice.”
At this Felice gave a great laugh. He took Rosaria in his arms and placed her on the back of the horse. Riuzzu, who was cropping clover, looked around to see what might be this new load.
“ Now you are mistress of the horse as you will be of the master. If you wish to dismount, I ’ll set you on the ground after payment of a fine kiss,” said Felice.
“ The fact is, here one isn’t so well off without a saddle, and I wish to dismount, but I do it for myself,” she said roguishly ; and before Felice had taken the thing into his mind Rosaria had slipped from the back of the horse and had run into the house.
“ Here dexterity is wanted,” thought Felice, " just as when that pretty white filly of old Baia’s would not be caught, and flung her heels in the air, and there were needed patience and more than one sieveful of grain before she would wear the bridle. But for this one Riuzzu has been the sieve of oats, eh?” And he caressed the neck of the roan as he led him along the street.
The next day, comare Nunziata Mendola went again to the tavern. Seeing her come, Rosaria ran out to the hencoop, as if she wished to know nothing of the matter.
“ Oh, mistress Nunziata, you are truly welcome,” said mamma Agata Borello.
“ And don’t call me importunate if I come also this time for the loan of the weaving-comb !”
“ Also this time, if you like, I lend you the comb of sidici (sixteen). And you appear to me a holy woman, after all the displeasures caused to you by the folly of my daughter Marina.”
“ This time it is your Rosaria whom I ask in my son’s name.”
“ Too young, Rosaria.”
“ Eh, with time she will be a serious woman like another, for she is a good little girl.”
“ She is only fourteen years old, and she seems to me always my baby.”
“ But Felice will wait until it shall please you to give her to him, comare Agata. He had the heedlessness to speak to Rosaria of his love last evening.”
Now the mamma called Rosaria; and the girl came with a fresh egg in each hand, as if she had no thought outside of the hencoop. “ Here I am, mamma.”
“ Mistress Nunziata does us the fine honor to ask for you in the name of master Felice.”
“ Yes, also master Felice spoke to me last evening.”
“ And you did n’t tell your mother ! ”
“ And what had I to tell you ? He asked me if I would like to help him to take care of Riuzzu, and the idea pleased me. Compare Felice is so kind.”
“You’re a silly thing. Now you see, comare Nunziata, that I must keep her with me a while yet, to make a housewife of her.”
And it was settled that, although the notary and the dressmaker should come again to the tavern,— this time for the appraisal of the dowry of Rosaria, — nothing should be said about fixing a day for the marriage. Comare Nunziata went home content to tell the news to daddy Calogero and to Caterina And they wished that evening would soon arrive, when also Felice would be at home to hear the result of the second asking for the weaving-comb.
Now Caterina knew well what lovers feel, for Lorenzo Burgio had asked her of the father, and they were betrothed, so that every Saturday, when he returned from the meadows of Aggira, he came to pay her a visit. He had told her that for a long time he had loved her, but had said nothing, because he had no trade only to help in his father’s wine-shop ; but now, with the place which Felice had held for him with master Turi Lucernini, and the little field for which he took rent, he could think of marriage. And Caterina told Lorenzo that from the day when he set out on the donkey, with that ailing leg, to take her brother’s place with the horses, she had esteemed him very much, seeing him so loyal and courageous. Also he had appeared to her so handsome in that moment that, in short, she would not exchange him for the son of a king.
And the girls wondered what beauty or sympathy compare Lorenzo found in Caterina Mendola, who appeared like a little nun, and, moreover, had a mouth so wide that it was like that of an oven.
“ That is well,” said Lorenzo, when his sisters repeated to him these things, “And you other girls with the pursedup mouths, beware that the devil does n’t come to sew them with wires, for evil speaking.”
The fact is, newly betrothed persons have need of the cunning of a magpie in order to reply to what is said about them. It was told, for instance, of Rosavia that her man would have to cook the minestra and mend his clothes for himself. And not altogether without reason ; for when mamma Agata recommended to Rosaria that she study in order to become a good housewife, the girl answered, “But when I am Felice’s wife, I shall not stay in the house all alone. That would n’t please me. Instead, I intend to go in the cart with Felice and Riuzzu when they are on the road.”
“ Blessed souls ! ” cried the mother, “ how am I to do in order to put judgment into this girl ? With this daughter who is too stupid, and that other who was too shrewd, I m never out of troubles and confusion.”
But Felice appeared satisfied with Rosaria just as she was; and as for her, she loved him from day to day always a little more.
“ This time,” said daddy Calogero to his friends in the piazza, “my son makes no blunder. That other girl was like a day when the four winds blow as if all the devils were at the bellows, and Heaven sends the unexpected from every quarter. But Rosaria is like a fine morning, when you know that as the day began, so will it end. This time, I tell you, Felice has made a good choice.”
It was on a Friday that Antonio had the bad luck to kill don Cosimo Mascarelli, and by the morrow the news of it was spread as far as Aggira, where master Turi Lucernini heard it. So it happened that when Lorenzo Burgio returned, Saturday evening, to Castrogiovanni, he carried the tidings to his town.
“ At least do not tell it until to-morrow,” Caterina Mendola begged him. “ Let the poor mother of Marina sleep in peace one night more.” And he agreed.
Sunday, as comare Agata passed through the piazza to go to church, it appeared to her as if people looked at her with compassion, and then turned away their eyes. Padre Serafino, in the pulpit, was eloquent upon the duty of Christians to maintain peace among themselves and to forgive injuries, citing many holy examples. He blamed those who carried weapons, because, as is the saying, opportunity makes the thief; and to have the knife in the pocket there comes the temptation to use it. So much he said about it that master Neddu Longo, the sacristan, picked up a good number of clasp knives, left under the benches by persons who were persuaded that the flesh is weak when somebody gives you ugly titles, or lets his cattle get into your kitchen garden. Afterward, master Longo gained a fine heap of soldi selling all those knives. And because he was sacristan, he recommended to uncle Giosuè Costa, the dealer in second-hand goods, not to sell them to persons who might have the look of being quarrelsome. “ For this way the sin of one man may be for the salvation of many who have thrown away their clasp knives,” said master Longo, counting his pence.
That Sunday, nothing was talked of except how Antonio Morreale had killed don Cosimo Mascarelli. When padre Serafino learned that nobody had dared to tell mistress Agata Borello, he himself went after her to let her know it with words of consolation. The people saw him overtake her.
“ Now he is about to tell her.”
“No, he is speaking to Rosaria about the medal of the Daughters of Mary, for she holds it in her hand to show it to him.”
“Now he will tell them.”
“ Mercy! not in the middle of the road! ”
“O Madonna! they are gone into the house and have shut the door. Poor mother! She will have like the seven swords in her heart.”
And the women repeated the rosary for sake of comare Agata, whose daughter now must follow her man into hidingplaces, always fleeing in fear and shame, until that wolf should be taken in some trap and go to an ill end. There were persons who said that Marina had deserved as much for betraying compare Felice, but not even these denied pity to her. When padre Serafino came out of the house of mistress Agata, it was seen by his eyes that he had wept.
“ Even saying good words, I had bitterness in the heart against my daughter.” comare Agata had confessed. “ Marina, I wished her, may you return to my arms.”
“And let us hope so, good woman,”padre Serafino had answered her gently.
The poor mother could not give herself peace. In the long sleepless nights it was as if she saw roads and fields and woods and rocky steeps, and streams with eddies where one might whirl around until the breath was out of the drowned and broken body. It seemed to her that Marina was here and there, wandering like a lost soul, and Antonio, dark and cruel, leading the girl to an evil death. And in the days, at work, mamma Agata appeared to listen always, and to look far away as if to see and hear more than was real. Now it snowed upon her roof, as is the saying, for with grief her hair became white; and to have buried Marina would have seemed to her a consolation, instead of that sorrow which renewed itself every moment in her heart.
Rosaria talked of these things with Felice, and told him how the mamma appeared as if always seeking Marina.
“ And I will search for her indeed,”said Felice; “ I will inform myself in every way possible; and if Marina can be found, I will bring her to the mother’s house.”
“ And if you bring Marina home, I will love you so much, and so much! ” Rosaria promised, clasping his hand.
Also, Lorenzo Burgio, who went to his work by an opposite road, said that he would seek for Marina. Meanwhile, all through the province of Caltanisetta the carabineers were out in search for Antonio Morreale, with handcuffs in their pockets. The brigadier, don Carmelo Fautozzi, with his men, patrolled the country around Castrogiovanni, so that not even a rabbit, he said, could pass without “ Who goes there ? ”
One day, however, he made a blunder, saying to Rosaria, “ Do you know, my pretty little girl, that a hunted wood pigeon flies to her nest ? And so will mistress Marina Morreale return to her mother’s house. In that case, provided you will put me on the track of Antonio, I ’ll give you a coral necklace for the wedding outfit.”
“ And without waiting, I ’ll give you my ten fingers ! ” cried Rosaria at such perfidy. And she scratched his face with holy reason and force of hands; so much so that the brigadier went away with a handkerchief at his cheek, which was bleeding.
“ A real wildcat, that girl! ” muttered don Carmelo Fantozzi.
“ I’ve written on his face my opinion of him,” said Rosaria to Felice, that evening. “A Judas he is, that would have me betray Marina’s husband ! ”
For Antonio and Marina, in the black hut, the Sunday passed like a dream. Far away, the bells of Caltanisetta called Christians to church.
“ But these holy voices are no longer for us,” said the man from Aidone. “ For you, Marina, I don’t say it, because you have no fault only that you would follow me.”
“ And yours I am always,” she answered him.
All day they stayed in the house. Only at nightfall, when the swallows circled around the roof, and everything was silent under the vast skies where the stars began to appear, they came out and sat on the threshold. They looked across the dark, lonely country that seemed endless, where the fireflies went flitting about like souls of dead miners with their lamps.
“ Except ourselves, it appears as if there were nobody in the world,” said Marina.
But when one must work in order to live, these melancholies pass like the shadows when the sun comes to drive them away. Already before the dawn of Monday, on the road from Caltanisetta was heard a noise like the rush of a river, the tramp and the voices of thousands of men who were going to the mines.
“ Now I go with them,” said Antonio. " I leave you the gun, in case there should ever be need of it, hung on the wall ; and the revolver I have in my pocket. Farewell, my Marina.”
“ Your saint accompany you,” she replied.
To give no suspicion that he dared not look people in the face, Antonio joined a company of miners. “ Who of you goes to the Casa di Cifaru? ”
“I,” and “ I.”
So Antonio walked with the other men of the contractor Dauria.
Around the mouth of the mine in the northern side of the mountain the men were breakfasting in groups. The miner with whom Antonio had spoken on Saturday recognized him, and made him a sign that he should come to eat in company. Antonio took out some black bread, and shared with the new friend the companatico of raw onions grown at Aidone, which had a taste of the good earth of those fields that he should never see again.
Now that it was time to begin work came the overseers, moving about in order to know if any miner were missing. Master Vito Dauria rode Mureddu ; the horse whinnied at sight of Antonio Morreale.
“ Where is the new piceoniere, he of Saturday ? " demanded master Dauria.
They pushed Antonio forward. “ Here I am, your worship.”
“ And have you thought about the boys? You want carusi, you know. You might take those of the miner who was killed in a fight Saturday evening. Who knows where the boys of Pietro Persico are, say? ”
A little way off was a group of children, some of them so young that they had not yet taken the hump and the cough which awaited them. They sang and danced, beating their feet noisily on the rough soil ; with strange cries they urged each other to make great leaps. Near by were the women and girls, who worked outside the mine, taking in baskets the sulphur as it was brought up by the boys from the galleries, and carrying it to the furnaces. Among these, but a little apart, was a woman rather young, though blighted by the life which she led there. She sat leaning her elbows on her knees, with her chin between her palms. Under the tangled hair, her great black eyes with yellow gleams were fixed upon Antonio Morreale. He appeared to her so handsome, with the ruddy bronze of his cheeks, and his tall person robust from the sun and the wind of the fields of Aidone ! He resembled a king, as he stood talking with the contractor, among the hardened forms and wan yellow faces of the other miners. The woman did not take her eyes off from him. She remained as if in a dream ; her full, scorched lips were apart, as if she would like to eat him with her pointed, broken teeth.
As master Dauria asked for the boys of Persico, the woman arose and came forward.
“ I know them, excellency, and will call them.”
She shot a glance at Antonio ; then ran about like one possessed, to gather the boys by means of cries and gestures. Soon a dozen, younger and older, surrounded the new miner.
“ Here we are at your service, master picconiere.”
“ That is well. I take you all.”
Then the woman ran to the group of children, who were still playing. She seized one of them by the arm and dragged him before Antonio.
“ Here is my son. For him master Persico was killed. Another miner had taken him, because he has shoulders better than a donkey’s. And they came to knives, out there on the waste. For cause of my boy, I tell you, your worship ! ”
She stood in front of Antonio, and hindered his steps. She was horrid, with her gown ragged and filthy, and her hands and arms knotted like cane-stalks with inhuman toils.
“Take him,—take my son. He is twelve years old, although he looks so small. He has worked since he was nine; he has made his skin tough for the loads and for the blows. Take him ; do me the favor, your worship ! ”
“ Do you swear to me that in taking him I do not rob any miner of the boy ? For I don’t wish to hurt any one, out there on the waste, nor to get myself laid out cold, like poor Persico, you understand.”
“ My son was truly Persico’s caruso, and no other miner has rights over him, your excellency.”
“ Well, I take him. What is he called, and what is your name, good woman ? ”
“ Me they call la Taddarita. My boy’s name is Nuddu.”
In fact, “ Nobody ” was the only name which the poor woman had the right to give to her son ; and who knew whether he had been baptized or no ? “ The Bat ” they called her; and a bat indeed she appeared, flitting around the edge of the pit, clutching the fragments of sulphur with her crooked fingers. Now she turned to her child.
“ Put on your shoulder the pickaxe of the master, for you must serve him with good will.”
To look at the little Nuddu caused a shudder to Antonio, although at Girgenti he had had experience of the mines. Nuddu was stunted, wan, with legs bowed and knee joints enlarged, so that he hardly appeared human. His thin lips were drawn away from the teeth, the great sad eyes were set in livid rings. This sorry figure saluted the new master.
“ He can work,” said the mother, “ and he is not of those who, when you give them the handle of the pickaxe on the ribs or a kick, return you an ugly answer. He is used to it, that one! ” For in her own way the poor Bat was proud of her child.
“ And provided he does his duty, I’m not the fellow to beat him,” Antonio replied. “ Come, take your lamp, for already they are going down.”
Nuddu, on his shoulders like those of a worn-out donkey, loaded the pickaxe and the hempen sack. He took the oil lamp in his hand, and joined the boys of master Antonio. On the first step that led down to the galleries they crossed themselves, before the slippery descent in the air full of bad odors and sulphur fumes. Some recited the creed in voices broken by the jolts of the difficult stairway.
“ I believe, I, in a devil who has brought me to this ill pass,” muttered Antonio. As he reached the last step he cried, “ Go each to his own place, boys! ”
As they scattered through the gallery where he was to cut, he thought, “Those fellows work out the evil that they have done, here as in purgatory. But I who have committed a mortal sin, and do not repent it, because I killed him for the sake of Marina, — I from this hell must go to another, where the labor is never finished, and those at the furnaces do not make holidays. Marina, for you I ’ve damned myself; and true as I live, you are worth it to me! ” And he stretched out his arms as if she stood before him and waited for his embrace. Then he took up the pickaxe and dealt blows that split the sulphur rock, which fell rattling about him.
The boys worked near the miner. The dull red flames on their foreheads resembled will-o’-the-wisps. They wore a single garment, either shirt or drawers ; for both would be over-heavy in that heat. They loaded themselves with the sulphur cut on the Saturday before by poor Persico, helping one another to adjust the leather straps that steadied the sulphur sack, and the pad which they put under it by way of keeping a little flesh on their shoulders. As is the custom, they kissed the miner’s hand before making the ascent; and he responded, “ Go on lively,” or, “ The saints accompany you.” For it was so long that Antonio was unused to the life of the mines that he pitied the boys, to hear them sob and moan in the darkness as they went away loaded, in a line, up so many steps.
No one dared to stop, not even though he felt as if dying, and the shapes and the little flames whirled before him in a mist; though the blood went to the head, bent under the weight of the load, and the knee trembled, and the foot slipped on the slimy, broken stairway.
As Nuddu came out at the mouth of the mine, his mother, who worked for Vanni, the burner, ran to meet him. " Give here the sulphur in my basket. Has the master spoken to you ? ”
“ He has said to me, ‘ Go with the saints.’ ”
“ Tell him that for so much kindness your mother will kiss his hands. Tell him that.”
“ He pleases you, eh, mamma? ”
“ Yes, he pleases me,” said la Taddarita.
Nuddu turned and went by leaps down the steps, singing in a voice like the howl of a vagrant dog, “ I go to take the fourth load in good time;” while down below the lamentations of other boys answered his chant.
Because master Antonio was good to the boys, Nuddu quickly took to loving him. If the miner wished to drink, Nuddu ran nimbly to fill the jug with water. He took the loads as they were put on his back, and even said, “ I could carry a little more, your worship.”
Down there in the bottom of the gallery it was hot ; and when Antonio scraped with a piece of wood his arms and sides, which dripped with sweat, Nuddu looked at him with pity, and wished to console him, saying, “ Poor master miner ! ’T is hard when one is new to it. But with time we get used to everything.”
Antonio gave such strong blows with the pickaxe that they called him “ master Spaccamuntagna,”tagna,” for indeed he appeared to wish to split the mountain down to the centre of the world. Nuddu, without knowing why, did not repeat to him the message of la Taddarita. Some persons, when he had said such things, had gone to her in order to know what she had to say to them. And afterward she had given to her son a penny to buy a cake for himself. Whatever she might be, Nuddu was fond of his mother, because, in short, she was his mother. Often he had driven people away, by throwing stones and fragments of sulphur at them, when they pointed at her, saying, “ There ’s la Taddarita. When the Lord created the good beasts, the devil, not to be outdone, made the bat.” Or, “ I should like to throw her on the fires of the furnace there, to know if it is true what is said, that a burnt bat will utter five curses.” Even the small boys would run after her, shouting the verses as when they chased a real bat, “ Come, bat, come, I will give you a crumb ! ” And they cried, " Uh ! uh ! ” at her, flapping their hats as if to catch a bat under the crown. Some of the women — the wife of Vanni, the burner, and the sister of Pasquale, the water-carrier, and others — urged on their children, and said, “ If that Bat were nailed under the eaves of a house, with her arms stretched out as upon the cross, that would be a pleasure for me.” For with those yellow eyes, and the things which she whispered, the Bat had turned many honest fellows out of the right way, who, because they were broken with toil, and with the foul, hot vapors of the mine, let themselves go where the devil willed. For in those depths, if it is not hell, it is little short of it ; and the darkness, and the strange pillars that uphold the galleries, and the wooden beams that cross in a confusion, and the wandering flames of the lamps that show so many arms striking, so many shapes running about, — all this sometimes overturns the judgment of a Christian, and there are no longer saints that may withhold him. An ugly word is said, and the lights turn red and dance before your eyes; and up with the pickaxe, and you ’ve killed your man! And there are not lacking holes to put him in, nor earth to cover him. Or they will carry him away into an old gallery no longer worked, and leave him there to join the other dead miners, who sometimes, when a pillar is about to fall or the earth to slide, try to warn the living by great sighs or by knockings.
So many evil things Antonio saw and heard in the mine that he came to believe murder to be a common affair. Only he was sorry that he had killed a man up there in the beautiful sunlight, where such deeds are without reason. He did not wonder at the miners when, as they worked, they cursed the day that they were born ; and he said, “ When my death comes, I will have them lay me on the waste land, face to the moon and the sun, without earth to cover me, for buried I have been in my life.”
Some of the men blasphemed as if they were in that place where no other language is spoken. To this Antonio became accustomed ; and equally to those who confessed that they had sinned, and offered to the Lord, as penance, all that they were suffering.
“ But as for me, I neither curse nor pray,” thought Antonio. " What I did was for sake of Marina; and I have nothing to say about it, neither to the Lord nor to the devil.” And he would redouble the fury of the pickaxe.
So day by day Antonio, the mountainsplitter, toiled. He was never unkind to his men and boys: they had enough to suffer, he thought. And the sorrows that hollowed out his spirit, just as he dug in the heart of the mountain, were not such as could vent themselves in tyrannies to carnsi. His work finished, he would throw down the pickaxe, to be taken in care by Nuddu. “ So many reeds’ length I have dug out to-day ! ” he would say, as he put on his clothes to go home.
Near the mouth of the pit was always awaiting him la Taddarita. “ To-day, has my son done well, master Spaccamuntagna?” or, “ ’T is plain that you have arms of bronze and the heart of a lion, master miner ! ” Sometimes she said other things, broken phrases, fixing her great eyes on his face. But Antonio only answered, “ He has done well enough, your son,” or, “ Good-day,” and did not heed her.
Still far from the house, he would begin to run, in order to see Marina the sooner ; and because of his great love for her he did not perceive that every day she seemed more weary and cold when he took her in his arms.
One fine day, early in October, Felice Mendola had driven the cart to Caltanisetta with a load of wine for the shop of master Memmu Dauria, who was brother to the contractor of the mine of the Casa di Cifaru. As Riuzzu stopped before the door of the shop, from an alley another horse sent him a cheerful neigh by way of greeting. Riuzzu quickly responded. Felice looked through the narrow passage between two buildings, and saw there a black horse tied by the bridle.
“ Do you mean to say, Riuzzu, that we have met our friend Mureddu ? If that is so, also Antonio Morreale must be in these parts. As I live, I do not know whether I should be glad to find him or not, because I foresee trouble. But certainly I should like to carry news of Marina to the poor mother who always searches in the air for her daughter.”
The horses exchanged many salutations. The black tugged at the bridle, beating his hoofs on the pavement, so that his master came out of the shop to learn what was the matter with the horse. Having seen that this man was not Antonio Morreale, Felice approached him. “ Your servant! ”
“ Good-day, master carrier. What do you want of me ? ”
“ Excuse me, is he yours, that horse ? ”
“ Surely he is mine. I bought him last month. Have you anything to say against it ? ”
“ I, nothing. But I should like to know how he came into your hands, because it was I who trained him as a colt. My horse, there with the cart, recognized him before I did. Your excellency will have heard them neigh to salute each other. They were both of the herd of master Turi Lucernini of Aggira ; and with my hands I put on them for the first time the bridle and the saddle.”
“ You are of Aggira ? ”
“Nossignore, of Castrogiovanni. For several months I have been at the carrier’s trade. Master Memmu Dauria will speak well of me, for I have brought many loads of wine and meal to his shop. I beg of you, tell me how the horse came into your hands.”
The contractor looked with suspicion at Felice, and was silent.
“ Do me the favor. Who sold him to your excellency ? ”
“ ’T is better not to mention names. The ox has a great tongue and speaks little, says the proverb. Rather, I don’t know who the man is.”
“ I swear to you that I ask for no evil purpose. I believe that he who sold you the horse may be an acquaintance of mine, to whom I wish well.”
“ I tell you that I do not know his name. Last month he came to the mine of the Casa di Cifaru, which I am working, down there toward Pietraperzia. He wanted work as a miner ; and my horse having lately died, I bought this horse and cart.”
“And he still works at the mine ?”
“Yes, he works there.”
“You must know his name. Tell it to me, excellency, for it is very important to me.”
“ I swear to you that I don’t know it. At the mine they call him ‘ mountainsplitter.’ because of the strong blows that he gives.”
“Ah ! And he is, then, powerful and robust of person ? ”
“As a bull of Modica.”
“ With black curly hair and great eyes ? ”
“ Exactly. Now tell me, you, what his name is.”
“ We will let alone the name.”
“ As you like.”
“ Do me the favor to tell me where he lives.”
“ Neither are houses pointed out. I don’t say it to offend you, master carrier, but as a fellow of honor, you understand.”
“ Of course. But if I swear to you by my saint that I will do him no harm ” —
“I believe you. Well, the house of Spaccamuntagna is beyond the town. Take the turn to the right, where the roads cross near a thicket of Indian figs, and a hundred paces will bring you there.”
Felice caressed the neck of the black horse. “ I thank your excellency. I shall go there. I salute your worship. Good-by, Mureddu ; ’t is plain that you lack neither hay nor oats.” He kissed the forehead of the horse ; then ran to unload his own cart, seeing that master Memmu Dauria and some porters were come to the door to receive the casks.
When they had taken off the load, “ Now, Riuzzu,” he said, “ we will go to find mistress Marina.”
Up and down along the hilly road the cart passed the miners’ houses scattered over the country. As they reached the turn near the Indian figs, Felice drew the rein. “ Go easy, Riuzzu,” he told the horse, for here was only a rough path, with grass growing between the wheel-tracks. They came to the but ; a few dusty plants of wallflower and rosemary were in front of it.
“ Marina always would have flowering plants,” said Felice to himself. “ Surely I have found her this time.”
It did not appear to him real, that fortune of finding her, although it oppressed his heart, so kind and without bitterness, to see the ugly, miserable house that she lived in. That beauty who would have merited a palace ! “ Poor girl, it was not I who reduced you to this,” he thought.
Almost he expected that at the sound of Riuzzu’s hoofs Marina would appear at the window. But there was no sign of a living soul, not even a thread of smoke from the hearth. Felice dismounted and went to knock, calling Marina by name. Then the door was partly opened, and he saw her face, pale and astonished.
“ Oh, compare Felice, is it you ? Have you not forgotten me ? ”
“Never, comare Marina, as you see.”
She trembled as if with cold. “ If you wish me ill, I will run to get Antonio’s musket from the wall, that you may kill me for having betrayed you. But I pray you with clasped hands, do not let the carabineers know that he is here ! Felice, do me this one charity ! ” She threw herself on the ground, and clung to his knees.
“ Come, mistress Marina ! To Antonio I wish no harm. I am here only to bring you greetings from your mother and from Rosaria, who will be content if they hear that you are well and think of them.”
She arose to her feet and looked him in the face. “ Ah, I think of them always ! Tell them that. But do not let them know where you have found me. And they must not wish me to return to Castrogiovanni; for I will stay with my husband.”
“You do well, Marina; it is your duty. And how is master Morreale ? ”
“ He is well. But he works enough for ten men down there at the mine.”
“ The Casa di Cifaru ? ”
“ O Madonna ! why do you say so ? ” She appeared frightened.
“ It is near here.” Felice judged it better to say nothing about the meeting with the black horse and master Vito Dauria.
“Yes; and you would not know him, all soiled with the clay. And he has lost the smile, and he has a heavy step, and when he comes home at Ave Maria he neither sings nor laughs. He is no more the handsome Antonio of Aidone. O Madonna ! ” Marina wept, standing on the threshold of that mean hut.
Felice’s throat was hot and dry. At least he would change the subject. “ Will you give me a swallow of water, mistress Marina ? ”
She dipped it from a jar. “ We have no wine in the house — I am sorry,” she stammered.
“ And water goes better for thirst.”
She filled a dish with water. “ Also Riuzzu will be glad to cool his mouth,” she said. “ Good beast, I did not believe that I should see him again.” And as she had never done before, she kissed the black muzzle of the roan.
Felice would at all costs be cheerful. “ There you find a kiss from your sister,” said he.
“ She was always fond of Riuzzu.”
“ I wager! Bread and kisses she never fails to have for the horse ! ” And Felice could not give himself a reason why he did not tell Marina that Rosaria was betrothed to him. Perhaps for delicacy, not to speak of happiness to the unhappy.
Marina asked after every one, and received answers. Felice had even seen cousin Barbara Santorelli and aunt Lucia, when he had occasion one day to go to Calascibetta.
Finally he said, “Now, farewell, mistress Marina, for I have to go as far as Castrogiovanni. I will not speak of you to any one, only to your mother and your sister, nor tell even them where you are. I shall be loyal, I give you my word. Salute master Morreale for me, and assure him that he can count upon ray silence, and that I have sworn to you : a bolt on ray mouth ! ”
So Felice went away, saying that he would return before many days. Marina went into the house, sad, for the memories of her happy times appeared to diminish with the sound of the wheels that became always more distant on the road.
When Antonio came home, he was in the worst humor. “ Has any one been here ? ” he asked his wife. So frowning was he that she dared not answer. “Inasmuch as I see the marks of wheels and hoofs at the door. And master Dauria has told me that at the shop of his brother there was a man who wished to know about the horse, and for good or evil at last was told the way to my house. Who was it, Marina ? ”
Now he took her by the wrists and forced her to reply. “ It was compare Felice Mendola.”
“ And he would have me die a rat’s death ! He will send here the carabineers ! ”
“ No. On the contrary, he has said that you may count upon him. And ‘ a bolt on the mouth,’ — so he has sworn.”
“ Did he say that? Then I must look out for him later. Says the proverb, The Turk waited seven years to give a reply.”
“ Felice Mendola is not like that.”
“ At least we will hope.”
That night Marina dreamed of the beautiful cornfields of Castrogiovanni, and wept in her sleep.
After a few days Felice came again, bringing messages and gifts from mamma Agata and Rosaria. They were content, now that they knew that Marina was safe and well. They would have come to see her, but Felice had told them that it would be at the risk of making themselves observed by the brigadier and his men, who were cunning, worse than so many foxes, and misfortune might come of it. So, too, he explained to Marina ; and she was of his opinion.
As Felice went away along the cartpath, neighbor Vanni, the sulphur-burner, passed by. He looked at the stranger with the fine horse and cart. Vanni wished ill to master Spaccamuntagna, because, now that the Bat had taken a fancy to the new miner, she had turned her shoulders to Vanni, who formerly had pleased her.
“ There’s Spaccamuntagna’s wife standing in the doorway, looking after that cart. She, who is kept like a little madonna under a glass bell, does not appear to me different from other women.”And when he met Antonio, who was coming home, — for that week Vanni had night work at the furnace, and his turn began at Ave Maria, — he grinned in saluting master Spaccamuntagna.
Having reached the mine, Vanni went to the furnace just as la Taddarita brought there the last load of her day. As she was about to go away, “ Listen, la Taddarita,” said Vanni to her.
“ What would you say to me, compare Vanni ? ”
“ I would ask you why you no longer speak two words to those who wish you well.”
“ They are few, master Vanni.”
“ But I’m one of them; and since Spaccamuntagna is here, you cannot look at me because of him, who does not think of you more than of the ground where he treads. Meanwhile, I, for sake of the friendship we had, am ready to tell you a thing that you would pay something to know.”
“ Tell it to me, Vanni.”
And he told her of the handsome carrier with the roan horse and the red cart painted with images, and master Spaccamuntagna’s wife who stood at the door of the house as long as the cart could be seen upon the road. “ Look, we are all unlucky, Bat. Spaccamuntagna’s wife does not care for him, as he does not care for you, nor you for me. And this that I tell you can be like a weapon in your hands.”
“Thanks, compare Vanni,” said the Bat, and went away.
“ Now something I’ve certainly done,” thought Vanni. “ ’T is like setting fire to a fuse down there in the mine ; we shall see the rocks fly ! And la Taddarita will have no pity.” Vanni stood there scowling, with eyes fixed on the molten sulphur which poured like oil into the troughs. The men had to speak twice before getting a reply from him whether he had all that was needed for the night.
Now that Felice Mendola had found Marina he came to see her as often as appeared to him prudent, and to bring her gifts and greetings from her mother. She did not fear to speak to her husband of those visits, and he was now persuaded that Felice wished him no ill. Rather, he would have liked to thank the carrier in person for the present of a cask of wine. Of that kind it was which was brought to the shop of master Memmu Dauria, and of good quality. The miners bought goods from master Dauria, pledging their wages, or paying with money advanced upon the work of their children bound out to labor in the Casa di Cifaru. Afterward, the accounts were balanced between the brothers Dauria. At that shop the books could show a whole system of loans and credits that was like a tangled skein of miseries, and nobody would have been able to find the clue to wind it up.
One day, la Taddarita, who had awaited her occasion, met Antonio near the mine, and said to him,“ Master Spaccamuntagna, who is that fine fellow that comes to your house when you are not there ? ”
“ That is a carrier, a friend of mine, who brings certain things which are wanted from the town.”
His reply was so frank that the Bat went to Vanni, the burner, and told him, “ This time, compare Vanni, you have given me a gun without a bullet. Master Spaccamuntagna is content that the carrier comes to his house. They must be sworn compari between themselves ; and so much they respect San Giovanni that there are no doubts.”
“ But meanwhile, what you have said will set him thinking.”
In the evenings, Antonio and Marina sat at the door looking across the country that spread black and wide, with a few lights in houses, as the skies were wide and black, dotted with stars. Antonio no longer found fine things to say to Marina. At Aidone, the odors of the fields and the hedges in bloom, the little sounds from the beasts in the stall or from the birds in the nests, had awakened in him so many words to tell her of his love. So that when they talked together, even about ordinary things, it was as when two lovers alternate the verses of a song, and the guitar beats like their hearts. Now Antonio’s bones ached from the pickaxe and from the length of the road; his head was heavy, and even his love for Marina was dulled with weariness. She was submissive and kind, but offered no caresses ; and when he spoke to her, it appeared as if her mind were set elsewhere.
One evening he asked her, “ What is the news from Castrogiovanni ? ”
“ They are ploughing the land. Lorenzo Btirgio has bought the fenced field of daddy Calogero, the one that was planted with lupines, and he will soon marry Caterina Mendola. It is plain that Lorenzo pleases daddy Calogero, for’t is much that even to a son-in-law he sold the land at a low price.”
So at Castrogiovanni, now that it was late autumn, they were preparing for the harvests of the next year, in the fields blessed by Maria del Carmine. But in the waste lands of the mines summer and winter were the same ; nothing would be reborn there, neither grain nor hope. It was a desolation. Marina felt it, but she would stay with Antonio, for that was her duty; also Felice had said so.
“ If one day the carabineers should take me, you must return to your town, Marina,” said Antonio. “ You would be like a widow, the widow of a living man ; but with the mother you would be well off.”
“ I shall follow you,” she said, as always.
One day, as Marina was spreading out the wash to dry, there came a neighbor, the wife of Vanni, to have a chat. “ Bless you, comare Marina! " said she.
“ Oh, he blessed and quite well yourself, comare Concetta! ”
“ You have linen so fine that it appears woven of the Madonna’s threads. Happy you, mistress Marina, provided the woes don’t come to you later, as to the rest of us.”
“ How, woes ? ”
“ Eh, I don’t know. We all have to bear the cross in this world. Look at the wife of poor Persico, who is in the middle of the road with so many children ; so that she has pledged her oldest boy to the miner Mocaro for twenty lire. And the sister of Pasquale, the water-carrier! He no longer gives her any part of his wages because of la Taddarita, who has bewitched him. Rather, I warn you, comare Marina, that your man stays talking with la Taddarita. And to listen once to her is like giving a hair to the devil, who soon takes you, soul and body.”
“ Of la Taddarita I have not even heard speak.”
“ And indeed, to tell the truth of her would not be for your ears, comare Marina; for ’t is plain that you were brought up delicately, as a daughter. But this I will say: that she was born to do evil, and there is nobody who can give her a good word.” And warming up, comare Concetta said so many things about the misdeeds of the Bat that it appeared like a dance of the mortal sins in a mystery play. “ And now you can judge if I have reason to warn you that you tell your man not to give heed to la Taddarita ! Moreover, she practices charms paying an odd number of coins to a witch, that she should burn the black candles, and pray to the moon and to the holy devil. I have seen her with my eyes, in full moonlight, in the thicket behind the house of zia Marù, the witch. And that is why I say, look out for yourself. Have you understood me, comare Marina ? ”
Now Marina was weeping. “ I shall tell Antonio not even to look at la Taddarita.”
“ And you will do well. I don’t say that your man is not better than others; but so, you will not let his soul be lost, nor the peace of your house. I salute you, comare Marina, and take leave,”
When Antonio came home, weary and hungry, Marina, with red eyes, began to accuse la Taddarita before dishing the minestra. “ I don’t say that harm is already done, Antonio. But with that bad woman I won’t have you even speak. Such area shame to Christians who look at them. I don’t know how she has the boldness to pretend that an honest man should say good-day to such a black beetle as she is.”
“ And you bring the dish to table.”
“ You must swear to me that if the Bat speaks to you, you will turn your shoulders to her.”
“ What is the Bat to me ? By the bread that I’m eating, I swear that I don’t wish to talk to her ; nor yet to another woman that says foolish things, of whatever sort.” And he was in such ill humor that he lost respect for that good gift of the Lord, the loaf, turning it upside down as he cut it.
“ He means that he does not wish to speak to me.” said Marina within herself ; and therefore she was silent.
“ She must have heard some chatter of the women. But meanwhile, who knows what they say about the handsome carrier who comes so often to my house ? Evil tongues have a two-edged blade,”thought Antonio.
Marina, looking at him askance, felt as it were a dull rage against the rough, dark man who kept her in that ugly place like a prison. He did not appear to her the same as when he had pleased her at the fair of Castrogiovanni. " If girls only knew how well off they are with their mothers ! But they vie with one another who shall be married first. Also to marry in one’s own town, ’t is not bad. But to live among strangers, and my man at work all the day, does not suit me,” Marina decided.
The next day, when Felice came, he wore a fine carnation in the buttonhole of his jacket. Marina looked at it eagerly.
“ Will yon have the carnation ? My little Rosavia will not be displeased that I give to her sister the flower that she gave to me.”
“ How, Rosaria ? ”
“ Surely. I almost thought that I had told you, comare Marina, that I am betrothed to Rosaria. Only your mother says that the little one is too young yet.”
It appeared to Marina that many thoughts all became clear in a moment, and then fell into a confusion worse than before. She felt that she no longer loved Antonio. Since the blow given by him to don Cosimo Mascarelli her affection had diminished little by little, like blood trickling from that wound. And now she could not give herself a reason for it, but that which Felice had told her seemed to squeeze out the last drops of her love and her pride for Antonio. Even when her husband had recommended her to return to her mother, in case that justice should put hands upon him, she had believed her love to be enduring. Up there among the beautiful fields she would think only of him, and pass her life praying for the man who was lost for love of her. Now she felt that this resignation had been because she knew that at Castrogiovanni she could return to the past. Near her would be her mother, her sister, Felice Mendola, the people of her town, while poor Antonio would be, instead, the memory. Between shame and surprise, she stammered, “ Felice, if you do not wish me evil, take me to my mother’s house.”
“ You would leave master Antonio ? Is he unkind to you, Marina ? Does he beat you, perhaps ? ”
“ Never. But mine was an error, and I repent it. For the harm that I did you, compare Felice, I am punished.” She shredded the carnation between her fingers, without knowing what she did, so agitated she was.
“ You did me no harm. We were not made for each other, and you preferred master Morreale. I did not merit all your beauty, for you are like a princess. Better for me my little Rosaria, who every day has two kisses, one for me and one for the horse. ‘ And this time it is Riuzzu’s turn first,’ she says, in order to madden me, the roguish one.” For Felice did not understand Marina’s caprices, and therefore wished to divert her with little stories about her sister.
“ With Antonio I will stay no longer. I am tired of everything. Take me to my mother, compare Felice, or I will make an end of myself; for I cannot lead this life any more. I am as if in a prison ; I dare not go out. The people frighten me only to look at them.”
“ And you must think of your husband. You speak wrongly, comare Marina.”
“ We do not care for each other now. He thinks only of the work, — so many reeds’ length dug in the new vein that he has taken on contract. It is so long since he has said a good little word to me ! See, Felice, to what condition he has brought me. Have you no pity for me ? ”
“ Yes, I have. But says the proverb, Between wife and husband do not put in a finger. Neither does it appear to me that I come into the affair.”
“ But if I beg you to take me to my mother! Otherwise you will be my death, Felice.”
He stood in thought. " Listen, Marina. I will not take you with me now, lest people should say that it was on my own account. But I will do what I have said that I would not do : I will bring your mother here to take you home, as an honest daughter should go. Now be content, comare Marina; for I would not have you blamed for leaving master Morreale.”
“And for this nothing of a scruple you leave me in so many troubles ! ”
“ A day more, a day less, does not count. Think rather of your credit, comare Marina.”
“ You are right. I know it. But to see you is like seeing again my own town. And when you go away, here I am lonelier than before.”
“ And if I promise you that the day after to-morrow, at four in the afternoon, I will bring mistress Agata to take you ? ”
“ I will thank you forever, compare Felice! ”
As he went away, Marina stood at the door to look after him, and with her fingers she replied to the sign which he made to her, turning himself in the cart, “Two days, four o’clock.”
That evening Antonio repeated to his wife, “ In case the carabineers should take me, one of these days, you must return to your mother. Rather, it would be better for you that I should go to end in the galleys. In prison, I would die the soonest possible, in order to leave you free. And then you could marry Felice Mendola.” For what la Taddarita had said worked in Antonio’s mind. Marina was silent; and he went on to say, “ Not that I have doubts about you, Marina, for honest you are and will be. But for you it would be better if I were dead, and you returned to the beautiful fields of Castrogiovanni.”
Although he spoke kindly, Antonio did not give Marina a caress or a kiss. He spoke with a great melancholy, as if, whatever happened, for him it was the same.
“ He cares no more for me, as I care no more for him, said Marina to herself.
The next morning, as Antonio approached the mine, came la Taddarita to wish him good-day. “ Master Spaccamuntagna, why don’t you wear in the buttonhole of your jacket the red carnation that yesterday the carrier had at his coming, and, going away, wore no longer ?
For that base soul of Vanni had lain in wait among the prickly pears in order to have a story to tell to the Bat.
“ I should make a fine appearance, dirty as I am, with a flower to adorn my rags,” answered Antonio. But he thought within himself that Marina had neither worn it nor spoken of it.
“ It has been told me,” said the Bat, “ that, as the carrier went away, he made a sign with the fingers to your wife that he would return in two days at four o’clock ; and that she imitated the sign in order to let him know that it was agreed. Shall you be at home at that hour, master Spaccamuntagna ? ”
“ No. In these days, now that I’m cutting on contract, I work more than usual. I have taken other boys, and must keep them all busy.”
But that night the suspicions thronged in Antonio’s head like miners in the Casa di Cifaru ; and so they battered there that he lost sleep, and the next morning went to work with his bones sorer than from the toils of the day.
“ Master Spaccamuntagna,” la Taddarita said in his ear, “ if to-day you go home early, at least you could get these doubts out of your mind. And then you could work doubly to make up to yourself for the time lost,
“ Even the devil can, upon occasion, proffer good counsels,” thought Antonio. And now that the little jealousy to which, however, he would not give belief — spurred him, it appeared to him that he loved Marina more than ever. So that if, by chance, sufferings had cooled her love for him, and turned her affections somewhat toward Felice Mendola, Antonio felt capable of taking her all to himself again by force of that great love, as once he had stolen her and carried her with him to Aidone.
“ 'T is I who know how to love Marina mine ! ” he said proudly, and began to hum a song as he descended the stairway. He had trust in Marina. He would not return to the house to play the spy upon her. Also Felice Mendola was a fellow of honor, an old playmate of Marina, who now wished to do her a favor, bringing her the news of her family. Yet the hints of la Taddarita remained in his mind to sting him like the thorns of a prickly pear. And meanwhile, to this torment of Antonio were added other annoyances, as when a donkey has a sore spot on his shoulder the flies settle there. Every time that little Nuddu came to have the sack filled, he made to master Spaccamuntagn a a gesture which meant, “ Four o’clock today ! ”
“ Also you, little imp ! ” muttered Antonio ; and he did not say, “ The saints accompany you,” but instead, “ Go along, beast! ”
Nuddu was callous to hard words as to everything else, and took it in holy peace. And when he returned with the empty sack, he would laugh, and make to the miner the sign, “ Four o’clock today ! ”
Moreover, the marl was mixed with greasy clay, and the small part that there was of sulphur showed no fine crystals. “ Who knows that I do not lose by it ? ” said Antonio.
In one place the water flowed in faster than it could be carried away in kegs, although the men made haste. “ Patience ! ” Antonio recommended to himself.
But just at a moment when Antonio’s pickaxe was stuck in a cleft of the rock, so that the iron flew off the handle, and only by fortune did not dislocate his shoulder, came leaping that possessed Nuddu to take a load, and shook his hand at the mustache of master Spaccamuntagna.
“ This time you absolutely would have it! ” howled the miner. He seized Nuddu by one arm, and gave him a kick that made the boy fly through the air. As Nuddu crawled toward the master, whining like a beaten dog, Antonio repented of what he had done.
“ Oh, why do you give me kicks ? It was mamma who told me, ‘ You must keep in mind to the master, Four o’clock to-day.’ I don’t know why, but so she said,” whimpered Nuddu.
“ And I have hurt you who are not in fault! ” Antonio hastily dressed himself ; for he had education, and would not let himself be seen without a shirt and jacket, up there in the light of day. Then he took Nuddu in his arms. “ I ought not to have done so. In fact, this is no place for children. And if I did not believe that I am soon to come to an ugly end, I should take you out of it and teach you a decent trade. Now hang on to my shoulders, for this time I’m the caruso, and you are the load. Up we go! ” And he went to the stairway, carrying Nuddu on his back.
To the boy it did not seem real that one should repent of a blow given to him ; the kind words of the miner were like a plaster to his bruises. As they came out of the pit, the Bat approached, running.
“ Here, la Taddarita, take your son,” said Antonio. “It lacked little that I did not spoil him for the holidays, by cause of the accursed things that you teach him.”
The Bat snatched her child from the miner and clasped him to her breast. She turned a wicked look upon Antonio. “ Now run to your house, master Spaccamuntagna, if you would have the pleasure to meet the handsome carrier who has promised to be there at four o’clock. If not, there’s your wife at home to receive visits.”
“ May your throat wither that you name my wife ! I curse you from true rage of heart! ” replied Antonio.
A woman stood near, filling a basket. “ May the angel pass and say Amen ! ” she responded to Antonio’s malediction.
La Taddarita spat three times in the air. “ Water and salt ! ” said she. Then she fixed her great eyes upon Antonio. “ I have no fear of you, nor of your saint! ” She began to examine whether her child were hurt, shaking the joints of his arms and legs. “ Since you have no broken bone, Nuddu, go back to work. If not, you will not make the twenty trips to-day.”
To Antonio it appeared that those malign eyes of the Bat put new suspicions into ins heart, and imposed it upon him to go to his house in order to meet Felice there. He left the mine, and walked along with hurried and uneven steps, his mind disturbed with anger and doubt. He repeated to himself, “ Not that I have distrust of Marina, but it is better to get these ideas out of my head once for always.” And it seemed as if the yellow eyes of the Bat went before him to lead him to ruin.
When he had passed the Indian figs, he made a turn around the house of neighbor Vanni, so as to come to his own house without letting himself be seen. The horse and cart of Felice Mendola stood before the door. Antonio, having arrived behind the house, went forward, grazing the wall.
“ This time the Bat has said the truth,” he thought. “ They had given each other the hour. Also for me the hour is come. But this I did not expect, that Felice Mendola would have betrayed me.” Then he took himself up for the disloyal thought. “No, t is not true. Felice will have come for a good purpose, to cheer Marina with news of her family. But why then did they give each other the hour ? ”
The door was heard to creak on the hinges, and Felice came out of the house, turning his head as if to speak to a person within. “ Make haste, Marina. Give here your bundle. We must go quickly ; if not, we might meet your man on the way.”
So Felice was taking Marina off!
Antonio felt like a dead man. It was as if he had got a blow on the belt; a dull pain took away his breath; the blood rose to his head ; he saw everything red, and lost the light of his eyes, from the great rage that mastered him. He drew the pistol. “And you’ve met him ! ” he howled as he fired.
It appeared to him that at that moment a shadow came out of the door and fell forward with a shrill scream. Then he saw clearly: Marina lay on the ground; Felice was lifting her, while mamma Agata ran from the house and threw herself on the ground beside her daughter.
“ She is dead,” said Felice.
“ And so you return to my arms, my poor Marina ! ” lamented the mother.
Mamma Agata was with those two: then there was no wrong. Antonio perceived that, but too late. Everything whirled around him. He made a few steps forward, staggering and groping. Then he felt himself thrown to the earth, and Felice Mendola’s knee upon his chest.
“ You have killed your wife, devil that you are ! ” shouted Felice.
“ I swear to you that the bullet was not for her, but for you who were robbing me of her.”
“ Don’t you see that here is her mother? Since you say that the bullet was for me, I forgive it; but that you made Marina so unhappy that her mother had to come to take her, — for that you must answer at your last hour ! ”
“ If you have a knife, Felice, make an end of my troubles. Here is my breast for the blow.”
“ No, I let you live. From now I will do yon neither harm nor good.”
Felice went toward the women. With an effort Antonio rose to his feet, and stood with bent head and folded arms. “ I will not touch her, not even for the last kiss, for I am not worthy of it. Marina, you know that I would not have harmed you ! You know it! ” he raved.
Felice lifted the body of Marina into the cart; then he helped the mother to mount, and to lay her daughter’s head upon her knee. The poor A gat a was wailing, with the dry eyes of the old who have spent their tears.
“ Courage, poor mamma ! ” said Felice. “ There is our Rosaria waiting for you at home, and here am I who love you like a second mother.”
As he seated himself on the shafts, he dried his eyes with his sleeve and spoke to Riuzzu. The cart went away carrying home the dead and the living: the daughter to sleep in the churchyard, and the mother to darken the windows of her house and veil the fire with ashes. And much time must pass before the care of Rosaria and of Felice would be able to console her; because it is the young who hope, but the old remember, for their best days have been.
Antonio watched until he could no longer see the cart. Then he threw himself upon the earth that had the imprint of Marina’s person, and lay there, face downward, kissing the ground in desperation. It appeared to him that bells were tolling inside his head. Shivers ran over him, although his flesh burned as if in a fever. He could not collect his thoughts, wandering and confused. He did not know how long he lay there. At last he drew a great sigh, and arose to his feet.
“ Now I will make justice upon myself. I do not merit to die by the pistol that sent the beautiful soul of Marina to fly through the air. I will give myself up to the carabineers.”
Neighbor Vanni, about to set forth for the mine, saw Antonio, who passed by, running with arms raised. “ One would say that the devil was at his heels! ” noted Vanni.
Antonio, out of breath and with a haggard face, reached the barracks of the carabineers at Caltanisetta. “ I give myself up,” he said to the sentinel.
The captain was called, and before he could ask a question Antonio said, in a hoarse voice broken by dry sobs : —
“ I am the man whom they seek for the murder of don Cosimo Mascarelli of Aidone. Antonio Morreale I am. I give myself up of my own will. Not for cause of don Cosimo; otherwise I should have stayed underground, in the Casa di Cifaru, and not let myself be taken. But for the wife I have killed, whom I love more than myself, — do me the charity, signor captain, send me to prison. I want the punishment ! ”
When they handcuffed Antonio, he kissed the irons. “ These go well for me,” he said. So broken he was that they had to help him walk to the prison.
The advocate who was to make his defense came to talk with him; but Antonio insisted, “ Say nothing in my favor, your worship.” So that the advocate, who was used to help people get out of things smoothly before justice, did not know what to do with this fellow, and washed his hands of the affair, saying, " That is a simpleton worse than a rat which has only one hole. He does not merit that I should give myself trouble about him. But because it is my duty I shall display my eloquence in his favor.” And he went away irritated.
Also to the father confessor Antonio said, “ 'T is useless, reverendo. For what I meant to do, and for what I did not mean to do, let justice punish me. Already I am so scorched with sorrows that the pains of hell will appear to me little more. If only I could know that Marina forgives me, up there ! ”
The good priest comforted Antonio as he could, and, because divine mercy has no limits, exhorted him to repentance.
“But don Cosimo spoke evil of my wife,” the poor fellow answered, “ and for that I killed him ; so that I do not repent of it, reverendo.”
There came to visit Antonio the officers of justice, the big pieces who know all about the law. For when, in the province, there is a person accused of a grave crime, so that the judgment of Solomon is wanted to disentangle the matter, the prisoners are brought to Caltanisetta. For a petty thief of poultry or green stuff, or for a quarrel and some broken heads, any village brigadier whatever knows what to do.
Don Carmelo Fantozzi, who still bore the marks of Rosaria’s nails, came from Castrogiovanni to look at Antonio Morreale. " So that wolf has let himself be cauglit,” said the brigadier.
There came from the police office of Aidone half a dozen carabineers, fine in new uniforms. Lawyers were not lacking, who tormented Antonio with questions, while he, with his head heavy and confused, went on repeating, “ It is true, your excellency, I killed them.” Nor could he ever understand why an advocate was to speak in his favor, when he had said so many times that he was guilty.
He was tried at the assizes of Caltanisetta. He stood there in a cage, like a wild beast at a fair, with all the people looking at him. The movement of the fans of the ladies, who came there as to a theatre, made his head turn round. The judges were terrible, so that they appeared like the hand of the Lord. The jury had faces of stone. Many persons were called as witnesses, and there were others who wrote what was said with pens that scratched upon the paper. All the people seemed to Antonio as if they were far away.
First were called to witness the peasants who were working near the hedge when don Cosimo was killed in the olive grove ; but these would not depose anything that was worth the trouble of making them open their mouths. As the proverb goes, they had bought three grains of speak-little; and they kept their eyes fixed on the ground, so that justice could not learn anything even by a wink of theirs. They were agreed that, as is the saying, testimony is good so long as it does not harm the neighbor ; and the dead is dead, and we must give help to the living. So they had not recognized who was in the olive grove with don Cosimo Mascarelli, nor seen Antonio Morreale pass along the road. They knew nothing at all. To ask them questions was like trying to squeeze wine out of a turnip.
“ They are imbeciles,” said the government attorney, as he saw them shake their heads, persisting, “ I don’t know, your lordship.” For silence is a fine possession that cannot be taken away from poor men.
Donn’ Anniria Mascarelli was there, dressed in mourning, with a face like yellow wax, holding to her eyes a pocket handkerchief with a wide black border. Felice Mendola sat beside mamma Agata, poor old woman, who trembled so that her voice failed, and more than once the magistrate was obliged to say to her, “ Speak louder, good woman ; ” for they wished to know how it was that Antonio Morreale had taken away Marina from her town. And when it was answered that be, although overbearing, had done nothing unworthy of an honest man, the ladies, who had scented a little scandal, were disappointed, and murmured that peasants are stupid. Master Vito Dauria deposed that Antonio was a brave young fellow who worked like ten, and was not quarrelsome, but, on the contrary, kind even to the carusi.
They threw the words back and forth like balls, until not even Antonio knew what he had or had not done. The advocate of the defense called him a martyr of love, and the ladies applauded with their hands, and then he proceeded to speak with such tenderness that Antonio thought, “ I ought to have cut don Cosimo into little pieces, not only killed him once! ”
Then the government attorney described the death of the proprietor, the honored head of the distinguished gentleman fallen upon the earth, while from that great heart the blood streamed, making a sinister pool at the roots of the ancient olive-tree, — the olive-tree, sole and incorruptible witness of the deed. Also he spoke of the despair of donn’ Anniria and of the orphaned son, not mentioning any family dissatisfactions on account of the latter.
“ This one is right,” said Antonio to himself, " and if justice knows its trade, I shall go straightway to the galleys.”
After they had finished the trial for the murder of don Cosimo, and Antonio believed that all was at an end, and he could go at once to prison without any more annoyances, they began anew for cause of Marina. And this was like a fire, which burned Antonio without consuming him. He let his head fall between his palms, pressing hard at the temples in order not to go mad. For he must make it understood that he loved Marina; he loved her truly, so that he would have died a thousand deaths rather than twist a hair of hers. And the bullet, — he had sped it in order to save her honor, as he bad given the blow with the knife to don Cosimo Mascarelli.
Finally, after so many long-windednesses and delays, sentence was given : Antonio Morreale was condemned to the galleys for life. In the crowd that pressed to look at him there was no one who gave him a word of pity. Only when Antonio came ont of the court house of the assizes, handcuffed, between two brigadiers, master Vito Dauria’s black horse, that was tied there hy the bridle, stretched out the neck toward him and whinnied.
“ Good-by, Mureddu, for we shall never see each other again,” said the man from Aidone.
And he went away, with bent head, to punishment.