Angelo and Angela
THE story I have to tell is the biography of a house. This house is called, by the Italians who live in it, the Palazzo Rosso. The reason that I, an American, know every door-sill and rafter, every man, woman, baby, dog, and even chicken, under its roof, is because I have been its padrona for many years. Once or twice a week I go in and out, up stairs and down, collecting rents, examining broken locks and fallen plaster, arbitrating feuds, and gossiping with my tenants.
In the midst of a group of decayed cottages stands this rusty, weatherbeaten brick tenement, of the type known as a double-decker, where tiny two and four room homes open on either side of a corridor. It is four stories high, and covers a space of but fifty by a hundred feet; but here, in incredibly small quarters, dwell about two hundred Italian laborers and their families. All are unwashed, ragged, and scantily fed, — but happy.
Approaching the Palazzo one sees a chattering, bright-hued group of women gathered about a peddler’s wagon; a wrinkled old woman wearing a magenta shoulder shawl tends her toddling grandchild; while sunning himself in the doorway is old Pasquale, whose cluster of gray curls is surmounted by a tasseled cap, hanging over his ear. I enter the Red House and sit in my office making out rent receipts; I listen to the notes of the mandolin in the next room, and the soft thrum of the guitar played by an old Neapolitan, who wears a velvet waistcoat and a scarlet neckerchief. Aromatic odors issue from the soup kettles simmering over many fires; outside in the corridor, some handsome women with bare throats and glossy braids, and each with her baby on her hip, are gossiping in a soft guttural; a tiny grandmother with twinkling eyes strings peppers in a doorway, while in an upper room two lusty young Calabrians, in brown corduroys, are dancing the tarantella to the drone of a shepherd’s bag-pipe.
Half a block distant, electric cars clang, and heavy wagons of trade jolt through a business thoroughfare crowded with human beings whose hurrying steps and careworn faces speak of money-getting and the strain of modern life; but here in the Red House is a people preserving the happy vital sensuousness of the race in its childhood, when men spent their days in loving, hating, dancing and marching, praying and fighting. The Italian of the tenement is a survival of mediævalism. To estimate him justly, one must recognize the point of development reached in the twelfth century, when emotion did not gnaw the inner man, but found swift relief in action. His laugh, trembling and bubbling, passes from the highest to the lowest notes of the musical scale. His expressions of grief are classic; tears course abundantly down his cheek, and his friends lament with him, uttering loud cries like the chorus of a Greek play.
“Shriek now in response to me.”
“We do shriek” cry the friends.
“Beat yourselves as to your breast.”
“We beat ourselves.”
We should add, “Scratch your face,” — a thing which every Italian is expected to do when his relatives die.
Not only does he fall in love, but he sighs, rolls his eyes, and sings love songs. He is jealous — not dumbly, unobtrusively wretched, like our own good youths, but superbly jealous, crouching in dark places, dagger in hand.
Perhaps life is everywhere so gay, so tragic, so always interesting, if one were but to see it unveiled; but in the Red House my tenants lift the curtain, which in the world of conventional society conceals the human drama. And thus have the years sped by. It seems but yesterday since my stewardship began, yet some of those whom first I saw as pink and downy swaddlings are now street-boys selling papers, and sober little girls ministering to my newest tenants, the present swaddlings of the Red House.
“Signora,” said a timid voice.
Before me, with the frightened eyes and panting breath of a hunted creature, stood a young girl.
“ I am in great trouble, Signora. I have no father, no mother. The people of my country cannot help me. They say ‘Go to the padrona at the Palazz’; she will tell you what to do. ’ ”
It was near the end of August, and for weeks the heat had been extreme. Nerves were strained by the unbroken continuance of the high temperature. Even the nights were not cool, but only less hot; so that, when the unrefreshed eyes again looked upon the white glare of the cloudless sky, the torrid air seemed a fiendish personality determined to break down human endurance. The newspapers recorded, not only sunstrokes, but also suicides and murders, crimes for which the merciless heat alone should have been held responsible.
A crowded tenement, in the heart of a city, is not a place one would naturally seek on a scorching summer afternoon; yet, strange to say, I found the nearest approach to comfort in the Palazzo. My bare, clean office was shielded by green shades from the insistent sun; on the well scrubbed table stood a pitcher of fragrant basil, gathered from the window garden of one of my tenants. Old Steffano in the next room was running his fingers idly over his guitar, eliciting languorous arpeggios; women slumbered across their doorways, and for once, even the babies and dogs were subdued. I, too, had prepared to lapse into drowsy enjoyment.
“Will the Signora hear me?” repeated the girl.
“Melodrama in this heat!” exclaimed I to myself. But there was no escape from the girl’s eyes, which were searching mine for permission to tell her story.
“Your name?” I asked aloud, determined to learn the facts and have the affair over in the least time possible.
“You are a stranger here?”
“Yes, Signora. It is but one month since I left the ship to come to my sister and brother-in-law. Three days ago I went to the City Hall and was married to Angelo Taglia.”
“A lover so soon! Yes, of course — she is beautiful,” thought I, for the first time scrutinizing the earnest young face.
“Next week,” continued the girl, “we were to have had the wedding in the church.” (A civil marriage is in the eyes of the Italian peasant merely a preliminary to the religious ceremony by the priest.)
“And now,” I assumed, “Angelo wants to take back his promise and not marry you at all?”
“No, no, Signora. It is I who wish to be free from him. Yesterday,” she continued, “Angelo was arrested by a woman, who said she too was his wife. I followed him to the court. There I found a girl Angelo used to love,— a poor girl, Signora, young too, like me, and from my country. She carried a baby in her arms. It was his, Signora. We wept together, that poor girl and I. She tried to give me the little one. ‘Here,’ said she, ‘you are the new wife; you must care for Angelo’s boy.’ ‘But no,’ I said, ‘what do I want with another woman’s baby?’ I called Angelo. I said ‘You are the father ; she is the mother. You must go together to your house.’ Signora, he would not go one step with her. He wants to make me his wife.”
“How was it that you knew nothing of this before you went to the City Hall with Angelo?”
“How could I know? My people did not know his people. Angelo comes from Italy, yes; but he is from Naples, while my home is in Calabria.”
“Then you should have waited until you were better acquainted. Why must you have been in such haste to marry ? Why not have waited a year or two?”
“Ah, yes, Signora, that is what I should have liked. But you do not understand. Angelo is my brother-in-law’s padrone — the man he works for. When I was still in my country, Enrico — he is my brother-in-law—made a bargain with Angelo. Angelo was to give him steady work all winter, and Enrico was to give me to him for his wife. My brother-inlaw was glad for me to marry such a rich man, because I have no one to take care of me. The very night I came, this man was waiting in my sister’s house. ‘You are Angela!’ he said,‘and I am Angelo. Angela and Angelo, the two belong to one another.’ The next, morning his mother brought me some fine presents. Soon after, we became engaged, and in a week we were married by the court; and now, Signora, my brother-in-law says he is too poor a man to keep me any longer. ‘Go with Angelo to the priest and finish the marriage, or go into the street,’ says he. I cannot go to look for work ; I should be lost if I went two hundred yards away. And then, Signora, who would give me work ? I cannot speak one word of English. May I not be servant to the Signora?”
She knelt and prayed to me, laying her forehead on the floor and kissing it.
“I do not want money, only a little corner to sleep in, and the food which the Signora would throw away. I can sew and knit and make a garden,” she begged. Her low, fervid voice implored me, while her hands timidly touched my shoulder, and her anxious eyes sought mine. “If the Signora will but save me from Angelo!”
At this moment came the sound of a footstep in the corridor.
“Angelo!” Angela sprang and locked the door. “He has come to kill me and you.”
For an instant the pale vision of those who had been killed in bloody encounters of the Palazzo arose before me. I saw daggers and stilettos. I saw Vito Antonelli stabbed for cheating at cards, and poor Luisa Canino shot by her husband for having lent the family axe to a man who did not return it. There stood Pietro, Allessandro, Alberto, and many others who were dead for some trifling offense. To sympathize with an insubordinate wife undergoing discipline was to do that for which, in the Red House Colony, a man must take vengeance or be called a coward.
A threatening knock at the door. I looked at the windows; they were twenty feet, from the ground. It is a fact, however, that the suavity of the drawingroom fills the peasant, even the enraged peasant, with awe and confusion. I unlocked and opened the door.
Before me was a face ravaged by devilish anger, by suppressed revenge, which, wanting its victim,contorted the features of the man himself. His teeth were long and cruel, like those of a furious animal; and holding his lips away from them at the sides he showed fang-like canines. His pale face was spotted with purple. Strangely enough, as I saw his close-set eyes, scintillating with mania, his dilated nostrils, and his hands opening and shutting spasmodically, my first sensation was one, not of fear, but of pity. Did my eyes reveal my sympathy ? Though ready to spring at me, he wavered.
I for my part lost no time in greeting him with slow, smooth cordiality. “Mr. Taglia, I believe ? This young girl Angela has been speaking of you. To be frank, she quite puzzles me, and you are the very person to explain matters. But first pray be seated.”
I uncovered for him the chair used by the Lodge which holds meetings in my office: this was an imposing article, with a high back and carved arms.
“Permit me also to give you a glass of water. Pardon me, may I say that you look ill ? It is very hot.”
For a moment my unexpected kindness checked him. He hesitated; but unhappily his eye fell upon Angela, who had dropped the imperious attitude assumed by her at his entrance, and absorbed in our conversation was gazing from one to the other, her widely opened young eyes full of trouble, and her mouth almost infantile in its tender piteousness. She was, in spite of her powerful frame, the personification of the feminine. Halfemerged into womanhood, her childlike appearance but added to her charm; and as he looked at her, baffled love again sent the blood surging to his brain.
“You — you try to separate me from my wife,” he stammered in his anger.
At this juncture an accident occurred. I upset the pitcher containing the basil, and the water overran the table, wetting my papers and belongings. In rescuing these I permitted the pitcher to fall and break.
“I can tell you one thing,”he declared angrily; “Americans may know how to get divorces and break up families; but I am Italian and I know what to do to the people that come between me and my wife.”
Up to this point I had been busily occupied in picking up the broken pieces of crockery. This finished, I looked up, all attention.
“ I must ask your pardon, Mr. Taglia; will you be good enough to repeat what you said ? I have been so disturbed by breaking this fine pitcher that I have not heard a word. You came, I believe, to ask my advice as to this lovers’ quarrel you young people have had. You know, my good man, that I am here to collect rents, not to listen to anybody’s love affairs. However,” — I looked at my watch, — “I have a few moments and I will hear you.”
“Excuse me, Signora.”
My heart bounded with relief. I waved my hand in token of indulgent attention.
“You must not believe what Angela says; she is a bad girl.”
“Ah! Then her story of a young woman who claims to be your wife is false ?”
“My wife is there,” declared Angelo, pointing to Angela. “I never married that other girl.”
“Then why did she bring suit against you ? ”
“For the support of the child, but it is dead; it died the same day Angela saw it in the court, and the suit is dismissed.”
“Still,” I ventured, “Angela knows the story of the other woman. This must explain to you why she will not marry you.”
“She is married to me already,”he insisted.
“Probably you would not have cared to marry Angela,” continued I, “if she had had a lover before you, even if she had not married him — if for example, she had merely lived with him as his wife.”
“No, I should not. She’s a woman, I ’m a man. Find me, if you please, Signora, some man who lives like a girl. You think I am one of those poor field-hands, who don’t know what pleasure is. No. I’m a gentleman, I am,” he concluded with a frown.
“The fact that you are a gentleman and so handsome that half the Italian girls you know are breaking their hearts for you, is the very reason why you should not waste time on this clumsy peasant, who has not even enough discernment to desire to marry you.”
A pleased smile began to play over his face and I began to feel safe.
“I have an idea,” I cried. “I’ll pay Angela’s expenses, and we’ll ship her back to Italy.”
Angela started forward, her face radiant with hope. Angelo’s good-humored smile faded.
“She’s a poor creature,” I continued. “She will not bring you a dollar; she’s nothing but a Calabrian anyway, and after she’s once out of the way you will get a divorce ” (Angela leapt forward) “and marry some ladylike and nicely behaved girl. There’s Grazia, for example, or Pasqualina, a girl who is always gentle. You see for yourself that Angela is going to be one of these troublesome women who do not obey their husbands. Come, say the word and we’ll send her about her business this moment.” Angela’s face beamed with illtimed joy.
Angelo broke out in angry sarcasm. “ You say, let her go back to Italy ? How long before she would marry some other man? Signora,” he leaned forward and shook his finger in my face, — “I will tell you when she can have some other lover — when I am below the ground with six feet of earth over my eyes, that’s when.”
“But,” I urged, “surely a marriage would be most disagreeable if the woman were forced to accept you.”
To Angela’s unusual beauty was added a subtle, psychic quality, — one which Angelo, connoisseur of women though he was, had not heretofore encountered; he recognized something in her which he could not master, and he liked the novel sensation.
“You are a woman. Signora,” said he. “Let me tell you how a man feels when the woman who loves him tries to please him in everything. To-day, perhaps, she wears a blue ribbon. He says, ‘You must not wear blue, wear green.’ ‘But green is not becoming,’ says she. ‘Wear green,’says he, and she wears green.
“ She likes to walk and gossip with the women in front of the house. ‘ Stay in, cook, scrub, knit,’ he orders. So she stays in with the door shut. She gives him the best piece from the dish. If he feels sleepy, she yawns too — always good, always quiet. Will you believe it, Signora, he hates that woman ? He is angry at her for nothing. He even beats her. You think I will give up Angela because she says ‘ no5 when I say ‘ yes ’ ? Signora, for that reason I will not give her up.”
“But,” said I, “if she will not go with you, what then ?”
“She will go. Women have to do as their husbands say. When I say the word, she will follow me to church.”
I rose to leave. Angela, who had kept herself at the most distant corner of the room, now came forward, and for the first time their eyes met. His were sick with love. She flung at him glances of defiance and insult. Once more he felt utterly futile, and again he grew furiously angry; his face colored a dark red, and his hands nervously sought his pocket where the outline of a revolver was visible.
“The Signora will care to take home the basil ?” interposed Angela, turning to me with a sweetness which contrasted most unfortunately with her insolence to Angelo.
The long corridor lay between us and the street, and no one of us was willing to risk a stab in the back by taking the lead. The air had grown closer and seemed charged with electricity. The lightning flashed, and a thunder storm was imminent. Further delay would be a mutual acknowledgment of fear. By common consent we marched three abreast through a hundred feet of dim passageway, and at length emerged into the outer air.
Each day fate pressed more heavily upon Angela, At first she had been full of the hope that, because she was in America, and not in Italy, she would somehow find an escape from Angelo.
“ This strange way of unmarrying after one has married—the divorce — may I have one ? ” asked she.
“What are your grounds,” inquired the lawyer.
“Angelo has led a bad life; there is another young girl, — he should marry her. She has a baby and he is the father,” explained Angela.
“ Has he done wrong since you married him ?”
“But you thought that because he used to be bad you could get a divorce ? ”
“Yes — in America.”
“America is a better place for women than Italy,” said the lawyer. “But, my good child, if a man behaves properly after he is married, we cannot — even in America — punish him for the bad things he may have done before.”
No escape! Sick at heart, half starved, allowed no other bed than the hard floor, even Angela’s vigorous frame succumbed. In her tremulous transparent pallor, she became like an orchid. One morning, her sister Lucia being gone on an errand, Angela, left alone, fell into a heavy sleep, her head upon her arms. Something cold against her cheek aroused her. She shrieked, “Maria, Mother of God! What is that ? ”
Pressed against her cheek was the muzzle of Angelo’s revolver; Angelo himself stood close beside her.
“Well ?” said Angela, laying her head again upon her arms and closing her eyes. She did not fear him when, as now, he hated her. She was terrified only by his love.
“So I’m not worth waking up for, my fine lady ?” He had been drinking heavily, and his tone was loud and angry. “I am not here to buy kisses; to kill you — that is what I came to do.”
She lay motionless. Insultingly lifting her brows, she regarded him languidly through half open eyelids. Fierce at the insult, he seized her. Her stout hands caught both his wrists and held them for an instant; she grasped his revolver and placed it against her temple, then she released him.
“Now shoot,” she said.
With curses he snatched the pistol and flung it from him.
“A pretty life I lead on your account,” said Enrico, her brother-in-law, as he ate his dinner. “To-day Angelo sent word to the yardmaster and I have been put to the meanest piece of work on the place. I know the next move he’ll make. I’ll get a lay-off. But what does Angela care if my poor wife and children go hungry ?”
“Come child,” urged Lucia, her sister, “in Heaven’s name be a good girl. Get married by the priest, do! Only this morning,” she continued, turning to Enrico, “he went to the store and bought her some clothes — a dress and a nice cape. There’s the bundle, and the string still on it! You think she’d so much as take the paper off? No. She’d rather wear her old green and red dress.”
She heard them in silence, but with no intention of yielding. She continued to maintain toward Angelo a hostile frigidity, which, in spite of the degree of claim given him by the ceremony in the City Hall, he was powerless to disregard.
But though Angelo could not conquer Angela, public opinion did. There came a day, when, as she walked down the street, she saw the women whispering and pointing their fingers at her from behind the shutters. Panting she reached home.
“ Lucia, Lucia,” she called, shaken with sobs from head to foot, “to-day no one speaks to me; at first I could not believe it, that they could treat me like a street woman! First I tried to speak to Rosaria in her doorway, but she turned her face away. I spoke to Pasqualina, and she walked into her house. I went where all the women were talking together, and some went this and some that way, and some went another way; no one was left but me alone.”
An hour later Enrico called Angelo from the saloon: “Angela says you may marry her next Sunday.”
On my next visit Lucia greeted me with triumph.
“We are busy getting ready for the wedding, Signora,” said she.
I studied Angela’s face, hoping that Angelo, with a lover’s art, had won her; but no, tears stood in her despairing eyes, her lips quivered.
“Then why do you marry him?” I asked.
Lucia interposed. “You see, Signora, he talks so mean about her, she must marry him. He has told everybody she is a bad girl. She could never get another husband, and then too, how else can she be rid of him ? When she goes out on the street, there he is at her heels. At night he even sleeps here in front of our floor. We could not, you see, be bothered any longer. She ought to be glad — a poor girl like her, with no father or mother. Why, Signora, he buys everything, shoes, dress, veil. We buy nothing. And his mother, — you should see her house. Everything in heaps ready for the wedding - macaroni, cabbage, peppers — so many, it looks like a store. She has fifty chickens to kill for the feast, and she is to pay eight dollars for a fine Italian cook. You must come and see, Signora.”
“Shall I come to your wedding, Angela ?”
“Please not, Signora.”
An ill omen, — the wedding morning was black with clouds! The guests gazed into the glimmering darkness with sinking hearts. At ten o’clock the carriages waited along the curb, and the street was filled with people watching for the wedding party.
Meanwhile, behind the shutters of Enrico’s cottage, the bridal party waited the completion of the bride’s toilet. She was in white, except for two narrow purple streamers of sacrificial purple, which, with the folds of her veil, fell to her feet. Angelo felt warm and tender towards every one. As to Angela, she would soon be his to treat as harshly as he would, in payment for the torture inflicted by her abhorrence of him; but hope of his revenge was thwarted by the madness of his love, which, until requited, would give him no peace. Cruelty would not win her heart; therefore, he meant to be kind. He chose such a gown as fine ladies wear, one of silk and of lace, the like of which no peasant often beholds. He himself was arranging her veil and wreath with delicate discriminating touches like those of a woman.
“You are beautiful enough to pay for the trouble I have had,” said he smiling. He would have ventured a caress, had he dared.
On their way from the house to the carriage which was to take them to church, the bride and groom passed a sobbing figure crouched near the empty home. It was Angelo’s mother bent low under the crashing thunder. “The storm follows them to the altar. God has covered his face from my son on his marriage day.”
Angela’s hopes of freedom fled when the doors of the sanctuary closed behind her. Kneeling at Angelo’s side, she summoned all her faith, and prayed that the lightning would smite both herself and her lover. She waited. But the moments passed and still the priest chanted; the acolytes flitted hither and thither at their appointed offices; the organ knelled in solemn interludes; and, in spite of her despairing appeal to Heaven, the nuptial benediction was pronounced. Now only death could break the bonds which held her to the man she hated.
In gloom the wedding party assembled in the hall where the dance and feast were to be held. “A curse on Angelo’s house,” called out Maria Monti as the rain dashed against the window. “No son will come to Angelo. Girls,—perhaps, yes; but no man child will bear his name.”
Meanwhile, Rosaria, Angelo’s mother, with a labored semblance of good cheer, threw confetti and filled the wine glasses till they overflowed. The bride spread her handkerchief in her lap, as a signal to her guests, who now came forward with their gifts. The women brought bed linen, a pair of sheets or a few pillow covers; the men tossed envelopes containing money to Angela and kissed Adgelo on either cheek. Angela, grave and speechless, was a statue in bridal robes; only her sister pressed her lips against the cold white cheek, while Enrico whispered, “Forgive me, Angela. If I have said any cross words, you must forget and forgive.”
Vengeance burned in the girl’s eyes. “The cross words, yes, those I do forgive; but because I must wear these,” — here she touched in turn her veil, her wreath of orange blossoms, and her ring, — “ my heart is hard against you, Enrico Barelli.”
Angelo’s mother kept close watch upon her son’s bride. “Come come,” she said sharply, “you’ve got a husband of your own, keep your secrets for him.”
The wine flowed freely, the feast was ample, and presently the good cheer of meat and drink brought back the warm currents of life to the guests. Jokes and laughter followed, and no sooner did the mandolins give the signal for the dance, than the men began capering and every one was ready to begin.
The Tarantella typifies the awakening and progress of love. Like most folk dances it is a factor in human events, exercising a power which mystifies by a delusive simplicity. The music forms an integral part of the whole; the best dancer in the village is powerless to the rhythm without this music, nor can it be successfully played by other than native hands. A trained musician, being foreign, cannot lay hold on the peculiar fall of the beat; yet a Calabrian peasant, with his shepherd’s bagpipe, will with a range of four notes bewitch the clumsiest pair of heels. Its source being the unexplored realm of the emotional centres, the dance with its excitant quality penetrates again into these mysterious recesses. It begins with a slight balancing step; the interest grows, not from variety nor increase of speed; but its effect is cumulative, caused by ceaseless reiteration and monotony of movement.
With the first notes of the mandolin a startling change took place in Angela. Her pallor and inertness disappeared; when, as a bride, she took her place in the centre of the room to open the dance, she became conscious of an impulse too vague to be called a purpose. Yet its power determined the events of the coming hours. The bride, after having given first a turn to each of Angelo’s relatives, male and female, was free to accept any partner who presented himself. Enrico, who had been drinking heavily, forgetting Angela’s refusal of pardon, now clamored for his turn. A bright color tinged the girl’s cheeks. Borne upon the new current of impulse within her, she knew not, neither did she care, whither it might carry her. At the invitation of her brother-in-law she bent forward, whispering, —
“Yes, Enrico, you shall be my partner; you and I will show these Neapolitans how the Calabrians dance. At daybreak, that is when we shall tire — you and I — ”
Rosaria had again observed the secrecy between Angela and Enrico. “Look,” said she, pulling Angelo aside, “am I to spend my money for a fête that a Calabrian beggar girl may make a fool of my son ? Be a man, will you ?”
Angela and her partner moved with light, and rapid grace; Enrico, always keeping step with perfect precision, interpolated various antics and drolleries, which the guests, enlivened by copious draughts of red wine, found so witty that in their uproarious laughter they panted, screamed, and beat one another. The Tarantella gives opportunity for many modest coquetries; but whatever Angela’s motive in detaining Enrico, she danced as simply as a child. Each figure was brought to a perfect finish; and without pause, a new one was begun as if the two were wound up to whirl until doomsday.
All day Angelo had hungered for a token that she forgave him and would not punish him longer by her coldness. Because he loved her, her conduct and the jeers of the men hurt more than they angered him. Yet he could not permit the situation to be prolonged. He forced his way through the circle to the place next the dancers.
44I want my wife for my partner now,” said he and waited. Even yet the scene might have passed without a quarrel, had Angela so chosen. He watched her closely as she continued moving quietly, rapidly, ceaselessly. He hoped for no sweetheart’s welcome; but at least she would meet his yearning gaze with toleration. Her eyes, as he spoke, were cast down; he trembled, waiting for their upward glance. She looked him full in the face with heavy eyelids of scorn.
At the same instant Enrico, still dancing, waved him aside with a gay politeness, exclaiming, “To-morrow you. To-day for me.”
Angelo uttered a fierce cry of passion, and in a flash, pierced by a bullet, Enrico lay dead at his feet. Angelo, the Neapolitan, had murdered a Calabrian.
The shot turned the tumult of laughter to one of shrieking woe. Angela’s eyes blazed with excitement. Enrico was dead; vet Angelo — her husband — still lived. She shivered with repugnance.
“If there could be a battle,” she thought, “he would fall first.” Who knew better than Angela, the Calabrian girl, how to inflame the men of Calabria to vengeance against Angelo the slayer of their countryman ?
“Bravo for Napoli,” sang Angela’s voice above the confused din. “Down with the dogs of Calabria,” she taunted.
Enrico’s friends rushed upon Angelo; the Neapolitans fought to rescue him. All were crazed with drink; weaponless, Neapolitans and Calabrians clutched and wrestled in a race battle. They bit and tore one another until their eyes were filmy with passion; vengeance was lost in the meaningless lust for blood —blood, that of foe or brother. At the centre of the mob Angelo had fallen. His mother only had seen his face suddenly pale, his body grow limp and disappear, On hands and knees she forced her search amid their trampling feet.
Frenzy spent itself at last ; neighbors and friends awoke to look into each other’s bewildered eyes. Stillness fell upon them. Peering through the gathering twilight, they dimly saw a figure—Rosaria’s — standing apart.
“Who is she?”
“There — the woman with gray, disordered hair hanging about her face; - and that —that heavy, dark object she embraces?” They looked more closely.
“Angelo!” they gasped. “Dead, and on his wedding day!”
“Listen! his mother whispers to him!”
“Does she not know that he is dead ?”
“She has gone mad.”
“Hush! She sings. How gentle, how sweet her voice!”
(“Angelo, to sleep now, my pretty one,” she was crooning.)
“She forgets. She thinks it is long ago.”
“He sleeps, yes. But for her there is to-morrow.”
Enrico and Angelo, comrades in death, lay side by side. Passion-spent, the people are no longer Calabrian or Neapolitan. Tears fill their eyes. They are Italians and brothers.
Far away glimmer the lights of a great city. From a doorway two groups of men issue into a quiet street. Each carries a bier on which lies a covered burden. How grateful the refreshing dampness of the breeze. There is no moon to-night — not even a star. The darkness is vast and peaceful.
Midnight drew near in Rosaria’s tenement home; in the flickering candlelight was seen Angelo’s shrouded body. A great silver crucifix and a massive branched candelabra half filled the room where the friends and neighbors, who a few hours before had fought and cursed Angelo, now with hushed tread and grave voices paid respectful tribute at the house of mourning.
Angela in a low seat at his side bemoaned him according to her traditions. Each Italian province has its own bodily rhythm of sorrow, its distinctive note of woman’s wailing for the dead. At one moment silent and motionless, Angela stared fixedly from under her black head coverings, oblivious to the mourners who passed before her with ejaculations of pity. She rocked violently to and fro, while she pierced the air with her shrill cry, a long monotone without resonance, suggesting, not human, but animal woe. Heard even for the first time, this sound tells its story; it is the primitive cry of woe for the first dead, before grief has learned the gamut of sorrow. Were you to hear it, you would become aware of something unfamiliar stirring in your own consciousness, a chord of your being touched for the first time and reverberating from the shadowy depths of unknown ancestry. You, a modern, whose passions are schooled to play their part in the unemotional present, will at that dread yet alluring sound fall under the spell of savagery and the wild past.
The clock struck twelve, and the mourners went to their homes; two only remained, the appointed watchers of the dead. For Angela, the day’s task was not yet completed. Purposes as imperative as religious commands possessed her mind.
“These things must I do,” thought she. “Then I may sleep.” Already she had fulfilled part of her vow; she had mourned publicly as Angelo’s widow; she had paid the priest that a requiem mass might be sung for his soul in purgatory. One final act remained to be accomplished before the last tie that bound her to Angelo would be severed.
“ Good! they are drowsy,” said Angela, glancing at the men.
She rose and brought some chairs from Rosaria’s kitchen. “There, make yourselves comfortable,” she said.
A few moments passed; the watchers slept. The girl glided with noiseless footsteps to the corpse ; she paused ; then with trembling yet persistent hands she drew back the shroud. She placed about Angelo’s neck a ribbon upon which her wedding ring was strung. In concealing the ring she touched the dead man’s icy flesh; her teeth chattered with fear; she again covered the body; she leaped from it with jubilant bounds.
A faint thrill of happiness stirred within her and would not be silenced.
“You must not be happy yet, my heart,” she said.
Swiftly she freed herself from the black shawl which had enveloped her, loosened the veil fastened by Angelo’s hands, and tore the fragile wedding gown from her shoulders.
“Ah!” She breathed a sigh of joy, and lifting her bare arms high above her head, she stood in her chemise and petticoat, — those dear clumsy garments of homespun in which she became once more Angela the free.
She lifted the lid of Rosaria’s stove and, thrusting the finery within it, dropped upon it a lighted match.
“Nothing is left. All is ashes,” she murmured as she fled into the night, through the silent street to her sister’s chamber. There she knelt, crossed herself, and after repeating her usual prayers, laid herself in bed.
“To-morrow,” she whispered, “I must work. I will make bread. I will make the house fresh and clean.”
“To-morrow,” she murmured; and with a smile of hope she fell into the dreamless sleep of health and innocence.