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Title: After the Divorce - A Romance
Author: Deledda, Grazia, 1871-1936
Language: English
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Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

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Transcriber's Note: Italic text is denoted by _underscores_ and bold
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    AFTER THE DIVORCE

    _A ROMANCE_

    BY
    GRAZIA DELEDDA

    _Translated from the Italian_
    BY
    MARIA HORNOR LANSDALE

    And they shall scourge him, and put him to death; ...
    And they understood none of these things:....
        --St. Luke xviii. 33, 34

    [Illustration]

    NEW YORK

    HENRY HOLT AND COMPANY
    1905



    COPYRIGHT, 1905
    BY
    HENRY HOLT AND COMPANY

    _Published March, 1905_

    THE MERSHON COMPANY PRESS
    RAHWAY, N. J.



PART I



AFTER THE DIVORCE



CHAPTER I


Nineteen Hundred and Seven. In the "strangers' room" of the Porru house
a woman sat crying. Crouched on the floor near the bed, her knees drawn
up, her arms resting on her knees, and her forehead on her arms, she
wept and sobbed continuously, shaking her head from time to time as
though to indicate that there was no more hope, absolutely none at all;
while her plump shoulders and straight young back rose and fell in the
tightly fitting yellow bodice, like a wave of the sea.

The room was nearly in darkness; there were no windows, but through the
open door which gave upon a bricked gallery, a stretch of dull grey sky
could be seen, growing momentarily darker; and far, far away, against
this dusky background, gleamed the yellow ray of a little, solitary
star. From the courtyard below came the shrill chirping of a cricket,
and the occasional stamp of horses' hoofs on the stone pavement.

A short, heavy woman, clad in the Nuorese dress, with a large, fat,
old-woman face, appeared in the doorway; she carried a four-branched
iron candlestick, in one socket of which burned a wick soaked in oil.

"Giovanna Era," said she in a gruff voice, "what are you about all in
the dark? Are you there? What are you doing? I believe you are crying!
You must be crazy! Upon my word, that's just what you are--crazy!"

The young woman began to sob convulsively.

"Oh, oh, oh!" said the other, drawing near, and in the tone of one who
is deeply shocked and amazed. "I said you were crying. What are you
crying for? There's your mother waiting for you downstairs, and you up
here, crying like a crazy creature!"

The young woman wept more violently than ever, whereupon the other hung
the candlestick on a large nail, gazed vaguely about her, and then began
hovering over her disconsolate guest, searching for words wherewith to
comfort her; she could only repeat, however: "But, Giovanna, you are
crazy, just crazy!"

The "strangers' room"--the name given to that apartment which every
Nuorese family, according to immemorial custom, reserves for the use of
friends from the country--was large, white, and bare; it had a great
wooden bedstead, a table covered with a cotton cloth and adorned with
little glass cups and saucers, and a quantity of small pictures hung
close to the unpainted wooden ceiling. Bunches of dried grapes and
yellow pears hung from the rafters, filling the room with a faint
fragrance; and sacks of wool stood about on the floor.

The stout woman, who was the mistress of the house, laid hold of one of
these sacks, dragged it to another part of the room, and then back again
to where she had found it.

"Now then," said she, panting from her exertion, "do stop. What good
does it do? And why should you give up, anyhow? What the devil, my
dearie! Suppose the public prosecutor _has_ asked for the galleys, that
doesn't mean that the jury are all mad dogs like himself!"

But the other only kept on crying and shaking her head, moaning: "No,
no, no!" between her sobs.

"Yes, yes, I tell you," urged the woman. "Get up now, and come to your
mother," and, taking hold of her, she forced back her head.

The action revealed a charming countenance; rosy, framed in a thick mass
of tumbled black hair; the big dark eyes swollen and glistening with
tears, and surmounted by heavy black eyebrows that met in the middle.

"No, no," wailed Giovanna, shaking herself free. "Let me cry over my
fate, Aunt Porredda."[1]

"Fate or no fate, you just get up!"

"No, I won't get up! I won't get up! They'll sentence him to thirty
years at the very least! Do you hear me? Thirty years! That's what
they'll give him!"

"That remains to be seen. And after all, what is
thirty years? Why, you carry on like a wildcat!"

The other gave a shrill cry, and tore her hair in an access of wild
despair.

"Thirty years! What is thirty years!" she shrieked. "A man's whole
lifetime, Aunt Porredda! You don't know what you are talking about, Aunt
Porredda! Go away, go away and leave me alone! for the love of Christ,
oh, leave me to myself!"

"I'm not going away," said Aunt Porredda. "The idea! In my own house!
Get up, you child of the devil! Stop this before you make yourself ill.
To-morrow will be time enough to pull your hair out by the roots; your
husband isn't in the galleys yet!"

Giovanna dropped her head, and began to cry again in a subdued, hopeless
way, heartbreaking to listen to. "Costantino, Costantino," she moaned in
the tone of one bewailing the dead, "I shall never see you again, never
again! Those mad dogs have seized you and bound you fast, and they will
never let you go; and our house will be empty, and the bed cold, and the
family scattered. Oh, my beloved! my lamb! you are dead for this world.
May those who have done it die the same death!"

Aunt Porredda, distracted by Giovanna's grief, and unable to think of
anything more to say, went out on the gallery, and began calling:
"Bachissia Era! come up here; your daughter is losing her mind!"

A step was heard on the outer stair. Aunt Porredda turned back into the
room, and behind her appeared a tall, tragic-looking figure all in
black. The gaunt, yellow face, shaped like that of some bird of prey,
was framed in the folds of a black handkerchief; two brilliant green
spots indicated the eyes, deep set, overhung by fierce, heavy brows, and
surrounded by livid circles. Her mere presence seemed to exercise a
subduing effect upon the daughter.

"Get up!" she said in a harsh voice.

Giovanna arose. She was tall and lithe, though cast in a heavy mould and
having enormous hips. Beneath the short, circular petticoat, adorned
below the waist with a band of purple, and with a broad, green hem,
appeared two little feet shod in elastic gaiters, and the suggestion of
a pair of shapely legs.

"What are you worrying these good people for?" demanded the mother.
"Have done now; come down to supper, and don't frighten the children, or
throw a wet blanket over the happiness of these good people."

The "happiness of these good people" was in allusion to the arrival of
the son of the house, a law student, home for the holidays.

Giovanna, recognising that her mother meant to be obeyed, quieted down
without more ado. Pulling the woollen kerchief from her head, and
thereby disclosing a cap of antique brocade, from whence escaped waves
of coal-black hair, she turned towards a basin of water standing on a
chair, and began to bathe her face.

The two women looked at one another, and Aunt Porredda, taking her lips
between her right thumb and forefinger in sign of silence, noiselessly
left the room.

The other, accepting this hint, said nothing more, and when Giovanna had
finished bathing, and had set her hair in order, silently led the way
down the outer stair.

Night had fallen; warm, still, profound. The solitary yellow star had
been followed by a multitude of glittering asterisks, and the Milky Way
lay like a scarf of gauze embroidered with silver spangles. The air was
heavy with the penetrating odour of new-mown hay.

In the courtyard, the crickets, hidden away in the trelliswork, kept up
their shrill chirping; the ruminative horse still stamped with his
iron-shod hoofs upon the stones, and from afar floated the melancholy
note of a song.

The kitchen opened on the courtyard, as did a ground-floor bedroom
sometimes used as a dining-room. Both doors were standing open.

In the kitchen, beside the lighted stove, stood Aunt Porredda engaged in
preparing the macaroni for supper. A child, clad in a loose black
frock, fair, untidy, and barefooted, was quarrelling with a stout
little urchin, fat and florid like his grandmother.

The girl was swearing roundly, naming every devil in turn; while the boy
tried to pinch her bare legs.

"Stop it," said Aunt Porredda. "There now, will you leave off, you
naughty children?"

"Mamma Porru, she's cursing me; she said: 'Go to the devil who gave you
birth.'"

"Minnia! what a way to talk!"

"Well, he stole my purse, the one with the picture of the Pope, that
Uncle Paolo brought me----"

"It's not so, I didn't!" shouted the boy. "You'd better not be talking
about stealing, Minnia," he added with a meaning look.

The girl became suddenly quiet, as though a spell had been cast over
her, but presently her tormentor, seizing a long stick, tried to hook
the curved handle around her legs. Minnia began to cry, and the
grandmother faced about, ladle in hand.

"I declare, I'll beat you with this ladle, you wretched children! Just
you wait a moment!" she cried, running at them. The children made a dash
for the courtyard, and collided violently with Giovanna and her mother.

"What's all this? What's all this?"

"Oh, those children, they'll drive me wild! I believe the devil is in
them," said Aunt Porredda from the doorway.

At this moment a slim little figure in black emerged from the main
gateway leading into the street, calling excitedly: "They are coming,
Grandmother; here they are now!"

"Well, let them come; you would do better, Grazia, to pay some attention
to your brother and sister; they have been fighting like two cocks."

Grazia made no reply, but taking the iron candlestick from Aunt
Bachissia she blew out the light, and hid it behind a bench in the
kitchen, saying in a low voice: "You ought to be ashamed, Grandmother,
to have such a looking candlestick, now that Uncle Paolo is here."

"Uncle Paolo! Well, I declare! Do you suppose he was brought up on
gold?"

"He has been to Rome."

"To Rome! The idea! They only don't have lights like that there, because
they have to buy their oil by the pennyworth. Here, we can use as much
oil as we want."

"You must be green if you believe that!" said the girl; then, suddenly
catching the sound of her grandfather's and uncle's voices, she flew to
meet them, trembling with excitement.

"Good-evening, Giovanna; Aunt Bachissia, how goes it with you?" said the
hearty voice of the student. "I? Very well, the Lord be praised! I was
sorry to hear of your misfortune. Never mind, courage! Who knows? The
sentence is to-morrow, is it not?"

He led the way into the room where the supper-table was laid, followed
by the two women and the children, whom their uncle's presence filled
with mixed terror and delight.

He was short and limped slightly, one foot being smaller than the other,
and the leg somewhat shorter; this circumstance had earned him the
nickname of Dr. Pededdu,[2] a jest which he took in very good part,
declaring that it was far better to have one foot smaller than the
other, rather than a head smaller than those of other people.

His fresh, round, smiling face, with its little blond moustache, was
surmounted by a big, tattered black hat. He proclaimed himself a
Socialist. Sitting down on the side of the bed, with both legs swinging,
he threw an arm around each staring, open-mouthed child, and drew it to
him, giving his attention meanwhile to Aunt Bachissia's recital of their
misfortunes. From time to time, however, his gaze wandered to Grazia,
the angles of whose girlish, undeveloped figure were accentuated by an
ill-fitting black frock much too small for her. Her own hard,
light-coloured orbs never left her uncle's face.

"Listen," said Aunt Bachissia, in her harsh voice, "I will tell you
the whole story. Costantino Ledda had an uncle by blood, his own
father's brother. His name was Basile Ledda, but they called him 'the
Vulture'--may God preserve him in glory if he's not fast in the devil's
clutches already--because he was so grasping.

"He was a wretch, a regular yellow vulture. God may have forgiven him,
but there, they say he starved his wife to death! He was Costantino's
guardian; the boy had some money of his own, his uncle spent it all,
and then began to ill-use him. He beat him, and sometimes he would tie
him down between two stones in the open field, so that the bees would
come and sting him on the eyes. Well, one day Costantino ran away; he
was sixteen years old. For three years nothing was heard of him; he
says he was working in the mines; I don't know, but anyhow, that's
what he says."

"Yes, yes, he was working in the mines," interrupted Giovanna.

"I don't know," said the mother, pursing up her lips with an air of
doubt, "well, anyway, the fact remains that one day, during the time
that he was off, some one fired at Basile the Vulture out in the field.
It is true he did have enemies. When Costantino came back he admitted
that he had run away for fear he might be tempted to kill his uncle, he
hated him so.

"Afterwards, though, he tried to make his peace with him, and succeeded
too. But now listen to this, Paolo Porru----"

"Dr. Porru! Dr. Porreddu!" shouted the small nephew, correcting the
guest. The latter, turning on the boy angrily, started to box his ears,
whereupon Giovanna laughed. On beholding their heartbroken guest--she
who up to that moment had been surrounded by a halo of romance and
tragedy--actually laughing, the pale, lank Grazia broke into a nervous
laugh as well, and then Minnia laughed, and then the boy, and then the
student.

Aunt Bachissia glared about her, and, lifting one lean, yellow hand, was
about to bring it down on some one--she had not quite decided whether
her daughter or the boy--when Aunt Porredda appeared in the doorway,
bearing a steaming dish of macaroni.

She was followed by Uncle Efes Maria Porru, a big, imposing-looking man,
whose broad chest was uncomfortably contracted in a narrow blue velvet
jacket. He was a peasant, but affected a literary turn; his large,
colourless face resembled a mask of ancient marble; he wore a short,
curling beard, and had thick lips always parted, and big, clear eyes.

"Come, sit down at once," said Aunt Porredda, planting the dish in the
centre of the table. "What! laughing, are you? The little doctor is
making you all laugh?"

"I was just about to give your grandson a box on the ear," said Aunt
Bachissia.

"And why were you going to do that, my soul? Come now, sit down, all of
you; Giovanna, here; Dr. Porreddu, over there."

The student threw himself back full-length on the bed, stretched out his
arms, lifted his legs high in air, dropped them again, sat up, and
jumped to his feet with a yawn.

The children and Giovanna began to laugh again.

"A little gymnastic exercise does one good. Great Lord! how I shall
sleep to-night! My bones feel as though they had lost all their joints.
How tall you have grown, Grazia; you look like a bean-pole."

The girl reddened and dropped her eyes; while Aunt Bachissia thrust out
her lips, annoyed at the student's lack of interest, as well as at the
general indifference to Costantino's fate. To be sure, Giovanna herself
had apparently forgotten, and it was only when Aunt Porredda placed
before her a bountiful helping of macaroni covered with fragrant red
gravy, that she suddenly recollected herself; her face clouded over, and
she refused to eat.

"There now! what did I tell you?" cried Aunt Porredda. "She is crazy,
absolutely crazy! Why can't you eat? What has eating your supper
to-night to do with the sentence to-morrow?"

"Come, come," said Aunt Bachissia crossly. "Don't be foolish, don't go
to work and spoil these good people's pleasure."

"A brave heart," said Uncle Efes Maria pompously--fastening his napkin
under his chin and seeing an opportunity for a learned observation--"a
brave heart defies fate, as Dante Alighieri says. Come now, Giovanna,
prove yourself a true flower of the mountains; more enduring than the
rocks themselves. Time softens all things."

Giovanna began to eat, but with a lump in her throat that made
swallowing a difficult matter.

Paolo, meanwhile, had not spoken a word, but sat bowed over his plate,
which, by the time Giovanna had managed to get down her first mouthful,
was entirely clean.

"Why, you are a perfect hurricane, my son!" said Aunt Porredda. "What a
ravenous appetite you have, to be sure! Do you want some more--yes?--and
more still--yes----?"

"Well done!" cried Uncle Efes Maria. "It looks as though you had found
very little to eat in the Eternal City!"

"Eh, that is precisely what I was saying just now," said Aunt Porredda.
"Beautiful streets, if you will; but--when it comes to buying
anything--the pennies have to be counted down! I've been told all about
it! On my word, they say that there are no provisions stored in the
houses as there are here, and you all know for yourselves that with no
provisions in the house it is not easy to satisfy one's appetite!"

Aunt Bachissia nodded affirmatively; she knew only too well what happens
when there is nothing in a house to eat.

"Is that true or not, Dr. Porreddu?"

"True, perfectly true," said he, laughing, and eating, and waving his
large, white hands with their long nails, in the air.

"It is that that makes him such a leech, a regular vampire," said Uncle
Efes Maria, turning to his guests. "I'll not have a drop of blood left
in my veins. Body of the devil! how the money must go in Rome!"

"Ah, if you only knew!" sighed Paolo. "Everything, every single thing is
so frightfully dear. Twenty centimes for a single peach! There, I feel
better now."

"Twenty centimes!" exclaimed all the company in chorus.

"Well, Aunt Bachissia, and then? After Costantino came back?" asked
Paolo.

"Well, Paolo Porru--you see I go on addressing you familiarly, even
though you will be a doctor soon; when you were a little chap I used to
go so far as to give you a cuff now and then----"

"I have no recollection of it, but go on with your story," said the
young man, while Grazia's nostrils fairly dilated with anger.

"Well, as I said, Costantino disappeared for three years, and----"

"He was working in the mines, all right; then he came back and was
reconciled to his uncle. What then?"

"He met my Giovanna here, and they fell in love with each other; but the
uncle made objections because my girl was poor. Then they began to hate
one another worse than ever. Costantino was working for the Vulture, and
he would never let him have a centime. So, then, one day Costantino
came to me and said: 'I'm a poor man; I haven't got any money to buy
trinkets for the bride, or to provide a feast and all the rest for a
Christian wedding; and you are poor, too. Now then, suppose we do this
way: we will have the civil ceremony, and all live and work together;
then, when we have saved enough, we will be married by God. A great many
do it that way, why shouldn't we?' So we did; we had the civil ceremony
very quietly, and afterwards we all lived together and were happy
enough. But the Vulture was furious; he used to come and yell things at
us even in our own street, and he tried to interfere with Costantino in
every way he could. But we just kept on working. So at last, when the
vintage was over last autumn, we began preparing the sweets and things
for the wedding, and then Basile Ledda was found dead one day, murdered
in his own house! The evening before, Costantino had been seen going in
there; what he went for was to tell his uncle about the wedding, and to
try to make his peace with him. Ah, poor boy! he would not run off and
hide somewhere as I begged and implored him to do, so of course they
arrested him."

"He would not go because he was innocent, mamma, my----"

"There you go, you simpleton, beginning to cry again! If you don't stop,
I'll not say another word, so there! Well, then, Costantino was
arrested, and now the trial is just over, and the public prosecutor has
asked to have him sent to the galleys; but he's a dog, that public
prosecutor! They have evidence, to be sure; Costantino was seen on the
night of the murder entering his uncle's house, where he lived all by
himself, like the wild beast that he was; and then their relations in
the past--all true enough, but there are no proofs. Costantino was very
contradictory, and full of remorse about something; he kept repeating:
'It is the mortal sin'; for you must know that he is a good Christian,
and he thinks that this misfortune has been sent as a punishment because
he and Giovanna lived together before they were married by religious
ceremony."

"But tell me one thing----"

"Just wait a moment. I should add that now they _have_ been married by
religious ceremony--in prison! Yes, my dear, in prison; fancy what a
horrid thing that was! Now don't begin crying again, Giovanna; if you
do, I'll throw this salt-cellar at your head. There she is, the goose!
Every one told her not to do it. 'Don't be married now,' they said. 'If
he's found guilty and sentenced, you can marry some one else!'"

"How contemptible!" began the young woman, with flashing eyes, but the
mother merely turned a cold, penetrating look upon her, and she broke
off at once.

"Did _I_ say so?" demanded the other. "No, it was other people, and they
said it for your own good."

"For my good, for my good," moaned Giovanna, burying her face in her
hands; "there is no more good for me, ever again, ever again!"

"Have you children?" asked Paolo.

"Yes, one, a boy. If it were not for him--alas, alas! if Costantino is
sentenced, and there were no child--then, oh, misery, misery----!" And
she seized her hair by the roots, and began to drag her head violently
from side to side, like an insane person.

"You mean that you would kill yourself, my beloved?" asked Aunt
Bachissia ironically.

To the student there was something artificial in the action; it reminded
him of a famous actress whom he had once seen in a French comedy, and
this open display of grief only aroused his cynicism.

"After all," said he, "the new divorce law has been approved, and any
woman whose husband is serving a sentence can regain her freedom."

Giovanna did not appear so much as to take in what he said, and
continued to rock her head from side to side. Aunt Porredda, however,
spoke up in a decided tone: "What an idea! as though any one but God
could undo a marriage!"

"Yes, I read about that in the papers," said Uncle Efes Maria jocularly.
"Those are the divorces they get on the Continent, where men and women
marry over and over again without troubling themselves about priests, or
magistrates either, for that matter, but here!--shame!"

"No, Daddy Porru, that's not on the Continent, it's in Turkey," said
Grazia.

"Here too, here too," said Aunt Bachissia, who had eagerly followed
every word.

As soon as supper was over the two Eras went off to see their lawyer.

"What room have you given them?" asked Paolo. "The 'strangers' room'?"

"Why, of course; why?"

"Because I really thought I should like to sleep there myself; it is
suffocating down here. What better 'stranger' could there be than I?"

"Be patient just till to-morrow, my boy. Remember these are poor
guests."

"O Lord! what barbarous customs! Will there ever be an end to them?" he
exclaimed impatiently.

"That's just what I should like to know," said Uncle Efes Maria. "These
women are draining my pockets. Well, what do you think of the new
Ministry?"

"I don't think anything of it at all!" laughed the student, recalling a
character in the _Dame chez Maxim_, a favourite play at the Manzoni
Theatre, which he frequented. Then he sauntered off to look at some
books he had left on a shelf at the other end of the room. Minnia and
the boy had run out into the courtyard; Grazia, seated at the table,
with both cheeks resting on her closed fists, was still gazing at her
uncle. He turned towards her:

"You read novels, don't you?"

"I? No," she answered, turning red.

"Well, I only wanted to say that if I ever catch you reading certain
books--I'll rap you over the head with them."

Her under-lip began to tremble, and, not to let him see her cry, she
jumped up and ran out. In the courtyard she found the two children still
quarrelling over the purse with the picture of the Pope. "As for
stealing," the boy was saying, "you had better keep quiet about that;
you, and she there--the bean-pole--you two sold some wine to-day, and
kept the money!"

"Oh, what a lie!" cried Grazia, falling upon him and dealing him a blow,
but crying herself bitterly all the while.

The courtyard was filled with the chirping of the crickets and the noise
of the horses' hoofs; and the warm, starlit air was heavy with the scent
of the hay.

"You must not be hard on her, she is a poor orphan," said Aunt Porredda,
speaking in Grazia's behalf (they were the three children of an older
son of the Porrus', a well-to-do shepherd whose wife had died the year
before). "And why not let her read if she wants to?"

"Yes, yes, let her read by all means," said Uncle Efes Maria pompously.
"Ah! if they had only allowed _me_ to read when I was young--I would
have been an astronomer, as learned as a priest!" To Uncle Efes Maria an
astronomer represented the height of learning and cultivation--a
philosopher, as it were.

"Have you seen the Pope, my son?" asked Aunt Porredda, from an
association of ideas.

"No."

"What! You have never seen the Pope?"

"Oh! what do you expect? The Pope is kept shut up in a box; if you want
to see him, you've got to pay well for it."

"Oh, go along!" said she. "You are an infidel," and, going out to where
the children were still fighting, she made a rapid descent upon them,
separated the belligerents, and sent each flying in a different
direction. "On my word!" she cried, "you are just like so many cocks.
The Lord have mercy on me! Here they are, the chicken-cocks! Bad
children, every one of you, bad, bad children!"

And the lamentations of the youngsters arose and mingled with the noises
of the summer evening.

FOOTNOTES:

[1] Porredda, female diminutive for Porru.

[2] Piedino,--little foot.



CHAPTER II


The next morning Giovanna was the first to awaken. Through a pane of
glass set in the door came a faint, roseate, sunrise glow; and the early
morning silence was broken only by the chattering of the swallows. Not
yet fully aroused, her first sensations were agreeable; then, all at
once it was as though a terrific clap of thunder had sounded in her ear.
She remembered!

This was the day that was to decide her husband's fate. She knew for a
certainty that he would be condemned, and yet she persisted in hoping
still. It mattered very little to her whether or no he were guilty;
probably she had not at any time troubled herself much with that aspect
of the case, and what wholly concerned her now were the consequences.
The thought of being parted, perhaps forever, from this man, young,
strong, and active as a greyhound, with his caressing hands and ardent
lips, was agony; and as the full consciousness of her misery came over
her, she jumped out of bed, and began drawing on her clothes, saying
breathlessly: "It is late, late, late."

Aunt Bachissia opened her little firefly eyes, and then she also got up;
but she realised too clearly what that day, and the next, and the year
following, and the next two, and five, and ten years would probably be
like, to be in any haste to begin them. She dressed deliberately,
plunged her hands into water, passed them across her face, and dried it,
then carefully arranged the folds of her scarf about her head.

"It is late," repeated Giovanna. "Dear Lord, how late it is!" But her
mother's calm demeanour presently quieted her. Aunt Bachissia went down
to the kitchen and Giovanna followed. Aunt Bachissia prepared the
_café-au-lait_ and bread for Costantino (the two women were allowed to
take food to the prisoner), placed them in a basket, and started for the
jail, Giovanna still following.

The streets were deserted; the sun, just appearing above the granite
peaks of Orthobene, filled the atmosphere with fine, rose-gold dust. The
sky was so blue, the little birds so gay, and the air so still and
fragrant, that it was like the early morning of some festal day, before
the human bustle and the ringing of the church bells have disturbed the
stillness and charm.

Giovanna, crossing the street that leads from the station--near which
the Porrus lived--to the prison, gazed upon her own violet-coloured
mountains in the distance, hemming in the wild valleys below like a
setting of amethysts; she inhaled the delicious air filled with the
perfume of growing things; she thought of her little slate-rock house,
of her child, of her lost happiness, and it seemed as though her heart
would burst.

The mother walked briskly on in front, poising the basket on her head.
Presently they reached the great, round, white, desolate pile in which
are the prisons. A sentry stood, mute and immovable, looking in the
morning light like a statue carved out of stone. A single green shrub
growing against the blank expanse of wall seemed the rather to
accentuate the dreariness of the spot. A huge, green door, which from
time to time opened and shut like the mouth of a dragon, now opened and
swallowed up the two women. Every one in that dismal abode had come to
know them; from the florid, important-looking head-keeper, who might
have been a general at the very least, down to the junior custodian,
with his pale face, his straight blond moustache, and his pretensions to
elegance.

The visitors were not allowed to penetrate beyond the gloomy passageway,
whose fetid atmosphere, however, gave some idea of the horrors that lay
beyond. The pale and elegant guard, coming forward, took their basket,
and Giovanna asked in a low voice if Costantino had slept.

Yes, he had slept, but he kept dreaming all the time. He did nothing but
repeat over and over again the words--"_The mortal sin!_"

"Ah! may he go to the devil with his mortal sin!" exclaimed Aunt
Bachissia angrily; "he ought to stop it!"

"Mamma, dear, why need you swear at him? Has not fate cursed him enough
as it is?" murmured Giovanna.

The women now left the building and stood outside, waiting for the
prisoner to be brought forth. When Giovanna's eyes fell upon the group
of carbineers who were to escort him to court, she fell to trembling
violently, although on all the preceding days she had seen precisely the
same thing; and her big, black eyes, stretched to their widest extent,
fastened upon the great doorway with the unseeing stare of a crazy
woman. Slowly the minutes lagged by, then the dragon mouth opened, and
once more, surrounded by stony-faced guards with fierce black
moustaches, the figure of Costantino appeared.

He was tall and as lithe as a young poplar tree; a long lock of lustrous
black hair hung down on either side of a face, beardless, pallid from
prison confinement, and almost feminine in its beauty. The eyes were
large, and chestnut-brown in colour; the mouth small, and as innocent as
a child's, and there was a little cleft in the middle of the chin. He
looked like a young Apollo.

The moment his eyes fell upon Giovanna, although he too had been waiting
for that moment, he grew whiter than ever, and stopped short, resisting
the guards. Giovanna rushed forward, sobbing, and seized hold of his
manacled hands.

"Forward!" said one of the carbineers; then, gently, to her: "You know,
my girl, it is not allowed."

Aunt Bachissia now stepped forward as well, darting rapid glances out of
her little green eyes. The escort halted for an instant, and Costantino,
smiling bravely, said in a voice that was almost cheerful: "Courage!
Courage!"

"The lawyer is waiting for you," said Aunt Bachissia, and then the
guards pushed the women gently aside.

"Stand back, good people! Out of the way!" said one, and they led the
prisoner off, still smiling back at Giovanna, his gleaming white teeth
showing between lips that were still round and full, albeit colourless.
Thus he disappeared from view between his stony-faced conductors.

Aunt Bachissia now, in her turn, dragged off Giovanna, who wanted to
follow her husband, and insisted that she should return first to the
Porrus' for breakfast.

They found the courtyard bathed in sunlight. It played upon the shining
leaves of the grape-vines, from which hung bunches of unripe grapes like
pale-green marble; the swallows disporting in it were moved to pour
forth floods of song; and it tricked out Uncle Efes Maria, preparing to
set out for the country on his chestnut horse. How full of light and
cheerfulness seemed that little, enclosed spot, with its low stone-wall,
beyond which could be seen a broad expanse of open country, stretching
away to the distant horizon! The children sat on the threshold
of the kitchen door, devouring their breakfast of bread soaked in
_café-au-lait_; Grazia had taken hers to a retired corner, possibly
in order not to be seen engaged upon anything so prosaic by the
student-uncle. He, meanwhile, stood in his shirt-sleeves in the middle
of the enclosure, gulping down the contents of a great bowl.

"How large is St. Peter's?" asked Aunt Porredda, who was polishing the
doctor's shoes, and marvelling the while to hear of the wonderful things
he had seen.

"How large? Why, as large as a _tanca_.[3] You can't even pray there; no
one could say his prayers in a _tanca_. The angels are as large as that
gateway--the littlest ones--those that hold the holy-water basins."

"Ah! then you have to go upstairs to reach the water?"

"No; they are on their knees, I think. Give me a little more
_café-au-lait_, mamma; is there any?"

"Of course there is. It seems to me you have come back very hungry, my
little Paolo; you're a regular shark!"

"Do you know how much this breakfast would cost in Rome? One franc! not
a centime less; and then the milk is all water!"

"The Lord preserve us! Why, that is frightful!" "What do you think? I
saw some dolphins at sea; the strangest-looking creatures----Oh! here
are our guests; good-morning; what have you been about?"

Giovanna described the meeting with her husband, and was beginning to
cry again, when Aunt Porredda took her by the hand and led her into the
kitchen.

"You have need of all your strength to-day, my soul," said she, setting
before her a large cup of _café-au-lait_. A little later the two women
started out again for the Court of Assize; Paolo promising to join them
there.

"Courage!" said Aunt Porredda, as she took leave of Giovanna, and the
latter heard her husband's sentence in the kind hostess's tone, and went
off with the look of a whipped dog.

Paolo followed her with his eyes; then, limping across the courtyard to
his mother, he said a singular thing:

"Listen to me, mamma; before two years have gone by that young woman
will be married to some one else!"

"What do you mean by saying such a thing, Dr. Pededdu!" cried the
mother, who always addressed her son by his nickname when she was angry
with him. "Upon my word, you must be crazy!"

"Oh! mamma, I have crossed the sea," he replied. "Let us hope, at all
events, that she will engage me as her lawyer."

"That young man devours his food like a dog," said Giovanna to her
mother, as they descended the steep little street. "May the Lord have
mercy on him!"

Aunt Bachissia, walking along plunged in thought, answered through her
clenched teeth, "He will make a good lawyer; he will gnaw his clients to
the bone and then swallow them whole!"

Then the two walked on in silence, but a moment later Aunt Bachissia
stumbled, and as she did so, for some reason that she could not fathom,
it flashed into her mind that, should it ever so fall out that Giovanna
were to apply for a divorce, she would ask Paolo to be their lawyer.

It was eight o'clock when they reached the Cathedral Square, and the
small windows of the Court House close by were sending back dazzling
reflections of the early morning sun.

The little granite-paved square was already crowded with country friends
and neighbours, witnesses in the trial. Some of these immediately
approached the two women, and greeted them with the inevitable
commonplace: "Courage! Courage!"

"Oh! courage; yes, we have plenty of it, thank you," said Aunt
Bachissia. "Now leave us in peace." And she continued on her way, as
proud and erect as a race-horse. The road was only too familiar already,
and she followed it straight to the fateful hall. Behind her came
Giovanna, and behind her, the others: heavily bearded, roughly clad men;
a handful of idlers; last of all, a near-sighted old woman with no
teeth.

The jury, most of them old and fat, were already in their places. One of
them had an enormous hooked nose; two others, fierce-eyed, thickly
bearded men, looked like bandits; three sat in a little group with their
heads close together, laughing over something in a newspaper.

In a few moments the judge appeared, his rosy face surrounded by a
straggling white beard. Then came the public prosecutor, a young man
with a fair, drooping moustache, flushed and tyrannical-looking. Then
the registrar, the ushers--all of these functionaries looking to
Giovanna, in their black robes, like so many evil genii come to weave
their fatal spells about poor Costantino.

And there he was himself! Erect in the cage, like some frightened animal
held in leash by the two stony-faced carbineers. His gaze was fastened
upon Giovanna, but now there was no smile; he seemed overpowered by the
weight of his misery; and, as his glance fell upon those men, the
arbiters of his fate, his clear, childlike eyes contracted and grew dark
with terror.

Giovanna, too, seemed to feel the grip of an iron hand on her heart, and
at times the sensation was so acute as to give her actual physical pain.

The lawyer for the defence, a little pink-and-yellow man, with a
high-pitched, querulous voice, began his speech.

His defence had been sufficiently unfortunate from the first; now he
merely repeated what had already been said; and his words seemed to fall
into space like drops of water dripping into a great empty vessel. The
public prosecutor, with his drooping moustaches, maintained an air of
insolent indifference. A few of the jury appeared to take credit to
themselves for sitting through it with patience; while the others, so
far as could be observed, did not so much as pretend to listen. The only
persons present, in fact, who really took any interest in the summing up
of the defence were Aunt Bachissia, Giovanna, and the prisoner; and the
longer their advocate talked, the more did these feel that their case
was hopelessly lost.

From time to time some new arrival would take one of the seats behind
Giovanna, and whenever this happened, she would turn quickly to see if
it were Paolo. For some reason she found herself ardently wishing for
him; she felt as though his mere presence in the courtroom might help
them in some way.

At last the lawyer ceased. Instantly, Costantino arose, and, growing
very red in the face, asked if he might speak. "The--the"--said he,
pointing in the direction of the advocate--"the gentleman-lawyer has
spoken--he has defended me--and I thank him kindly; but he has not
spoken the way I could have wished; he did not say--well, he did not
say----"

He stopped, breathing hard.

"Add anything to your defence that occurs to you," said the judge.

The prisoner stood for a moment with his eyes cast down, in an attitude
of deep thought. The flush died out of his face, leaving it whiter than
before; presently he passed his hand across his forehead with a
convulsive movement, and raised his head.

"This is it," he began in a low tone. "I--I----" but again his voice
failed; then, suddenly clenching his fists, he turned towards the
lawyer, and burst out in a voice of thunder: "But I am innocent! I tell
you I am innocent!"

The lawyer hastily motioned with his hand to quiet him; the judge raised
his eyebrows, as though to say: "And suppose he had said so a hundred
times, is it our fault that we are not convinced?" And a woman's sob was
heard through the courtroom.

Giovanna had broken down, and Aunt Bachissia at once dragged her towards
the door, reluctant and tearful. Every one but the public prosecutor
watched the struggle between the two women.

A little later the court withdrew to deliberate.

Aunt Bachissia, followed by two of the neighbours, hauled Giovanna into
the square, where, instead of trying to comfort her, she fell to
scolding her roundly. Was she quite mad? Did she want to be removed by
force? "If you don't behave yourself," she concluded, "I declare I'll
give you a good beating!"

"Mamma, oh! mamma," sobbed the other. "They are going to condemn him!
They are going to take him from me, and I can do nothing, I can do
nothing----!"

"What do you expect to do?" asked one of the neighbours. "As sure as I
am alive there is nothing for you to do. Be patient, though, and wait a
little longer----"

At this moment three figures in black appeared, one of them laughing and
limping. They were Paolo Porru and two young priests, friends of his.

"There she is now," said the student. "It looks as though he had been
sentenced already!"

"Upon my word," remarked one of the priests, "she is indeed a young
colt! One that knows how to kick, too! She looks----"

The other one, meanwhile, was staring curiously at Giovanna, and as they
all three approached the Eras, Paolo asked if the argument had closed.
"It's the man who murdered his uncle, isn't it?" enquired one of the
priests. The other continued to stare at Giovanna, who had begun to
regain her self-control.

"He has murdered no one at all," said Aunt Bachissia haughtily.
"Murderer yourself, black crows that you are!"

"Crows, are we? Well, you are a witch!" retorted the priest. Upon which
the bystanders began to laugh.

Giovanna, meanwhile, at the solicitation of Paolo, had become quite
calm, and she now promised not to make a scene if they would let her
return to the courtroom. They all, accordingly, went in together, and
found that the jury, after a brief deliberation, were already taking
their seats. A profound silence fell upon the dim, hot room. Giovanna
heard an insect humming and buzzing against one of the windows; her
limbs grew heavy; she felt as though her body, her arms, her legs, were
strung on rods of ice-cold iron. Then the judge pronounced the sentence
in a low, careless voice, while the prisoner looked at him fixedly and
held his breath. Giovanna kept hearing the buzzing of the fly, and was
conscious of a feeling of intense dislike for that rosy, white-bearded
man, not so much on account of what he was saying, but because he said
it with such an air of indifference. And this was what it was:

A sentence of twenty-seven years' imprisonment "for the homicide who,
after long premeditation, had at last committed the crime upon the
person of his guardian and own uncle by blood!"

Giovanna had so entirely prepared her mind to expect thirty years, that
for the first moment twenty-seven seemed a respite, but it was only for
a moment; then, swiftly realising that in thirty years three count for
nothing, she had to bite her lips violently to keep back the shriek that
rose to them. Everything grew dim before her; by a desperate effort of
the will she forced herself to look at Costantino, and saw, or thought
she saw, his face old and grey, his eyes, dim and vacant, wandering
aimlessly about him. Ah! he was not looking at her, he was not even
looking at her any more! Already he was parted from her forever. He was
dead, though still among the living; they had killed him! Those fat,
self-satisfied men, who sat there in perfect indifference, awaiting
their next victim. She felt her reason forsaking her, and suddenly a
succession of piercing shrieks rent the air; some one seized her, and
she was dragged out again into the sunlit square.

"Daughter! daughter! Do you know what you are doing? You must be mad!
You are howling like a wild beast!" cried Aunt Bachissia, grasping her
by the arm. "And what good will it do? There is the appeal still,--the
Court of Cassation,--do be quiet, my soul!"

All this had happened in a few moments. The witnesses, the lawyer, Paolo
Porru, and the others now came crowding around the women, trying to
think of something to say to comfort them. Giovanna, dry-eyed and
staring, was sobbing in a heartbroken way, disjointed sentences falling
from her lips, expressions of passionate tenderness for Costantino, and
wild threats and imprecations addressed to the jury. She begged so hard
to be allowed to remain until the condemned man should be brought out,
that they agreed. At last he appeared; bent, livid, sunken-eyed; grown
prematurely old.

Giovanna rushed forward, and, as the carbineers made no motion to stop,
she went ahead of them, walking backwards, smiling into her husband's
face, telling him that it would all be set right in the Court of
Cassation, and that she would sell everything, to the very clothes on
her back, in order to save him. But he only stared back at her,
wide-eyed, unseeing; and when the carbineers pushed her gently aside,
one of them saying: "Go away, my good woman, go off now, and try to be
patient," he too said: "Yes, go away, Giovanna, try to get permission to
see me before I am taken away, and--bring the child, and take courage."

So Giovanna and her mother went back to the house, where Aunt Porredda
embraced and wept over them; then, however, appearing to repent of such
weakness, she set about to remedy it.

"Well," said she. "Twenty-seven years, what is that after all? Suppose
he had been sentenced to thirty, would not that have been worse? What!
You are going away? In this heat! Why, you must be crazy, both of you;
upon my word, I shan't let you go."

"Yes," said Aunt Bachissia; "we must get off; the others are all going
back now, and will be company for us. But if it won't be putting you out
too much, Giovanna will return in a few days and bring the boy."

"Why, bless you! is not this house the same as your own?"

They sat down to dinner, but Giovanna, though now perfectly calm, would
touch nothing. Two or three times Aunt Porredda attempted to talk on
indifferent subjects: she asked if the boy had cut his first teeth;
remarked that travelling in such heat might make them ill; and enquired
about the barley-crop in their neighbourhood.

Profound peace brooded over the courtyard. The sun poured down on the
grape-vines overhead, and traced delicate lacework patterns on the
paving where it filtered through the leaves. The swallows flew hither
and thither, singing joyously. Paolo sat reading the newspaper as he ate
his dinner. Grazia and Minnia,--the boy had gone off with his
grandfather,--in their sparse, tumbled little black dresses, kept
falling asleep over theirs, overpowered by the noontide somnolence. Aunt
Porredda's words floated dreamily out into all this sunlight and peace,
into which Aunt Bachissia's tragic mien, and Giovanna's mute air of woe,
seemed to strike a note of discord.

The moment the meal was ended, the visitors packed their wallet, saddled
their horse, and said farewell. Paolo promised to see their lawyer about
the appeal to the Court of Cassation, and as soon as they were well out
of sight, began to play with Minnia, forcing her to shake off her
drowsiness, and pretending that he was crazy. He would first laugh
uproariously, shaking in every limb; then, suddenly become perfectly
silent, staring ahead of him with wild fixed gaze; then break forth
once more into peals of laughter.

The girls were highly diverted; they too fell to laughing immoderately;
and the sun-bathed courtyard and tranquil house, freed at last from the
gloomy presence of the guests, was filled with sunshine, and merriment,
and peace.

FOOTNOTE:

[3] An enclosed pasture, but of vast extent.



CHAPTER III


Meanwhile, the Eras pursued their journey under the burning July sun.
The road at first led downwards to the bottom of the valley; then
crossed it and ascended the violet-coloured mountains that, shutting in
the horizon beyond, lost themselves in the haze that rose from the
heated earth. It was a melancholy progress. The two women rode one
horse, a dejected-looking beast, tractable and mild. Their travelling
companions had gradually drifted away; some riding on ahead; others
falling behind, but all alike were silent and depressed, overpowered by
the suffocating heat, the stillness, and the sad outcome of their
journey. They felt Costantino's misfortune almost as keenly as the women
themselves, and out of respect for Giovanna's dumb agony, either
remained silent, or, if they spoke, did so in undertones that awoke no
echoes, and failed even to break the intense silence.

Thus they travelled on, and on; descending steadily towards the bed of a
torrent, whose course ran through the bottom of the valley. The path,
though not very steep, was rugged and at times difficult to follow as it
wound its way between rocks, stretches of barren, dusty ground, and
yellow stubble. At long intervals a scraggy tree would raise its
solitary head; lifeless, immovable in the breathless atmosphere, like
some lonely hermit of the wilderness; its shadow falling athwart the
sun-baked earth, like that of a little wandering cloud, lost and
frightened in the great expanse of light its presence alone seems to
mar. Occasionally the shrill note of a wild bird would issue from one of
these oases of shade, only to die away instantly, choked and overpowered
by the weight of the all-embracing silence. Big purple thistles,
pink-belled convolvuluses, and lilac mallows, rearing themselves here
and there in defiance of the sun, seemed only to enhance the general air
of desolation; while below and above stretched endless lines of ancient
grey stone-walls, covered with dry yellow moss. Fields of uncut grain,
with spears like yellow pine-cones, closed in the distance.

On, and on, they went. Giovanna's head was burning beneath her woollen
kerchief upon which the sun's rays beat mercilessly; and big tears
coursed silently down her cheeks. She tried to hide them from her
mother, who was riding on the saddle, while she was seated on the
crupper, but Aunt Bachissia heard, Aunt Bachissia saw, even out of the
back of her head; and presently she could contain herself no longer.

"Look here, my soul," said she suddenly, as they traversed the bottom of
the valley, between great thickets of flowering oleanders; "will you
have the goodness to stop? What are you crying for, anyhow? Haven't you
known it for months and months?"

Instead of stopping, however, Giovanna only burst forth into loud sobs.
Aunt Bachissia glanced around; the others had all gone on ahead, and
they were quite alone.

"Haven't you known all along how it would be?" she repeated, in low,
even tones that seemed to Giovanna to come from an immeasurable distance
and, sweeping by them, to be swallowed up in the surrounding void. "Are
you such a fool, my soul, as not to have known it from the first? Did he
or did he not kill that infamous Vulture? If he killed him----"

"But he never said he had done it!" interrupted Giovanna.

"Well! that was all that was needed, for him to be crazy enough to say
so. My soul! just think for a moment, nothing more was wanting! For my
own part, I always expected that some time or other he would crush that
Vulture as one crushes a wasp that has stung him. You say Costantino is
a good Christian! My soul! one would have thought that by this time you
would begin to have some idea of what it means to hate! Would you, yes
or no, if you had the chance, murder those men back there who condemned
him? Very well, then. He murdered the Vulture, and to a certain extent I
sympathise with him, because I know the human heart. But I have not
forgiven him, and I never will forgive him, for taking the risks he did.
No, that I will not, not for the love of God! He had a wife and a child,
and if he were going to do it he should have gone about it more
carefully. And now, that's enough of it. Let the whole matter drop. You
are still young, Giovanna; you must think of him as of one who is dead."

"But he is not dead!" wailed Giovanna desperately.

"Very well, then," said Aunt Bachissia angrily. "Go and hang yourself.
There, do you see that tree over yonder? Well, go and hang yourself from
it; but don't torment me any more. You have always been a torment. If
you had married Brontu Dejas everything would have been right; but no,
you must have that beggar; very well, the best thing for you to do now
is to hang yourself!"

Giovanna made no reply. In the bottom of her heart she too believed
Costantino to be guilty, but she had long ceased to care. In her present
misery all she took note of was the central fact of his condemnation,
and she could not understand why ordinary mortals should have the power
so to dispose of a fellow-creature. Ah, how she hated that mysterious,
invincible power! She felt towards it as she did towards those horrible
spirits, unseen, but _felt_, which fly abroad on stormy nights!

On, and on, they went. Now they had crossed the valley and were slowly
ascending the mountain on its further side. The sun began to sink
towards the west, the horizon to open; the sky grew soft, and the
landscape lost its look of utter desolation. The shadows of the
mountain-peaks stretched down now, clear into the dim depths of the
valley, where a few late dog roses still bloomed; a little breeze
sprang up and filled the air with the odour of wild growing things.

Insensibly every one's spirits revived under the influence of this
unlooked-for shade and coolness. One of their companions, joining the
two women, began to recount an adventure a friend of his had had close
to that very spot; at one point the story became so entertaining that
even Giovanna smiled faintly.

On, and on. Now the sun was setting, and from the height they had
attained they could make out the sea, a bluish circle, bounded by the
horizon. Finally, beyond a thick-growing mass of trees and bushes so
sturdy as to withstand alike the wild winter blasts and the scorching
heats of summer, lying in the midst of the melancholy uplands like an
island in a sea of light and solitude, they descried their own village,
the eyrie of a strong, handsome, and primitive people; shepherds for the
most part, or peasants occupied in raising grain and honey.

Green, rocky pastures, gay in the springtime with daffodils, and
fragrant with mint and thyme, and fields of grain, hemmed in the little
group of slate-stone cottages that gleamed in the sun like burnished
silver. Here and there a good-sized tree cast its shadow athwart this
quail's nest, hidden away, as it were, amid the billows of ripening
grain. Lines of green tamarisks, and a wilderness of thyme and arbute,
lay beyond. Further still were the limitless stretches of the uplands,
and above all spread a sky of indescribable softness and beauty. On the
right, against this sky, the lonely mountain-peaks reared themselves
like a company of sphinxes, blue in the morning, lilac at noonday, and
purple or bronze-coloured at evening; their rugged sides covered with
forests, the home of eagles and vultures.

It was nearly dark when the Eras at last reached the village. Mount
Bellu, the colossus of that company of sphinxes, had enveloped itself in
a cloak of purple mist, and stood out against the pale, grey sky. The
street was already silent and deserted, and the clatter of the horse's
hoofs on the rough stone paving resounded like the blows of a hammer.
One after another their companions turned off, so that when they reached
their own home, the two women were quite alone.

The Era cottage stood on a little flat clearing, above the level of the
street. Higher up on the hillside, overlooking it, was another house, a
white one. A large almond-tree, growing beside a piece of crumbling wall
that extended from one corner of the cottage, overhung the street,
which, beyond this point, merged into the open country.

Scattered about on the level stretch of ground between the two
houses,--the grey cottage of the Eras and the white dwelling of the
Dejases,--beneath the shadow of the almond-tree, lay a quantity of great
boulders, convenient and comfortable resting-places; hence the spot had
come to be used by the villagers as a sort of common or place of public
resort. Hardly had the horse stopped before the cottage, when Giovanna
slid down and, with lagging steps and hanging head, advanced towards a
woman,--a relative left in charge during their absence,--who came
forward to meet them with the baby in her arms. Taking the child from
her, Giovanna clasped it closely to her breast, and began to weep,
burying her head on the chubby little shoulder. Her tears were now
flowing quietly enough, a feeling of numbness and of utter despair crept
over her, and the unhappiness of the preceding months seemed as nothing
in comparison with the misery and desolation of the present moment. The
baby, hardly yet five months old, had clear, violet eyes, and little,
unformed features set in a stiff, red cap with fringe hanging down over
the forehead. He recognised his mother, and began pulling with all his
strength on the end of her kerchief, kicking both little feet, and
crying: "Ah--ah--aah----"

"Malthinu, my little Malthineddu, my sole comfort in all the earth; your
daddy is dead," sobbed Giovanna.

The woman, understanding that Costantino had been found guilty, began to
cry as well. Suddenly Aunt Bachissia descended swiftly upon them.
Pushing Giovanna into the cottage, she asked the woman to help her
unload the horse.

"Are you stark mad, both of you?" she demanded in a low voice. "What
need is there to carry on like that, right out here in sight of the
white house? I can see the beak of that old Godmother Malthina now. Ah!
she will be delighted when she hears of our bad luck."

"No," said the woman, "she has come several times to ask for news of
Costantino, and she always seemed to feel very sorry. She told me she
had dreamed that he was condemned to penal servitude."

"Oh, yes! that is the kind of sorrow that an ill-tempered cur feels! I
know her! She's a venomous snake, and she can't forgive us. After all,"
she added a few minutes later, walking towards the cottage with the
wallet on her back, "she's right; we can't forgive ourselves."

Aunt Martina Dejas was the owner of the white house on the hill, and the
mother of that Brontu Dejas whom Giovanna had refused to marry. She was
very well off, but a miser, and Aunt Bachissia was quite mistaken in
supposing that she hated them. As a fact, the refusal had affected her
very little, either one way or the other.

"See here," said Aunt Bachissia, when they had finished unloading the
horse. "Will you do me one favour more, Maria Chicca? Will you take back
the horse and tell her that Costantino is to get twenty-seven years in
prison? Then watch her face."

The woman took hold of the bridle, the animal having been hired from the
Dejases, and led it towards the white house.

This house, formerly the property of a merchant who had failed, had been
bought at public sale a few years before. It was large and commodious,
with a portico in front that gave it an almost seignorial air, but which
was used as a promenade by Aunt Martina's chickens and pigs. It was an
inappropriate dwelling for rough shepherds like the Dejases, as was
shown by its rude furnishings, composed mainly of high clumsy wooden
bedsteads, roughly fashioned chests, and heavy chairs and stools. Aunt
Martina was seated on the portico, spinning--she could spin even in the
dark--when Maria Chicca approached, leading the horse. The house was
entirely unlighted, Brontu and the men being off at the sheepfolds,
while Aunt Martina never kept a servant. She had other sons and
daughters, all married, with whom she lived in a constant state of
warfare on account of her miserly habits. Whenever there was any
especial stress of work, she got in some of the neighbours to help.
Often Giovanna and her mother were hired in this way, being paid in
stale or injured farm produce. The Eras, however, were too poor to
refuse anything they could get.

"Well, what was the result?" asked the old woman, laying the spindle and
a little ball of flax on the bench beside her. She had a thin, nasal
voice; round, light eyes, placed close together; a delicate, aquiline
nose, and lips that were still full and red. "You are crying, Maria
Chicca. I saw those two poor women arrive, but I was afraid to go and
ask, because I dreamed last night that he had been sentenced to penal
servitude."

"Ah, no! they have given him twenty-seven years' imprisonment."

Aunt Martina appeared to be disappointed; not, indeed, that she bore
Costantino any ill-will, but because she had a firm belief in the
infallibility of her dreams.

She took the horse by the bridle, saying:

"I will go to the Eras' this evening, if I possibly can, but I'm not
sure. There's a man coming, he who worked for Basile Ledda; he is going
to hire out to us. He was one of the witnesses; but I believe he's back,
isn't he?"

"Yes, I think he is," said the other. And, returning to the cottage, she
began at once to relate how Aunt Martina felt very sorry; and how she
had dreamed that Costantino had got penal servitude; and that Giacobbe
Dejas--he was a poor relation of the other Dejases--was going to work
for them. Giovanna, who was nursing the child, and gazing down at it
sorrowfully, did not so much as raise her eyes. Aunt Bachissia, on the
contrary, asked innumerable questions: Had she found the old Dejas
alone? Was she spinning,--spinning there in the dark?--etc., etc.

"Listen," she said to Giovanna. "She may be here this evening."

Giovanna neither moved nor looked up.

"My soul! do you hear me?" cried the mother angrily. "She may come down
this evening."

"Who?" asked Giovanna, in the tone of a person just awake.

"Malthina Dejas!"

"Well, let her go to the devil!"

"Who is to go to the devil?" asked a sonorous voice from the doorway. It
was Isidoro Pane, an old leech-fisher related to the Eras. He had come
on a visit of condolence. Tall, with blue eyes and a yellow beard, a
bone rosary about his waist, and clasping a long staff with a bundle
fastened to the top, Uncle Isidoro looked like a pilgrim. He was the
poorest and the gentlest and the most peaceable inhabitant of
Orlei. When he wanted to swear, all he said was: "May you become a
leech-fisher!" He and Costantino were great friends. Often and often had
the two sung the holy lauds in church together, and the Eras had named
him as a witness for the defence, because no one could testify better
than he to the blameless character of the accused man. His name had,
however, been rejected. What, indeed, would the testimony of a poor
leech-fisher amount to when confronted with the majesty of the law!

The moment she saw him, Giovanna gave way and began to sob.

"The will of God be done!" said Isidoro, leaning his staff against the
wall. "Be patient, Giovanna Era, you must not lose your trust in God."

"You know?" asked Giovanna.

"Yes, I have heard. Well, he is innocent. And I tell you that even
though he has been condemned to-day, to-morrow his innocence may be
proved."

"Ah! Uncle Isidoro," said Giovanna, shaking her head. "Your confidence
doesn't impress me any longer. Up to yesterday I believed in you, but
now I have lost faith."

"You are not a good Christian; this is Bachissia Era's doing."

Aunt Bachissia, who regarded the fisherman with scant favour, and was
always afraid of his bringing vermin into the house, turned on him
angrily, and was about to launch forth into abuse, when another visitor
arrived. He was presently followed by others, and still others, until at
last the little cottage was filled with condoling neighbours; while
Giovanna, who was really tired by this time even of weeping, felt it
incumbent upon her to continue to sob and lament desperately.

All the time, Aunt Bachissia kept watching for the rich neighbour, but
she did not appear. Instead, there came Giacobbe Dejas, the man who was
about to enter her service. He was a cheerful soul, about fifty years
old; ordinary-looking, short, thin, smooth-shaven, and bald; with no
eyebrows, and a decided squint; the eyes, small and cunning, were of a
nondescript colour, something between yellow and green. He had worked
for Basile Ledda for twenty years, and had been called as a witness for
the defence. In his testimony he had alluded to the ill-treatment
Costantino had received from his uncle, but told also how the old miser
had maltreated every one, his women and servants as well. Why, the very
day before his death he had struck and kicked him--Giacobbe Dejas!

"Malthina Dejas is expecting you," said Aunt Bachissia. "You had better
go on up there."

"The devil cut off her nose!" replied Giacobbe. "I'll go presently. What
I'm afraid of is of falling out of the frying-pan into the fire! She's a
worse miser than even _he_ was."

"If she pays you what you earn, you've no right to judge her," said the
ringing voice of Uncle Isidoro.

"Ah! you are there, are you?" said Giacobbe mockingly. "How are the
legs? Pretty well punctured?"

Isidoro regarded his legs, which were wrapped about with bits of rag. It
was his habit to stand in stagnant water until the leeches attached
themselves to him.

"That need not concern you," he answered quietly. "But it is not well to
curse the woman whose bread you are going to eat."

"I shall eat my own bread, not hers, and that is our affair. Come now,
Giovanna, take heart! What the devil! Do you remember that story I was
telling you on the road from Nuoro? Be sensible now, for this little
chap's sake. Costantino is not going to die in prison, I can tell you
that myself. Give me the baby," he added, stooping down to take it, but
finding the little fellow asleep, he straightened himself, and, placing
a finger on his lips, "Aunt Bachissia," he said (he always used the
"Aunt" and "Uncle" even with people younger than himself), "do me a
favour; send your daughter to bed; she has come to the end of her
forces. And you, good people," he continued, turning to the company,
"let us do something as well, let us take ourselves off."

One by one, accordingly, they all departed. Aunt Bachissia, seizing the
stool upon which Isidoro Pane had been seated, took it outside and wiped
it vigorously. When she came in she found Giovanna fallen into a sort of
a doze, and had to shake her in order to arouse her.

The young woman opened her eyes, which were red and glassy; then she got
up with the child in her arms.

"Go to bed," commanded the mother.

She looked at the door, murmuring: "Never again! He will never, never
come back again! For a moment I thought I was waiting for him."

"Go to bed, go to bed," said the mother, her voice harsher than ever.
She gave Giovanna a push, and then, taking up the old brass candlestick,
opened the door.

The cottage consisted of a kitchen, with the usual stone fireplace in
the centre and the oven in one corner, and two bedrooms, furnished in
the most meagre way. Giovanna's bedstead was of wood, very high, and
provided with an extremely hard mattress and a red cotton counterpane.

Aunt Bachissia took the little Martino, who was whimpering in his sleep,
and laid him down, cradling him between her two hands, while Giovanna
got ready for bed. When she was undressed and her head bare, the
beautiful hair wound around it somewhat in the fashion of the ancient
Romans, the mother covered her carefully and went out.

No sooner was she left to herself, however, than she threw off the
covers and began to moan and lament. She was completely worn out with
sorrow and fatigue, and her eyes were heavy with sleep, yet she could
not rest. Confused pictures kept crowding through her brain, and, as
though her mental anguish were not already suffering enough, sharp pains
shot through her teeth and temples. Every time she had one of these
twinges it was as though some one had poured a jug of boiling water down
her spine, and she shook with nervous terror. Altogether, the night was
one long horror.

From the adjoining room, the door of which stood open, Aunt Bachissia
could hear Giovanna muttering and raving; now addressing Costantino in
terms of extravagant endearment; then the jury with threats and
imprecations. She herself, meanwhile, lay wide awake, her brain clear
and active, going over every detail of what had taken place, and laying
plans for the future. The sound of Giovanna's grief only aroused a dumb
sense of resentment in her breast, and yet, after a while, she too
found herself weeping.



CHAPTER IV


On the evening of the following day, a Saturday, Brontu Dejas, returning
from the sheepfolds, was hardly off his horse before he began to
grumble. Among themselves, the Dejases were notorious grumblers, though
with outsiders they were always extremely suave. Apart from this trait
he was a good-natured devil; young and handsome, very dark and thin, of
medium height, with a short curling red beard. He had beautiful teeth,
and, when talking to women, smiled continually in order to show them.
Coming home on this particular evening, he began to grumble because he
found neither light nor supper awaiting him. It must be admitted that
there was some justification; for, after all, he was a working-man, and
week after week he would return from six days of toil to find a house as
dark and squalid as a beggar's hovel.

"Eh! eh!" he said, as he began to unharness his horse. "This might as
well be Isidoro Pane's shanty! Let us have some light, at any rate, so
we can see to swear. What is there for supper?"

"Bacon and eggs; there now, be patient," said Aunt Martina. "Did you
know that Costantino Ledda had been sentenced to thirty years?"

"Twenty-seven. Well, are those the eggs? My dear mamma, that bacon is
rancid. Why don't you give it to the chickens? the chickens, do you
hear?" and he snapped his handsome teeth angrily.

"They won't eat it," answered Aunt Martina tranquilly. "Yes,
twenty-seven. Ah! twenty-seven years, that is a long time. I dreamed he
had got penal servitude."

"Have you been to see the women yet? How pleased they must be now with
their fine marriage! Miserable beggars!"

He had asked the question with evident curiosity, yet the moment his
mother told him that she had been, and that Giovanna was tearing her
hair and quite beside herself, while it was plain to see that Aunt
Bachissia wished now that she had strangled her daughter before allowing
her to make such a match, he turned on her furiously.

"What business had you to go near the den of those wretched beggars?"

"Ah! my son. Christian charity! You don't seem to have any idea of what
that is!" Aunt Martina liked, indeed, to pretend that she was a
charitable person. "Priest Elias was there too this morning; yes, he
went to comfort them. Giovanna wants to take the baby to Nuoro for
Costantino to see before they carry him off. I told her she was crazy to
think of such a thing in this heat; but Priest Elias told her to go, and
he nearly cried!"

"What does he know about children! He is barren, like all the rest of
them," snarled Brontu, who hated the priests because his uncle, who had
been rector in the village before Priest Elias Portolu came from Nuoro,
had left all his property to a hospital. Aunt Martina had not forgiven
this outrage either, but the old she-wolf knew how to disguise her
feelings, and when Brontu railed against the priests she always made the
sign of the cross.

"What makes you talk that way, you fool?" said she, hastily crossing
herself. "You don't know where your feet may carry you! Priest Elias is
a saint. If he were to hear such evil talk as that--beware! He has the
Holy Books, and if he chooses to, he can curse our fields, and bring the
locusts, and make the bees die!"

"A fine saint!" exclaimed Brontu. Then he insisted upon hearing all the
particulars about the Eras,--how Giovanna had cried out, what that old
kite, Aunt Bachissia, had said----

"Well, Giovanna's sobs were enough to melt the very stones; and Aunt
Bachissia was in despair because now, in addition to all the rest, the
lawyer's fees and other expenses of the trial have stripped them of
everything they possessed, even to the house."

The young man listened intently, his face beaming with satisfaction, and
his white teeth gleaming. In his undisguised pleasure he was simply and
purely savage.

"Listen," said Aunt Martina, when she had finished. "Giacobbe Dejas will
be here presently to see you too. He wanted to begin his term of service
to-morrow, but I told him to wait till Monday. To-morrow is a holiday,
and there is no sense in our having him eat at our expense."

"Beautiful St. Costantino! You _are_ close, mamma."

"Oh, you; you are just like a child! What use is there in wasting
things? Life is long and it takes a great deal to live."

"And how are those two women going to live?" asked Brontu after a short
silence, seating himself before the eggs and bread.

"They will catch snails, I suppose," said Aunt Martina scornfully. She
had taken up her spindle again, and was spinning close to the open door.
"You take a great interest in them, Brontu Dejas."

Silence. Within the room the only sounds were the rattle of the spindle
and the noise of Brontu's strong teeth, as he munched the hunks of hard
bread; outside, though, beyond the portico, the crickets were chirping
incessantly; and from the far-away, deserted woods, through the warm,
dim atmosphere of the falling night, came the melancholy cry of an owl.
Brontu poured out some wine, raised the glass, and opened his mouth, but
not to drink. There was something he wanted to say to his mother, but
the words would not come. He drank the wine, brushed some drops off his
beard with the back of his hand, and again opened his mouth, but still
the words died away.

A sound of heavy boots was heard, tramping across the open space before
the house. Aunt Martina, still spinning, arose, told her son that
Giacobbe Dejas was coming, and, taking the food and wine, put them away
in the cupboard.

Giacobbe saw the action as he entered, and at once understood that she
was hiding something in order not to have to offer it to him; but, as he
himself would have put it, he was too much a "man of the world" to allow
any expression of resentment to escape him.

He advanced, therefore, smiling and cheerful.

"I will wager," said he, laying one finger on his nose, "that you were
talking about me."

"No, we were speaking of poor Costantino Ledda."

"Ah, yes, poor fellow!" returned Giacobbe, becoming serious at once.
"And when you think that he is innocent! As innocent as the sun! No one
can be more sure of it than I."

Brontu threw himself back in an easy attitude, crossed his legs, and,
turning slightly around, showed his teeth as he did when talking to
women. "As to that, opinions may differ," he said sharply. "There, for
instance, is my mother; she dreamed that he had got the death sentence."

"Oh, no, Brontu! What are you talking about? Penal servitude!"

"Well, it amounts to the same thing. Now, we will talk business."

"Very well, let us talk business, by all means," assented Giacobbe,
crossing his legs as well.

A little later the two men, having settled the matter in hand, went off
together, Brontu leading the way to the tavern. He himself was not in
the least close, and if he never offered a visitor a glass in his own
house, it was only not to irritate Aunt Martina. At the tavern, though,
he was superb, and on this particular evening he made Giacobbe drink so
much, and drank so much himself, that they both became tipsy.

Coming out at last into the silent, deserted street, filled with the
odour of the dry fields, they began talking again of Costantino, and
Brontu said, with brutal frankness, that he was glad of the sentence.

"Go to the devil!" shouted Giacobbe. "You have no heart!"

"All right, that's it; I have no heart."

"Just because Giovanna wouldn't have you, you are glad to hear of the
death, or worse than death, of a brother."

"He's not dead, and he's not a brother; and it was I who would not have
Giovanna Era. If I had wanted her to, she would have licked the soles of
my shoes."

"Bum--bum--look out, or you'll have a tumble, my little spring bird. You
lie like a servant-maid."

"I--I--am--not--a--a--servant-maid," stammered Brontu, furious. "If you
say anything like that again, I'll take you by the crown of your head
and choke you."

"Bum--I tell you, you'll fall down, little spring bird," repeated
Giacobbe at the top of his lungs. Their voices rang out through the
quiet street; then they suddenly ceased talking, and stillness reigned
once more. In the distance, under the light of the stars which overhung
the mountain crests like garlands of golden flowers, the owl still
sounded his melancholy note.

All at once Brontu began to cry in a strange, drunken fashion, with
neither sobs nor tears.

"Well, what is the matter now?" demanded Giacobbe in a low tone. "Are
you drunk?"

"Yes, I am. Drunk with poison, you galley refuse. I only hope you will
be strangled yet!"

At this the other felt very indignant. Not only had he never been to
prison, but he had never so much as been accused of any offence against
the law. Yet, mingled with his resentment, there was a vague feeling of
terror.

"You are going crazy!" said he in a still lower tone. "What's the matter
with you? Why should you talk to me like that? Have I ever done anything
to you?"

Whereupon the other became confidential, and, groaning as though he were
in physical pain, he declared that he was, in truth, madly in love with
Giovanna, and that he had hoped, and prayed the devil, from the
beginning, that Costantino would be found guilty.

"Even if the devil were to get my soul it wouldn't matter, because, you
see, I don't believe in him!" said he, breaking into a foolish,
cackling laugh, more disagreeable to listen to even than his previous
maudlin distress. "I intend to marry Giovanna," he presently added.

Giacobbe was greatly astonished at this, but he pretended to be still
more so. "What!" said he. "You take my breath away! How--why--what on
earth do you mean? How can you marry her?"

"She will get a divorce, that's all. Well, what of that? There's a law
that gives a woman the right to marry again if her husband has been sent
to prison for a long sentence."

Giacobbe had heard some talk of this, but no case of legal divorce,
still less of remarriage, had as yet been heard of in Orlei.
Nevertheless, not to appear ignorant, he said: "Oh, yes, I know;
but it is a mortal sin. Giovanna Era will never do it!"

"That's just what I am worrying about, Giacobbe Dejas. Will you talk to
her on the subject to-morrow?"

"Oh, yes, of course! To-morrow! You're an ass, Brontu Dejas! You may be
rich, but you are as stupid as a lizard, stupider than one! Here, when
you might marry a maid,--some rich young girl, as fresh as a rose with
the dew still on it,--you want instead to have that woman! Upon my word,
it will give me something to laugh at for the next seven months!"

"All right, you can laugh till you split in two, like a ripe
pomegranate! But I'm going to marry her!" said Brontu angrily. "There's
no other woman like her, and I shall marry her; you will see!"

"Well, do marry her, my little spring bird!" cried the other, bursting
into a loud laugh. Brontu joined in, and they continued on their way
uproariously till they saw a tall figure with a staff silently
approaching them.

"Uncle Isidoro Pane, did you have good sport?" shouted Giacobbe. "And
your legs, have they plenty of punctures?"

"You had better turn leech-fisher yourself," said the other, coming up
to them. "Whew! what a smell of brandy! Some one must have broken a cask
near here!"

"Do you mean that you think we are drunk?" demanded Brontu in a bullying
tone. "The only reason you don't get drunk yourself is because you
haven't anything to do it with! Get away! get away, I tell you, or I'll
crush you like a frog!"

The old man laughed softly, and walked on.

"Idiot!" said Giacobbe in an undertone. "Don't you know that he could
have helped you with Giovanna? He's a friend of hers."

"Here! here!" shouted Brontu, turning around, and gesticulating with
both arms. "Come back! come back, I tell you! 'Sidore Pane, _che ti
morsichi il cane_!"[4] he laughed, delighted with his rhyme. But Isidoro
did not stop.

"Do you hear me?" yelled the tipsy Brontu, stammering somewhat. "I
tell you to come here! Ah! you won't do it, you little toad? I
tell--you----"

But Isidoro silently pursued his way.

"Don't talk to him like that; what sort of way is this to carry on?"
remonstrated Giacobbe. Brontu thereupon adopted a new method.

"Little flower, come here, come here! Come listen to what I have to say.
You may tell _her_--that friend of yours--well, yes, Giovanna, that is
who I mean. You may tell her that if she gets a divorce I'll marry her!"

This had the desired effect. The old man stopped short, and turning
around, called in a distinct voice:

"Giacobbe Dejas!"

"What is it, my dear?" answered the herdsman mockingly.

"Make--him--keep--quiet!" returned Isidoro in the tone of a person who
means to be obeyed.

For some unexplained reason, Giacobbe felt a sudden sense of chill as he
heard the tone and those four emphatic words. Taking his new master by
the arm he drew him quickly away, murmuring:

"You are a dunce! You behave as though you had no sense at all! What a
way to talk!"

"Didn't you tell me to yourself?"

"I? You are dreaming! Am I crazy?"

They continued on their way, staggering along together, arm in arm. On
the portico they found Aunt Martina, still spinning. She saw at once
that her son was tipsy, but said nothing, knowing by experience that to
irritate him when he was in that condition was only to arouse him to a
state of fury. When he asked for wine, though, she said there was none.

"Ah! there is none? No wine in the Dejas' house! The richest people in
the neighbourhood! What a miserly mother you are." Then he began to
bluster: "I'm not going to make a scandal, but I can tell you I am going
to marry Giovanna Era!"

"Yes, yes, you are going to marry her," said Aunt Martina to quiet him.
"But in the meantime, go to bed, and don't make such a noise; if she
hears you, she won't have you."

He quieted down, but made Giacobbe unroll a couple of rush mats and
spread them on the floor; then, throwing himself down, nothing would do
but the herdsman must lie down as well, and sleep beside him; and rather
than have any trouble, Aunt Martina was obliged to agree.

Thus it fell out that instead of beginning his term of service on the
Monday, Giacobbe entered his new place on Saturday evening.

FOOTNOTE:

[4] _Che ti morsichi il cane_,--"May the dog bite you."



CHAPTER V


Sunday morning, a fortnight later, found all the personages of our
story assembled at Mass, with Priest Elias officiating. The country
people said that when he celebrated he seemed to have wings.

Giovanna alone was absent; and this for two reasons. First, her late
misfortune required the observance of a sort of mourning; she was
expected not to show herself outside the house except when her work made
it necessary. Apart from this, however, she had fallen into a state of
lethargy, and appeared to be quite unable to move about, to go anywhere,
to work, or even to pray. She had, indeed, never been much of a
Christian at any time, though before the trial she had made a vow to
walk barefoot to a certain church in the mountains, and, if Costantino
were acquitted, to drag herself on her hands and knees from the point
where the church first came into view to its doors; that is, a distance
of about two kilometres.

Now, she had ceased praying, or talking, or eating, and even seemed to
have lost all interest in her child. Aunt Bachissia had to feed him with
bread crumbled up in milk in order to keep the poor little fellow alive.
Some of the neighbours said that Giovanna was losing her mind; and
indeed it did look so. She would remain for hours at a time in a sort of
stupor, crouched in a corner with her glassy eyes fixed on vacancy, and
when she aroused it was only to fly into violent paroxysms, tearing her
hair, and crying out wildly.

After the final interview with Costantino, when she had had the child
with her, she could think of nothing else, and described the scene in
the prison over and over again, with the monotonous insistence of a
monomaniac:

"He was there, and he was laughing. He was livid, and yet he laughed,
standing there behind the bars. Malthineddu seized hold of the bars, and
he touched his little hands and then he laughed! My heart! my heart!
don't laugh like that; it hurts me, because I know that that is how dead
people laugh! And the guards, standing there like harpies! At first they
were good to us, those guards who watch over human flesh; but
afterwards, when Costantino had been condemned, they were cruel, as
cruel as dogs! Malthinu was frightened when he saw them, and cried; and
his father laughed! Do you understand? The baby, the little, innocent
thing, cried; he understood that his father had been condemned, and he
cried! Oh, my heart! my heart!"

Then Aunt Bachissia, beside herself with impatience, and unable to hold
in any longer, would exclaim:

"Honestly, Giovanna, any one would take you to be two years old! That
child there has more sense than you. Simpleton!" And sometimes she would
threaten to beat her; but prayers, sympathy, and threats were equally
unavailing.

Meanwhile, word came from Nuoro that, while waiting to hear from the
appeal, Costantino had been removed to the jurisdiction of Cagliari.
Then came a short, sad, little letter from the prisoner himself. The
journey had gone well, but there, at Cagliari, the heat was suffocating,
and certain red insects, and others of different colours, tormented him
night and day. He sent a kiss to the child, and urged Giovanna to bring
him up in the fear of God. He also asked to be remembered to his friend
Isidoro. On this Sunday, therefore, at the close of the Mass, Aunt
Bachissia waited till the fisherman should have finished singing the
sacred lauds in his ringing voice, in order to deliver Costantino's
message.

Priest Elias remained kneeling on the steps of the high altar, with
white ecstatic face, and Isidoro still sang on, but the people began to
leave, filing past Aunt Bachissia, as she stood waiting.

Aunt Martina passed, with the fiery bearing of a blooded steed, old but
indomitable still; Brontu passed, dressed in a new suit of clothes, his
hair shining with oil; he railed at the priests, but on Sunday he went
to Mass; and Giacobbe passed, in a pair of new linen trousers, smelling
strong of the shop. Still Isidoro sang on.

The church, at last, became almost empty; the fisherman's sonorous voice
resounded among the dusty, white rafters; the boards and beams of the
roof; the side altars, covered with coarse cloths, adorned with paper
flowers, and presided over by melancholy saints of painted wood.

When Uncle Isidoro stopped at length, there were only the priest, a boy
who was extinguishing the candles, Aunt Bachissia, and an old blind man
left.

Isidoro had to repeat the final response to the lauds himself; then he
got up, put away the little bell used to mark the Stations of the
Rosary, and moved towards Aunt Bachissia, who stood waiting for him near
the door. They went out together, and she gave him Costantino's message;
then she begged him to do her a favour; it was to ask Priest Elias to go
to see Giovanna and try to reason her out of the condition she had
allowed herself to fall into. He promised to do so, and they separated.

On the way home Aunt Bachissia was joined by Giacobbe Dejas, who had
been standing on the open square before the church, looking down at the
village and the yellow fields, all bathed in sunlight.

"How are you?" asked the herdsman.

"Ah, good Lord! bad enough, without being actually ill. And you, how do
you like your new place?"

"Oh! I told you how it would be. I'm out of the frying-pan into the
fire! The old woman is as close as the devil; she expects me to work
till I fall to pieces, and will hardly let me come in to Mass once a
fortnight."

"And the master?"

"Oh! the master? Well, he's just a little beast, that's all."

"What do you mean by saying such a thing as that, Giacobbe?"

"Well, it's the simple truth, little spring bird. He growls and snarls
over every trifle, and gets drunk, and lies like time. I suppose Isidoro
Pane told you----" He paused, and Aunt Bachissia, fixing her small green
eyes upon him, reflected that, if he talked like that about his master,
he must have some object.

"Well," he resumed, "Isidoro Pane must have told you--of course he told
you, about Brontu being drunk that evening; it was just here, where we
are now, Brontu yelled out: 'Tell Giovanna Era that if she gets a
divorce I'll marry her!' The beast, that's just what he is, a beast! He
drinks brandy by the cask."

Of the last clause of this speech, however, Aunt Bachissia took in not
one word. The fact that Brontu had said he would marry Giovanna if she
got a divorce was all she comprehended. Her green eyes flashed as she
asked haughtily: "And you wish him not to, Giacobbe?"

"I? What difference would it make to me, little spring bird? But you
ought to be ashamed of yourself to think of such a thing, Aunt Kite,
hardly two weeks after----"

"I'm not a kite," snapped the old woman angrily; and though the other
laughed, she could see that he too was furious.

"You might, at least, wait to hear from the appeal," said he. "And then
you can devour Costantino as you would a lamb without spot. Yes, devour
him if you want to, but I can tell you that Giovanna will get a
brandy-bottle for a husband, and just as long as Martina Dejas is alive
you will starve worse than ever."

"Ah! you bald-pate----" began Aunt Bachissia. But Giacobbe walked
rapidly away, and she had only the satisfaction of hurling abuse at his
retreating back. Not that she proposed to have Giovanna apply for a
divorce. Heaven forbid! With poor Costantino still under appeal, and
waiting there in that fiery furnace, devoured by horrible insects! No,
indeed, but,--what right had that vile servant to talk of his master so?
What business was it of his to meddle in his master's concerns? And Aunt
Bachissia decided then and there that that "bald raven" had himself
taken a fancy to Giovanna; and, filled with this new idea, she reached
the cottage.

Her immediate thought was to repeat the whole story to Giovanna, but
finding her, for the first time in two weeks, bathed, and tranquilly
engaged in combing out her long hair, which fell down in heavy, tumbled
masses, she was afraid to say a word.



CHAPTER VI


Time passed by; the autumn came, and then the winter. Costantino's
appeal had, of course, been rejected, as appeals always are. One night
he was fastened by a chain to another convict, whom he had never seen,
and the two took their places in a long file of others, all dressed in
linen, all silent; like a drove of wild beasts controlled by some
invisible power. They were going--where? They did not know. They were
silent--why? They could not say. Presently they were all marched down to
the water's edge, put on board a long, black steamer, and shut into a
cage--still like wild beasts. All about them lay the crystal sea, across
whose dark, green waters the ruby and emerald reflections from the
ship's lights danced and sparkled like strings of glittering jewels;
while above, engirdling the great ring of water, hung the deep blue sky,
like an immense, silent vale dotted over with yellow, starry flowers. At
first Costantino's sensations were not altogether unhappy. True, he was
going into the unknown to fulfil a cruel destiny, but down in the bottom
of his heart he firmly believed that before very long he would be
liberated, and he never lost hope.

The bustle on deck, the rattle of the chains, and the first motion of
the ship as it got under way, filled him with childish curiosity. He had
never been to sea, but, as a boy, he had often stood scanning the
horizon, and gazing at the grey stretch of the Mediterranean, sometimes
dotted over with the white wings of sailing vessels. At such times, as
he stood among the wild shrubs and undergrowth of his native mountains,
he would dream of some day crossing that far-away sea to distant,
unknown lands, and to the golden cities of the Continent. He could read
and write, and had a book in which St. Peter's at Rome was depicted; and
in the chapter on sacred history there was an engraving of ancient
Jerusalem. Ah! Jerusalem. According to his ideas, Jerusalem must be
the finest and largest city in the world; and, as he stood there
dreaming among the bushes on Mount Bellu, and gazing off at the grey
Mediterranean, it was to Jerusalem that he longed to go. And now, here
he was crossing the sea; but how different from his dreams! Yet, so
splendid was his conception of Jerusalem that if it had been thither
that he was bound, even a chained and condemned prisoner on his way to
expiate a crime, he would, nevertheless, have been content to go.

The pitching and rolling of the ship was accompanied by the ceaseless
rush of the water from the bows. Some of the convicts chattered among
themselves, laughing and cracking jokes. Costantino fell asleep and
dreamed, as he always did, that he was at home again. He had been set
free almost immediately,--he dreamed,--and had gone home without letting
Giovanna know a word about it so as to give her the unutterable joy of
the surprise. She kept saying: "But this is a dream, this is a
dream----" The expenses of the trial had stripped the little house bare
of everything, even the bed was gone; but nothing made any difference.
All the riches in the world could not compare with the bliss of being
free and of living with Giovanna and Malthineddu. But he was terribly
tired, so he curled himself up in the baby's cradle; the cradle rocked,
harder and harder all the time. Giovanna laughed and called out: "Be
careful not to fall out, Costantino, my dear, my lamb!" And the cradle
rocked more than ever. At first he laughed as well, but all at once he
found he was suffering, then he fell head foremost on the ground, and
woke up.

There was a heavy sea on, and Costantino was sick. The ship struggled up
to mountain-heights and then plunged swiftly into bottomless gulfs of
water, the waves breaking even over the third deck.

All the convicts were ill; some still attempted to joke, while others
swore, and one, with a yellow, cunning face,--he was Costantino's
companion--moaned and lamented like a child.

"Oh!" he groaned, cowering down, gasping and frightened. "I was dreaming
that I was at home, and now--now--oh! dear St. Francis, have pity on
me!"

Notwithstanding his own misery, both physical and mental, Costantino
felt sorry for him. "Patience, my brother, I was dreaming too about
being at home."

"I feel," cried another, "as though my soul were melting away. What the
devil is the matter with this ship! It seems to be trying to dance the
Sardian dance!" Whereat some of the others still had sufficient spirit
left to laugh.

The storm was increasing. At times Costantino thought he was dying, and
was frightened; yet, on the other hand, he felt an unutterable weariness
of life. His soul seemed to be steeped in the same bitter fluid that his
stomach was casting up. Never, not even at the moment when the sentence
of condemnation had been passed upon him, had he experienced anything
like his present condition of hopeless misery. He too began to swear and
groan, doubling his fists, and twisting his chilled toes. "May you die
just as I am dying now, you murderous dogs, who brought all this on me!"
he muttered, while tears as bitter as gall welled up into his eyes.

Towards dawn the wind subsided, but even when the sickness had passed,
Costantino found no relief; he felt as though he had been beaten to the
point of death, and he was shaking with cold, and exhaustion, and dread.
The steamer relentlessly pursued its way. Oh, if it would only stop for
just one moment! A single moment of quiet, it seemed to Costantino,
would suffice to restore his strength; but this continuous forging
ahead, the constant rolling, the never-ceasing roar of the waves as they
lashed the sides of the vessel, kept him in a state of nervous tremor.
On, and on, and on; the long hours of agony dragged slowly by; night
came again; and all the time his subtle-faced, yellow-visaged companion
hardly ceased to sigh and lament, driving Costantino into a perfect
frenzy of irritation. Sleep came at length, and then, strange to relate,
he had the same dream as on the previous night, only this time it was
Giovanna who was in the cradle, and the cradle was rocking quite gently.

When Costantino awoke, the boat seemed hardly to move; in the silence
that precedes the dawn, he heard a voice say: "That is Procida."

He was shaking with cold, and wondered if they were to land there,
where, he thought he remembered to have heard, the galleys were.

Presently his companion awoke, shivering and yawning prodigiously.

"Are we there?" asked Costantino. "How do you feel?"

"Pretty well. Are we there?"

"I don't know; we are near Procida; is that where the galleys are?"

"No; they're at Nisida," said the other. "But we are not galley-birds!"
he added, with a touch of pride, and then fell to yawning again. "Oh,
how I was dreaming!" he said, and then stopped, overcome by the memory
of his dream.

The prisoners were landed at Naples and immediately placed in a
black-and-yellow van, something like a movable sepulchre. Costantino
caught a brief glimpse of a wide expanse of smooth green water, a
quantity of huge steamers, and innumerable small craft filled with gaily
dressed men who shouted out all manner of incomprehensible things. All
around the boats, on the surface of the green water, floated weeds,
scraps of paper, refuse of all kinds. Enormous buildings were
outlined against a sky of deepest blue. At Naples, the convicts were
separated; Costantino was taken off to the prison at X---- and saw his
yellow-visaged companion no more.

On reaching his destination, Costantino was at once consigned to a cell
where he was to pass the first six months of his term in solitary
confinement. This cell measured hardly two metres in length by six palms
in breadth: it was furnished with a rude folding bed, which, during the
day, was closed and fastened against the wall. From the tiny window
nothing could be seen but a strip of sky.

Of the entire term of his imprisonment this was the dreariest period. He
would sit immovable for hours with his legs crossed and his hands
clasped about his knee--thinking; but strangely enough he never either
lost hope or rebelled against his fate. He was persuaded that what he
was enduring was in expiation of that mortal sin, as he regarded it, of
having lived with a woman to whom he had not been married by religious
ceremony, and he felt an absolute certainty that, this sin atoned for,
his innocence would some day be established and he would be set free. At
the same time, although he did not despair, he suffered acutely, and
passed the days, hours, minutes in a state of nervous expectation of
some change that never came, and a prey to a devouring homesickness.
Thus day by day, hour by hour, moment by moment, he lived in his
thoughts close to Giovanna and the child, recalling with minute
precision every little unimportant detail of the cottage life, his past
existence, and the happiness that had once been his. In addition,
moreover, to his own misery, he suffered at the thought of what Giovanna
was enduring: now and again an access of passionate tenderness, having
her far more than the child for its object, would seize him and arouse
him from his usual state of pensive melancholy; then, leaping to his
feet, he would stride back and forth,--two, or at most three, steps
bringing him to the opposite wall, where he would presently stop, and,
throwing himself against it, would beat his head as though trying to
dash out his brains. These were his moments of utmost desperation.

Hope always returned, however, and then he would begin to weave
fantastic dreams of an immediate and romantic restoration to freedom,
and the guard never entered his cell that his heart did not begin to
beat violently, fancying that he was the bearer of some joyful tidings.

Sometimes he played _morra_ with himself, and he cared so much whether
he lost or won that he would laugh aloud like a child. At other times he
would sit for hours looking at his outstretched palm, imagining that it
was a plain divided into _tancas_, with walls, rivers, trees, herds of
cattle, and shepherds; and weaving stories about them all, full of
exciting adventures. And sometimes he prayed, counting on his fingers,
and repeating the lauds aloud, trying even to improvise new verses. In
this way it came about that he actually did compose a laud of four
strophes, dedicated to St. Costantino, in which the saint's aid was
particularly invoked in behalf of all prisoners wrongfully condemned.
The refrain ran:

    "Saint Costantino, we implore thee
    For thy condemned innocent!"

The composing of this laud completely occupied him for many days, and
made him, for the time being, almost happy. When it was finished he was
wild with joy, but instantly an overpowering desire to tell some one
about it seized him; whom was there, though, to tell? The guard was a
little Neapolitan; bald, clean-shaven, with a flat, snub nose like that
of a skeleton; he talked to him sometimes, but he was not sufficiently
intelligent to understand the laud; then there were the other prisoners
whom he saw during the exercise hour, but to them he was not allowed to
speak; finally he bethought him of the chaplain, and asked to confess in
order that he might have the opportunity to repeat the laud to him.
The chaplain was a Northerner, a young man, tall and lean, with
quick, nervous movements, and great flashing black eyes filled with
intelligence. He listened patiently while Costantino repeated his laud,
and then enquired if he did not think that, in asking to confess for the
purpose of reciting it, he had been guilty of the sin of vanity.

Costantino reddened and said "No," whereupon the confessor smiled
indulgently, reassured him, praised his verses, and sent him off in a
state of beatification.

A few days later the prisoner again asked to confess. "Well, have you
written another laud?" asked the chaplain.

"No," said the other, looking down, "but I want to ask a favour."

"What is it? Let us hear."

Costantino held his breath a moment, frightened at his own temerity;
then he said quickly: "Well, this is it: I want to send the laud home!"

"Ah!" said the chaplain, "I can't do that; how could you write it,
anyhow?"

"Oh, I know how to write!" exclaimed the prisoner, raising his clear
eyes to the other's face.

"Yes; but the trouble is, my brother, that you are not allowed to
write."

"Oh, I can manage that!"

"Well, well, but I can't; I can't do it."

Costantino looked extremely dejected and all but wept; then he
confessed; asked whether it might not be better to dedicate the laud to
SS. Peter and Paul, since they too had been in prison, and begged to be
forgiven if he had presumed too much in making such a request. The young
chaplain gave the absolution and prayed for some moments aloud, the
prisoner, meanwhile, praying to himself; then, laying one hand on the
other's head, the priest said in a low voice: "Listen; write out your
laud if you can manage it, and--keep a brave heart."

A wave of joy swept over Costantino, and from that moment he had no
other thought than of how he might contrive to transcribe his verses. "I
have been a student," he said one day to the guard. "But I know how to
make shoes as well. Would you like to have me make you a pair? Oh, I can
fit you!"

"You want something," said the man in Neapolitan. "But it's no use, I
will do nothing."

"Now, Uncle Serafino, be kind! Remember your immortal soul!"

"I remember my immortal soul well enough, and I've told you before that
I'm not your uncle; you killed your uncle."

"All right; it does not signify; only in our part of the country we
always call all the important people 'uncle.'"

Don Serafino, however, wanted his own title, which Costantino, for his
part, could not bring himself to employ, since in Sardinia it is used
only in addressing people of noble birth; so for that day nothing was
accomplished.

On the following morning the prisoner returned to the charge: he
recounted how he was of good family, had received an education, and
fallen heir to a fortune; this, his uncle, he whom he had been accused
of murdering, had spent, and had then shut him up in a dark little
room, and forced him to make shoes; and once he had torn almost the
entire skin off one of his feet. He even offered to show the foot, but
Don Serafino declined with an expression of horror, and cursed the dead
man's cruelty under his breath.

The result was that Costantino presently found himself in possession of
a sheet of paper, and by means of blood and a small stick, he succeeded
in writing out the laud for condemned prisoners. Thus the winter wore
away.

One March day a visit of inspection was made to Costantino's cell; it
was under the direction of a big man, with two round, staring, pale-blue
eyes, and so little chin that what he had was completely hidden by a
heavy light moustache.

"Hello! you there," he cried to the prisoner. "What can you do?" Don
Serafino was with the party, and as his eye fell upon him, Costantino
suddenly recalled the fancy sketch he had once given him. "I can make
shoes," he replied.

"Hello!" said the big man with the staring blue eyes. "You can? Well,
you murdered your uncle."

As the remark seemed to call for no reply, Costantino merely moved his
lips, as though to say: "Certainly, I murdered my uncle; may it please
your mightiness!"

The party moved on, but before long Don Serafino returned and informed
the prisoner that his term of solitary confinement had been shortened by
more than a third, and that he would soon be released from his cell.
Costantino supposed that he owed this favour to his good behaviour, but
Don Serafino explained that it was because he had interceded for him
with the authorities, telling them that the prisoner was of good family,
that one of his feet had been flayed, and that he could make shoes.

A few days after this Costantino was taken from the cell and set to
work, in company with a number of others, at making shoes; he had,
moreover, the privilege of writing once every three months to Giovanna.
All of these concessions made him quite happy. Then the spring came, and
the convicts, who had suffered intensely from cold, became gay and
cheerful, keeping up a continual flow of chaff during working hours. Two
brothers from the Abruzzi, however, who had asked as a special favour to
be allowed to work together, quarrelled so incessantly over the division
of a piece of property that was to be settled on their release--that is
to say, in ten years' time--that, after falling upon one another one
day, they had to be separated and confined for two weeks in cells. Even
then, the very first time they encountered each other during the
exercise hour, they began fighting again.

It was during this hour of comparative freedom, when the prisoners took
their exercise in the courtyard, that Costantino made the acquaintance
of a compatriot, another Sardinian. This man, who had received the
nickname of the _King of Spades_, on account of his triangular-shaped
face, his big body, and spindle legs, was white and puffy, and so
closely shaven as to look quite bald; he was an ex-marshal of
carbineers, convicted of peculation, and, according to his own account,
was related to a Cardinal who was secretly in friendly relations with
the King and Queen. This personage, he declared, might shortly be
expected to procure his pardon, and not alone his but that of any among
his friends whom he should recommend; those, for instance, who supplied
him with cigars, money, or stamps. He had been assigned for duty in the
clerk's office, and thus had many opportunities to communicate with
persons outside, to arrange clandestine correspondences between the
prisoners and their families, and to smuggle in money, tobacco, stamps,
and liquor; all greatly to his own profit and advantage. It was not long
before he asked Costantino if he did not wish to send a letter home.

"Yes," replied the young man, "but I am poor; I have nothing to give
you."

"Never mind," said the other generously; "that makes no difference, we
are compatriots!" and forthwith he launched into an account of his
exploits as a marshal. He had, it appeared, killed ten or more bandits
in the course of his career, and had received ten medals; once when he
happened to be in Rome the King had invited him to his box at the
theatre! He was, in short, a hero; but of his crowning exploit he never
spoke, merely observing that he had been sent to prison through the
machinations of powerful enemies.

At first, in spite of his equivocal appearance, Costantino believed it
all, and felt deeply sympathetic; but gradually, as day by day the
accounts of the marshal's adventures grew more varied and marvellous, he
became sceptical, and ended by placing as little faith in what he said
as did the others, though they all pretended to be greatly impressed in
order to obtain favours.

Every member, indeed, of the little community, not excepting the guards,
was both a liar and a hypocrite. The prisoners all tried to make out
that they were something quite different from what they appeared to be,
and each one had some remarkable explanation of how he happened to be
there; while the very fact of their being compelled, quite against their
will, to associate closely and intimately together, destroyed every
spark of mutual regard that might, under different circumstances, have
sprung up among them.

Costantino noted with surprise that those who were held for the more
serious charges, while they were the greatest braggarts and boasters,
seemed in other respects to be better than the rest. The minor
delinquents were, almost without exception, cowardly, surly, and
treacherous; fawning upon any one who could do them a service, and
betraying their friends without hesitation, when the occasion arose.

"There is hardly a man in this place," remarked the _King of Spades_ one
day to Costantino, "but what is utterly corrupt; most of them are
hardened criminals, versed in every form of vice. Why, the very air we
breathe is contaminated, and a man, suddenly deprived of his liberty and
cut off from society, quickly goes to decay in such a place; he loses
all moral sense, becomes deceitful, cowardly, and violent, and soon
grows so depraved that he cannot even realise his own depravity." And he
gave some startling instances in illustration of his point. "It is my
belief," he continued, "that among all who are here now, we two, the
_Duck-neck_ and the _Delegate_, are the only honest ones; all the
others are criminals. Be very wary with them, Costantino, my dear
fellow-countryman; this place is nothing but a den of bandits, of a
worse class even than those whom I put an end to!"

Sometimes Costantino felt quite depressed, reflecting that if his own
honesty made no better impression than that of the _King of Spades_
there was little to be proud of.

The _Duck-neck_ was a Sicilian student, a consumptive with white hair,
a long neck, and the body of a child. Though he spent most of his
time reading, was timid and shrinking, and rarely spoke, he would
occasionally fly into such violent rages that he was obliged to
submit to the embraces of _Ermelinda_, as the prisoners called the
strait-jacket. In one such paroxysm he had once killed a professor.

The _Delegate_, who looked like a gentleman, was likewise a Southerner;
he, it appeared, had been sent to prison out of pure envy! He
had a swelling chest and a noble head; his nose was large and
Grecian, and there was a cleft in the middle of his lower lip; his
expression was haughty and repellent, but as soon as he was approached
he became extremely affable, even servile. Notwithstanding the
"powerful influence" that was being exerted in his favour, certain
lofty personages, a minister in particular, were persecuting him
unrelentingly. The student had lent him some scientific books, and he
was now bent upon writing a great scientific work himself. Being also
assigned to the clerk's office, he was able secretly to devote a good
deal of time to this splendid undertaking, of which the _King of
Spades_ gave glowing accounts.

"See here," said he one day to Costantino; "that man will make all our
fortunes. We work every day on the book and have a set of phrases of
our own, referring to it; but the utmost caution is necessary,
otherwise--beware!--everything may be ruined, and it is a real
scientific discovery. I will run over the main heads for you. How
the atmosphere was formed--that is, the air. How the ocean was
formed--that is, all bodies of water. Origin of the organic world. A
rational demonstration of the existence of a primordial continent in
the central tract of the Pacific Ocean. Upon this continent human life
first made its appearance, passing the period of infancy in those
tropical regions. Immigration into Africa and Asia. The continent
disappears by reason of a great cataclysm. Identification of this
cataclysm with the flood of the Bible. The other continents emerge.
Then--End of atmosphere--End of oceans--End of the heavenly
bodies--End of the earth!"

"And end of imprisonment?" enquired Costantino with a smile. He had
understood very little of the other's discourse, only taking it for
granted that, as usual, he was relating fiction. The _King of Spades_
had to have a listener, however, so he continued tranquilly: "Just wait
a moment, the other chapters are: Amplification of the accepted doctrine
of evolution. Evolution of our species from the anthropomorphic apes.
Causes of the inclination of the axis of the planets,--but not Saturn.
Reasons for this anomaly. Sun spots, etc.----"

"Oh, go to the devil!" said Costantino to himself, yawning prodigiously.
He was staring across the bare courtyard, with its fountain playing in
the middle. "And how about the magpie?" he presently asked, pointing to
one that had domesticated itself in the establishment. The convicts
gorged him with food, and he had become fat and somnolent. If by any
chance he felt hungry, he called certain of them by name in a queer,
shrill voice.

"Oh, let him burst!" said the _King of Spades_ fretfully. "You are
nothing but a child, Costantino; more interested in that silly bird than
in a scientific work of the very first importance. Indirectly I can lay
claim to the _magnum_ part of the discovery, as it was I who brought the
_Delegate_ and the _Duck-neck_ together. We have already succeeded in
despatching an abstract of the work, together with a letter addressed to
the King, to the Prime Minister. But remember--not a word of this to any
one! One eminent scientist, on reading the abstract, exclaimed: 'This is
the loftiest manifestation we have yet had of Italian genius!' Take my
word for it, Costantino, my dear compatriot, the _Delegate_ has reached
a dizzy height. He has some powerful friends who are now in Rome for the
express purpose of working for his pardon; but then, he has powerful
enemies as well! However, he will be liberated before long on account of
this book."

Costantino found all this extremely tiresome, but he pretended to listen
as he was hoping soon to get an answer to his letter to Giovanna, and
wanted to keep in the other's good graces. The answer did arrive, sure
enough, in May, and gave him the most intense happiness. Giovanna wrote
that the boy had been unwell, possibly because the anguish she had
endured had affected her milk; now, however, he was entirely well again.
Isidoro Pane had received the lauds to San Costantino written in blood,
and had wept when he read them, and now he sang them in church, the
whole congregation accompanying him. No one knew who had written the
verses, but Isidoro said an old man with a long, snowy beard, all
dressed in white, had appeared one day on the river-bank, and had handed
them to him. People said it was San Costantino, or perhaps Jesus Christ
himself! And Giacobbe Dejas had hired himself out to his rich relatives.
And the Nuoro lawyer had taken possession of the title to their house,
allowing the two women to live there for a small rent. The rich Dejases
often had work for Aunt Bachissia, and for her, Giovanna, as well; so
they managed to get along. Pietro Punia had been ill with carbuncles,
and had died. Annicca "with the silver shoulders" was married. An old
shepherd had been arrested for stealing beehives. Thus the letter went
on, entirely filled with such simple chronicles, which, to Costantino,
however, were fraught with the most intense interest. As he read he
seemed to breathe again his native air; each item set before him a
picture of the rocks and bushes, the people and objects, to which he was
bound by the closest ties of habit and affection. Only, it disturbed him
a little to learn that Giovanna sometimes worked at the Dejases'. He
knew of Brontu's passion for her, and that she had refused him, and as
he read this part of the letter he experienced a first, vague sensation
of alarm. Three francs were enclosed, and when he reflected that this
money might probably have come from the Dejases, he hated to touch it.
Two francs he offered to the _King of Spades_, rather expecting that his
dear compatriot would refuse to take them. His dear compatriot, on the
contrary, accepted them with alacrity, remarking that they would
serve as part payment for the person who conducted the clandestine
correspondence.

Under other circumstances this would have angered Costantino, but just
then he was so anxious to write again to Giovanna, to maintain some sort
of intercourse with his little, far-off world, that he would have
sacrificed the half of his life to secure the good offices of the _King
of Spades_.

He read and re-read his letter till he knew every word by heart. During
the day he hid it in the sole of his shoe, ripping this open again each
night. And always, as he sat silently bending over his work, his mind
dwelt continuously on the people and events in that little, distant
village, and he identified himself so completely at times with the
subjects of his thoughts that he lost sight of his real surroundings. He
saw the old shepherd steal cautiously up to the hives, his face and
hands wrapped in cloths. The spot is sunny, deserted; all about lie
green fields dotted over with flowers, dog-roses, honeysuckle,
sweet-peas, undulating lines of colour stretching away in all directions
as far as the eye can reach. The warm air is heavy with the odour of
pennyroyal and other aromatic herbs, and the brooding silence is broken
only by the low hum of the bees.

Anxiously Costantino follows every movement of the old thief as he first
detaches the little cork hives from the flat stones on which they
stand; then, tying them all together with a stout cord, places them in a
bag, and makes off. Just at this point Costantino could not quite make
up his mind as to the next act in the drama, and as he was considering,
a shrill voice broke in on his reflections: "Cos-tan-ti! Cos-tan-ti!"
and arousing himself with an effort he saw the magpie, fat and sleek,
hopping lazily about in the courtyard, and stretching its blue wings in
the sun.

At night, with the precious letter safely deposited beneath his pillow,
he would resume the thread of his thoughts. Now it was the sonorous
voice of his friend the fisherman that he would hear, singing the lauds,
and sometimes he almost wondered if Isidoro had not in truth seen--on
the river-bank, among the oleander bushes bending over with their weight
of fragrant pink blossoms--the figure of an old man dressed in white,
with a long beard as snowy as the wool of a little newborn lamb! Ah,
surely it was the Saint himself, good San Costantino, come to tell
Isidoro that he had not forgotten the prisoners unjustly condemned!

Costantino readily accepted this picture of the Saint, although the
statue of him in the village church represented a robust and swarthy
warrior.

"Good old Saint! Good San Costantino! Soon, soon thou wilt free us all,
blessed forever be thy name!"

Then the scene changes. Now it is the portico of the rich Dejas's house;
every one is busy with the spun wool, dividing it into long skeins
preparatory to weaving it. Giovanna comes and goes, carrying huge
bunches in her hands. Brontu is there too, seated on the threshold of
the kitchen door, with his legs well apart, and between them, laughing
and unsteady, stands the little Malthineddu. Ah, intolerable thought!
Presently, however, remembering that Brontu is never at home except on
holidays, he is somewhat comforted, and then he falls asleep, his heart
steeped in a mingled sensation of joy and pain.



CHAPTER VII


Summer had come again.

"How quickly the time passes," said Aunt Martina, as she sat spinning on
the portico. "It seems only yesterday, Giacobbe, that you took service
with us, and yet, here you are back again to renew the contract! Ah, the
time does indeed pass quickly for us poor employers! You have saved
thirty silver scudi at the very least, and have begun to build a house
of your own, but what have we to show for it?"

"That's all very well, but how about the sweat of my brow, little spring
bird? The sweat of my brow, doesn't that count for anything?" replied
the herdsman, who was busily greasing a leather cord with tallow.

"But there's your keep," rejoined the old woman. "Ah, you have forgotten
to allow for that!"

May the crows pick your bones! thought Giacobbe, who would have liked to
say it aloud, but was afraid to. He thoroughly detested both his
employers, the miserly old woman and the weak, hot-headed son, who
tormented him continually with his project of marrying Giovanna if she
would get a divorce. It was important, though, for him to renew the
contract, so he held his tongue. He greased the thong thoroughly, rolled
it up, and took it into the house; then he asked permission to go off to
attend to a piece of business of his own, and having received a grudging
assent, departed.

Walking in the direction of the Era cottage, the herdsman presently
descried little Malthineddu bestriding, with very unsteady seat, a
spirited stick horse, the sun gilding his dirty little white frock, his
stout legs and bare arms.

Stooping down with outstretched arms, Giacobbe barred the way. "Where
are we off to?" he asked caressingly. "There's the sun, don't you see
it? Ahi! ahi! Maria Pettina[5] will come with her fire-comb and snatch
you up, and carry you off to the hobgoblins! Run back quickly to the
house."

"No-o-o, no-o-o-o," shouted the child, jumping up and down on his steed.

"Well, then," said Giacobbe, lowering his voice and closing one eye as
he pointed to the white house, "Aunt Martina is up there, and to save
bread she eats little children; don't you see her?"

The boy seemed to be impressed, and allowed himself to be led back to
the cottage, still insisting, however, upon riding his stick.

Giovanna was sewing at the door, as round and fresh and rosy as though
no misfortune had ever befallen her. Above her pretty face the mass of
wavy hair lay in thick, glossy coils. Seeing Giacobbe approach with the
child, she raised her head and smiled. "Here he is," said the herdsman.
"I am bringing him safely back to you; but I found him playing in the
sun, and travelling straight towards Aunt Martina, who eats children so
as to save bread."

"Oh, go away!" said Giovanna. "You ought not to tell children such
things!"

"I tell them to grown people as well, for Aunt Martina eats them too.
Look out, Giovanna Era, the first thing you know she will eat you, and
all the more because you are like a ripe quince--no, not that either,
quinces are yellow, aren't they? You are more like a--a----"

"An Indian fig!" she suggested, laughing.

"And how is Aunt Bachissia? Is it long since you heard from Costantino?"

At this Giovanna became suddenly grave, replying with an air of mystery
that they had had news of the prisoner only a short time before.

"Ah!" said the man, without pressing the matter further. "Can you tell
me if Isidoro Pane is anywhere about? I want to see him."

"Yes," she replied sadly, taking up her work again. "He is at home."

Giacobbe said good-bye, and walked thoughtfully away in the direction of
Isidoro's house,--if house it could be called,--which stood at the other
end of the village.

The fisherman, in justice to whom it should be said that he fished for
trout and eels as well as leeches whenever he had the opportunity, was
seated in the shadow of his hut, mending a net. This hut, which stood in
the fields, a little apart from the rest of the village, was a
prehistoric structure composed of rough pieces of slate dating possibly
from the time when men, not yet having mastered the art of cutting
stones for themselves, used such pieces as had already been detached by
nature. It was roofed over with sticks and bits of tile, above which
flourished a vigorous growth of vegetation.

The sun was sinking after a day of intense heat. Not a leaf stirred in
the row of dusty trees along the scorched, deserted village street. Far
off, the yellow uplands, furrowed by long, slanting shadows, were
immersed in floods of crimson light; and beyond them rose the rugged
line of purplish mountains--a row of huge red sphinxes covered with a
veil of violet gauze. The all-pervading stillness was pierced by the
distant note of a blackbird. Wild figs with coarse, dark foliage, and a
hedge of wild robinia, among whose branches hairy nettles and the
whitish-leaved henbane had wound and interlaced themselves, surrounded
the hut; and from the doorway could be seen a wide expanse of country,
lonely and vapourous as the sea. The atmosphere was filled with the
acrid odour of stubble and dried asphodel, and the ground was so thickly
covered with dead leaves, and twigs, and bits of straw that Giacobbe had
got quite close to the old fisherman before the latter perceived him.

"What are we about now?" cried the herdsman gaily.

The other raised his eyes without lifting his head, and, regarding his
visitor curiously for a moment, made no reply.

Dropping cross-legged on the ground, Giacobbe watched him as he mended
the net with waxed twine threaded in a huge, rusty needle.

"Well, really!" said the herdsman presently, with a laugh. "I should
think the little fishes would find no difficulty in coming and going at
their pleasure!"

"Then let them come and go at their pleasure, little spring bird," said
the fisherman, mimicking Giacobbe's favourite mode of address. "What are
you doing here? Have you left your place?"

"No; on the contrary, I have just made a new contract with those
black-beetles of rich relations. But I want to speak to you about
something serious, Uncle 'Sidore. First, though, tell me how your
legs are? And is it long since you last saw San Costantino on the
river-bank?"

The old man frowned; he disliked to hear sacred things alluded to with
irreverence. "If that is what you came for," said he, "you can take
yourself off at once."

"Oh, well, there is no need to get angry! Here, I'll tell you what I
came for; it really is important. But, as for irreverence--if you find
me turning into a heathen you must blame the little master, he is always
pitching into the saints. He gets terribly frightened, though, whenever
he thinks he is going to die. Just listen to this: the other night we
saw a shooting star; it fell plumb down from the sky, like a streak of
melted gold, and looked as though it had struck the earth. Brontu threw
himself down full-length on the ground, yelling: 'If this is the last
day, have mercy on us, good Lord!' And there he stayed until, I swear, I
wanted to kick him!"

"And you were not frightened?"

"I? No, indeed, little spring bird; I saw the star disappear right
away."

"But the very first moment that you saw it, tell the truth now, you were
scared then, weren't you?"

"Oh, well, go to the devil! Perhaps I was. But see here, what I came for
was to talk to you about him--the master. If he is not crazy, then no
one is in the whole world. He wants you to go to Giovanna Era and to
suggest to her to get a divorce and marry him!"

Isidoro dropped his work, a mist rose before his calm, honest eyes: he
clasped his hands, resting his chin on them, and began shaking his head.

"And how about you?" he asked in a stern voice. "Are you not just as
crazy to dare to come to me with such a proposition? Oh, yes! I
understand, you are afraid of losing your place! What a poor creature
you are!"

"Ho, ho!" cried the other banteringly. "So that's your idea, is it? You
and your leeches!"

"Oh! you mean to be funny, do you? Well, it is time this was put a stop
to! Tell your master that he has got to bring this business to an end.
The whole neighbourhood has heard about it, and people are talking."

"My dear friend, we have only just begun! And here are you talking of
ending it! I have had enough of it, I assure you, for morn, noon, and
night, that brandy-bottle does nothing but talk to me about it! I had to
promise him at last that I would see you, so here I am! But I can tell
you not to talk on his side! There is only one person, Uncle Isidoro,
who can really put a stop to this scandalous business, and that is
Giovanna herself. You must go to her, and tell her to make that beast
shut up. I can do nothing more."

Isidoro gazed at him with wide, unseeing eyes; he appeared not to be
listening. Presently he resumed his work, murmuring: "Poor Costantino!
poor lamb! What have they done to you?"

"Yes, indeed, he is innocent," said Giacobbe. "And any day at all he may
come back! This craze of Brontu's has got to be stopped. Then there is
Aunt Bachissia as well, hovering over her like a vulture over its prey!"

"Poor Costantino! poor lamb! What have they done to you?" repeated
Isidoro, paying not the smallest heed to anything that Giacobbe said.
The latter became annoyed. Raising his voice until it echoed through the
surrounding silence and solitude, he shouted: "What _have_ they done to
him? What are they _going_ to do to him? Why don't you listen to what I
am telling you, you old rag-heap? You must go and talk to her, right
away! There she is, cheerful and rosy, and ready to fall at the first
touch, like a ripe apple! At heart, though, she is not bad, and if you
will predispose her against it--make her see what she ought to do--the
whole thing may be prevented. Get up! get along! move! do something!
Here is your chance to perform miracles, if you really are a saint, as
the sinners seem to think!"

"Ah! ah! ah!" sighed the old man, rising to his feet. His tall figure,
majestic even in its rags, stood out in the crimson light, against the
background of dark hedge and distant, misty horizon, like that of some
venerable hermit. "I will go," he said, sighing heavily. And at the
words Giacobbe felt as though a great weight had been rolled from his
breast.

From then on, the two men worked, steadily together in the interest of
the far-away prisoner, finding themselves opposed, however, by three
active and united forces, as well as by the passive resistance of
Giovanna. The three forces against which they had to contend were: the
brute passion of Brontu, the grasping greed of Aunt Bachissia, and Aunt
Martina's self-interest, she being now wholly in favour of Brontu's
scheme. Giovanna, she argued, was, though poor, both healthy and frugal,
and she knew how to work like a beast of burden. A woman in good
standing coming into the house as a bride, might entail all manner of
extravagance and outlay, and the wedding alone would be sure to mean a
heavy expense. Whereas, in the case of Giovanna, the marriage would be
conducted almost in secret, and she would steal into the house like a
slave! Shrewd Aunt Martina!

Thus the months rolled over the little slate-stone village, the desolate
mountains, the yellow stretch of uplands. Autumn came--soft, melancholy
days, when the sea lay beneath a veil of mist on the horizon, and dark
clouds, like huge crabs, travelled slowly across the pale sky, trailing
long lines of vapour behind them. Sometimes, though, it would turn cold,
and the atmosphere would be like a spring of limpid water, fresh, clear,
and sparkling.

On such an evening as this, when a long, violet-coloured cloud hung in
the eastern heavens like an island in a crystal sea, and the scent of
burning thyme came from the fields which the peasants were making ready
for sowing, Brontu would swallow great gulps of brandy to take off the
evening chill, and then, throwing himself down in the back of the hut,
would lie dreaming, as warm and happy as a cat, his eyes fixed on the
violet-coloured cloud on the distant horizon. All about the cabin, in
every direction, as far as the eye could reach, stretched the broad
_tancas_ of the Dejases, billowy undulations, losing themselves in the
fading daylight. Here and there amid the golden-brown stubble were dark
squares of newly-turned earth, swollen by the rain, and patches of fresh
grass and purple, autumnal flowers sending out a damp perfume. Clouds of
wild birds, and large crows as black and shining as polished metal,
poured out of the clumps of _assenzio_, which, half-hidden among the
wild roses and the clustering arbute with its shining leaves and yellow
berries, looked like _tumuli_ of ashes.

In one of the _tancas_ two peasants, farm hands of the Dejases, were
burning brush preparatory to ploughing for the wheat and barley crops.
The flames crackled as the wind blew them hither and thither, pale yet,
in the evening light, and transparent as yellow glass, the smoke hanging
over them in low, light clouds, like fragrant incense, then melting
away. Along the tops of the hedges enclosing the sheepfolds, each bare,
thorny twig seemed to stand out separately in the crystal atmosphere,
like a tracery of amethyst-coloured lace. The animals had all been
herded for the night, except a few horses which could be seen here and
there, with noses to the ground, cropping the short grass.

From without the hut came the sound of Giacobbe's voice, then the faint
tinkle of a cowbell; the prolonged, far-away howl of a dog; the harsh
screaming of a crow.

Within, extended like a Bedouin on a pile of skins and warm coverings,
Brontu dreamed his one, unvarying dream, while the fiery liquor,
coursing through his veins, filled him with a delicious sense of warmth
and comfort.

Ah, how the young proprietor did love brandy! Not so much for its
penetrating odour and sharp, biting taste, as for that glowing sensation
of happiness that stole over his heart after drinking it. But woe
betide any one who meddled with him at such times! Instantly his mood
would change, and the sweetness turn to gall. It seemed to him that dogs
must feel just as he did then, when some one tramples on their tails as
they lie asleep. He would arouse in a state of fury, and lose the thread
of his dream.

Yes, he loved brandy; wine was good too, but not so good as brandy. His
father before him had liked ardent spirits; so much so, in fact, that
one day, after drinking heavily, he fell into the fire and was so badly
burned that--Heaven preserve us!--he died of the effects! But there!
enough of such melancholy thoughts! Nowadays people are more careful,
they don't allow themselves to tumble into the fire! Moreover, to
balance the passion for brandy, Brontu had his other passion, for
Giovanna. Ah, brandy and Giovanna! The two most beautiful, ardent,
intoxicating things in the whole world! But where Giovanna was concerned
Brontu was as timid and fearful as he was reckless in the matter of
brandy. He trembled merely at the thought of approaching her--of
speaking to her. On those days when he knew that she was working for his
mother he fairly yearned to go home, to gaze at her, to see her working
there in his own house, and yet he dared not stir from the _tanca_! Now,
though, as time went on, he was growing weary of waiting; a devouring
anxiety, moreover, had seized upon him. What if, by hesitating so long,
he were to meet with another refusal! Tormented by this thought, he
longed to tell her of his solicitude for her; how, in order to console
her for all that had occurred, he would gladly have married her at once,
immediately after Costantino's sentence! His ideas differed from those
of most people, but he was made that way and could not change. At
bottom, like most drunkards, he had not a bad heart, nor was he immoral:
his one passion, apart from drink, had always been for Giovanna, ever
since when, as a boy, he had come with his family to live in the house
on the hill. She was only fifteen then, and very fresh and beautiful.
Every time he looked at her, even in those days, he had flushed even to
his hands, and though she had noticed it, she had not seemed to mind. He
never said anything, though, and so at last, when one day he screwed up
his courage to the point of persuading his mother to go to Aunt
Bachissia with an offer of marriage, it was too late, the position had
been filled! Giovanna, at that time, had been as spirited and passionate
as a young colt, and as utterly indifferent to worldly considerations.
She might have married Brontu Dejas at first for his beautiful teeth,
but having once fallen in love with Costantino, she would not have
thrown him over for the Viceroy himself, had Sardinia still possessed
one.

The twilight deepened; the sky grew more and more crystalline, like a
vast mirror; the little, violet cloud grew leaden and opaque, then long
and scaly, like some monster fish; the sounds from without, rising
clearer than ever in the intense stillness of the hour and place, it
seemed to Brontu that he must be dreaming when the voice of Aunt
Bachissia suddenly broke in upon his revery.

"_Santu Juanne Battista meu!_" exclaimed the harsh, melancholy voice.
"If I am not mistaken, that is Giacobbe Dejas?"

"At your service," replied the herdsman, in a tone of amazement. "But
what wind blows you to these parts, little spring bird?"

"Ah, I am here at last! Where is Brontu Dejas?"

Brontu rushed out of the hut, his knees shaking and his brain in such a
whirl that he could hardly discern Aunt Bachissia's black-robed figure
as she stood holding her shoes in one hand, and balancing a bundle on
her head.

"Aunt Bachissia!" he cried, in great agitation. "Here I am!
Good-evening! Come here, come right in here!"

The woman flew towards him, closely followed by the herdsman. "Ah,
Brontu, my dear boy! If I am not dead to-night, it must mean that I
never shall be! Three hours I have been walking! I lost my way. I must
see you about something, but be patient for a moment."

Patient! With his whole being in such a state of turmoil that he could
hardly keep back the tears! Taking her by the hand he led her inside
the hut, while Giacobbe, seeing that he was to have no part in the
interview, went around to the back and listened with all his ears,
raging meanwhile, inwardly, like a wild bull. Not a word, however,
reached him. The conference was extremely short, Aunt Bachissia refusing
even to sit down. She said that she had lost her way looking for
Brontu's sheepfolds, and that Giovanna would be getting very anxious, as
she thought she had merely gone into the fields to look for greens. Yes,
it was quite true, they had to depend largely upon greens for their
food, so bitter was their poverty: and what had brought her now was
nothing less than to ask Brontu for some money. Oh, a loan! yes, thank
Heaven, only a loan! If they should not be able to repay it, then she
and Giovanna would work it off. For months they had not paid any
rent--rent--! for their own house--! Now, the lawyer was threatening to
evict them. "And where would we go, Brontu Dejas?" concluded Aunt
Bachissia, clasping her gnarled and yellow hands. "Tell me where we
would go, Brontu, my soul!"

His breast heaved; he wanted to seize the old woman in his arms, and
shout: "Why, to my house; that is where you would go!" But he did not
dare.

As there was no money at the hut Brontu decided to go home for it at
once; he wished, anyhow, to return with Aunt Bachissia. Going outside,
he called to Giacobbe to saddle the horse immediately. "What has
happened?" asked the man. "Is your mother dead? God rest her soul!"

"No," replied Brontu cheerfully. "Nothing has happened that in any way
concerns you."

Giacobbe began saddling the horse, but he was consumed with curiosity to
know why Aunt Bachissia had come, and why Brontu was going back with
her. She has come to borrow some money, he reflected, and he has none;
he is going home to get it for her. "Listen, Brontu!" he called, and
when the other had come quite close, he said: "If she wants money, and
you haven't got any here, I can let you have some."

"Yes, she does; she wants to borrow some money," said Brontu in a low
tone, quivering with delight and excitement. "But I am going back with
her to get it, whether you have it here or not; that makes no
difference; I am going to see Giovanna this very evening, at her own
house; I am going to talk to her and do for myself what not one of all
you donkeys has had sense enough to do for me!"

"Man!" cried Giacobbe angrily, "you must be going mad!"

"All right; let me go mad. See here, draw the girth tighter. Ah!
swelling out your sides, are you?" he added, addressing the horse. "You
don't fancy night excursions? What will you say when the old woman is
mounted on the crupper?"

"She too?" exclaimed Giacobbe.

"She too, yes; what business is it of yours? Isn't she my
mother-in-law?"

"You go too fast, upon my word! Look out, or you will have a fall and
break your neck, little spring bird. Ah! you are really in earnest? You
really mean to marry that beggar, that married woman, when you might
have a flower for your wife? Well, I can tell you one thing, Costantino
Ledda is innocent; some day he will come back, remember that; some day
he will come back!"

"Let me alone, Giacobbe Dejas, and attend to your own affairs. There,
put a bag on the crupper. Aunt Bachissia!" he called to the old woman.

Giacobbe ran quickly into the hut, and fell over Aunt Bachissia, who was
just coming out.

"You ought to be ashamed of yourself," he said, trembling. "You are
worse than any beggar! Oh, I'm going to talk to Giovanna! I am going to
talk to her myself!"

"You are a fool," said the woman; then, lowering her voice, she called
him by an outrageous name, and passed out.

A few moments later the two set forth.

Giacobbe watched them as they slowly moved away in the fading light,
across the solitary _tanca_: further and further, along the winding
path, beyond the thickets, beyond the clumps of bushes, beyond the smoke
of the brushwood fires; until, at last, they were lost to sight. Then an
access of blind fury seized him; clutching the cap from his head, he
flung it from him as far as he could; then picked it up again, and fell
to beating the dog. The poor beast set up a prolonged howl that filled
the silent waste, and was echoed back again with a sound like the
despairing cry of some wandering phantom.

Night fell. Giacobbe, throwing himself down on the paillasse which
Brontu had quitted shortly before, smelled an odour of brandy; he got
up, found his master's flask, and drank. Then he lay down again, and
presently he too felt something bubble up in his breast, bathe his
heart, scorch his eyelids, mount gurgling to his brain. His anger melted
suddenly away and was replaced by a feeling of melancholy. Through the
open door he could see the bright red glow of the brush fires gradually
overpowering the fading twilight; as the two merged they formed a single
hue of violet, indescribably melancholy in tone. Now and again the dog
gave another long howl. Oh! what misery, what misery! Why had he,
Giacobbe, beaten that poor dog? What had it done to him? Nothing. He was
filled with remorse, the foolish, emotional remorse of the drunkard;
yet, so irritating were the sounds that he had a strong impulse to rush
out and beat the unfortunate beast again.

All at once his mind recurred to Brontu and Aunt Bachissia, whom he had
forgotten for the moment, and he began to tremble violently. What had
happened? Had Giovanna given in? Ah! what made that dog bark like that?
It was like the shriek of a dead person,--the voice of Basile Ledda,
who was murdered! "Pooh, pooh, the dead cannot cry out. That is nothing
but the howling of a dog." He laughed softly, drowsily, to himself; his
heavy eyelids closed, shutting out the opaque, violet-coloured mist that
hung like a curtain before the open door; he felt as though a sack
filled with some soft but heavy substance were pressing down upon him,
so that he could not move; yet the sensation was agreeable. A thousand
confused images chased one another through his brain. Among other things
he dreamed that he was dead, and that his soul had entered into the body
of a dog, a gaunt, little yellow cur, who was running around and around
Aunt Bachissia's kitchen searching for bones. Costantino was sitting by
the fire; he was dressed in red, and there was a great chain lying at
his feet; all at once he saw the dog, and flung the chain at it. The
creature's head was caught fast, encircled in one of the iron rings, and
Giacobbe, stricken with terror, forced himself to cry out, in order to
make them understand it was he. He awoke, perspiring and shouting:
"Little spring bird!"

Night had fallen; the deserted _tanca_, stretching away beneath a clear
sky sparkling with big, yellow stars, glowed with the red light of the
brush fires.

Giacobbe could not get to sleep again; he turned and twisted from one
side to the other, but the intoxicating effects of the brandy had
passed, leaving his mouth dry and feverish. He got up and drank; then
he remembered that he had taken nothing to eat that evening. For a long
time he stood leaning against the door of the hut, his face lighted up
by the glow of the fires. "Shall I get something to eat or not?" he
asked himself, hardly conscious that he did so. Then he looked
up at the stars. Almost midnight. What had that little beast--his
master--accomplished? he wondered, and his anger rose again, but chiefly
against Aunt Bachissia. What impudence to come all the way to this
distant spot just to further the little proprietor's outrageous plans!
For he knew perfectly well that the loan was merely an excuse of that
old harpy to draw Brontu on, to bring him to a decision, to make him
commit himself. Ah, what a low creature that woman was! Had she no
conscience at all? Did she not believe in God? At this point Giacobbe
grew thoughtful, and presently he threw himself down again, still
debating whether or no he were hungry, and whether it were worth while
to get something to eat. No, he decided; he was not hungry, nor
thirsty, nor sleepy; nor could he rest; lying down, or sitting up,
or standing. He yawned noisily and began talking aloud, mumbling
foolish, disconnected things, in a vain effort to distract his
thoughts, which, however, continued to dwell persistently upon _that
thing_. It was horrible, horrible! Marry a woman who had another
husband already! And suppose Costantino should come back? Who knows?
Everything is possible in this world. And even if he were never to
return, there was the boy, how about him? What would he think when he
grew up and found that his mother had two husbands? What a law that
was! "Ha! the men who make the laws are pretty queer!" And Giacobbe
laughed mirthlessly, for, down in the bottom of his heart, his
inclination was to do anything else but laugh.

Getting up, he seized the brandy-flask, saying to himself that if Brontu
should display any curiosity as to who had drunk his brandy, why so much
the worse for him. "I'll tell him it was the spirits! Ha, ha!" He
laughed again, took a deep draught, and, throwing himself down, quickly
fell into a heavy sleep, and dreamed that he was telling a sister of his
all about his other dream of Costantino, and the yellow dog, and the
chain.

When he awoke the sun was already above the horizon, pushing through a
bank of bluish cloud. The morning was cold, with light, drifting clouds,
and the thickets, bushes, stubble, every spear of grass, sparkled with
dew in the slanting rays of the sun. Once more the birds bustled in and
out among the bushes, burst into song, rushed together in little groups,
or poised gracefully in the misty air. Now and then the chorus of chirps
and twitters would swell into something so acute and piercing that it
was almost like the patter of metal raindrops: sometimes a shrill
whistle, or the strident note of a crow, would break into this silvery
harmony; then all would die away, swallowed up in the vast silence of
the uplands.

Giacobbe came out of the hut yawning and stretching. He yawned so
violently that his jaws cracked, and his smooth-shaven face folded into
innumerable tiny wrinkles about the round, open mouth; and his little,
oblique eyes, yellow in the sunlight, watered like those of a dog.
"Well," he thought, pressing both hands to his stomach, "I have cramps
here. What did I do last evening?"

He threw open the folds; a ram with curved horns came out, snuffing the
ground, closely followed by a yellowish bunch of sheep, all trying to
tread in his tracks, and all likewise snuffing the ground; others came,
and still others; the folds were empty; still Giacobbe stood close to
the enclosure--motionless--buried in thought.

"Yes, last evening I had nothing to eat. I drank the little master's
brandy, and then I had dreams. Yes, yes, that was it--Costantino--and
the dog--and my sister Anna-Rosa. Well, damn him! Why didn't he come
back, the little toad? I got drunk, just like a beast. Yes,"--he
moralised, walking towards the hut,--"a drunken man is like a beast; he
does not know what he is doing, and brays out everything in his mind. A
dangerous thing that, Giacobbe Dejas, you bald-pate! Get that well into
your head; it's dangerous. No, no, I'll never get drunk again; may the
Lord punish me if I do."

A little later the young master returned. Giacobbe, intent and smiling,
watched him closely. "Ah!" said he, stepping forward solicitously, "you
look like a man who has had a whipping; what has happened?"

"Nothing. Get away."

But nothing was further from the other's intention. He began to circle
around his master, fawning upon him and making little bounds towards him
like a dog, teasing persistently to be told what had occurred. At last
Brontu, who really longed to unburden himself, yielded.

Well then, yes; Giovanna had, in fact, driven him away like an
importunate beggar. She had asked him if he had forgotten that she had a
son who would one day spit at her, and demand to know how it was that
she had two husbands.

"My soul, I knew it!" cried Giacobbe, leaping in the air for joy.

"What did you know?"

"Why, that she had a son."

"Well, I knew that myself. She chased me out of the house; that's the
whole of it. I could hear the two--the mother and daughter--from the
road, quarrelling furiously together." And then Brontu went to look for
his brandy-flask.

Giacobbe was so overjoyed that he could have laughed aloud for glee.

"Look here!" he called. "The spirits came last night and drank your
brandy. Ha! ha! ha! but there must be some left; I am sure there is
still some left."

Brontu drank eagerly without making any reply. Then he flung the flask
angrily at the herdsman, who caught it in the air; and Brontu, having
drunk for sorrow, Giacobbe proceeded to drink for joy.

FOOTNOTE:

[5] A summer goblin, invoked in Sardinia to frighten children out of the
sun.



CHAPTER VIII


One morning, about three years after his conviction, Costantino awoke in
a bad humour. The heat was oppressive, and the air of the cell was heavy
and sickening. One of the prisoners was snoring and puffing like a
kettle letting off steam.

Costantino had slept with Giovanna's last letter beneath his head, and
a sad little letter it was; short, and depressing in the extreme. She
told of her and her mother's dire poverty, and of the boy's serious
illness. It never occurred to Costantino to reflect how cruel it was to
write to him in this strain; he wanted to know the truth about them,
however bad it might be, and he felt that to share all Giovanna's
sorrows and to agonise over his inability to help her was a part of his
duty. A barren duty,--alas!--merely an increase of his misery.

He had become quite deft at his trade of shoemaking, and worked rapidly,
but he could make very little money; all that was left, however, after
the _King of Spades_ had been paid for his supposed good offices he sent
to Giovanna.

"Upon my word," said the ex-marshal, "you are a goose. Spend it on
yourself. They ought to be sending you money."

"But they are so poor."

"Poor! Not they; haven't they got the sun? What more do they want?" said
the other. "If you would only eat and drink more it would be a real
charity. You are nothing but a stick, my dear fellow. Look at me! I'm
getting fat. My bacon may be all rind, but, all the same, I'm getting
fat."

He was, in fact, as round as a ball, but his flesh hung down in yellow,
flabby rolls. Costantino, on the other hand, had fallen away, his eyes
were big and cavernous, and his hands transparent.

The sun! he thought to himself bitterly. Yes, they have indeed got that;
but what good is the sun even, when one has nothing to eat, and is
suffering every kind of privation? He was, no doubt, a great simpleton,
but as he thought of these things, he sometimes cried like a child. Yet
all the time he never gave up hope. The years passed by; day followed
day slowly, regularly, uneventfully, like drops of water in a grotto,
dripping from stone to stone. Almost every convict in the prison,
especially those whose terms were not very long, hoped for a remission,
and kept close count of the days already elapsed and of those yet to
come. Their accuracy was amazing; they never made a mistake of so much
as a single day. Some even carried their calculations so far as to count
the hours. Costantino thought it all very foolish; one might die in the
mean time, or regain his liberty! It was all in the hands of God. Yet,
all the same, he too counted on being freed before the appointed hour;
only in his case the appointed hour was so desperately, so hopelessly
far away!

This realisation was heavy upon him on that morning when he awoke and
fingered the warm paper of Giovanna's last letter.

Getting up, he sighed heavily, and began to dress himself. The man on
his right stopped snoring, opened one sleepy eye, regarded Costantino
dully, then closed it again. "Feeling badly?" he asked, as Costantino
sighed again. "Oh, yes! Your child is ill. Why don't you tell the
Director?"

"Why should I tell the Director? He would clap me into a cell for
receiving the letter, and that would be the whole of it."

"Except _pane e pollastra_" (bread and water), said an ironical voice.

There was a general laugh, and Costantino, realising bitterly the utter
indifference of all those men among whom he was destined to pass his
days, felt as though he were wandering alone in a burning desert,
gasping for air and water.

He went to his work longing impatiently for the exercise hour, when he
would be able to talk over his troubles with the _King of Spades_. The
great, fat, yellow man whom he despised so in his heart, was,
nevertheless, indispensable to him; his sole comfort, in fact. He alone
in that place understood him, was sorry for him, and listened to him. He
was paid for it all, to be sure, but what did that signify? He was
necessary in the same way to a great many of the convicts, but to none,
probably, as much as to Costantino, who already, with a somewhat selfish
regret, was dreading the time when, his term expired, the _King of
Spades_ would finally depart.

On this particular day a new inmate made his appearance in the workroom.
He was a Northerner; long and sinuous, with a grey, wrinkled face, and
small, pale eyes. It was not easy to tell his age, but the men laughed
when he announced himself as twenty-two. He began at once to complain of
the heat and of the sickening smell of fish that filled the room. Ah,
he was no cobbler; no, indeed! He was the only son of a wealthy
wholesale shoe-dealer,--a gentleman, in fact. And thereupon he recounted
his unfortunate history. He had, it appeared, been so unlucky as to kill
a rival in love; there had been provocation and he had ripped him open
in the back,--simply that! The woman who was the real cause of the crime
had consumption, and now she was dying from grief,--dying, simply that!
Moreover, there was a child in the question, a son of the prisoner's by
the sick woman. If she died, the boy would be left orphaned and
abandoned. Costantino trembled at this; not, indeed, that the man's
story affected him particularly, but because the picture of the woman
and the child reminded him of Giovanna and the sick Malthineddu.

The newcomer, who was cutting a pair of soles with considerable skill,
now became silent, and bent over, intent upon his work, his under lip
trembling like that of a child about to cry. Costantino, watching him,
reflected that though he knew that this man must be suffering intensely
he felt as indifferent as did any of the others: he too, then, had lost
the power of sympathising with the sorrows of others! The thought filled
him with dismay and made him more insanely anxious to get out than ever.

That day, as soon as he saw the _King of Spades_, he drew him over to a
corner where the sun-baked wall cast a little spot of shade; but when he
had got him there he could not bring himself to begin on his own
troubles. Instead he repeated the story told by the new arrival. The
other shrugged his shoulders and spat against the wall.

"If he wants to, even he can write," he said. "But I should advise
prudence, some one is nosing about."

"How are we ever going to manage after you have gone?" said Costantino
thoughtfully.

"You would like to keep me here forever, you rascal?" demanded the other
in a rallying tone.

"Heaven forbid! No, indeed; I only wish you might get out to-morrow!"

The _King of Spades_ sighed. His enemies, he declared, were forever
devising new and diabolical schemes for keeping him out of the way; he
had abandoned all hope now of a pardon. In any case, however, his term
would expire before long; then he would go at once to the King, and lay
a plain statement of the facts before him. The King would order an
instant reversal of the verdict, and he himself, his innocence finally
established, would be restored to his post. Who could tell, there might
even be another medal conferred, to keep the rest company! But his first
care would be to obtain pardons for all his friends, especially for
Costantino. "That would be a noble work," he observed, self-approvingly.
Indeed, by virtue of making such assurances frequently, he had come
actually to believe in them himself.

"To-morrow? Yes, indeed; a pardon might very possibly come to-morrow,
and a good thing that would be for every one."

"Good, or bad," said Costantino despondently.

"After all," continued the other, "when I am gone it may be that you
will no longer have any use for my services."

The moment the words were out of his mouth he regretted having spoken,
but seeing that Costantino merely shook his head, evidently supposing
that he alluded to a possible pardon, he regarded him compassionately.

"Are you really and truly innocent?" he asked. "By this time I should
think you would be willing to talk to me quite openly. Do you remember
that first time when I asked you? You said: 'May I never see my child
again, if I am guilty.'"

"Yes, so I did; and now, you mean to say, I am perhaps not going to see
him again? Well, God's will be done; but I am innocent, all the same."

The _King of Spades_ turned, and again spat upon the wall. "Patience,
old fellow, patience, patience," he said; and there was a note of real
warmth and feeling in his tone. He felt, in fact, quite proud of himself
for recognising and esteeming honesty when he saw it in others, and it
was this taste that drew him to Costantino. He saw with wonder that his
fellow-countryman was so good, that his soul was so pure, and his whole
nature formed of so fine a material, that even the boundless corruption
of prison life could not sully him.

Now it happened that the ex-marshal allowed himself--as one of the
privileges of his position of go-between--to read the letters that
passed through his hands. Not long before, an anonymous letter had come
for Costantino, written in a villainous hand, with great sprawling
characters that looked like insects crawling over the page. Venomous
creatures they proved, indeed, to be, and capable of inflicting wounds
as deadly as those of any living reptile. In short, the letter announced
that Giovanna, wife of the prisoner, was permitting Brontu Dejas to pay
court to her, and that Aunt Bachissia was about to go to Nuoro to
consult a lawyer about applying for a divorce for her daughter.

On reading this precious communication the ex-marshal became furious;
his friend, the _Delegate_, immersed as he was in his great scientific
researches, heard him snorting, and puffing out his fat, yellow cheeks.
"Idiots! Fools! Sardinian asses!" he sputtered. "Why on earth tell him
about it at all! What can he do, except batter out his brains against
the wall?"

He did not deliver the letter, and every time he saw his friend he
regarded him compassionately, feeling at the same time pleased at his
own goodness of heart for caring so much.

Three days later the boy died. Costantino was notified immediately of
the event. He wept silently and by stealth, trying hard to bear up with
fortitude before his companions. When Arnolfo Bellini, the man whose
mistress was dying, heard of the Sardinian's misfortune, he fell into a
fit of nervous weeping, emitting curious noises like an angry hen, his
grey, old-young face doubling up in such grotesque contortions that one
of the quarrelsome brothers from the Abruzzi burst out laughing; one of
the others leaned across and punched him in the leg with an awl,
whereupon the Abruzzese started, ceased laughing, and continued his work
without protest.

Costantino, after staring a moment at Bellini in amazement, shook his
head and turned to his bench. Silence reigned, and presently the man
calmed down.

The low room was filled with the hot, reflected glare from the
courtyard, and the overpowering heat drew a sickening odour from the
leather and the perspiring hands and feet of the convicts. There were
thirteen of them under the surveillance of a tall, red-moustached guard,
who never opened his lips. The uniformity of dress, the close-cropped
heads and shaven faces, and the general vacuity of expression lent them
all a certain mutual resemblance; they might have been brothers, or at
least nearly related to one another, and yet, never more than on that
particular day, had Costantino felt himself so utterly apart, so wholly
out of sympathy with his companions in misery.

He stitched and stitched, bending over the shoe, which rested between
his knees in the hollow of his leather apron. From time to time he
would pause, examine his work attentively, then go on again drawing the
thread through with both hands with a jerk that seemed almost angry.
Yes, one must work, now that the boy was dead. Had he loved him very
dearly? Well, he could hardly say; perhaps not so very much. He had only
seen him once during that time at Nuoro, through the iron grating of the
reception-room, held fast in the arms of his weeping mother. The baby,
he remembered, had a little pink face, somewhat rough and scarred, like
certain kinds of apricots when they are ripe. His round, violet-coloured
eyes shone like a pair of grape seeds from beneath their long fringe of
lashes. He had cried the whole time, terrified at the sight of the
stern-faced, rigid guards; and grasping the iron bars convulsively with
his little red hands.

This was the only memory Costantino had preserved of his son. Years had
gone by since then; yet he always imagined him flushed, tearful, with
little violet eyes shining out from beneath the dark lashes. But he
often pictured the future, when Malthineddu, grown to be big and strong,
would drive the wagon, and ride the horse, and sow, and reap, and be the
comfort and support of his mother. The prisoner constantly hoped that
some day or other he would be cleared, and able to return to his home,
but when at times this hope seemed to be more than usually vain, then
his thoughts would instantly revert to the boy, and how he would be able
to take his place in a way; thus his feeling for him was more a part of
his love for Giovanna than that more selfish affection which is the
result, often, of habit and propinquity.

Now the boy was dead, and the dream shattered; the will of God be done.
And Costantino, dwelling upon Giovanna's grief, suffered himself,
acutely.

When the _King of Spades_, accordingly, met his friend that day in the
shadow of the sun-baked wall, he at once perceived that the other's
grief was far more for his wife than for the loss of the child;
nevertheless, his method of imparting comfort was to say banteringly:
"Why, my dear fellow, if, as you say, the Lord has taken the innocent
little soul back to himself, why do you take it so much to heart? It
must be for his own good!"

"Why must it?" said Costantino, his head drooping, and both arms hanging
down with limp, open palms. "Why must he be better off? Simply because
he was poor!"

The _King of Spades_ happened to be in a philosophising mood. He
explained, therefore, that poverty was not always a misfortune; nothing
of the sort; it might at times be looked upon as a blessing, even an
unqualified one!

"There are many worse things than poverty," said he. "Reflect for a
moment; your wife will become reconciled."

"Oh! of course; she has the sun," said Costantino, clenching his hands.
"This burning sun, and just how is it going to help her?"

"Pff! pff! pff!" puffed the other, inflating his big, yellow cheeks.
Then he grew thoughtful, and fell to examining the little finger of his
right hand with minute attention.

"Suppose," he said suddenly, "your wife were to marry again?"

Costantino did not quite take in what he meant, but his arms stiffened
instinctively.

"I hardly should have thought," said he in a hurt tone, "that you would
say such a thing as that."

"Pff! pff! pff!" The ex-marshal swelled and puffed meditatively. Then,
after a short pause, he began again:

"But listen, my dear fellow, you don't understand. I don't for a moment
mean to say that your wife is not a perfectly honest woman; what I do
mean is--suppose she were actually to marry some one else? And still you
don't understand? Upon my word, this Christian is extraordinarily slow
at taking an idea! One would suppose you were free, you are so innocent.
Perhaps, though," he added, "you don't know that people can get divorces
nowadays. Any woman whose husband has been sentenced for more than ten
years, can be divorced and marry some one else."

Costantino threw his head up for a moment, and his sunken eyes opened
round and wide; then the lids dropped again.

"Giovanna would never do it," he said simply.

There was another brief interval of silence.

"Giovanna would not do it," he repeated; yet, even as he pronounced the
words, he had a strange sensation, as though a frozen steel were
slashing his heart in twain; one part was convulsed with agony, while
the other shrieked again and again: "She would never do it! she would
never do it!" And neither part gave a single thought to the little, dead
child.

"She would not do it, she would not do it," reiterated one half of his
heart with loud insistence, until, at last, the other was convinced, and
they came together again, but only to find that both were now devoured
by that torturing pain.

"See here," said the _King of Spades_, "I don't believe she would
either. But tell me one thing; now that the child is dead, and now that
the mother has nothing more to hope for, from either him or you, would
it not, after all, be the very best thing she could do, supposing she
had the opportunity? For my own part, I think that if a chance came
along for her to marry again, she would be very foolish not to take it."

"Brontu Dejas!" said Costantino to himself. But he only repeated: "No,
she would not do it."

"But you are a Christian, my friend; if she were to do it, would she not
be in the right?"

"But I am going back some day."

"How is she to know that?"

"Why, I have told her so all along, and I shall never cease telling her
so."

The _King of Spades_ had a strong inclination to laugh, but he
restrained himself, feeling quite ashamed of the impulse. Presently he
murmured, as though in answer to some inward question: "It is all utter
foolishness."

"Yes, of course," said Costantino. But all the time, he was thinking of
Brontu Dejas, of his house with the portico, of his _tancas_ and his
flocks; and then of Giovanna's poverty. Alas! the knife was cutting deep
into his heart now.

That very night he wrote a long letter to Giovanna, comforting her, and
assuring her of his unshaken faith in the divine mercy. "It may be," he
wrote, in the simple goodness of his heart, "that God wishes to prove us
still further, and so has taken from us the offspring that we conceived
in sin; may his will be done! But now, a presentiment tells me that the
hour of my restoration to liberty is at hand." He considered long
whether or no to tell her of the _dreadful thing_ hinted at by the
ex-marshal, and thought himself quite shrewd and cunning when he decided
it would be better to let her think that he did not so much as know of
the existence of that infernal law.

His letter despatched, he felt more tranquil. But a little worm had
begun to gnaw and gnaw in his brain. The ex-marshal, moreover, from that
day on, with a pity that was heartless in its operations, never ceased
to instil the subtle poison into his veins. He must become accustomed
to the idea, thought this diplomatist to himself, else the poor, simple
soul will die of heartbreak. There were times, however, when he thought
that it might be better, after all, to let him die, and have done with
it. Then, remembering all his promises about obtaining a pardon, he
would pretend to himself that he was really going to do this, and
continue the torture so that his victim might survive the shock when
news of the divorce actually came. He had no doubt that his friend's
wife was seriously contemplating the step, and it made him angry to hear
Costantino speak affectionately of her.

"My dear fellow," said he one October day, puffing as usual, "you don't
know women. Empty jugs, that's what they are; nothing but empty jugs! I
was once engaged to be married myself. You can hardly believe it? Well,
I can hardly believe it either. What then? Nothing, except that she
betrayed me before I had even married her, and--that you irritate me
beyond measure. Here is your wife in an altogether different situation;
she is young and poor, and has blood in her veins--she has blood in her
veins, I suppose, hasn't she? Well, if this Dejas fellow wants her to
marry him, I say she would be a great goose not to do it."

"Dejas! Why--what--who told you?" stammered Costantino in amazement.

"Oh! didn't you tell me yourself?"

Costantino thought he most certainly had not, but then his mind had been
in such a confused state for some time back--but merciful God! Dear San
Costantino! How had he ever come to do such a thing? What had made him
utter that man's name?

"Well, then," he burst out; "yes, I am afraid of him! He courted her
before we were married; he wanted her himself. Ugh! he's a drunkard, and
as weak as mud. No, no; she could never do anything so horrible! For
pity's sake, let's talk of something else."

So they did talk of something else, still in the Sardinian dialect, so
as not to be understood by the other prisoners. They talked of the
consumptive student, who was drawing visibly nearer to the door of the
other world; of Arnolfo Bellini, who began to sob whenever his eye fell
on the dying man; of the _Delegate_, whom they could see pacing back and
forth by the fountain; of the magpie, who was growing feeble, and losing
all his feathers, from old age.

Gossip, envy, hatred, identical interests, cowardice, raillery,
fear--such were the bonds which united or kept apart the different
members of the little community--prisoners, guards, and officials alike.
To Costantino they were all equally objects of indifference; he, the
_Delegate_, and the student seeming to live apart in a little world of
their own, with the ex-marshal--the pivot about which every detail in
the prisoners' lives seemed to revolve; he, meanwhile, appearing to be
as superior as he was necessary to them all.

Many envied the friendly intercourse existing between Costantino and
him, and frequently the former would be implored to use his influence
with the _King of Spades_ to procure some favour. He merely shrugged his
shoulders on such occasions, though, when they offered him money, as
sometimes happened, he was sorely tempted to take it, so intense was his
longing to be able to support Giovanna; he had no other idea. The _King
of Spades_, with his eternal insinuations that cut like knives, was
becoming more and more hateful to him. One day they actually quarrelled,
and for some time did not speak to one another. But Costantino could not
stand it; he felt as though he should suffocate, as though he had been
shut up in a cell, and cut off from all communication with the outer
world. He soon apologised and begged for a reconciliation.

The autumn drew on; the air grew cool, and the sky became a delicate,
velvety blue, distant, unreal, dreamlike. Sometimes the breeze would
waft a perfume of ripening fruit into the prison enclosure.

Costantino was less acutely miserable, but he had sunk into a state of
settled melancholy; he grew thinner and thinner, and deprived himself
continually of things which he stood in need of in order to have more
money to send to Giovanna. The other prisoners all received presents of
some sort from their friends and relatives; he alone denied himself
even the little pittance he was able to earn.

"I don't understand it," said the ex-marshal to him one day. "Your
complexion is pink and you look younger than you did when you came, and
yet you are almost transparent."

Sometimes Costantino would flush violently, and the blood would rush to
his head; then he would be utterly prostrated, and in his weakness he
would suffer more from homesickness than he had done even in the first
year of his imprisonment. He would see before him the boundless sweep of
the uplands, sleeping in the autumnal haze, glowing and yellow beneath
the crystal sky; he would get the breath of the vineyards, the scent of
such late-maturing fruits as flourish in that land of flocks and
beehives; images would rise before him of the foxes and hares, the wild
birds and cattle, the hedges thick with blackberries, all the hundred
and one natural objects which had constituted the sole element of
enjoyment in his otherwise miserable and barren childhood. Then his
thoughts would turn to his uncle, the cruel old Vulture who, having
tormented him in his lifetime, seemed able to torment him still. An
impulse of bitter hatred would rise up in his heart, only to be
repressed, on remembering that he was dead, and succeeded by a prayer
for the murdered man's soul.

There was no one else whom he was even tempted to hate, no one at all;
not even the real murderer, or Brontu Dejas--who, in fact, had as yet
given him no cause for complaint--or the _King of Spades_, though he
subjected him to this continual martyrdom. Indeed, it hardly seemed as
though he had sufficient strength effectually to hate any one. A feeling
of gentle melancholy pervaded him, a sort of numbness like that of a
person about to fall asleep; his only sensation was one of tender,
pitiful, passionless love; as tranquil, as mild and all-embracing as an
autumnal sky, and having for its one object--Giovanna. She was a part of
the love itself, and waking or sleeping, he thought only of her, only of
her, only of her.

As time went on this love became more and more engrossing; she came to
represent the far-off home, family, liberty--life itself. All, all, was
comprehended in her: hope, faith, endurance, peace, the very love of
life! She became his soul.

When the inexorable _King of Spades_ threatened him with _that horrible
thing_, he did not know it, but it was the death of his soul that he was
holding over him. For the certainty of not losing Giovanna, Costantino
would gladly have agreed to pass forty years in prison; and, at the same
time, he panted for his freedom precisely in order that he might not
lose her.

During the winter that followed, he suffered intensely from cold; his
face and nails were livid, and during the exercise hour, even when he
stood in the sun, his teeth chattered like those of an old man. He
asked often to confess, and confided all his troubles to the young
chaplain.

"Who puts such ideas as these into your head, my son?" asked the
confessor, his dark eyes flashing.

"A fellow-countryman of mine, the ex-marshal--Burrai. The _King of
Spades_ they call him."

"May God bless and protect you!" said the other, becoming thoughtful; he
knew the _King of Spades_ well. Then he administered what comfort he
could, and asked what Giovanna had written herself, and when.

Alas! she wrote but seldom now and never more than a few lines at a
time. It seemed almost as if, after the child's death, she had nothing
to write about. In her last letter she had told him that the weather was
bitterly cold; there had been two snow-storms, in one of which a man,
while attempting to cross the mountains, had been frozen to death. And
then she had added that they were having a famine.

These accounts, of course, preyed upon Costantino's mind. He would dream
constantly that he had been taken to Nuoro and given his liberty; from
thence he would set forth on foot for home; it was cold, bitterly cold;
he could go no further--he was dying, dying--then he would wake up
shivering, and with a heavy weight on his heart.

"You are so weak, my brother," said the confessor. "It is bodily
weakness that makes you imagine all these things. Your wife is a good
Christian; she would never wrong you in the world. Come, put all such
ideas out of your head. You should try to get back your strength; you
must eat more, and drink something now and then. Are you earning
anything?"

"A little; but I send it all to my wife, she is so terribly poor. Oh! I
eat plenty, and I don't like to take anything to drink; it gives me
nausea."

"Well, take heart. I will talk to Burrai; he shall not bother you any
more."

He did, in fact, have an interview with the _King of Spades_, and took
him severely to task for putting such wicked ideas into Ledda's head.
"The poor fellow is far from strong as it is," said he. "If you don't
let him alone, he will be ill."

Burrai regarded the priest calmly out of his shrewd little pig-eyes,
then he gave a puff and shook his head.

"I only do it for his own good," he said confidently.

"But what good, what possible good? You----"

"I tell you, my dear fellow--I beg your pardon--but here it is, for the
present--as long as the cold weather lasts--there is very little to be
feared, so far as the young woman is concerned; that is, I fancy that
now it is only the old one, Costantino's mother-in-law, who is at work,
advising and tormenting her daughter not to let her chance slip by. But
when the spring comes--then you'll see; that's all."

The chaplain's face fell; he was disturbed and puzzled. The other,
watching him out of his sharp, little eyes, concluded that the present
would be a good time to explain himself more fully, and accordingly
began to enlarge upon the mother-in-law's grasping disposition, the
youth of her daughter, the dangers of the spring season, and so forth.
The chaplain now became really angry.

"This is too much!" he exclaimed, as he strode up and down, striking the
palms of his hands together, and his eyes flashing. "How dare you
imagine all this string of things that may possibly happen, and
then repeat them to that poor creature as though they were actual
occurrences? Because the young woman once had another suitor, you mean
to say----"

"My dear friend, there is no need to get so angry," said the other.
"Here, look at this," and he showed him the anonymous letter.

The chaplain saw at once that the matter was more serious than he had
supposed; he read the letter, and then asked if Ledda paid him money.

"Of course, a trifle now and then. Perhaps you think it wrong? Well,
don't I take the risk of being put in a cell in order to serve him?"

"And you consider that you are doing right when you act in this
manner?"

"What is doing right? If it is helping your neighbour, then I most
certainly think that I am."

The chaplain re-read the letter attentively.

"Yes," pursued the other. "I certainly am. And what is more, if, when I
get out of here, they don't reinstate me in my position, I intend to
arrange a system of correspondence for all the prisons in Italy. It will
be a sort of agency----"

"I see, my friend, that it will not be long before we have you back
again."

"Eh! eh! I shall know how to manage the thing; a secret agency, and----"

"Pardons too!" said the priest, folding the letter and returning it.
"How can you have the heart to fool those poor creatures so?"

"Yes, pardons too," replied Burrai calmly. "Well, and suppose they are
fooled; if it gives them any comfort to hope, is not that an act of
kindness in itself? What is there for any of us, but hope?"

"Well," said the other more mildly, "at least do me the favour to leave
that poor fellow alone. Allow _him_ to enjoy the pleasures of hope,
otherwise he will certainly fall ill."

The ex-marshal promised, though with bad grace. It seemed to him a poor
method.

"He will die of heartstroke, I verily believe," he said to himself.
"Wait till the spring; then we will see whether a man of the world knows
what he is about or no." And he laid one hand on his breast.

When they next met, Costantino asked with a smile if he had seen _Su
Preideru_, as they called the chaplain between themselves, and what he
had said to him.

The ex-marshal was leaning against the damp and dingy wall, softly
cursing some individual unknown, in the Sardinian dialect.

"_Balla chi trapasset sa busacca, brasciai!_" (I wish a ball would hit
him in the pouch, the he-wolf!) he murmured, as Costantino approached.
"What is it? Who?"

"Oh! nothing."

"You want to know if I have seen the priest? Yes, and he scolded me like
a child. What a child it is! A little pig, really and truly, a little
pig! But the lard is yellow and rancid. Do you know, I read somewhere
that in Russia they think very highly of rancid lard?"

"But tell me what he said."

"What he said? Let me see, what did he say? I don't remember; oh! yes,
he told me that I had imagined all that--what we have been talking
about. Yes, that was it, my dear fellow; I have, it seems, a vivid
imagination, and your wife will never wrong you in the world! Never, as
surely as we are standing here!"

Costantino looked at him eagerly. No, the man was not chaffing; he was
perfectly serious, and evidently meant what he said.

"Ah, ha! he scolded you, did he? Good enough!" he cried.

"This wall," said the _King of Spades_, straightening himself, and
regarding his hands, which were red and scarred from contact with the
rough stones, "this wall looks as though it were made of chocolate; it
is warm and damp. Ah! if it only were, there would be two advantages: we
could eat it, and then escape! Have you ever eaten any chocolate?"

"Why, of course, and Giovanna too; she is very fond of it, but it is
fearfully dear. Well, and what then?"

"What then?" exclaimed the other impatiently. "My dear fellow, you drive
me crazy. Oh! she will wait for you twenty-three years--never fear!"

"No, not that long; I shall be out of here long before that," replied
Costantino confidently. "Then too," he added with a gleam of humour,
"there is the pardon; you were to see the King, you know, about a pardon
for me."

"Precisely," said the other. "I was to see the King. You don't believe
me? I shall, however, go to him at once; he receives every official, and
what am I if not an official? He is fond of the army; he is young; I
hear he is getting fat. Ah! not as fat as I, though"--and he laughed.

From then on, whenever Costantino tried to bring the conversation around
to the old subject, the other contrived to head him off; but at all
events he was no longer tormented.

One day about this time, Costantino was informed that five francs had
been paid in to his account. "He did it!" he exclaimed. "I am sure it
was the priest. What a kind man he is! But I don't need it; no, indeed,
I don't need the money at all."

"You stupid," said the _King of Spades_. "Take it; if you don't he will
be offended. 'I don't want it!' A pretty way that to acknowledge a
present!"

"But I should be ashamed to take it. And what could I do with it,
anyhow?"

"Why, eat, drink--you have need to, I can assure you. You would like to
send it home, I suppose? The devil take you! If you do such an idiotic
thing as that I will spit in your face! Why, see here, she doesn't even
write to you any more; she----"

"What is there for her to write about?" said Costantino, trying vainly
to think of some excuse. "Besides," he added, "she will be working now,
the winter is nearly over."

"Yes, it is nearly over, and then the spring will come," said the other
in a tone that had almost a menace in it. "It will come."

"Why, of course, it will come!"

"When does the warm weather begin with you? We have it in March."

"Oh, with us, not till June. But then it is so beautiful. The grass
grows--oh! as tall as that, and they clip the sheep, and the bees are
making honey!"

"An idyl, truly! You don't know what an idyl is? Well, I'll tell you.
It is--sometimes it is--infidelity. Wait till June. How long is it since
you've been to confession?"

"Oh, I've not been for a fortnight."

"A long time, I declare! What a good Christian you are, my friend. For
my own part, I've never been at all. My conscience is as clear and
unsullied as a mirror. Now there," said he, pointing to the pasty-faced
student, whose hair was so white that it looked as though it had been
powdered, "there is one who had better confess without delay; he is
knocking now at the door of eternity."

Sure enough, only a few days later the student was removed to the
infirmary, and at the end of March he died.

Bellini, the man whose mistress was dying of the same disease, asked
after him anxiously every day, and when he died cried for hours in a
weak, childish fashion. It was not from any grief he felt at parting
from the sick man, but at the thought of what might happen to his
mistress. His grief subsided at length, and then, as he no longer had
the reminder of the student before his eyes, he gradually came to think
less and less about his own sorrow.

The death of the student had a totally different effect upon the _King
of Spades_; he became quite melancholy, took to philosophising about
life and death, and would engage in lengthy discussions with the
_Delegate_, who rolled his eyes about and expounded his views in a deep
bass voice.

When talking with Costantino, the ex-marshal was apt to drop into rather
homesick reminiscences about the distant land of their birth.

"Yes," said he one day, "I was once quite close to your home, or its
neighbourhood. I can't tell you precisely, but I know there was a wood,
all arbute, and cork-trees, and rock-roses; it looked as though there
had been a rain of blood all over them. And there was a smell--oh! the
queerest kind of smell, it was something like tobacco. Then there was a
cross on a stone, and you could see the water far away in the distance."

"Why, of course!" cried Costantino. "That was the forest of _Cherbomine_
(Stagman). I should say I did know it. Once a hunter saw a stag there
with golden horns. He fired, and shot it dead, but as the stag fell it
gave a cry like a human being, and said: 'The penance is completed!'
They say it was some human soul that had been forced to expiate a
terrible sin of some sort. The cross was erected afterwards."

"And how about the horns?"

"They say that as the hunter drew near the horns turned black."

"Pff! pff! how superstitious you all are, you peasants! Ah! here is the
spring coming at last," he continued, staring up at the sky. "For my own
part, the spring gets on my nerves. If I could but go hunting once.
There was one time when I was hunting in the marshes near Cagliari: ah!
those marshes, they look just like ever so many pieces of looking-glass
thrown down from somewhere above; and all around there were quantities
of purple lilies. A long line of flamingoes were flying in single file;
they stood out against the sky which was so bright you could hardly
raise your eyes to it. Pum! pum! one of the flamingoes fell, the others
flew on without making a sound. I rushed right into the middle of the
marsh to get the one I had shot. I was as quick and agile as a fish in
those days; I was only eighteen years old."

"What are flamingoes good for?"

"Nothing; they stuff them; they have great, long legs like velvet. Have
you ever been in that part of the country? Oh! yes, I remember, when you
worked in the mines, you passed through Cagliari. I shall go back there
some day, to die in blessed peace!"

"You are melancholy nowadays."

"What would you have, my friend? It is the spring; it is so depressing
to have to pass Easter in prison. I shall take the Easter Instruction
this year."

"I have taken it already."

"Ah! you have taken it already?" And the two prisoners fell into a
thoughtful silence.

Thus April passed by, and May, and June. The dreary prison walls turned
into ovens; unpleasant insects came to life, and once more preyed upon
the unfortunate inmates; again the air was filled with sickening odours,
and in the workroom, presided over by the same red-faced, taciturn
guard, perspiration, fish, and leather fought for pre-eminence in the
fetid atmosphere.

Costantino, weaker than ever, suffered tortures from the insects. In
former years he had slept so profoundly that nothing could disturb him,
but now it was different, and a sudden sting would arouse him with a
bound, and leave him trembling all over. Then insomnia set in, and
periods of semi-consciousness that were worse than actual sleeplessness,
haunted, as they sometimes were, with nightmare. Sharp twinges, not
always from insects, shot through his entire body, and he would toss
from side to side, gasping and sighing.

Sometimes the torture became almost unendurable, and often the orange
glow of sunrise would shine through the window before he had been able
to close an eye; then, overpowered by exhaustion, he would fall into a
heavy slumber just as it was time to get up!

Giovanna had now entirely ceased writing. Once only, towards the end of
May, a letter had come, begging him not to send her any more money, as
she now earned enough to live on, with care. After that there was
nothing more.

And yet he maintained his tranquil faith in her loyalty. Even this last
letter he took as a fresh proof of her affection for him.

Every day the _King of Spades_, waiting for his friend in the exercise
hour, would betray a certain anxiety.

"Well," he would say uneasily, his sharp little demon-eyes snapping from
out of the big, clean-shaven, yellow face. "Well, what news?" And when
Costantino would seem to be surprised at the question, he too would look
surprised, though he never would say at what.

"It is warm weather," he would observe.

"Yes, very warm."

"The spring is over."

"I should say that it was!"

"Have they finished harvesting where you come from?"

"Of course they have. My wife says there is no need to send her anything
more now."

"Ah! I knew that already, my dear fellow."

The ex-marshal hardly knew what to think; he was almost annoyed to find
that his forebodings were not being verified.

One day, however, Costantino failed to put in an appearance at the
"exercise," and when the ex-marshal was told that his friend had been
taken to the infirmary, he felt a strange tightening at the heart.
Presently the old magpie came fluttering about, and, settling down with
a shake of its half-bald, rumpled head, croaked out dismally:
"Cos-tan-ti, Cos-tan-ti."

"'Costanti' has had a stroke, my friend," said the _King of Spades_. The
other convicts began to crowd around him curiously. But he waved them
all off. "I know nothing about it," he said. "Let me alone." Up to nine
o'clock, Bellini told them, Costantino had been at work with the rest as
usual. Then a guard had said that he was wanted, no one knew what for;
he had gotten quickly up, and gone off with him, as white as a sheet,
and his eyes starting out of their sockets; he had not returned.

To the last day of his life Costantino never forgot that morning. It was
hot and overcast; the shadows of the clouds seemed to hang over the
workroom, throwing half of it into deep gloom. The convicts all looked
livid by this light, the leather aprons exhaled a strong and very
disagreeable odour, and every one was out of humour. A man who was
afraid of ghosts had been telling how in his part of the country, long,
white, flowing forms could be seen on dark nights, floating on the
surface of the river; he asked Bellini if he had ever seen them.

"I? No; I don't believe in such foolishness."

"Ah! you think it's foolishness, do you?" said the other in a dull,
monotonous tone, and staring into the shoe he was at work on.

"Calf!" murmured another, without looking up from his work.

The believer in ghosts thereupon raised his head with an angry
movement, and was about to reply in kind, when the first broke in,
protestingly: "Oh, really," said he, "can't I talk to myself? If I
choose to say--calf,--or ram,--or sheep,--or dog,--what business is it
of yours? Can't I say things to my shoe, I'd like to know?"

It was at this point that the guard had come, and called Costantino
away, and the latter, who had passed a sleepless night, had opened his
drowsy eyes, turned pale, and leaped to his feet. "Who wants me?" he had
asked, and then he had followed the guard.

He was taken to a dingy room, filled with shelves of dusty papers. The
dirty windows were closed; beyond them, through a red grating, could be
seen the sky--dull and grey, as though it too were dirty. A man was
seated writing, at a tall, dusty desk, piled so high with papers that
between the papers and the dust the man himself could hardly be seen. As
the prisoner entered he raised a flushed face, the small chin completely
hidden by a heavy, blond moustache. He fixed a pair of big, round,
dull-blue eyes upon Costantino, but apparently without seeing him, for
he dropped them again immediately, and went on writing.

Costantino, who had seen this man before, stood waiting, his heart
thumping in his breast. Mechanically his thoughts dwelt upon the
description of the water-phantoms he had just been listening to, and the
voice saying: "calf"; he wondered vaguely if one would be justified in
feeling angry at that. Not a sound broke the stillness of the room,
except the scratch, scratch, of the pen, as it travelled over the
coarse paper. Again the pale blue eyes were fixed upon the prisoner, and
again lowered to the sheet. Costantino, trembling and unnerved, gazed
desperately around the room. Still the man wrote on. The prisoner could
feel his heart beating furiously; a thousand dark fancies, hideous,
terrifying, rushed through his brain, like clouds driven before an angry
tempest. And still the man wrote on, and on. Suddenly, without warning,
all the dark fancies vanished,--dispersed and swallowed up, as it were,
in a single glorious flood of light. A thought, so dazzling and
beautiful as almost to be painful, shot into his mind. "They have
discovered that I am innocent!"

The idea did not remain for long, but it left behind it a vague,
tremulous light.

The man was still writing, and did not stop as he presently said in a
loud, hard voice: "You are named----?"

"Costantino Ledda."

"Where from?"

"Orlei, in Sardinia, Province of Sassari."

"Very good."

Silence. The man wrote a little while longer; then suddenly he dug his
pen into the paper, raised his red face, and fastened his round,
expressionless eyes upon the man standing before him. Costantino's own
eyes dropped.

"Very good. Have you a wife?"

"Yes."

"Any children?"

"We had one, but he died."

"Are you fond of your wife?"

"Yes," replied Costantino, and raised his terrified eyes as far as the
fat, red hand resting on the desk, with a ring on one finger having a
purple stone; and between the thumb and forefinger, the stiff, black
point of the pen. Not knowing where to fix his perplexed gaze,
Costantino followed the movements of this pen, conscious all the while
only of a feeling of supreme agony, as when one dreams that he is about
to be swallowed up in a cataclysm.

The hard voice was speaking again, in a low, measured tone.

"You know, of course, that your wife's whole life has been ruined by
your fault. Young, handsome, and blameless, the rest of her days must be
spent in struggle and privation. The world holds out no promise of
happiness for her, and yet she has never done any harm at all. As long
as your child lived she endured her lot patiently, her hopes were fixed
upon him. But now that he is dead what has she left? When you return to
her,--if, indeed, God should be so merciful as to allow you to do
so,--you will be old, broken-down, useless, and she will be the same.
She sees stretching before her a terrible future--nothing but sorrow,
shame, poverty, and a miserable old age. No resource but to beg; thus
her life is a worse punishment even than yours----"

Costantino, as white as death, panting, agonising, tried to protest, to
say that he would surely be liberated before long, but the words died
away on his lips; the other, meanwhile, gave him no chance, but pursued
his theme in smooth, even tones, his dull eyes never leaving the
prisoner's face.

"Her life is thus a worse punishment even than yours. You should think
of these things, and, abandoning all hope, repent doubly of your crime."
He cleared his throat, and then continued in a different tone: "Now,
however, the law has provided a means by which this great injustice can
be rectified. You of course know very well that an act of divorce has
gone into effect which enables a woman whose husband is guilty of a
certain class of crime, to marry again. Should your wife--sit down, keep
quiet--should your wife apply for such a divorce, it would be your duty
to grant it at once. I know that you are, or pretend to be, after all, a
good Christian----"

Costantino, who was leaning on the table, shaking in every limb, but
making a heroic effort to control himself, now broke in. "Has she
applied for it?" he demanded.

"Sit down, sit down there," said the other, motioning with his pen; he
wanted to continue his harangue, but Costantino again spoke, in a clear,
firm voice that contrasted strangely with the trembling of his limbs. "I
know my duty perfectly," he said, "and I shall never give my consent. I
shall undoubtedly be freed before very long, and then my wife would
bitterly repent of her mistake."

Two deep wrinkles furrowed the red cheeks of the lecturer, and an ugly
smile shone from his dull eyes.

"Indeed!" he said. "Well, the consent of the prisoner is asked merely as
a formality. It is, of course, his duty to give it, and his good-will
counts for something in his favour. But it all comes to the same thing,
whether he gives it or no--Eh, there! what--why--what is the matter?"
For Costantino had given a sudden lurch, and collapsed on the floor like
a bundle of limp rags.



PART II



CHAPTER IX


Nineteen Hundred and Ten. In the "strangers' room" of the Porru house,
Giovanna was looking over some purchases made that day in Nuoro. She
was stouter than ever, and had lost something of her girlish look, but,
nevertheless, she was both fresh and handsome still. She examined the
pieces of linen and woollen stuff attentively, turning them over and
over and feeling them with a preoccupied air, as though not altogether
satisfied with the selection; then, folding them carefully, she
wrapped them in newspaper and laid them away in her bag.

These things were the materials for her wedding outfit, for, having at
last obtained her divorce, she was shortly to marry Dejas. She and her
mother had come to Nuoro for the express purpose of making the
purchases. The money had been borrowed with the utmost secrecy from Aunt
Anna-Rosa Dejas, Giacobbe's sister, who had always taken a particular
interest in Giovanna because of having been for a short time her
foster-mother. It was the dead of winter, but the two women had
courageously defied the fatigues and discomforts of the journey in order
to lay in a supply of linen, cotton, kerchiefs, and woollen stuffs. The
ceremony, a purely civil one, was to be conducted in the strictest
privacy, more so, even, than on the occasion of a widow's marriage. But
this made no difference to Aunt Bachissia, who was determined that her
daughter should enter her new home fitted out in every respect like a
youthful bride of good family.

The country-side was still wondering and gossipping over the scandalous
affair, and it was rumoured that another couple contemplated applying
for a divorce--by mutual consent. A great many people already looked
askance at the Eras, and some said that Brontu had evil designs upon
Giovanna. Giacobbe Dejas, Isidoro Pane, and a number of other friends
had stopped going to the house after making final scenes that were
almost violent. Giacobbe had snarled like a dog, and had used prayers
and even threats in a last, vain effort to dissuade Giovanna from the
step, until Aunt Bachissia had, at length, driven him out. Even Aunt
Porredda at Nuoro, although it was her son who had obtained the divorce
for Giovanna, had received her friends with marked coolness. The
"Doctor," as she called her son, was, on the contrary, most cordial and
attentive in his manner towards their guests.

So Giovanna was folding up her possessions in a thoughtful mood, her
preoccupation having, however, to do solely with those bits of stuff.
The linen, it appeared, was somewhat tumbled; the fringe of the black
Thibet kerchief, with its big crimson roses, was too short; one piece of
ribbon had a spot on it,--worrying matters, all of them.

Night was falling--like that _other time_--but the surroundings, and the
weather, and--her heart, were all, quite, quite different. The
"strangers' room" now had a fine window, through whose panes shone the
clear, cold light of a winter evening. The furniture, all entirely new,
exhaled a powerful smell of varnished wood, while its surface glistened
like hoarfrost. The door opened on the same covered gallery, but new
granite steps now led down to the courtyard. The "Doctor's" practice was
growing, and the entire house had been done over. He now had an office
in the busiest part of the town, and was much in demand both for civil
and penal processes. The most desperate cases, the worst offenders, all
that class of clients who have the least to hope from the law, entrusted
their affairs to him.

Giovanna folded, wrapped, and packed her possessions, and then, the bag
being somewhat over-full, she shook it vigorously to make the contents
settle down; this accomplished, she turned with knitted brows, and
slowly descended the outer stair, both hands thrust deep in the pockets
always to be found just below the waist in the skirt of a Sardinian
costume.

It was an evening in January, clear but extremely cold. Some silver
stars, set in the cloudless blue of the sky, seemed to tremble in the
frosty atmosphere. Crossing the courtyard Giovanna could see, through
the window of the lighted dining-room, Grazia's pale face and great,
eager eyes as she sat turning over the leaves of a fashion paper. The
child had developed into a tall and pretty girl; she was dressed in the
latest fashion, with great lace wings extending from the shoulders
behind the arms; they obliged their wearers to walk sideways through any
narrow aperture, but made them look, by way of compensation, like so
many angels before the fall.

Grazia, seeing the guest, smiled at her without getting up, and the
latter entered the kitchen.

Here, too, everything was new; the white walls, the stove of glistening
bricks, the petroleum lamp hanging from the ceiling. It was all so
gorgeous that Aunt Bachissia could not refrain from gazing about her
the whole time, her shining, little, green beads of eyes, snapping and
sparkling in the sallow, hawklike face, set in the folds of a black
scarf. She at least, was unchanged--the old witch! She was seated beside
the servant-maid, a dirty, dishevelled young person, whose loud and
frequent laugh displayed a set of protruding teeth. Aunt Porredda was
cooking, and scolding the maid for this annoying habit of hers. Only
fancy! Here was the mistress doing the cooking, while the servant sat by
the stove and--laughed! What kind of way to do was that? And, moreover,
the good woman could never have one single moment's peace, and she the
mother of a famous lawyer!

Giovanna seated herself at some little distance from the stove, stooping
over with her hands still buried in the pockets of her skirt.

"Just look!" exclaimed Aunt Bachissia in a tone of envy. "This kitchen
might be a parlour! You must do _your_ kitchen up like this, Giovanna."

"Yes," said the young woman absent-mindedly.

"Yes? Well, upon my soul, I should say so! Godmother Malthina is close,
but you have got to make her understand that money is meant to spend. A
kitchen like this--why, it is heaven--upon my soul! This is living."

"What do you always say 'upon my soul' for?" asked the giggling
servant-maid.

"If she doesn't choose to spend her money, how am I to make her?" said
Giovanna with a sigh.

The servant was still laughing, but Aunt Porredda, who wanted to keep
out of her guests' conversation, turned on her, and sharply ordered her
to grate some cheese for the macaroni. The girl obeyed.

"What is the matter with you?" asked Aunt Bachissia as Giovanna sighed
again.

"She remembers!" said Aunt Porredda to herself. "After all, she is a
Christian, not an animal, and she can't help herself!"

But Giovanna spoke up crossly:

"Well, it's just this; they've cheated us. That is not good linen, and
the ribbon is spotted. Oh! it is too much."

"Upon my soul!" said the maid, mimicking Aunt Bachissia's voice and
accent, and grating away vigorously on the cheese.

Aunt Porredda thereupon let out upon her all the vials of wrath she
would fain have emptied upon her guests, calling her by all the names
which, in her secret heart, she was applying to Giovanna--"shameless,"
"vile," "ungrateful," "despicable," and so on, and threatening to strike
her over the head with the ladle. In her terror, the girl grated the
skin off one finger, and she was in the act of displaying it with the
blood streaming down when the lawyer-son limped briskly into the room.
He was enveloped in a long, black overcoat, so full that it looked like
a cloak with sleeves. His smooth, fresh-coloured little face beamed
with the self-satisfied expression of a nursing child. Asking
immediately what there was to eat, he dropped into a seat beside Aunt
Bachissia, and sat there chatting until supper was ready. After him the
little Minnia came running in, rosy, breathless, and dishevelled, and
threw herself down by the servant-maid. The boy had died three years
earlier. The little girl's dress, of black and red flannel, was pretty
enough, but her shoes were torn and her hands dirty. She had spent the
entire day tearing around in a neighbouring truck-garden, and began to
pour out confidences to the servant in an eager undertone.

"Upon my soul!" repeated the servant, in the same tone as before.

Next Uncle Efes Maria's big face, with its thick, wide-open lips,
appeared in the door, wanting to know why they could not have supper
right away.

The dining-room was now furnished with two tall, shining cupboards
of varnished wood, and the whole apartment had quite an air of
elegance--strips of carpet on the stone floor, a stove, and so on. Poor
Aunt Porredda, with her big feet and hobnailed shoes, never felt really
at home there; while Uncle Efes Maria had not yet cured himself of the
habit of staring proudly around him. Grazia, tall and elegant, always
withdrew into herself when her relations came into this room, where she
passed most of her time eagerly devouring the _Unique Mode_, the _Petite
Parisienne_, and the fashion articles of a family journal,--sufficiently
immoral in its tone, since it fomented such unhealthy dreams in her
foolish head. Ah, those low-cut gowns, covered with embroidery; those
scarfs worked in gold; those bodices with their great wings of silver
lace, the rainbow hues, the spangles glittering like frost! Ah, those
hats covered with artificial fruits, and the long flower boas,
and petticoats trimmed with lace at thirty lire a yard, and the
painted gloves, and fans made of human skin! How beautiful it all
was,--horribly, terrifyingly beautiful! Merely to read about these
things gave her a sort of spasm, they were so beautiful, so beautiful,
so beautiful. And afterwards, how ugly and common and flat everything
seemed,--the simple old grandmother, with her fat, wrinkled face; and
the dull grandfather, gazing about him with such ignorant satisfaction
and pride! It was all simply stultifying.

Just as on that other, far-away evening, Aunt Porredda came in, bearing
triumphantly the steaming dish of macaroni, and all the members of the
party seated themselves around the table. Aunt Bachissia, finding
herself in the shadow, so to speak, of Grazia's wings, forthwith broke
anew into loud exclamations of wonder and admiration, this time _à
propos_ of those glorious objects:

"No, we have never seen anything like that in our neighbourhood, but
then, we have no ladies there. Here they all look like angels, the
ladies."

"Or bats," said Uncle Efes Maria. "Eh, it's the fashion, my dears. Why,
I remember when I was a child the ladies were all big and round; they
looked like cupolas. There hardly were any ladies in those days,--the
Superintendent's wife, the family----"

"And then that thing behind," interrupted Aunt Porredda. "Oh! I remember
that, it looked like a saddle. Well, if you'll believe me, upon my word
and honour, I remember one time some one sat down on one of them."

"The last time we were here," said Aunt Bachissia, "those wings were
little things; now they are growing, growing."

Grazia sat eating her supper as though she did not hear a word
of what the others were saying. The "Doctor" eat his too--like a
gristmill--staring at his niece all the while with the look of a pleased
child. "Growing, growing," said he. "The next thing we know they'll all
take flight."

Grazia shrugged her shoulders, or rather her wings, and neither spoke
nor looked up. She frequently found her uncle,--that hero of her first,
young dream,--very trying, and worse than trying--foolish! It was the
common talk of the town that the uncle and niece were going to marry,
and he, when interrogated on the subject, would answer neither yes nor
no.

The conversation continued for some time on impersonal topics. Every now
and then Aunt Porredda would get up and pass in and out of the room, and
occasionally the talk would die away, and long pauses ensue that were
almost embarrassing. Like that _other time_ every one instinctively
avoided the subject uppermost in the minds of the guests; who, on the
whole, were just as well pleased to have it so. But, just as before, it
was Aunt Bachissia, this time without intending to, who introduced the
unwelcome topic. She asked if the report that the "Doctor" was to marry
his niece were true or no.

The Porrus looked at one another, and Grazia, bending her head still
lower over her plate, laughed softly to herself.

Paolo glanced at the girl, and, with an irony that seemed a little
forced, replied:

"Eh, no! She is going to marry the Very Right Honourable Sub-Prefect!"

Grazia raised her head with a sudden movement and opened her lips, then
as quickly lowered it, the blood meanwhile rushing up to her forehead.

"Oh! he's old," said Minnia. "I know him; he's always walking about the
station. Ugh! he has a long, red beard, and a high hat."

"A high hat too?"

"Yes, a high hat--a widower."

"The high hat is a widower?"

"You shut up!" said the child sharply, turning on her sister.

"No, I'm not going to shut up. He's a Freemason; he won't have his
children baptised, or be married in church. That's the way of it; he'll
not marry in church."

"The young lady is well informed," said Uncle Efes Maria, polished as
usual.

Thereupon Aunt Porredda, who had almost shrieked aloud at the word
"Freemason," waved both arms in the air, and burst out:

"Yes, a Freemason! One of those people who pray to the devil. Upon my
word, I believe my granddaughter there would just as leave have him! We
are all on the road to perdition here, and why not? There's Grazia,
forever reading bad books, and those infernal papers, till now she
doesn't want to go to confession any more! Ah, those prohibited books! I
lie awake all night thinking of them. But now, this is what I want to
say: Grazia reads bad books; Paolo,--you see him, that one over there,
Doctor Pededdu,--well, he studied on the Continent where they don't
believe in God any more; now that's all right, at least, it isn't, it's
all wrong, but you can understand a little why those two poor creatures
have stopped believing in God. But the rest of us, who don't know
anything about books and who have never in our lives ridden on a
rail-road,--that devil's horse,--why should _we_ cease to believe in
God, in our kind Saviour, who died for us on the cross? Why? why? tell
me why. You there, Giovanna Era, tell me why you should be willing to
marry a man by civil ceremony when you already have a husband living?"

The final clause of Aunt Porredda's oration fell with startling effect
upon her audience. Grazia, who, with a smile upon her lips, had been
busily engaged in rolling pieces of bread into little pellets, raised
her head quickly, and the smile died away; Paolo, who, likewise smiling,
had been fitting the blade of a knife in and out of the prongs of his
fork, straightened himself with a brusque movement; and Uncle Efes Maria
turned his dull, round face towards Giovanna, and fixed her with an
impassive stare.

Giovanna herself, the object of this wholly unlooked-for attack, though
she flushed crimson, replied with cynical indifference:

"I haven't any husband, my dear Aunt Porredda. Ask your son over there."

"My son!" exclaimed the other angrily. "I have no son. He's a child of
the devil!"

It almost seemed as though Giovanna had succeeded in throwing the
responsibility of her act upon Paolo, because he had won her case for
her!

Every one laughed at Aunt Porredda's outbreak, even Minnia, and the
servant who entered the room at that moment, carrying the cheese.
Notwithstanding her wrath, Aunt Porredda took the dish and handed it
politely to her guests.

"Upon my soul," said Aunt Bachissia, carefully cutting herself a slice,
and speaking in a tone of gentle melancholy, "you are as good as gold,
there is no doubt about that, but--you live at your ease, you have a
house like a church, and a husband like a strong tower [Uncle Efes Maria
coughed], and you have a circle of stars about you--motioning towards
them--so it is easy enough to talk like that. Ah! if you knew once what
it meant to be in want, and to look forward to having to beg your bread
in your old age! Do you understand? In your old age!"

"Bravo!" cried Paolo. "But I would like to have a clean knife."

"What difference does that make, Bachissia Era?" answered Aunt Porredda.
"You are afraid to trust in Divine Providence, and that means that you
have lost your faith in God! How do you know whether you will be poor or
rich when you are old? Is not Costantino Ledda coming back some day?"

"Yes, to be a beggar too," said Aunt Bachissia coldly.

"And God alone knows whether he ever will come back," observed the young
lawyer brutally, taking the knife which the servant held out to him,
blade foremost.

They had all heard that Costantino was ill, and there was a report that
his lungs were affected.

In order to appear agitated,--and possibly she really was so to some
extent,--Giovanna now hid her face in her hands and said brokenly:

"Besides--if it is only to be a civil ceremony--it is--it is
because----" Then she stopped.

"Well, why don't you go on?" cried Paolo. "You are to be married by
civil ceremony because the priests won't give you any other! They don't
understand, and they never will understand; just as you will never
understand, Mamma Porredda. What is marriage, after all? It is a
contract made between men, and binding only in the sight of men. The
religious ceremony really means nothing at all----"

"It is a sacrament!" cried Aunt Porredda, beside herself.

"Means nothing at all," continued Paolo. "Just as some day the civil
ceremony will mean nothing at all. Men and women should be at liberty to
enter spontaneously into unions with one another and to dissolve them
when they cease to be in harmony. The man----"

"Ah, you are no better than a beast!" exclaimed Aunt Porredda, though it
was, in fact, not the first time that she had heard her son express
these views. "It is the end of the world. God has grown weary; and who
can wonder? He is punishing us; this is the deluge. I have heard that
there have been terrible earthquakes already!"

"There have always been earthquakes," observed Uncle Efes Maria, who did
not know whether to side with his wife or his son. Probably, in the
bottom of his heart his sympathies were with the former, but he did not
want to say so openly for fear of being looked down upon by the gifted
Paolo.

The latter made no reply. Already he regretted having said so much,
being too truly attached to his mother to wish to give her needless
pain. Giovanna now took her hands from her face, and spoke in a tone of
gentle humility:

"Listen," said she. "When I was married before--_to that unfortunate_--I
had only the civil ceremony, and if he had not been arrested, who knows
when we ever would have had the religious marriage! And yet, were we not
just as much man and wife? No one ever said a word, and God, who knows
all, was not offended----"

"But he punished you," said Aunt Porredda quickly.

"That remains to be seen!" shouted Aunt Bachissia, whose bile was
beginning to rise. "Was the punishment for that, or for Basile Ledda's
murder?"

"If it had been for the murder, only Costantino would have been
punished."

"Well," said the old witch, her green eyes glittering with triumph, "is
not that just what I am saying? My Giovanna here is not to be punished
any longer for his fault, since God has given her the opportunity to
marry a young man who is fond of her, and who will make her forget all
her sufferings!"

"And who is also rich," remarked Uncle Efes Maria, and no one could tell
whether he spoke ingenuously or no.

Giovanna, who had quite lost the thread of her discourse, was,
nevertheless, determined to continue her rôle of patient martyr. "Ah, my
dear Aunt Porredda," said she, "you don't know all, but God, who alone
can see into our hearts, he will forgive me even if I live in mortal
sin, because he will know that the fault is not with me. I would gladly
have the religious ceremony, but it cannot be."

"Yes, because you are married already to some one else, you child of the
devil!"

"But that other one is as good as dead! Just tell me now, can he help me
to earn a living? And if the lawyers, who are educated and learned, and
who know what life really is, can dissolve civil marriages, why can't
the priests dissolve religious ones? Perhaps they don't understand about
it. There is that priest whom we have--Elias Portolu--the one who is so
good, you know him? he talks like a saint, and never gets angry with any
one. Well, even he can't say anything but 'No, no, no; marriage can only
be dissolved by death--and go and be blessed, if you don't know what is
right!' Does a body have to live? Yes, or no? And when you can't live,
when you are as poor as Job, and can't get work, and have nothing,
nothing, nothing! And just tell me, you, Aunt Porredda, suppose I had
been some other woman, and suppose there had been no divorce, what would
have happened? Why, mortal sin, that is what would have happened, mortal
sin!"

"And in your old age--want," said Aunt Bachissia.

The servant brought in the fruit: bunches of black, shining, dried
grapes, and wrinkled pears, as yellow as autumn leaves.

The old hostess handed the dish to her old guest, with an indescribable
look of compassion. Her anger, and disdain, and indignation had suddenly
melted away as she realised the sordid natures of the mother and
daughter. "Good San Francisco, forgive them," she prayed inwardly.
"Because they are so ignorant, and blind, and hard!" Then she said
mildly: "You and I, Bachissia Era, are old women, and you, Giovanna,
will be old some day. Now tell me one thing: what is it that comes after
old age?"

"Why, death."

"Death; yes, death comes after. And after death what is there?"

"Eternity?" said Paolo, laughing softly to himself as he devoured his
grapes like a greedy child, holding the bunch close to his mouth, and
detaching the seeds with his sharp little teeth.

"Eternity, precisely; eternity comes after--where are you going, Minnia?
Stay where you are." But the child, tired of the conversation, slipped
out of the room. "What do _you_ say, Giovanna Era, does eternity follow?
yes, or no? Bachissia Era--yes, or no?"

"Yes," said the guests.

"Yes? and yet you never think of it?"

"Oh! what is the use of thinking of it?" said Paolo, getting up, and
wiping his mouth with his napkin; he felt that it was high time for him
to be off; he had already wasted too much time on these women, who,
after all, were interesting solely from the fact that they had
not yet paid him. "There are some people waiting to see me at the
office--several people, in fact," he said. "I will see you again; you
are not leaving yet awhile?"

"To-morrow morning at daybreak."

"Not really? Oh! you had better stay longer," he said indifferently,
as he struggled into his huge overcoat. When it was on, Aunt
Bachissia--watching him out of her sharp green eyes--thought that the
little Doctor looked like a _magia_, that is, one of those grotesque and
frightening figures whom wizards evoke by their arts.

He departed, and immediately afterwards Miss Grazia, who had hardly
spoken throughout the entire meal, arose and left the room as well.
Uncle Efes Maria settled himself back in his chair, and began to read
the _New Sardinia_. Bursts of laughter came from the two girls in the
kitchen, and the women sat, each eating a pear, in perfect silence. A
weight hung over them; upon Aunt Porredda as well as upon the others,
for she was realising in her simple untutored mind that the disease that
had attacked the souls of her ignorant guests was one and the same as
that from which her sophisticated son and granddaughter were suffering.



CHAPTER X


The next morning, just as on that day so long before, Giovanna was the
first to stir, while Aunt Bachissia, who like most elderly people
usually lay awake until late into the night, still slept, though lightly
and with laboured breath.

The light of the early winter morning, cold but clear, shone through the
curtained window-panes. Giovanna had fallen asleep the night before
feeling sad,--though Aunt Porredda's outbreak had annoyed rather than
distressed her,--but now, as she looked out and saw the promise
of a bright day for the journey, she felt a sensation of joyous
anticipation.

Yes, she had felt quite melancholy on the previous evening before
falling asleep, thinking of Costantino, and eternity, and her dead
child, and all sorts of depressing things. "I have not a bad heart," she
had reflected. "And God looks into our hearts and judges more by our
intentions than by our actions. I have considered everything,
everything. I was very fond of Costantino, and I cried just as long as I
had any tears to shed. Now I have no more; I don't believe he will ever
come back, and if he does it will not be until we are both old; I can't
go on crying forever. Why should it be my fault if I can't cry now when
I think of him? And then, after all, I am just a creature of flesh and
blood, like every one else; I am poor and exposed to sin and temptation,
and in order to save myself from these I am taking the position which
God has provided for me. Yes, my dear Aunt Porredda, I do remember
eternity, and it is to save my soul that I am doing what I am doing--no,
I am not bad; I have not a bad heart." And so she very nearly persuaded
herself that her heart not only was not bad, but that it was quite good
and noble; at least, if this was not the conviction of that innermost
depth of conscience, that depth which refused to lie, and from whence
had issued the disturbing veil of sadness that hung over her, it was of
her outer and more practical mind, and at last, quite comforted, she
fell asleep.

And now the frosty daybreak was striking with its diaphanous
wings--cold and pure as hoarfrost--against the window-panes of the
"strangers' room," and Giovanna thought of the sun and her spirits rose.
The older woman presently awoke as well, and she too turned at once to
the window.

"Ah!" she exclaimed in a tone of satisfaction. "It is going to be fine."
They dressed and went down. Aunt Porredda, polite and attentive as
usual, was already in the kitchen. She served her guests with coffee,
and helped them to saddle the horse. To all appearances she had quite
forgotten the discussion of the previous evening, but no sooner had the
two women passed out the door than she made the sign of the cross, as
though to exorcise the mortal sin as well. "Very good," she said to
herself, closing the door after them. "A pleasant journey to you, and
may the Lord have mercy on your souls!"

Through the crystalline stillness of the morning came the sound of
shrill cock-crowing--close at hand, further away, and further still; but
the little town still slept beneath its canopy of china-blue.

This time the Eras were to make the journey alone. They had to descend
into the valley, cross it, and then climb the mountain-range which they
could see beyond, showing grey in the early light, its snowcapped peaks
standing out boldly against the horizon.

It was very cold; there was no wind, but the air cut keenly. As they
descended into the wild valley the intense stillness seemed only to be
intensified by the monotonous murmur of a mountain stream. The short
winter grass, bright green in colour, and shining with hoarfrost, showed
here and there in vivid patches along the edges of the winding path.
From the rocks came a smell of damp moss, and the green copses sparkled
with a glittering layer of frost. The whole valley was radiantly fresh
and sweet and wild, but here and there gnarled outlines of solitary
trees stood out like hermits penitentially exposing their bent and naked
forms to the cold brilliance of the winter's morning.

In the fields the earth showed black and damp; and long lines of
dilapidated wall, climbing the hillsides and descending into the
hollows, looked, with their coating of green moss, like huge green
worms. On, and on, and on, journeyed the two women, their hands and feet
and faces numb and stiff with cold. They crossed the stream at a ford
where the water ran broad and shallow and quiet, then they reascended
the valley and began to climb the mountain at its further end. The sun,
now well above the horizon, was shining with a cold, clear radiance, and
the mountains of the distant coast-range showed blue against the gold of
the sky. The wind had risen as well, and, laden with the odour of damp
rocks and earth, was stirring among the shrubs and bushes. The two women
proceeded silently on their way, each buried in her own thoughts. In
the middle of a small defile, overhung by rocks, and shadowed by the
lofty snowcapped summits of the mountains, they met a man of Bitti
journeying on foot: the travellers exchanged greetings, although unknown
to one another, and passed on their respective ways. As the women
mounted higher and higher, the sun enveloped and warmed them more and
more; and they thought of the half of the journey already accomplished,
of the purchases they were carrying back in the wallet, of what they
would do when they got home; and Aunt Bachissia thought of Aunt
Martina's amazement when she should see Giovanna's outfit, while
Giovanna thought of Brontu and of the queer things he would sometimes
say when he was drunk. Preoccupied as they were, however, when they
caught sight of the white walls of the church of San Francisco
glistening among the green bushes half-way up the mountain side, each
thought of Costantino, and said an Ave Maria for him.

Shortly after midday they reached home. Orlei, set in its circle of damp
fields, and blown upon by the frozen breath of the mighty sphinxes whose
heads were now wreathed in bands of snow, was far colder than Nuoro, and
the sun could barely warm life into the scanty herbage in its narrow,
melancholy streets. The roofs were covered with rust and mildew, some of
them overgrown with dog-grass; the walls were black with damp; the
trees, nude and brown. Here and there a thin line of smoke could be
seen curling upwards into the limitless space above; but, as usual, the
village appeared to be utterly silent and deserted. In the crevices of
the walls the little purple and green cups of the Venus's looking-glass
bloomed chillily; speckled lizards crawled into the sun, and snails and
shining beetles mounted patiently from stone to stone.

Aunt Martina, seated on her portico, spinning in the sun, saw the
arrival of the travellers, and was instantly devoured by curiosity to
know what they had in their wallet; she controlled herself, however, and
returned their greeting with courteous composure.

Towards evening Brontu arrived; he visited his betrothed every three
days, and this evening his mother decided to accompany him, in order to
see the purchases made by her neighbours in Nuoro.

A sparse little fire of juniper-wood was burning on Aunt Bachissia's
hearth, throwing out fitful gleams of light across the paved flooring,
and lighting up the earthen walls of the kitchen with a faint, rosy
glow. Giovanna wanted to bring a candle, but the visitors prevented her,
Aunt Martina from an instinct of economy, and Brontu because in the dim
firelight he felt freer to gaze at his betrothed.

The attitude of the latter towards her future mother-in-law and towards
Brontu himself was quite perfect. She had a gentle, subdued manner, and
spoke in childlike tones, albeit expressing sentiments of profound
wisdom. She gave shy glances from beneath her long, thick lashes, and
might have been a girl of fifteen so guileless and innocent was her
bearing. She was not, in truth, consciously acting a part; what she did
was purely instinctive.

Brontu was madly in love with her, and now, when he had been drinking,
he would run to her, and, throwing himself on his knees, repeat certain
puerile prayers learned in infancy. Then he would begin to cry because
he realised that he was tipsy, and would swear that never, never again
would he touch a drop.

This evening, however, he was entirely himself, and sat talking quietly,
enfolding Giovanna all the while in a passionate gaze, and smiling and
displaying his teeth, which gleamed in the firelight.

Aunt Bachissia began to tell about their trip; she spoke of the
greatcoat worn by the young lawyer, and of the "wings" in fashion among
the Nuorese ladies; then she described the Porrus' kitchen, and told of
their meeting a man on the road; but of the discussion started by Aunt
Porredda at the supper-table, and of the purchases she and Giovanna had
made, she said never a word. She knew, however, very well that Aunt
Martina could hardly wait to see the new possessions, and was herself no
less anxious to display them.

"And what have you to say about it all, Giovanna?" said Brontu, stirring
the fire with the end of his stick. "You are very quiet to-night. What
is the matter?"

"I am tired," she replied, and then suddenly asked about Giacobbe Dejas.

"That crazy man? He torments the life out of me; I shall end some day by
kicking him out. He does not need to work now for a living, anyhow."

"I don't know how it is," said Aunt Bachissia. "He used to be such a
cheerful soul, and now, when he has a house and cattle, and they even
say he is going to be married, his temper is something----! You knew,
didn't you, that he threatened to beat us?"

"Did he ever come back?"

"No; never since that time."

"Nor Isidoro Pane either," said Giovanna in a dull voice.

"I thought I saw him go by here yesterday evening," said Aunt Martina.

Giovanna raised her head quickly, but she did not speak, and Brontu
laughingly remarked that he supposed she did not stand in any particular
need of leeches just at present.

"Well," said Aunt Martina at length, "didn't you bring me anything from
Nuoro? You keep one a long time in suspense!" They had, in fact,
brought her an apron, but Aunt Bachissia feigned surprise and
mortification. "Of course," said she, "we had forgotten for the
moment----" And she gave a shrill laugh, but sobered down instantly on
observing that Giovanna took no part in these pleasantries, and seemed
unable to shake off her melancholy.

"No, no; we never thought about it, but Giovanna will show you a few
trifles that we bought----"

Giovanna got up, lighted a candle, and went into the adjoining room,
Brontu's ardent gaze following her. Aunt Martina sat waiting for her
present. Several moments passed and Giovanna did not return.

"What is she doing in there?" asked Brontu.

"Who knows?"

Another minute elapsed.

"I am going to see," he said, jumping up and walking towards the door.

"No, no; what are you thinking of?" said Aunt Bachissia, but so
faint-heartedly that Aunt Martina--scandalised--called to her son to
come back with energetic: "Zss--zss----"

Brontu, however, paying no attention, tiptoed to the door. Giovanna was
standing before an open drawer, re-reading a letter which she had found
slipped underneath the door when they got home that day. It was a
heartbroken appeal from Costantino. In his round, unformed characters he
implored her for the last time not to do this thing that she was about
to do. He reminded her of the far-away time of their early love; he
promised to come back; he assured her solemnly of his innocence. "If you
have no pity for me," the letter concluded, "at least have some for
yourself, for your own soul. Remember the mortal sin: remember
eternity!"

Ah, the same words that Aunt Porredda had used; the very same, the very
same! Uncle Isidoro must have slipped the letter in while they were
away. How long it had been since they had had any direct news of the
prisoner! The tears rushed to her eyes, but what moved her were probably
more the memories of the past than any thoughts of that eternal future.

Suddenly she heard the door being pushed softly open, and some one
stealing in behind her. Leaning quickly over, she began to rummage in
the drawer, with trembling hands and misty eyes.

Brontu stood directly behind her with outstretched arms, he clasped her
around the shoulders, and she, pretending to be frightened, began to
tremble.

"What is it? What are you doing?" he asked in a low, broken voice.

"Oh! I am looking--looking--the apron we got for your mother--I don't
know what I have done with it. Let me go, let me go," she said, trying
to free herself from his embrace. Close to her face she saw his white
teeth gleaming between the full, smiling lips, as red and lustrous as
two ripe cherries; then, suddenly, she felt his hand behind her head,
and those two burning lips were pressed close to her own in a kiss that
was like the blast from a fiery furnace.

"Ah!" she panted. "We have forgotten eternity!"

A little later she was seated once more in her place by the fire,
laughing with all the abandonment of a happy child; while Brontu
regarded her with the same look in his eyes that he had when he had been
drinking.

The winter passed by. Costantino's friends never abandoned their efforts
to break off the accursed match, but in vain. The Dejases and Eras were
like people bewitched, and remained deaf alike to prayers, threats, and
innuendoes. The syndic, even the syndic, a pale and haughty personage
who resembled Napoleon I., was against this "devil's marriage," and when
Brontu and Giovanna came to him in great secrecy to have it published,
he treated them with the utmost contempt, spitting on the ground all the
time they were there.

When the question of the divorce had first been mooted, people talked
and wondered, but nothing more; then, when it was said that Brontu and
Giovanna were in love with each other, there was general disapproval,
yet at bottom the community was not ill-pleased to have such a fruitful
theme to gossip about; but when there was talk of a marriage!--then
every one said it was simply and purely an impossibility. The neighbours
laughed, and rather hoped that Brontu was amusing himself at the expense
of the Eras. After that, had the young people merely lived together in
"mortal sin" probably nothing more would have been said, and people
would have ceased to laugh and thought no more about it. It would not
have been the first time that such a thing had occurred, nor was it
likely to be the last; and Giovanna could cite her youth and poverty by
way of excuse. But--_marry_ a woman who already had a husband! _marry_
her! That was a thing not to be stood! What would you have? People are
made that way. And then the disgrace and scandal of it! Why, it was a
sin, a horrible sin, and it was feared that God might punish the entire
community for the fault of these two. There were even threats of making
a demonstration on the marriage day--whistling, stone-throwing, and
beating the bride and bridegroom. When rumours of these things reached
their ears Brontu became very angry. Aunt Bachissia said: "Leave them to
me!" and Aunt Martina threw up her head with the movement of a war-horse
when it scents the smell of the first volley.

Ah! she would rather like to fight and--win. She was beginning to feel
old, she was tired of work, and well pleased at the prospect of having a
strong servant in the house without wages. Moreover, she liked Giovanna,
and Brontu wanted her, and so people might burst with envy if they
chose.

On the evening of the day when the marriage was published, Uncle Isidoro
Pane was working hard in his miserable hut by the brilliant, ruddy
light of a large fire. This was the one luxury which Uncle Isidoro was
able to allow himself--a good fire--since he collected his wood from the
fields, the river-banks, and the forests. During the winter his chief
occupation was weaving cord out of horsehair; he knew, in fact, how to
do a little of almost everything,--spin, sew, cook (when there was
anything to cook), patch shoes,--and yet he had never been able to
escape from dire poverty.

Suddenly the door was thrown open; there was a momentary glimpse of the
March sky--not stormy, but overcast--and Giacobbe Dejas silently seated
himself beside the fire.

The fisherman's kitchen looked like one of those pictures of Flemish
interiors, where the figures are thrown out in a ruddy glow against a
dark background. By the uncertain light, a grey spider-web could be
dimly discerned, with the spider in the middle; in the corner near the
hearth, a glass jug filled to the brim with water in which black leeches
swam about; a yellow basket against the wall; and finally the figures of
the two men and the black hair cord, its loose ends held between the
bony, red fingers of the old fisherman.

"And how goes it now?" asked Giacobbe.

"How goes it now? How does it go now?" repeated the old man. "I don't
know."

"Well, it's been published," said Giacobbe more as though he were
talking to himself. "The thing is actually done! The drunkard never even
came near the pastures to-day, so I just took myself off as well. They
may steal his sheep if they want to; I don't care; here I am, and
something has got to be done, Isidoro Pane! Hi! Isidoro Pane! leave that
cord alone and listen to me. Some--thing--has--got--to--be--done----Do
you hear me?"

"Yes, I hear you; but what is there to do? We have done all we
can--implored, expostulated, threatened----The syndic has interfered,
the clerk. Priest Elias----"

"Oh, Priest Elias! What did he do? Talked to them with sugar in his
mouth! He should have threatened them; he should have said: 'I'll take
the Holy Books and I'll curse you! I'll excommunicate you; you shall
never be able to satisfy your hunger, nor to quench your thirst, nor to
have any peace; you shall live in a hell upon earth!' Ah, then you would
have seen some result! But no, he is a dunce--a warm-milk priest; and he
has not done his duty. Don't speak of him to me, it makes me angry."

Isidoro laid down the cord: "It's of no use to get angry," said he.
"Priest Elias has no business with threats, and he has not used them;
but never fear, excommunication will fall on that house all the same!"

"Well, I am going to leave them; yes, I am going away. I'll eat no more
of their accursed bread!" said Giacobbe with a look expressive of his
loathing and disgust. "But before going, I should like to have the
pleasure of administering a sound thrashing to those favourites of the
devil."

"You are crazy, little spring bird," said Isidoro with a melancholy
smile, imitating Giacobbe.

"Yes, I am, I'm crazy; but even so, what do you care? You haven't done
anything either to stop this sacrilege. Oh, it's disgraceful! I've lost
all my good spirits----"

"It has made me ten years older."

"All my good spirits, and I keep thinking all the time of what
Costantino will say to us for not being able to put a stop to it. Is it
true that he is ill?"

"Not now; he was ill, but now he is only desperate," said Uncle Isidoro,
shaking his head. Then he picked up the cord and began plaiting it
again, murmuring below his breath: "Excommunicate--excommunicate----"

"I get so furious that I foam at the mouth--the way a dog does," said
Giacobbe, raising his voice. "Just exactly like a dog. No, after all, I
don't think I'll quit that house; I'll stay there if I burst, and see
them when the blast of excommunication strikes them. Yes, if there is
one thing that is sure, it is that God punishes both in this life and
the other too, and I want to be on hand when it comes. What is that that
you are making, Uncle 'Sidoro?"

"A horsehair cord."

There was a short silence; Giacobbe sat staring at the cord, his eyes
dim with grief and anger.

"What are you going to do with it when it is done?"

"Sell it, over in Nuoro; I sell them here too sometimes; the peasants
use them to tie their cows. What makes you look at it like that? You are
not thinking of hanging yourself, are you?"

"No, little spring bird, you can do that for yourself, if it is God's
will. Yes," he continued, again raising his voice. "They have actually
published the notice."

Another silence; then Isidoro said: "Who knows? I can't help hoping yet
that that marriage may never come off. I have faith in God, and I
believe that San Costantino may still perform some miracle to stop it."

"Why, certainly; why not? A miracle by all means!" said Giacobbe
scornfully.

"Yes; why not?" replied Isidoro calmly. "The real murderer of Basilio
Ledda might die now, for instance, and confess. In that case the divorce
could not hold good."

"Of course, die just at this precise time!" said the other in the same
tone as before. "You are as innocent as a three-year-old child, Isidoro,
with your Christian faith!"

"Well, who knows? Or he might be found out."

"Why, to be sure, he might be found out! Just in the nick of time! Only
what has any one ever known about it? And who is to find him out?"

"Who? Why, you--I--any one."

"There you go again! Just like a three-year-old child! Or, rather, a
snail before it's out of the shell. And how, pray, are we to find him
out? Are we even certain that Costantino did not do it himself?"

"Yes, we are certain, entirely so," said Isidoro. "It might have been
any one of us, but never him. I might have done it, or you----"

Giacobbe got up. "Well, what can you suggest to do? If there is anything
to be done, tell me."

"Any one but him," repeated Uncle Isidoro, without raising his head.
"Yes, there is one thing to do,--commit ourselves into the hands of
God."

"Oh, you make me so angry!" cried the other, stamping about the forlorn
little room like an imprisoned bull. "I ask if there are any steps to be
taken, and you answer like a fool. I'll go and choke Bachissia Era; that
will really be something to do!" And he marched off as he had come,
without greeting or salutation of any kind, angry this time in earnest.

Uncle Isidoro, likewise, did not so much as raise his head, but,
noticing presently that his visitor had left the door open, he got up to
close it, and stood for some moments looking out.

It was a mild March night, moonlit but overcast. Already one got faint,
damp whiffs, suggestive of the first stirrings of vegetation. All about
the old man's hovel the hedges and wild shrubs seemed to lie sleeping in
the faint, mysterious light of the veiled moon.

Far away, just above the horizon, a streak of clear sky wound and
zigzagged its way among the vapourous clouds like a deep blue river, on
whose banks a fire burned.

Isidoro shut the door, and with a heavy sigh resumed his work.



CHAPTER XI


It was the vigil of the Assumption, a hot, cloudy Wednesday. Aunt
Martina sat on the portico spinning, while Giovanna, who was pregnant,
sifted grain near by. Usually two women perform this task, but Giovanna
was doing it alone. First she stirred the grain around in the sieve and
extracted all bits of stone, then she sifted it carefully into a piece
of cloth placed in a large basket that stood before her. She was seated
on the ground, and beside her was another basket heaped with grain that
looked as though it were piled with gold dust.

Instead of growing fat the "wife with two husbands," as she was called
in the neighbourhood, had become much thinner; her nose was red and
somewhat puffed; there were dark circles around her eyes, and her lower
lip was drawn down with an expression of discontent.

Some dishevelled-looking roosters, which now and again fell to fighting
and strewed the floor with feathers, were laying siege to the basket;
from time to time one of them would succeed in thrusting his bill
inside; then Giovanna, with loud cries and threats, would drive him off,
but only to stand watchful and alert, ready to return to the charge the
moment her attention wandered.

Her attention wandered frequently. Her expression was sad, or rather,
indifferent--that of a self-centred person dwelling continually on her
individual woes. The skies might fall, but she would consider only how
the event might be expected to affect her personally. She was barefoot
and quite dirty, as Aunt Martina hated to have her soap used.

The two women worked on in silence, but the older one watched her
companion out of the corner of her eye, and whenever she was slack about
driving off the chickens, she screamed at them herself.

At length one, bolder than the rest, jumped on the edge of the basket
and began greedily pecking within.

"Ah--h--ah, a--a--ah!" shrieked Aunt Martina. Giovanna turned with a
sudden movement, and the rooster, spreading its wings, flew off,
leaving a trail of yellow grains behind it, which, in dread lest her
mother-in-law should scold her (she was always in dread of that), she
hastily began to gather up.

"What a nuisance they are!" she exclaimed peevishly.

"Ah, I should say they were, a downright nuisance," said the other
mildly. "No, don't lean over like that, my daughter, you'll hurt
yourself; let me do it," and leaving her spindle she stooped down and
began to pick up the grains one at a time, while a hen seized the
opportunity to pull at the bunch of flax on her distaff.

"Ah! ah, you! I'll wring your neck for you!" shrieked Aunt Martina,
suddenly turning and espying it, and as she drove it off, the others all
instantly fell to gobbling up the grain.

The younger woman went on with her task, bending over the sieve, silent
and abstracted.

From the portico could be seen the deserted common, Aunt Bachissia's
bare little cottage in the sultry noontide glare, a burning stretch of
road, yellow, deserted fields, and a horizon like metal.

The clouds, banked high one upon another, seemed to rain heat, and the
stillness was almost oppressive. A tall, barefooted boy passed by,
leading a couple of small black cows; then came a young woman, likewise
barefoot, who stared at Giovanna with two round eyes, then a fat white
dog with its nose to the ground; but that was all; no other incident
broke the monotony of the sultry noontide.

Giovanna sifted and stirred ever more and more languidly. She was weary;
she was hungry, but not for food; she was thirsty, but not for drink;
through her whole physical nature she was conscious of a need of
something hopelessly lost.

Her task finished, she leaned over and began pouring the grain back from
one basket to another.

"Let it be, let it be," said Aunt Martina solicitously. "You will do
yourself some harm."

Giovanna, starting presently to carry the grain to the "mill" (a
grind-stone turned by a small donkey, which grinds a hundred litres of
grain in four days), her mother-in-law prevented her and took it
herself. Left alone, Giovanna went into the kitchen, looked cautiously
around, and then began to search through the cupboards. Nothing
anywhere; not a piece of fruit, no wine, not so much as a drop of liquor
wherewith to quench the intolerable thirst that tormented her. She did,
at last, find a little coffee, which she heated, and sweetened with a
bit of sugar from her pocket, carefully re-covering the fire when she
had done.

The mouthful of warm liquid seemed, however, the rather to augment her
thirst. Giovanna felt that what she wanted was some soft, delicious
drink, something that she had never tasted in all her life and--never
would. A dull anger took possession of her, and her eyes grew bitter.
Walking over to the door of the storeroom, she shook it, although
knowing perfectly well that it was locked; her lips grew white, and she
murmured a curse below her breath. Then, barefoot as she was, she went
out, noiselessly crossed the common, and called her mother.

"Come in," answered the latter from the kitchen.

"I can't; there's no one in the house."

Aunt Bachissia came and stood in the doorway; glancing up at the sky,
she remarked that it looked threatening, and that there would probably
be a storm that night.

"Well, I don't care," said Giovanna sullenly. "It may rain every bolt
out of heaven!" Then she added more gently: "But may that which I bear
be saved from harm."

"Upon my soul, you are in a bad humour. What has become of the old
witch? I saw you sifting grain."

"She has taken it to the 'mill.' She was afraid to let me go for fear I
might steal some."

"Patience, my daughter; it will not always be like this."

"But it is like this, and like this, and I can't stand it any longer.
What sort of a life is it? She has honey on her lips and a goad in her
hand. 'Work, work, work.' She drives me like a beast of burden, and
gives me barley-bread, and water, and no light at night, and bare feet.
Oh, as much of all that as ever I want!"

Aunt Bachissia listened, unable to offer any consolation. She was,
indeed, accustomed to hear these plaints poured into her ears daily. Oh,
Aunt Bachissia had been fooled as well! and had to work harder than ever
before, though for that she cared little; it was Giovanna's really
wretched condition that gave her the most concern.

"Patience, patience; better times are coming; no one can rob you of the
future."

"Bah, what does that amount to? I shall be an old woman by that
time,--if I haven't died already of rage! What good will it do to be
well off when you're old? You can't enjoy anything then."

"Eh! yes, you can, upon my soul," said the other, her green eyes
gleaming like a couple of fireflies. "I could enjoy a great many things
well enough! Eh, eh! To have nothing to do all day long, and roast meat
to eat, and soft bread, and trout, and eels, and to drink white wine,
and rosolis, and chocolate----"

"Stop!" cried Giovanna, with a groan; and she told how she had been
unable to find anything wherewith to quench her burning thirst.

"You must have patience," repeated the mother. "That comes from your
condition. If you had the most delicious things in the world to choose
from--liquors from the King's own table--you would still be thirsty."

Giovanna kept gazing up at the house with the portico, her eyes weary
and hopeless, and her mouth drawn down sullenly.

"Yes, we will have rain to-night," said the other again.

"It can rain as much as it wants to."

"Is Brontu coming home?"

"Yes, he is, and I am going to tell him about everything to-night; yes,
I shall speak to him about it this very night."

"My soul, you are? And what is it that you are going to speak to him
about?"

"Why, I am going to tell him that I can't stand it any longer, and if he
only wanted me so as to have a servant and nothing else, he will find
that he has made a mistake, and--and----"

"You will tell him nothing of the sort!" said the old woman
energetically. "Let him alone; doesn't he have to work and live like a
servant himself? What is the use of bothering him? He might send you
packing, and marry some one else--in church."

Giovanna began to tremble violently, her expression softened, and her
eyes filled.

"He's not bad," she said. "But he gets tipsy all the time, and smells as
strong of brandy as a still; it makes me sick sometimes. Then he gets so
angry about nothing at all. Ugh, he's unbearable! It was better--it was
far, far better----"

"Well," demanded Aunt Bachissia coldly, "what was better?"

"Nothing."

This was the kind of thing that went on all the time. Giovanna did
nothing but brood over memories of Costantino; how good he had been, how
handsome, and clean, and gentle. A deep melancholy possessed her, far
more bitter than any sorrow one feels for the dead; while her
approaching maternity, instead of bringing consolation, the rather
increased her despair.

The afternoon wore on, grey and leaden; not a breath of air relieved the
suffocating stillness. Giovanna established herself on the tumble-down
wall, beneath the almond-tree, and her mother came and sat beside her.
For a while neither of them spoke; then Giovanna said, as though
continuing a conversation that had been interrupted:

"Yes, it is just the way it used to be at first, after the sentence; I
dream every night that he has come back, and it is curious, but do you
know, I am never frightened,--though Giacobbe Dejas declares that if
Costantino ever did come back he would kill me. I don't know, but I
somehow feel in my heart that he is coming back; I never used to think
so, but I do now. Oh! there is no use in looking at me like that. Am I
reproaching you for anything? I should say not. You would have a better
right to reproach me. What good has it all done you? None at all; you
can't even come to see me any more--up there----" She thrust out her lip
in the direction of the white house. "My mother-in-law is afraid you
might carry some dust off on your feet! And I can't give you anything,
not a thing; do you understand? Not even my work. Everything is kept
locked up, and I am treated exactly like a servant."

"But I don't want anything, my heart. Don't make yourself miserable over
such trifles. I am not in need of anything," said Aunt Bachissia very
gently. "You must not worry about me; all I care about is that money I
borrowed from Anna Dejas. I don't see how I am ever to pay her, but she
will wait."

Giovanna reddened angrily, and wrung her hands, exclaiming in a
high-pitched voice: "Well, anyhow, I shall certainly speak to him about
that to-night, the nasty beast; I am going to tell him that at least he
might pay for the rags I have on my back. Pay for them! Pay for them!
May you be shot!"

"Don't speak so loud; don't get so excited, my soul. There is no use, I
tell you, in losing your temper. What good will getting angry do you?
Suppose he were to turn you out."

"Well, he may if he wants to; it would be better if he did. At least, I
could work for myself then, instead of slaving for those accursed
people. Ah, there she is, coming back," she added in a lower tone as the
black-robed figure of Aunt Martina appeared in the open glare of the
common. "Now, I'll get a scolding for leaving the house empty; she's
afraid some one will steal her money. She has heaps of it, and she
doesn't even know about it; she can't tell one note from another, nor
the coins either. She has ten thousand lire,--yes, a thousand
scudi----"

"No, my soul, two thousand."

"Well, two thousand, hidden away. And I am not allowed a drop of
anything to refresh me, or to slake this burning thirst inside me!"

"It will all be yours," said Aunt Bachissia, "if you will only be
patient and bide your time. When the angels come some day and carry her
off to Paradise, it will all belong to you."

Giovanna cleared her throat, and rubbed it with one hand; then she
resumed hotly: "They may drive me out if they want to, it makes no
difference to me. Listen: the communal clerk says I am Brontu's wife,
but it seems to me as though I were just living with him in mortal sin.
Do you remember what sort of a marriage it was? Done secretly, in the
dark almost; without as much as a dog present; no confections--nothing.
And then Giacobbe Dejas--choke him!--laughing and yelling out: 'Here he
comes, the beauty!' and then the 'beauty' came."

"Now you listen to me," said Aunt Bachissia in a low penetrating voice.
"You are simply a fool. Upon my word, you always were, and you always
will be. Why do you give up so? and for such trifles too? I tell you
every poor daughter-in-law has got to live just as you are living. Your
harvest-time will come; only be patient and obedient, and you will see
it will all come out right. Moreover, just as soon as the baby is born I
believe you will find that things are very different."

"No, nothing will be different. And then--if there were no
children--they will only chain me faster to that stone that is dragging
me down and trampling on me. Would you like to know something? Well, my
real husband is Costantino Ledda, and----"

"And I'll stop your mouth! You are beside yourself, my soul; be quiet!"

"--and if he comes back," Giovanna went on, "I'll not be able to return
to him on account of having children."

"I will stop your mouth," repeated Aunt Bachissia, trembling and rising
to her feet with a movement as though she were about to put her threat
into execution. There was no need, however, for Giovanna saw her
mother-in-law coming across the common and broke off.

Aunt Martina, spinning as she walked, slowly approached the two women.
"Taking the air?" she enquired, without raising her eyes from the
whirling spindle.

"Fine air! The heat is suffocating. Ah, to-night we may get some rain,"
replied Aunt Bachissia.

"It undoubtedly is going to rain; let us hope there will be no thunder,
I am so afraid of thunder. The devil empties out his bag of nuts then. I
hope and trust Brontu will be in before evening. What shall we have for
supper, Giovanna?"

"Whatever you like."

"Are you going to stay out here? Don't run any risks; it might be bad
for you."

"What will be bad for me?"

"Why, the evening air; it is always a little damp. It is safer to stay
inside; and you might be getting supper ready. There are some eggs, my
daughter; eggs and tomatoes; prepare them for yourself and your husband;
I am not hungry. Really, do you know," she continued, turning to Aunt
Bachissia: "I have no appetite at all these days. Perhaps it is the
weather."

"Perhaps it is the devil perched on your croup, and your own
stinginess!" thought the other. Giovanna neither spoke nor moved; she
seemed completely immersed in her own dismal thoughts.

"The 'panegyric' is to be at eleven to-morrow, such an inconvenient
hour! Shall you go, Giovanna? It has always been at ten o'clock in other
years."

"No; I shall not go," replied Giovanna in a dull tone. She was ashamed
now to be seen in church.

"Yes, at that time it is apt to be warm; it is just as well that you
should not go. But it seems to be raining," she added, holding out her
hand. A big drop fell and spread among the hairs on its back. Tic, tic,
tic,--other great drops came splashing down, on the motionless
almond-tree, and on the ground, boring little holes in the sand of the
common. At the same time the sky appeared to be lightening; there was a
vivid gleam, and a great, yellow cloud, with markings of a darker shade,
sailed slowly across the bronze background of the sky.

The women took refuge in their houses, and immediately afterwards the
rain began to fall in earnest; a heavy, steady downpour, with neither
wind nor thunder, but almost frightening in its violence. In ten minutes
it was all over, but enough had fallen to soak the ground.

"God! Oh, God! Oh, San Costantino! Oh, Holy Assumption!" moaned Aunt
Martina. "If Brontu is out in this he'll be like a drowned chicken," and
she studied the heavens anxiously, though never for a moment ceasing to
spin, while Giovanna began to prepare the supper. Listening to the
clatter of the rain, she, too, felt a vague uneasiness; not, indeed, on
her husband's account, but in dread of some unknown, indefinable evil.

All at once the yellow light that had accompanied the downpour melted in
the west into a clear, pale blue sky; the rain stopped suddenly, the
clouds opened and parted, skurrying off,--under one another, on top of
one another--like a great crowd of people dispersing after a reunion.
The light was sea-green; the air was fresh and reviving, filled with the
odour of damp earth and of dried grass that has had a thorough soaking,
and with the sound of shrill, foolish crowings of roosters mistaking
this pale, clear twilight for the dawn. Then,--silence. Aunt Martina's
black figure, eternally spinning on the portico, made a dark splotch
against the green sky. Giovanna was lighting the fire, bending over the
hearth, when a long, tremulous neigh broke on her ears; the tremor in
the sound seemed to communicate itself to her, and she straightened
herself up, trembling as well, and looked out. Brontu was arriving, and
she was frightened--what about----? About everything and nothing at all.

A tiny gleam flashed out from Aunt Bachissia's cottage; by its light the
old woman was endeavouring, with the aid of a rough broom, to sweep out
the water that had poured over her threshold. The sky, beyond the yellow
fields, looked like a stretch of still, green water; and in the
foreground the almond-tree, glossy and dripping, dominated everything
around it. Beneath the almond-tree, in the last gleam of daylight,
Brontu appeared on horse-back; horse and rider alike black and steaming,
and lagging along as though sodden and weighted by the deluge that had
poured over them.

The two women came running out to meet him, uttering many expressions of
horror, possibly a trifle exaggerated in tone, but he paid no attention
to them.

"The devil! the devil! the devil!" he muttered, drawing his feet heavily
out of the stirrups, and lifting first one and then the other. "Go to
the devil who sent you!--My shoes are water-logged! Why don't you get
to work?" he added crossly, marching off to the kitchen.

The two women began at once to unload the horse, and when Giovanna
followed him a little later, he at once demanded something to drink, "to
dry him." "Change your clothes," she told him.

But no, he did not want to change his clothes; he only wanted something
to drink,--"to dry him"--he repeated, and grew angry when Giovanna would
not get it for him. He ended, however, by doing precisely as she
said,--changed his clothes, took nothing to drink, and, while waiting
for supper, sat carefully rubbing his wet hair on a towel, and combing
it out.

"What a deluge! what a deluge!" he said. "A regular sea pouring straight
out of heaven. Ah, I got my crust well softened this time!" He gave a
little laugh. "How are you, Giovanna? All right, eh? Giacobbe Dejas sent
all kinds of messages. You act like smoke in his eyes."

"You ought to stop his tongue," said Aunt Martina. "He's only a dirty
serving-man; if you didn't let him take such liberties he would respect
you more."

"I stopped more than his tongue; he wanted me to let him come in
to-night. 'No,' I said; 'you'll stay where you are, and split.' He's
coming in to-morrow, though."

"To-morrow? and why to-morrow? Ah, my son, you let yourself be robbed
quite openly; you don't amount to anything!"

"Well, after all, to-morrow is the Assumption," said he, raising his
voice, and putting the finishing touches to his hairdressing. "And
Giacobbe is a relation, so let it rest. There, Giovanna, see how
handsome I am!" He smiled at her, showing his splendid teeth.

He did, in truth, look so handsome, and clean, and radiant, with his
shining locks and fresh colour, that Giovanna felt a momentary
softening. Presently he began to hum a foolish little song that children
sing when it rains:

    "'Rain! rain! rain
    Ripe grapes, and figs----'"

And so, they all sat down to the evening meal in high good humour and
contentment. Aunt Martina, excusing herself on the plea of having no
appetite, ate nothing but bread, onions, and cheese; articles of diet,
however, of which she happened to be particularly fond,--but this in no
wise interfered with the general harmony of the supper. After they had
finished Brontu asked Giovanna to go out with him for a little walk;
just to ramble about with no particular object, among the paths and
deserted lanes of the village.

The sky had completely cleared, a few flickering stars glimmered faintly
from out its pellucid depths; and the air was full of the odour of dead
grass and wet stones. Quantities of sand and mud had been washed over
the paths, but Giovanna wore her skirts very short, and such heavily
nailed shoes that they struck against the stones with a sound like
metal. Brontu took hold of her arm and began to invent wonderful pieces
of news, as his custom was when he wanted to interest her.

"Zanchine," said he, naming one of the men, "has found something. What
do you suppose it is? A baby."

"When?"

"Why, to-day, I think. Zanchine was digging up a lentisk when he heard a
'wow, wow'; he looked, and there was a baby, only a few days old. Well,
that wasn't so wonderful; but now comes the queer part. A little cloud
suddenly came flying through the air, and swooped down on Zanchine and
seized the baby. It was an eagle who had evidently stolen the baby
somewhere and hidden it among the bushes, and when he saw Zanchine
looking at it, he shot down and----"

"Get out!" said Giovanna. "I don't believe a single word you say."

"Make me rich, if it's not true."

"Get out, get out!" said Giovanna again impatiently, and Brontu, seeing
that instead of being amused, she was out of humour, asked her if she
had had a bad dream. She remembered the one she had told her mother of,
and made no reply.

In this way they came to the other side of the village; that is, to the
part where Isidoro Pane lived. A spectacle of indescribable loveliness
lay spread before them. The moon, like a great golden face, gazed down
from the silver-blue west; and the black earth, the wet trees, the
slate-stone houses, the clumps of bushes, and the wild stretch of
upland--everything, as far as the eye could reach, to the very utmost
confines of the horizon, seemed bathed in a tender, half-tearful smile.
The two young people passed close by the fisherman's hut; they could
hear him singing. Brontu stopped.

"Come on," said Giovanna, dragging him by the arm.

"Wait a moment; I want to knock on the thing he calls his door."

"No," she said, trembling. "Come away, come on, I tell you; if you don't
come, I'll leave you by yourself."

"Oh! yes, that's true; you and he have had a quarrel; I haven't, though;
I'm going to knock on his door."

"I'm going on, then."

"He was singing the lauds of San Costantino," said Brontu, as he
rejoined her a few moments later. "The one the saint gave him on the
river-bank that time. That old man is stark mad."



CHAPTER XII


On the following morning at about eleven o'clock, the religious services
began in the church. They were set for this late hour so as to allow for
the arrival of a young priest from Nuoro, a friend of Priest Elias's,
who was to give a "panegyric" gratis to the people of Orlei. This
panegyric was a great event, and in consequence, by ten o'clock the
church overflowed with a gaily dressed throng of persons.

The building itself was painted in the most vivid colours--pink walls
relieved by stripes of bright blue; a yellow wooden pulpit; and rows of
lusty saints with red cheeks and blond hair, simpering from their pink
niches like so many Teutonic worthies. San Costantino, however, the
Patron Saint, was clad in armour, and his face looked dark and stern.
This ancient statue was believed to perform miracles, and, according to
local tradition, had been carved by San Nicodemus himself.

Through the wide-open door came a flood of sunshine, which, pouring over
the congregation, enveloped them in a cloud of golden dust. At the other
end of the church, where the altar stood, it seemed quite dark,
notwithstanding the large M of lighted tapers, looking, with their
motionless flames, like so many arrowheads stuck on shafts of white
wood.

Priest Elias was celebrating Mass; and close by stood his friend,
wearing a lace alb, and with a small, dark face like that of a shrewd
child; he was singing away at the top of his voice, and all wondered to
hear the little priest sing so loud, knowing that he was to preach as
well. Most of the people had, indeed, come expressly to hear this
sermon, and were paying scant attention to the Mass, being taken up with
whispering and staring about them. True, the heat was suffocating, and
clouds of insects made devotion difficult, even for the most pious. At
last Priest Elias, having finished chanting the gospel, turned his pale,
ascetic face towards the people, and his lips were seen to move. Just
then the figure of Giacobbe Dejas appeared in the doorway, silhouetted
against the vivid, blue background of the sky. His usual mocking
expression was changed to one of self-satisfaction. Aware that the
priest was speaking, he paused on the threshold to listen, holding his
long black cap in his hand; then, finding that he could distinguish
nothing, he stepped inside and whispered to an old man with a long
yellow beard, who stood near the door, to know what had been said.

"I don't know; I couldn't hear him; they make as much racket as if they
were out in the square," said the old man querulously.

A tall, fresh-complexioned youth, with black hair and an aquiline nose,
turned and stared at Giacobbe. Noting his unusual cleanliness, his new
clothes, and general air of complacency, he grinned ill-naturedly.

"I think," said he, "that Priest Elias said the other priest was going
to begin the panegyric now."

"Did you hear him say it?" asked the old man crossly.

"I didn't hear him say anything at all," replied the youth.

Giacobbe worked his way towards the front of the church, pushing in and
out among the men, who turned to look at him as he pressed against them.
Suddenly a silence fell on the crowd. The men all drew back against the
walls, and the women sat down on the floor. In the centre of the church,
where a stream of sunshine fell, was a sort of wooden bedstead, painted
blue, and watched over by four little pink-cheeked cherubs, whose
green, outstretched wings gave them the appearance of four emerald
butterflies. On the bed, reposing with closed eyes upon brocade
cushions, was a tiny Madonna. She was dressed entirely in white, with
rings, necklaces, and earrings of gold--it was the Assumption. The dark,
shrewd face of the little priest now appeared above the edge of the
pulpit. Giacobbe regarded him fixedly for a moment, and then turned his
right ear towards him so as to hear better.

"People of Orlei, brothers, sisters----" said the priest in a clear,
childish treble--"asked to preach you a little sermon on this solemn
day----" Giacobbe liked the opening, but finding that he could hear very
well without paying strict attention, he turned and began to observe the
people, talking all the while to himself, though without losing any of
the discourse.

"There's Isidoro Pane, the devil take him! if he hasn't got on new
clothes too; I wonder if he is also thinking of getting married. Eh, eh!
That fresh-looking fellow down there by the door was laughing at me; he
saw how happy and prosperous I looked, and thought of course that I must
be going to get married. Well, and what if I am? Is it any business of
yours, you puppy? Can't I get married if I want to? I have a house of my
own, and cattle too.[6]

"Eh, eh! my sister will die without heirs--God bless her!--there she is,
looking like a pink, shiny, little wax doll. Who would ever suppose that
she is older than I? She wants me to get a wife. Well, I am perfectly
willing, but whom shall I get? I am not so easy to please, and then I'm
afraid--I'm afraid--I'm afraid. With this new law--the devil roast all
the lawyers--who in the world is one ever to trust? There's that
precious young master of mine; there he is at this very minute, with the
stamp of mortal sin on him. What is he doing here? Why don't they
horsewhip him? Why don't they drive him out like a dog? And his old
bird-of-prey mother too? The old jade, there she is! Why don't they
drive both of them out?" "Ah," he thought presently, "that is true,
though; if they turned every one out who did wrong, the church would
soon be empty. But those two people, I hate them; I'd like to flog them
till the blood came. I'm not bad, though; didn't I stay up at the folds
only to-day, working to repair the damage made by yesterday's storm?
Then, when I came down, there was Giovanna getting dinner all by
herself. She was dirty, and ill, and unhappy. No holiday for her! The
mother and son go off together, and she, the maid-servant, stays at home
and does the work. Well, it serves her right--a bad woman! And yet, I
do feel sorry for her sometimes. There, God help me, I do feel sorry for
her. When I said something ugly to her just now, she never answered a
word. After all, when you come to think of it, she's the mistress, and
I'm the servant. But is it my fault if I can't help pitching into you
sometimes, little spring bird? I can't bear the sight of you, and all
the same I'm sorry for you, and that's the way it is. Now, we must
listen to what the priest has to tell us. He's just like a sparrow;
that's it, a sparrow singing in its nest."

"Brothers, sisters, beloved----" cried the little preacher in the soft
Loguedorese dialect, which sounds almost like Spanish, and waving his
small white hands in the air--"the faith of Our Lady is the most ideal,
the most sublime of all faiths. She, the gentle woman, daughter, wife,
and Mother of Our Lord, mounted to heaven all radiant and fragrant as a
chaplet of roses, and took her seat in glory amongst the angels and
seraphim----"

"There's Priest Elias," thought Giacobbe, turning his little
squint-eyes, which shone like metal in the bright light, towards the
altar. "Yes, with his hands folded together, a boiled-milk priest, who
can't preach anything except goodness and forgiveness, and all the time
he has the Holy Books, and could strike right and left among the people
if he chose to. Ah, if he had only threatened Giovanna Era----! He
always looks as if he were in a dream, anyhow."

"No one," continued the little preacher, standing erect in the yellow
pulpit, "no one has ever been able to say that he failed to get anything
he asked in true faith from Our Most Holy Lady. She, the Lily of the
Valley, the Mystical Rose of Jericho----"

But the audience was growing weary. The women, seated on the floor like
beds of ranunculuses and poppies, were beginning to stir uneasily, and
had ceased to listen. The young priest understood, and brought his
discourse to a close, with a general benediction, which included the
entire gathering of persons who, while ostensibly listening to the word
of God, were, for the most part, wholly taken up with their own and
their neighbours' affairs.

Priest Elias, arousing from his dream, resumed the celebration of the
Mass. He alone, with possibly Isidoro Pane, had listened to the sermon,
and the latter, so soon as the Mass was concluded, began to sing the
lauds, his clear, sweet voice flowing out like a stream of limpid water
rippling among rocks and flowering moss.

The young stranger listened with ecstasy to those liquid tones; the old
fisherman's venerable figure, his long, flowing beard, and gentle eyes,
and the bone rosary clasped between his knotted fingers, recalling
certain pilgrims he had seen in Rome.

He wanted to meet the old man, and Priest Elias, accordingly, stopped
him at the church door. Giacobbe, who was watching, was almost
consumed with envy at the sight of the fisherman standing in friendly
conversation with the two priests.

"What the thunder were they saying to you?" he demanded as the other
came up.

"They wanted me to dine with them," said Isidoro, with some show of
importance.

"Oh! they wanted you to dine with them, did they? So, my little spring
bird, you are getting to be somebody, it seems. Well, you come along
with me."

"To the Dejases'? Not I!" exclaimed Isidoro in a tone of horror.

"No, no; I'm not going to eat with those children of the devil to-day.
I'm going home, so come along."

It was past midday as the two men set off for Aunt Anna-Rosa's house.
The sun, pouring down on the narrow streets, had dried the mud, and the
moisture on the trees. In all directions people could be seen dispersing
to their homes, and the heavy tread of the shepherds resounded on the
stone pavements. Children, dressed in their Sunday-best, peeped from
over tumble-down walls, and through open doors glimpses could be caught
of dark interiors, with here and there a copper saucepan shining from a
wall like some huge medal suspended there. Thin curls of smoke floated
up through the clear atmosphere, and the music of a mouth-organ, issuing
from a usually deserted courtyard, sounded as though it were coming from
the bowels of the earth, where some melancholy old Fate was solacing
herself.

The entire village wore an unaccustomed air of gaiety, and yet this very
festal look, the wide-open doors, the wreaths of smoke, the children, so
ill at ease at their holiday attire, the sound of the mouth-organ, the
bare, unshaded houses exposed to the full glare of the noontide sun--all
combined to produce an effect of profound melancholy. Giacobbe led the
way to his sister's house, and they all three dined together. The little
woman, herself widowed and childless, adored her brother, and still
referred to him as "my little brother." But then she loved all her kind,
without distinction, and her eyes, slightly crossed, of no colour in
particular, and as pure and liquid as two tiny lakes illuminated by the
moon, were as innocent as the eyes of a nursing child. She knew that
evil existed, but was frightened merely at the thought of men committing
sin. One of the great sorrows of her life had been Giovanna's divorce
and re-marriage--her own foster-child, as it were! And to think that she
had actually lent them the money for the wedding outfit----!

Giacobbe dearly loved to tease her.

"Here's our friend Isidoro," he cried, as the party seated themselves at
table. "He is thinking of getting married, and has come to consult you."

"Bless me, Isidoro Pane, and are you really going to be married?"

"Oh! go along, go along," said the fisherman good-humouredly.

"So you don't care about marrying?" cried Giacobbe, holding a piece of
roast meat in both hands, and tearing it apart with teeth that were
still sound and strong. "Well, you are a dirty beast. Do you know,
sister, he has lovers, all the same."

"I don't believe that."

"It's true, though; take me to heaven if it's not. Yes, he has lovers
who suck his blood."

The others laughed like two children at this humourous allusion to
Isidoro's leeches. Giacobbe began to cut his meat with a sharp knife,
holding it between his teeth and left hand, and muttering that it was as
tough as the devil's ear, while his sister and the guest, having once
begun, were ready to laugh at everything. Giacobbe's mood, however,
suddenly changed, and for some reason which he himself was at a loss to
explain, his good spirits of a few hours before deserted him.

"When we have finished, I'll take you to see my 'palace,'" he said. "It
will be done in a few days now, and if I wanted to I could rent it right
away, but I don't want to; I intend to live in it myself."

"Then you are not going to hire out any more?"

"No, not after a little while; I have worked enough. I have been working
for forty years; do you take that in? Yes, it's forty years. No one can
say I stole the money I have laid away for my old age."

"And you are going to marry?"

"Poh! Who is there to marry me? I should despise any young woman who was
willing to, and I won't have an old one, not I. Take something more to
drink, Isidoro Pane."

"You must want to make me tipsy!--well, as it's a holiday--here's to the
bride and groom!"

"What bride and groom?"

"Giacobbe Dejas and Bachissia Era!" said the fisherman, who was waxing
merry.

Giacobbe made a quick movement as though to throw himself upon him.

"I'll knock out your brains!" he cried, his eyes flashing with anger.

"Ah, you murderer!" laughed the other.

"Hush, hush! One should not say such things," said Aunt Anna-Rosa.

Giacobbe drank off a couple of glasses of wine, and then laughed in
rather a forced way, looking sideways at his sister and the fisherman.
"See here," he said suddenly; "why don't you two get married? Isidoro
Pane, my sister is rich, and you see how fresh she is, just like the hip
of a wild rose. You'd think she had found some magic herb and made an
ointment to preserve her skin."

"God bless you! How queer you are sometimes!" exclaimed the little
woman.

"Yes; you two had better marry; I wish it. My sister is rich; all my
property will go to her, because I am going to die first. Somehow, I
don't quite know why, but I feel as though I were going to die soon; I
feel as though I were going to be killed----"

"Oh, nonsense! If it happens to-day, it will come from drinking too
much."

"Dear little brother, what on earth are you talking about? In the name
of the wretched souls in purgatory, don't say such things," said his
sister, greatly distressed.

"You have no enemies," said Isidoro. "And besides, only those perish by
the sword who have used the sword."

"Well, I have slaughtered many and many an innocent, unoffending
fellow-creature," replied Giacobbe seriously, burying his mouth in a
slice of watermelon. "You don't believe me? Sheep and lambs without
number!" and he lifted his face, streaming with the pink juice, and
laughed.

Dinner over, the two men went off to look at the new house.

Its two stories--the ground-floor and one above it--were divided into
four large bedrooms, a kitchen, and a stable; these accommodations being
deemed sufficient to earn for it the title of "palace," not alone from
Giacobbe, but from the entire neighbourhood as well.

"Do you see this? Have you noticed that?" Giacobbe kept calling out,
drawing attention to every detail and corner of his property; his
clean-shaven face, devoid even of eyebrows, growing, meanwhile, almost
youthful in its enthusiasm.

"You had better marry my sister," he said presently. "This house will be
hers some day."

"You are making fun of me," replied the other. "Because I am poor, you
think you can laugh at me as much as you like."

The wooden floors filled the simple soul with awe, and he hardly dared
to walk on them. Giacobbe, on the contrary, seemed to enjoy stamping
about in his great hobnailed boots, and making as much noise as he could
in the big, empty rooms, all redolent of fresh plaster.

The two men paused for a moment at an open window, whose stone sill,
baked by the sun, felt hot to the touch. The house stood high, and below
them, in black shadow, lay the village, looking like a heap of charcoal
beneath the green veil of trees. All about stretched the yellow plain,
and, beyond, the great violet-grey sphinxes reared themselves against a
cloudless sky. The bell of the little church, clamouring insistently,
broke in on the noontide heat and stillness, and the sound was like
metal striking against stone, as though far off, in the rocky heart of
those huge sphinxes, a drowsy giant were wielding his pick. "Why don't
you want to marry my sister?" said Giacobbe again. "This house will
belong to her, and this will be her bedroom; here at this very window
you could smoke your pipe----"

"I never smoke; do let me be," said the fisherman impatiently. The
other's talk began to annoy him.

"I'm not joking, you old lizard," retorted Giacobbe. "Only you are such
a dull beggar that you can't even tell that I'm not."

"Listen," said Isidoro. "You have given me my dinner to-day, and so you
think you have a right to make game of me. Now, I tell you this, if you
want me to be grateful for it, you had better leave me alone."

Giacobbe stared at him for a moment; then he burst into a loud laugh.

"Come on," he cried; "let's have something to drink."

They went out, and Giacobbe led the way to the tavern, but the other
refused to enter, saying that it was time for him to be getting back to
the church.

In the tavern Giacobbe found Brontu and a number of others playing
_morra_, their arms flung out in tense attitudes, and all shouting the
numbers at the tops of their lungs.

Before five o'clock, the hour set for the procession, they were all
quite tipsy, Giacobbe more so than any one: notwithstanding which fact
he insisted upon grasping his master by the arm, being firmly under the
impression that without his aid, the other would not be able to walk. He
then invited the whole company to adjourn to his "palace" to view the
procession. A little later, accordingly, the big, empty rooms echoed to
the sound of hoarse voices, bursts of aimless laughter, and uncertain
footsteps. The windows were all thrown wide open, and quickly filled
with wild, bearded faces.

Giacobbe and Brontu were standing at the same window where the old
fisherman had been shortly before. By this time the sun had left it, but
the sill was still warm, while below them and beyond, the village, and
the plain, and the mountains were striped with long bars of ever
lengthening shadows.

"Cu, cu!" shouted Brontu, staring out with round eyes. This was so
intensely humourous that the others all began imitating him, each one
making as much noise as possible. The house resounded with the uproar; a
crowd gathered in the street below, and presently the drunkards within
and those without began to exchange abusive epithets, followed by
spitting and stone-throwing.

On a sudden, however, complete silence fell; a sound of low, mournful
chanting was heard approaching, and immediately after a double line of
white, phantom-like figures appeared at the end of the street, preceded
by a silver cross held aloft against the blue background of the sky. The
men in the street fell back against the walls, the heads at the windows
were lowered, and every one uncovered.

One of the white-robed brotherhood, boys for the most part who, when the
ceremonies were over, would receive three soldi each and a slice of
watermelon, knocked at the door of the new house as he passed, and the
others followed his example.

"Curse you!" yelled Giacobbe furiously, leaning far out of the window.
"Boors! walking in the procession, are you?" and he was about to spit on
them, but Brontu prevented him, telling him it would not do.

Now came the green brocade standard, with its hundred variegated ribbons
and gilded staff; and next the Madonna of the Assumption, extended with
closed eyes on her portable couch, covered with necklaces and rings that
looked like relics of the bronze age, and watched over by the four green
cherubs.

On each of the four sides, walking beside the bearers, was a man wearing
a white tunic and carrying in his arms a child dressed as an angel. They
were charming little creatures, two blond and two brunette, and they
chattered gaily with one another, shouting to make themselves heard. One
of them, tickled under the knee by the man who carried him, squirmed and
wriggled, one wing hanging limply down.

The sight of these children touched some finer emotion in Brontu,
Giacobbe, and the others, and bending their knees, they crossed
themselves devoutly. The children, for their part, gazed up at the
windows, and one of them, recognising an uncle in the group, flung a red
confetto at him, which, missing fire, fell back into the road.

Priest Elias and the little stranger from Nuoro came next, wearing
brocade and lace robes, pale and handsome in their bravery. They walked
with clasped hands and rapt faces, chanting in Latin.

"The devil!" exclaimed Giacobbe suddenly. "If there isn't that dirty old
Isidoro Pane! You'd suppose he was running the whole procession; I'm
going to spit on him."

"No, you're not," commanded Brontu.

Giacobbe coughed to attract the fisherman's attention, but the other did
not so much as raise his eyes, continuing to intone the prayers to which
the people responded as with a single voice.

The surging, vari-coloured crowd had flowed together behind the
procession, and above the sea of heads could still be seen the swaying
silver cross. The men had all uncovered,--bald heads, shining with
perspiration, mops of thick black hair, rough, curly pates,--and then
the gay head-kerchiefs of the women, some with black grounds and yellow
squares, others striped with red, or covered with green spots,--all
surmounting flushed faces, flashing eyes, white bodices crossed on the
breast, red, gesticulating hands. Gradually the crowd thinned; an old
cripple came limping along, then a woman with two children hanging to
her skirts, then three old women--a child with a yellow flower in its
mouth--the street grew empty and silent; the noise, and movement, and
colour receding in waves, and growing ever fainter as the low,
melancholy cadence of the chanted invocations died away in the distance.

As the last sounds ceased, two cat's paws appeared on the wall opposite
Giacobbe's house, followed by a little, white face, with wide startled
eyes, then the animal leaped on the wall, and sat staring intently down
into the street.

"Too late!" cried Brontu, waving a salute.

The others shouted with laughter, and when Giacobbe presently told them
it was time to be off, they refused to go. The host, thereupon, seizing
a lath covered with plaster, tried to drive them out, and the entire
troop of rough, bearded men began to run from room to room, pushing one
another by the shoulders, yelling, tumbling over each other, and
shrieking with laughter like so many schoolboys. Driven forth at length,
they continued their horseplay in the street, until Giacobbe, having
locked the door and put the key in his pocket, led the way back to the
tavern. At dusk Brontu and the herdsman, supporting one another,
appeared at the white house.

Aunt Martina was sitting on the portico with her hands beneath her
apron, reciting the rosary. When her eyes fell on the two men she
remained perfectly still and silent, but her lips tightened, and she
shook her head ever so slightly, as though to say: "Truly, a fine
sight!"

"Where is Giovanna?" demanded Brontu.

"She went to her mother's."

"Oh! she went to her mother's, the old harpy's? Well, she's always going
there, curse her."

"Don't shout so, my son."

"I will; I'll shout as much as I like; I'm in my own house," and turning
towards the common, he began to call at the top of his voice:

"Giovanna! Giovanna!"

Giovanna appeared at the door of the cottage, and started to cross the
common hastily with an alarmed air; as she drew near, however, her
expression changed to one of annoyance and disgust. Pausing in front of
the two men, she regarded them with a look of undisguised scorn.
Giacobbe laughed, but Brontu reddened to the tips of his ears with
anger.

"Well," she demanded; "what is the matter? Have you got the colic?"

"He would have got it pretty soon if you hadn't come," said Giacobbe.

Brontu opened his mouth and his lips moved, but no sounds came forth,
and his anger presently died away as senselessly as it had come.

"Well----" he stammered. "I wanted you. We have hardly seen each other
all day. What were you doing at your mother's? Who was there?"

"Who was there?" she repeated, in a tone of intense bitterness. "Why, no
one. Who would you expect to find at our house?"

"Why, San Costantino might come--t--o--o--gi--i--i--ve you--u a
po--em----" sang Giacobbe thickly. "Have you ever seen San Costantino?
Well, there's Isidoro Pane--he's perfectly crazy--he doesn't like you;
no, indeed, he doesn't, and--and----"

"Shut up; hold your tongue!" said Aunt Martina. "And the sheepfolds left
all this time to take care of themselves! That's the way you attend to
your master's business! You're all alike, accursed thieves!"

Giacobbe sprang forward, erect and livid; and Giovanna, fearing that he
was really going to strike the old woman, stepped quickly between them.
He turned, however, without saying a word, and sat down, but with so
lowering an expression that Giovanna remained near her mother-in-law in
an attitude of protection.

Brontu, on the contrary, was struck with the idea that his mother
deserved a rebuke.

"What sort of manners are these?" he demanded in a tone that was
intended to be severe. "Why, you treat people as though--as though--as
though they were beasts--everybody! To-day--to-day--no, yesterday was a
holiday. If he chose to get drunk, what business was that of yours?"

"I got drunk on poison," remarked Giacobbe.

"Yes, poison," agreed Brontu. "And I did too. And there's another thing.
I'm tired of all this, mother and wife--and the whole business. So
there! I'm going away. I'm going to spend the night with him in his
palace. After all, we are relations, and--and----"

"Say it right out!" shouted Giacobbe. "You may be my heir; that's what
you mean! Ha, ha, ha!"

He laughed boisterously, emitting sounds that were more like the howls
of a wild beast than human laughter. Brontu, trying to imitate him, only
succeeded in producing a noise like the cry of some happy animal in the
springtime.

Giovanna felt herself grow sick with dread; she was afraid of the
rapidly approaching darkness, of the solitude that enwrapped the common,
of the presence of these two men whom wine had turned into quarrelsome
beasts. "The excommunication," she thought, "has fallen on us all: on
this servant, who dares to defy his master; on the son, who upbraids his
mother; on me, Giovanna, who loathe and despise them one and all!"

Aunt Martina arose, went into the kitchen, and lit the candle. Giovanna
followed her and set about preparing the supper. When it was ready they
all sat down together, and for a little while everything went well.
Presently Brontu began to tell of how they had watched the procession
from the windows of Giacobbe's "palace," his account of their foolish
doings bringing a smile to his mother's lips. Then he tried to put his
arm around his wife, but Giovanna's heart was full of gall. For her the
holiday had been, if anything, sadder than an ordinary day; she had
worked hard, she had not been to church, she had not so much as changed
her dress; and yet, the moment she had allowed herself to go for a
little recreation to the cottage,--the scene alike of her greatest
misery and of her most intense happiness,--she had been ordered back as
peremptorily as a dog is told to return to its kennel. Consequently,
she was in no mood for endearments, and repulsed Brontu's proffered
caress, telling him he was drunk.

Giacobbe, thereupon, laughed delightedly, which irritated Giovanna as
much as it angered Brontu.

"What are you laughing at, you mangy cur?" demanded the latter.

"I might say I am not as mangy as you are yourself. But then, I--I want
to say that--that--well, I'm laughing because I choose to."

"Eh! I can laugh too."

"Fools!" said Giovanna scornfully. "You make me sick, both of you."

At this Brontu, quite beside himself, suddenly turned on her:

"What is the matter with you, anyhow?" he demanded in a hard voice. "One
would really like to know. Here you are, living on me, and when I offer
to kiss you you fly out at me. You ought to be thankful to kiss the very
ground under my feet; do you hear me?"

Giovanna grew livid. "What!" she hissed. "Am I treated any better than a
servant in this house?"

"Well, a servant; all right, you can just stay one. What else should you
be, woman?"

Giacobbe's squint-eyes sparkled at this, but Giovanna, rising to her
feet, proceeded to pour out all the concentrated bitterness of the past
months. Addressing her husband and mother-in-law, she called them
slave-drivers and tyrants; threatened to go away, to kill herself;
cursed the hour she had entered that house, and, in the transport of her
rage, even revealed the debt to Giacobbe's sister.

At this, the herdsman fell to laughing softly to himself, murmuring
words of half-mocking reproach addressed to Aunt Anna-Rosa. On a sudden,
however, his face grew black; the sombre figure of Aunt Bachissia
appeared in the doorway; she had heard her daughter's angry voice
resounding through the stillness of the evening, and had come at once.

"Here," said Aunt Martina, perfectly unmoved, "is your daughter, gone
mad to all appearances."

Brontu, completely sobered, was signing urgently to his mother-in-law to
come forward and try to calm the furious woman, and Aunt Bachissia was
about to do so when Giacobbe suddenly leaped to his feet and threw
himself in front of her with an ugly scowl.

"Get out of here!" he ordered, pointing to the door.

"And are you the master?" asked Aunt Bachissia ironically.

"Get out, I tell you," he repeated, and, as she continued to advance, he
laid hold of her.

She shook him off, and he went out himself instead, and, sitting down on
the portico, tried to laugh; but, odd to relate, instead of laughter, he
presently found himself shaking all over with dry, convulsive sobs.

FOOTNOTE:

[6] In Sardinia, farm labourers often own cattle which are either turned
out with their master's herds (whose partners they thus, in a manner,
become), or are confided to some other shepherd, who receives half the
profits in return for looking after them.



CHAPTER XIII


Time passed on. The sky and weather changed with the changing seasons,
but among the inhabitants of the little village all remained much as
usual. In the course of the winter Giovanna gave birth to a weak, puling
girl-baby, which did nothing but cry. Doctor Porra, or Pededda, as he
still continued to be called, came all the way from Nuoro expressly to
stand for the poor little creature. He arrived in a carriage, bundled up
like a bale of clothing, his rosy face beaming as usual. Quite a number
of persons had assembled to see him, and he distributed smiles and
greetings indiscriminately to all who would have them, assuring a group
of Brontu's friends who had gone to meet him, that he remembered
perfectly seeing all of them at Nuoro. This gratified them immensely,
all but one, that is, who said he had never been to Nuoro. "It is of no
consequence," said the lawyer cheerfully, "I am sure to see you there
some day." This was a somewhat equivocal assurance, as it seldom
happened that any of them went to Nuoro except on law business; however,
the man was highly pleased.

Aunt Bachissia, watching the new arrival divest himself of his
greatcoat, shawl, and various other wraps, thought that he looked more
than ever like a _magia_.

"You seem to have grown stouter," she said, looking at the layers of
clothing.

"Oh! this is a mere nothing," he replied. At which they all laughed
delightedly.

The baptism was to be conducted with great pomp, and Aunt Martina,
probably for the first time in her life, slackened the strings of her
purse, and sent to Nuoro for wines and sweets of the best quality. She
could not sleep the night before, however, and passed a wretched day,
tormented by the fear that some of the delicacies might be spirited
away. On the morning of the ceremony Giovanna got up early and helped
her mother-in-law to prepare the macaroni for dinner; then she went back
to bed, where she remained in a sitting posture, propped up by pillows,
and with the bedclothes drawn up about her waist. Above that she wore
her blouse and bodice, and she had on her wedding coif and bridal
kerchief. She looked somewhat pale, but very handsome, her great eyes
seeming larger even than usual.

The table was set in the bedchamber, and covered with a linen cloth,
which Aunt Martina now took out from her chest for the first time since
it had been bought.

The ceremony was to take place at about eleven o'clock of a very cold
morning. From the pale sky a thick, white vapour fell, enveloping the
village and all the surrounding country in a misty veil. The narrow
streets were deserted, and here and there frozen puddles lay like pieces
of broken, dirty glass. An absolute silence reigned in the open space
before the Dejases' house, opposite which the almond tree stretched its
bare, black limbs against the misty background.

All at once the common was invaded by a troop of urchins, bundled up in
ragged garments and odds and ends of fur; with fringed, red caps on
their heads, and wearing old boots, some of them almost as large as the
little persons who wore them. Groups of people stood about, principally
shivering women, coughing and sneezing and smelling of soot and smoke.
Then the baptismal procession appeared. First came two children looking
solemn and important, and carrying candles from which red ribbons
fluttered; these were followed by the woman with the infant wrapped in
shawls, and covered with a piece of greenish brocade, like the standard
of San Costantino.

Then the godfather appeared, his round little face rosy and smiling as
ever, emerging from the folds of his big coat and black-and-white
shawl. With him walked the godmother, one of Aunt Martina's daughters, a
lank young woman with a long, narrow face, who reminded one of a shadow
seen at sunset. She had to lean down in order to reach her companion's
ear. With the godparents came Brontu, freshly shaven and gay, and behind
them followed a group of friends and relatives, marching along in step,
with a noise like the tramp of horses' hoofs. Last of all came the
godmother's servant-maid, a shivering creature blue with cold; she
carried a small basin under one arm, and kept both hands buried in the
pockets of her gown. From time to time she thrust out her tongue to
catch the drops that kept running down from her nose. The boys trotted
alongside, forming two wings to the procession, their eyes eagerly fixed
upon the godfather, who returned their gaze with an amused stare and
hailed them jocosely:

"Why, hello! you here? What are you looking for, little hedgehogs?"

"He's lame," said one.

"Hush, keep quiet, or he won't give us anything!"

The procession passed on; the faces of the urchins fell; some of them
were angry, and others seemed on the verge of tears.

"Crippl----" one began to call, but stopped suddenly. The godfather had
pitched a handful of copper coins into the air, and the whole troop
flung themselves after them, yelling, tumbling over one another,
pushing, fighting, struggling, rolling over and over, almost upsetting
the maid-servant, who instantly began to deal out blows and curses in
greater proportion even than the coins themselves. Fresh handfuls of
money and renewed scuffling by an ever-increasing crowd of ragamuffins
continued to the very doors of the church, where Priest Elias stood
awaiting the party and listening to something the red-robed sacristan
was urging upon him. The sacristan was, in fact, afraid that Priest
Elias, with his usual kindly indulgence, might be persuaded to return to
the house with the baptismal party, whereas it was the custom of the
neighbourhood for the priest to do that only in cases where the parents
had been united by religious ceremony: he was, therefore, exhorting the
other to practise severity with Brontu, with the godparents, with the
whole company in fact. "Your Honour," said he, "will surely not return
to the house with this infant? Why, it is almost illegitimate! On no
account should such respect be paid to it."

"Go and see if they are coming," said the priest.

"They are not in sight yet. No, your Honour will not go."

"And how about you? Shall you not go?" enquired the priest with a slight
smile.

"Oh! with me it is an altogether different matter; I go on account of
the sweetmeats, not to do honour to that rabble."

At this moment the company came in sight, and the ceremony presently
began. No sooner had the baby's bald little red head been uncovered than
it began to emit sounds like the bleating of a hoarse kid. The godfather
stood by smiling, with a lighted taper in his hand, doing his best to
remember the creed, Giovanna having implored him to recite it
conscientiously, so that the baptism might be valid.

Almost the entire crowd of urchins had followed the party inside the
church, and there was a pattering like rats running about, as the
sacristan would chase them all out, only presently to come stealing
back.

The woman who had carried the baby, and the maid-servant with the basin,
seated themselves on the steps of a side altar, where they anxiously
awaited the godfather's present. At last the service was over, the tips
had been given, the baby wrapped up again, and Brontu and his friends
stood waiting awkwardly for the priest, who had gone into the sacristy
to remove his robes. Would he come back or not? Was he going to the
house with the newly baptised infant or no? There was an uncomfortable
pause, and then, as he did not appear, the procession set out somewhat
mournfully on the return journey, followed by the triumphant sacristan,
to whom Brontu would dearly have liked to administer blows in place of
the expected sweets.

All along the route the people came out to see them go by, and many
faces, especially those of the women, lighted up with ill-natured smiles
as they perceived that the priest was not there. Poh! It was like the
baptism of a bastard!

Giovanna, albeit not really expecting the priest, grew a shade paler
when the company invaded her chamber without him. She kissed the little
purple creature sadly, feeling as though the outlook for the poor child
was very dark indeed.

"I remembered every word of the creed from beginning to end," announced
the godfather. "Happy mother, your child will be a wonder, as tall as
its godmother and as gay as its godfather!"

"If only it may be as prosperous as its godfather," murmured Giovanna.

"And now," cried the young man, joyously clapping his hands, "come to
dinner. What a pleasant custom it is! Upon my honour, it is a charming
custom!" And he clapped his hands again, as though calling a crowd of
children.

They all took their places at table, where the macaroni, which had
already been served, was to be followed by a beautiful roast pig
exhaling an odour of rosemary.

       *       *       *       *       *

It was only a few days after the baptism that a strange though not
unprecedented event occurred in Orlei.

Near Isidoro Pane's hut was an ancient dungheap, abandoned for so long
that it had become almost petrified. It was covered with a growth of
sickly-looking vegetation, and emitted no odour, looking like some sort
of artificial mound.

One evening at about dusk, while the fisherman was preparing his supper,
he heard sounds in the direction of this mound, and went to the door to
see what they were. The weather was cold, and in the clear, greenish
twilight he saw a group of black figures, chiefly women, advancing,
singing to the accompaniment of some instrument.

Isidoro understood what it was and went to meet them. The women, about
twenty in all, old and young, were chanting in a melancholy monotone,
with sudden breaks and changes, a weird song or exorcism against the
bite of a tarantula; while a blind beggar, a pallid young man, miserably
clad in soiled and ragged woman's clothing, accompanied them on a
primitive instrument called a _serraia_--a sort of cithern, made out of
a dried sow's bladder.

There were only three other men in the party, and in one of these, with
a flushed, feverish face, and one hand bound up, the fisherman
recognised Giacobbe Dejas.

Isidoro advanced, and joining the party laid one finger on the bandaged
hand, Giacobbe, meanwhile, gazing at him wildly, his eyes transfixed
with terror.

"Are you afraid you are going to die from a tarantula bite? No, no,"
said Isidoro, smiling.

The women continued their chant. There were seven widows, seven wives,
and seven maids. One of the widows was Giacobbe's sister. She walked at
his side, fresh and pink as ever, notwithstanding her wild state of
alarm and anxiety; and her shrill little voice, like the note of a
lively cricket, trilled and trembled high above all the others.

"He is suffering," said one of the men to Isidoro in a low tone.

"Ah?" said the fisherman gravely.

The words chanted by the women ran as follows:

    "Saint Peter he walked down to the sea
    And into the water his keys dropped he.
    Then the Lord unto him did say:
    'My Peter, what is it ails thee to-day?'
    'Of deadly bites I bear the smart
    In my two feet, and my back, and my heart.'
    'Peter, take of the sad thorn-tree[7]
    Pounded as fine as fine may be;
    Take it three days for thy wound.
    So shall Peter be made sound.'
    Tarantula, with the painted belly,
    You have a daughter straitly born,
    Straitly is your daughter born.
    One for the mountain I leave forlorn;
    One for the mountain, and one for the valley.
    You have killed me, and I will kill you."

Meanwhile the group had stopped in front of the mound. The two men, who
were provided with spades, began to dig, and Isidoro stood waiting with
Giacobbe, the chanting women, and the blind man still playing on his
strange instrument. Giacobbe silently watched the operations of his two
friends, and Isidoro watched him, puzzled by the transformation he had
undergone; he seemed, indeed, like an altogether different person; his
face was inflamed, and drawn with fright, and the little eyes, which
usually twinkled so shrewdly from beneath their bald brows, were dim
with a childish terror of death. When they had come to the end of the
chant, the women began again at the first line, the instrument
continuing the accompaniment on the same monotonous key as before. It
sounded like the humming of a swarm of bees in flight. Puffs of icy wind
blew from the west, cutting the faces of the group gathered about the
mound, like knives. The purple-blue of the sky was fading into a
greenish tint, like the face of a lake when the sun has left it; and
over the entire scene there hung a pall of indescribable melancholy--the
dull, cold twilight, the darkening uplands, the black village, the
shadowy group of people, performing a superstitious rite with all the
faith of heathen idolaters.[8] The two men dug with friendly zeal,
throwing up spadefuls of black earth mixed with rags, egg-shells, and
refuse of all kinds. As it covered their feet and legs, they would mount
higher, bending to their task, panting and sweating, while the women
continued their chant, and the blind man his monotonous accompaniment.

A hole of sufficient depth having at last been dug, Aunt Anna-Rosa,
never ceasing for an instant to emit the same shrill, mournful sounds,
helped Giacobbe to remove his coat, and then, taking him by the hand,
they led him to the edge of the excavation. He jumped in at a bound, and
the two men, pushing him down with their hands, hastily piled on the
earth, until he was buried up to the neck.

The performance that then took place was even more extraordinary. The
head, looking as though it had been severed from the body and stuck in
the centre of this heap of refuse, was surrounded by sparse vegetation,
which trembled in the breeze as though affrighted; while overhead hung
the melancholy sky. Hardly had the two men completed their task, and
stood,--the one wiping the perspiration from his forehead with his
sleeve, and the other knocking off the dirt that was sticking to his
hands,--when the women closed in a circle around the head, and began to
dance to the sound of their own chanting voices and the instrument
still played by the blind man, who stood with his sightless balls and
pale, impassive face turned towards the distant horizon. This continued
for some time; then the dancing ceased, the circle broke, but the
chanting still went on. Isidoro and the other men threw themselves on
the mound, and with spades and hands, had soon disinterred Giacobbe. He
was perspiring profusely when he emerged, covered with dirt, and his
face and neck were purple. He said he had felt as though he would
suffocate; then he shook himself and thrust first one arm and then the
other into the sleeves of the coat which his sister held ready.

"Well, so you are not going to die after all, little spring bird?" said
Isidoro jokingly. The other, however, made no reply; the cold wind
struck his perspiring body with an icy chill, his face grew pallid, and
his teeth chattered.

They walked off in the direction of Aunt Anna-Rosa's house, Isidoro, who
by this time had lost all interest in his supper, accompanying them.

"Did you kill it?" he enquired of the sick man, remembering to have
heard that if one kills a tarantula with his ring finger he acquires the
power to cure the bite with a simple touch of the same finger.

"No," said Giacobbe; and then, while the weird chanting still
continued, he gave an account of his misfortune.

"I was asleep; suddenly I felt something like the sting of a wasp. I
woke up all in a perspiration. Ah, it had stung me! It had stung me! The
horrible tarantula! I saw it as plain as I see you, but it was some
distance off, on the wall. Ah, the devil take you, accursed creature! So
I came right home. Do you know, I am afraid to die; I've been afraid for
ever so long."

"But we all have to die some time, whenever the hour comes," said
Isidoro seriously.

"Yes, that is true; we all have to some time," agreed one of the men;
"but that is poor consolation for Giacobbe Dejas."

"My legs feel as though they had been broken," he groaned. "And oh, my
spine! it is just as though some one had struck it with an axe! I am
going to die; I know I am going to die----"

As they passed along, the people came out of their houses to watch them
go by, but it was like a funeral procession; no one spoke, nor did any
one follow them. Giacobbe's eyes grew dim, and presently he stumbled and
clutched hold of Isidoro for support.

The women were moving along on a trot, like a herd of colts; their
voices rose, fell, rose again, and seemed to die away into the chill
night air, overpowered at last by the even, strident notes of the
cithern, like the gasps of some wounded animal left to die alone in the
forest.

At last they reached the little widow's house. A fire was burning in the
slate-stone fireplace in the centre of the kitchen, laid on a little
heap of live coals which had just been taken out of the oven. This last,
a huge, round affair having a hole in the top to allow the smoke to
escape, occupied one corner, its square door being quite large enough to
allow of the passage of a man's body. Into its still hot interior
Giacobbe accordingly now crept, the soles of his heavy shoes appearing
in the opening, their worn nails shining in the firelight.

Placing themselves around the oven and the fireplace, the women
continued their exorcism with renewed vigour, the red and purple lights
from the fire falling upon their white blouses and yellow bodices. Aunt
Anna-Rosa's round, open mouth looked like a black hole in the middle of
her pink, shining face. The blind man, conscious of the fire, felt his
way towards it little by little, though without ceasing to play.
Reaching the edge of the fireplace, he put one of his bare feet upon the
hot stone. "Zs-s----" whispered Uncle Isidoro warningly. "Look out, boy,
or you'll have a surprise."

The words were not out of his mouth when the youth gave a sudden bound
backwards, shaking his burned foot in the air. For a moment he stopped
playing, but the women never faltered. Standing there, erect and
immovable around the huge oven, they might have been intoning a funeral
dirge over some prehistoric sepulchre.

"He is coming out!" cried Aunt Anna-Rosa suddenly, and Giacobbe's great
feet could be seen issuing from the oven. At the same instant the
house-door was thrown violently open, and the black-robed figure of
Priest Elias appeared. On hearing what had occurred he had at once
hastened to the house, hoping to arrive in time at least to prevent the
ordeal of the oven. He was flushed and breathless, and his eyes flashed.
On catching sight of him one of the women gave a scream and others
stopped chanting, while the rest motioned to them to continue. Giacobbe,
meanwhile, had got out of the oven.

"Be quiet!" commanded the priest, panting. "Aren't you ashamed of
yourselves? No?"

They all became silent.

"Go," he said, opening the door and holding it with one hand, while with
the other he almost pushed the women out. When the last had gone he
became aware for the first time of the presence of Isidoro, and
his face fell. "You too?" he said reproachfully. "Extraordinary, most
extraordinary! Don't you see what you have done among you to that poor
man?" Then changing his tone, "Quick," he said, "go at once for the
doctor as fast as you can. And as for you," turning to Giacobbe, "get to
bed at once."

The sick man asked for nothing better; he was burning with fever, his
head was shaking, and he could hardly see. Isidoro went off in search
of the doctor, somewhat mortified and yet, in spite of his usually hard
common sense, his intelligence, and his deeply religious nature, quite
unable to see what harm there could be in trying to cure a tarantula
sting with the rites, chants, and incantations employed by one's
forebears from the days when giants inhabited the _Nuraghes_.

The women had scattered into groups along the street and were discussing
the occurrence, some of them a little ashamed, while others were
inclined to blame the priest. One irrepressible young girl was beating
her hands in time and singing the lament which should have been chanted
in chorus around Giacobbe's bed had not the priest's arrival prevented:

    "'Oh, mother of the spider!
    A stroke has fallen on me.'"

Some of the women would have stopped Isidoro, but he strode quickly on,
buried in thought. At last they all dispersed, and the cold, still
evening settled down on the little widow's house, while overhead the
stars looked like golden eyes veiled in tears.

FOOTNOTES:

[7] _Ispana trista_ or _santa_, from which, according to tradition, the
crown of thorns was made. The people use the leaves of this tree for
medicinal purposes.

[8] The custom of burying a person bitten by a tarantula in a dunghill,
and putting him in an oven, is not so unreasonable as it at first
appears, the effect of the poison being neutralised if the sufferer can
be made to perspire freely; while the sickening odours of the dunghill
induce nausea, also supposed to be very beneficial. Now, however, the
people completely ignoring these practical results, the ceremony has
come to be an act of pure superstition. The account given above
describes such scenes as they have actually been known to occur.



CHAPTER XIV


The room where Giacobbe lay was extremely lofty, and so large that the
oil light did not penetrate the corners. The furniture appeared to have
been built expressly with a view to its ample proportions; a huge, red,
wooden wardrobe which stood against the end wall, reaching clear to the
ceiling. The bed, the lower part of which was draped with yellow
curtains, was as high and massive as a mountain. Seen thus, in the dim,
flickering light, with its black corners and great lofty white ceiling
like a cloudy sky, the room had a mysterious, uncanny look. Little Aunt
Anna-Rosa seemed almost in danger of losing her way as she moved about
among the bulky furniture, and her shoulders hardly reached above the
counterpane when she came and stood beside the bed where her brother lay
in the uneasy grip of the fever.

He seemed to himself still to be in the mound, only the two friends who
had interred him, kept on piling the earth higher and higher about his
head. He was suffocating, the torture was almost unendurable, and yet he
dared not stop them, fearing the cure might not be efficacious unless
his head were buried as well; and his head seemed to be Priest Elias, on
whose breast the tail of a tarantula could be seen wriggling about.

In his dream Giacobbe was conscious of an almost insane fear of death.
It had occurred to him when he was in the oven that hell, perhaps, was a
huge heated oven where the damned would sprawl throughout eternity.

Now, in his dream, precisely the same feeling was reproduced. He was in
the mound, the earth reached higher and higher about him; he shut his
mouth tight to keep from swallowing it, and there, opposite him, he
suddenly saw a lighted furnace. It was the infernal regions. Such a
feeling of terror seized upon him that even in his dream, in his
feverish semi-consciousness, he was aware of an overmastering desire to
prove to himself that this horror was an illusion of the senses. In the
effort he awoke, but even awake he had something of the same sensation
that stones, were they endowed with feeling, would have in a burning
building, growing all the while hotter and hotter, and yet unable to
stir an inch. Giacobbe felt like a burning brick himself, or a piece of
live coal, a part of the infernal fires; and waking, his terror was even
more acute than in his dream. He emitted a groan and the noise gave him
comfort; it had an earthly, human sound, breaking in on all those
diabolical sensations.

Isidoro, who had stayed in case the little widow might have need of him,
heard the groan from where he sat dozing in the adjoining kitchen, and
bounded to his feet in terror; he thought that Giacobbe had died.
Approaching the bed, he found the sick man lying flat on his back, his
face drawn, his eyes, which looked almost black, wet with tears.

"Are you awake?" asked the fisherman in a low voice. "Do you want
anything?" He felt his pulse, and even laid his ear against it as though
trying to hear the throbs.

At the same instant Giacobbe observed the round little visage of his
sister appear above the other edge of the bed, enveloped in the folds of
a large white kerchief.

Then a curious thing happened: the face of the sick man contracted, his
mouth opened, his eyes closed, and a deep sob broke the stillness of the
room. Instantly memory carried the woman back to a far-distant day when
her brother, a tiny lad, had sat weeping on this very bed; and opening
her arms just as she had done then, she took him to her kind bosom,
murmuring words of loving remonstrance.

"In the name of the holy souls in purgatory! What is it? What is the
matter, little brother?"

Isidoro, quite at a loss, continued to feel his friend's pulse, trying
now one vein, and now another, and muttering to himself: "How strange,
how very strange!"

"Well, what is it? Won't you tell me what it is? You, Isidoro Pane, what
happened?"

"Why, nothing happened. He called out, and that was all. May be he had a
bad dream. We'll give him a drink of water. There now, here's a little
fresh water. That's it, he wants it--see how he is drinking! You were
thirsty, weren't you? It's the fever, you see; that's what ails him!"

Giacobbe sat up in bed, and after drinking the water calmed down. He had
on an old white knitted cotton shirt, through which could be seen the
outline of his small wiry body, the thick growth of black hair on his
chest contrasting oddly with the perfectly smooth face and bald head
above it. He remained in a sitting posture, leaning forward, and
thoughtfully passing his well hand up and down the injured arm.

"Yes," he remarked suddenly in the panting, querulous tone of a person
with fever. "Yes; I had a bad dream. Whew! but it was hot! Holy San
Costantino, how hot it was! I was dreaming of hell."

"Dear me, dear me, what an idea!" said his sister reprovingly; and Uncle
Isidoro said playfully: "And so it was hot, little spring bird?"

The sick man seemed to be annoyed.

"Don't joke, and don't say 'little spring bird.' I don't like it; I
shall never say it again, and I shall never laugh at any one again.

"Listen to me," he said, bending forward and continuing to rub his arm.
"Hell is a dreadful place. I've got to die, and I've got to tell you
something first. Now listen, but don't get frightened, Anna-Rosa,
because I am certainly going to die; and Uncle Isidoro, you know it
already, so I can tell you. Well, this is it. It was I who killed Basile
Ledda."

Aunt Anna-Rosa's eyes and mouth flew wide open; she leaned against the
side of the bed, and began to shake convulsively.

"_I_ knew it already?" exclaimed Isidoro. "Why, I knew nothing at all!"

Giacobbe raised a terrified face, and began to tremble as well.

"Don't have me arrested," he implored. "I'm going to die, anyhow; you
can tell them then. I thought you knew. What is the matter, Anna-Ro?
Don't be frightened; don't have me arrested."

"It's not that," she said, raising herself. Her first sensation of
having received a blow on the head was passing away, but now, in its
place, there came a singular feeling of some change that was taking
place within her; her own spirit seemed to have fled in dismay, and in
its place had come something that regarded the world, life, heaven,
earth--God himself--from a totally different standpoint; and everything
viewed in the light of this new spirit was full of horror, misery,
chaos.

"I will not tell any one. No, no! But how could you ever suppose that I
knew about it?" protested Isidoro. He felt no especial horror of
Giacobbe, only profound pity; but at the same time he thought it would
be better, now, for him to die.

Then, simultaneously, their thoughts all flew to Costantino, and hardly
left him again.

"Lie down," said Isidoro, smoothing out the pillow. But the other only
shook his head and began to talk again in the same querulous, laboured
voice, now beseeching, now almost angry:

"I thought you must know about it; and so, you never did, after all?
Well, that's so; how could you? But I was afraid of you all the same. I
had an idea that I could read it in your eyes. Do you remember that
night at your house, when you said: 'It might be you who killed him'? I
was frightened that night. Then, there was that other time--Assumption
Day--here in this very house, you called me 'murderer.' I knew it was a
joke, but it frightened me because I was afraid of you, anyhow. So then,
when I said that about you and my sister getting married, I meant it. I
thought it might give me a sort of hold on you."

"Oh, Christ! Oh, holy little Jesus!" sobbed the widow.

Giacobbe looked at her for a moment.

"You are scared, eh? You wonder what made me do it? Well, I'll tell you.
I hated that man; he had flogged me, and he owed me money. But I thought
it would kill me when they condemned Costantino Ledda. Why didn't I
confess then? Is that what you want to say? Ah, it sounds all very easy
now, but you can't do it. Costantino is a strong young man, I thought to
myself; I shall die long before he does, and then I'll confess the whole
thing. And I can tell you that that thing that Giovanna Era did made me
a hundred years older. What is Costantino going to say when he comes
back? What is he going to say?" he repeated softly to himself.

"What ought we to do?" said Aunt Anna-Rosa, burying her face in the
bedclothes and groaning. She felt as though it must all be some
frightful dream; yet, not for a single instant did she contemplate
concealing her brother's crime. And afterwards?--One of two equally
horrible things must happen. Either Giacobbe would die, or he would be
sent to prison. She could not tell which of the two she dreaded most.

"Now we must lie down and rest; to-morrow will be time enough to talk of
what is the best thing to do," said Isidoro, again smoothing out the
pillow. Giacobbe turned over and laid himself down; then, raising his
left hand, he began to count off on his fingers: "Priest Elias, one; the
magistrate, two; then--what's his name?--Brontu Dejas; yes, I want him
particularly. They must all come here, and I will make a confession."

"Brontu Dejas!" repeated Isidoro with stupefaction.

"Yes; they will take his word sooner than any one's. But first, you've
all got to swear on the crucifix that you'll let me die in peace. I'm
frightened. You'll let me die in peace, won't you?"

"Why, of course; don't worry now. And you, little godmother, go back to
bed; get as much rest and sleep as you can," said the fisherman, quietly
drawing the clothes up about Giacobbe, who kept throwing them off,
turning restlessly, and shaking his head.

"I'm hot," said he. "I tell you I'm hot. Let me alone. Why aren't you
more surprised. Uncle 'Sidoro? I went on hiring out to keep people from
suspecting anything; but you knew all along; oh, yes! you knew well
enough!"

"I tell you I knew nothing at all, child of grace."

"Then why aren't you surprised?"

"Because," replied the old man in a grave voice, "such strange things
are always happening; it is the way of the world. Now keep the covers
over you, and try to go to sleep."

The widow, who appeared not to have been listening to what the two men
were saying, now raised her face. Poor, little, fresh face! It had
suddenly grown yellow and wrinkled; all the years that had passed over
it without being able to leave any trace, had, in the last five
minutes, taken their revenge!

"Giacobbe," said the little woman, "what need is there of calling in
witnesses? Why should we have any one else? Won't _I_ do?" She
straightened herself and looked at Isidoro, who, in turn, looked at the
sick man.

"Why, that's true!" they exclaimed together.

A sudden atmosphere of relief fell on the dimly lighted room. The
patient, with a sigh, stretched himself quietly out, remained still for
a few moments, and finally fell asleep. The little widow, likewise
following Isidoro's advice, went back to bed. The ponderous front of the
great red wardrobe seemed to be brooding over the scene; and the shadowy
ceiling to overhang it like the sky above a deserted hamlet. All those
inanimate objects seemed to repeat gravely to one another the old
fisherman's words: "It is the way of the world!"

       *       *       *       *       *

The Orlei physician, Dr. Puddu, was a coarse, fat beast of a man. Once
upon a time he, too, had had his high ideals; but Fate having cast him
into this out-of-the-way corner of the world where the people were
rarely, if ever, ill, he had taken to drink; at first, because, being
from the South, he felt the cold; and afterwards because he found that
wine and liquor were very much to his taste. In these days, in addition
to his intemperate habits, he had become a Free Thinker, so that even
the villagers had lost all respect for him. Giacobbe had complained of a
pain in his side, and Doctor Puddu, after cauterising the tarantula
bite, had said roughly:

"You fool, people don't die of these things. If you do die, it will
only be because you are an ass." And Aunt Anna-Rosa had looked at him
angrily, and muttered something under her breath.

Poor little Aunt Anna-Rosa! It did not take much to anger her in these
days; she quarrelled, indeed, with every one except the patient. And how
old she looked! After that night her face had remained yellow and drawn;
she looked like a different person, and her brother's revelation had
worked a singular change in her both physically and morally. She was
constantly tormented by the question as to how Giacobbe ever could have
brought himself to kill any one. He, who was always as merry and gentle
as a lamb! How in the name of the holy souls in purgatory had he ever
done it? And our father, he was no thief, not he! He was a God-fearing
man, and always so kind and gay that when any of the neighbours were in
trouble they invariably came to him to be cheered up.

The little woman's heart swelled as she thought of her old father long
since dead, but suddenly a mist seemed to rise in her brain, and her
face contracted with the horror of a terrible thought.

"Perhaps he, too, the kindly, good old man had committed some crime! Why
not? No one could be trusted any more, living or dead, old or young."
And then she fell to crying, beating her breast with her tiny fists, and
bitterly repenting of her wicked doubts.

When, approaching the bedside, she would find the patient's face drawn
with suffering, his wide, terror-stricken eyes, meanwhile, seeming to
implore death to spare him, an infinite tide of pity would well up
within her, a rush of maternal tenderness, a sorrow beyond words. More
than ever was he her little brother, her boy, curled up on the great
bed; so frightened, so shrunken with suffering! And while everything
else, every one else, even the sacred dead, even innocent children,
aroused hateful suspicions, he alone, he of them all, called for pity,
tenderness, a passionate and consuming love, that was like melting wax
within her. Yet she must see him, and she was seeing him,--die. More
than that, she must wish for his death. All the while that she was
nursing him with tenderest care, she must hope that her watchfulness,
the medicines, everything, would fail. Moreover, death, that awful thing
which she must ardently desire for the "little brother" whom she loved,
when it came would bring, not only the deep, natural sorrow of her loss,
but that other horror, the announcement of his guilt.

Of all the burdens that pressed upon her, however, the hardest to bear
was the fact that the sick man was perfectly conscious of her attitude
towards him.

On the third day of his illness, Isidoro had brought, with great secrecy
and mystery, a medicine obtained from the sacristan. It was a concoction
made of olive-oil, into which had been plunged three scorpions, a
centipede, a tarantula, a spider, and a poisonous fungus; it was
considered a cure for any kind of sting. Aunt Anna-Rosa applied it at
once to the patient's puffed and swollen hand, he allowing her to do it,
and watching the operation intently. Then he said:

"Why do you take all this trouble for me, Anna-Ro? Don't you want me to
die?"

Her heart sank, while he continued quietly, addressing Isidoro: "And
you? You brought me this, but just suppose it were to cure me, what
would you do then?"

"God will look after that; leave it to him," said the fisherman.

Giacobbe lay quiet for a few moments; then he said:

"Shall you two go together to the magistrate's?"

"Where?"

"To the magistrate's; it's cold, though, now, and it's a long way to go;
you must not go on horse-back, Anna-Rosa, do you hear? You will have to
have a carriage to drive to Nuoro."

"What for?" she faltered distressedly, pretending not to understand.

"Why, to see the magistrate, of course."

She scolded him, and then went into the kitchen and wept bitterly.

"Here is your oil," she said presently, as Isidoro came out and prepared
to leave. "You could not do anything but bring it, of course. When is
Priest Elias coming?"

"This evening."

"Yes, he ought to; Giacobbe must confess. Time is flying, and he is very
ill; last night he didn't close an eye. Ah!" she added suddenly, "he
seems to me just like some wounded bird."

"Have the Dejases been here?"

"Oh, yes! They've been here, both of them, mother and son. Brontu has
been here twice. Oh, they all come!" she said desperately, "but what
good does it do? They can't cure him; they can't give him either life or
death."

"Either one would be equally a blessing or a curse to him," said
Isidoro, carefully wrapping his red handkerchief around the vial of oil.

"As they are for most of us!" said the woman.

Soon after, the doctor arrived in a shrunken overcoat, with the collar
turned up. He had been drinking already, and smelled strong of spirits;
his lips were white, and he puffed, and spat about, sometimes over
himself. He seemed somewhat startled, however, when he saw his patient's
condition.

"What the devil's the matter with you?" he demanded roughly. "Your side?
your side? You've got the devil in your side. Let's have a look." He
threw back the covers, exposing Giacobbe's hairy chest; passing his hand
up and down his side, he listened with his ear close to the patient's
back. "It's all nonsense," he said. "You've worked yourself up like some
old woman." Then he replaced the covers carelessly, and went out. At the
door, however, he turned and fixed Aunt Anna-Rosa with his eye.

"Woman," he said, "let him see the priest at once; he has pneumonia."

At dusk Giacobbe confessed; then he called his sister. "Anna-Ro," he
said, "Priest Elias is going to Nuoro with you too. You must be sure to
have a carriage on account of the cold."

It was, in fact, snowing then, and the big room was filled with the
white reflected light.

Priest Elias looked attentively at Aunt Anna-Rosa, for whom he had an
especially tender feeling on account of a fancied resemblance to his
mother. The poor little black-robed figure seemed to him to have
shrunken in the past few days, and now she was hanging her head in a
pitiful, shamefaced way; bowed with mortification at her "little
brother's" disgrace.

Instinctively the priest understood the heroic part that quivering soul
had been called upon to play in this tragedy, and he breathed an inward
benediction upon her.



CHAPTER XV


It was the month of May, and the wild valley of the Isalle, usually so
forbidding and rugged, lay smiling in the sun, adorned with tall grass
and clumps of flowering shrubs and fields of barley, which rippled in
the breeze like cloths of greenish gold. It was as though some old
pagan, drunk with sunlight and sweet scents, had decked himself out in
branches and garlands.

The clear, liquid note of a wild bird would occasionally pierce the
silence of the valley, then die away, drowned in the fragrance of the
narcissuses and flowering broom, which gleamed like nuggets of molten
gold on the very edges of the loftiest cliffs, as though peeping over to
see what lay in the ravine below.

A spendthrift fay had passed along, scattering flowers, colours, scents,
with a reckless hand. Some meadows in the distance, pranked with
ranunculuses, looked like stretches of green water reflecting a starry
sky. Here and there a group of trees nodded and whispered together in
the breeze. The sun had but just sunk and the west was still glowing
like the cheek of a ripe peach; while in the east the mountains lay like
a huge parure of precious stones set in a case of lilac satin.

Costantino Ledda, liberated only a few hours before at Nuoro, was
returning to his native village on foot, descending leisurely into the
valley, his small canvas pack slung on his back. Now and then he would
stop and look around him curiously.

"Ha! the valley seems smaller, perhaps because I have seen the sea," he
murmured.

He looked older; his face was clean-shaven and intensely white; but
otherwise he had none of the tragic air which would have been
appropriate under the circumstances. He was coming back in this
manner,--alone and on foot,--because he had not been able to say
precisely what day he would be freed; otherwise some one, relative or
friend, would certainly have gone to meet him. Besides, his impatience
to reach home would brook no delay. Down and down the mountain-side he
went; he was almost gay, possibly because of some wine he had drunk at
Nuoro, where he had also provided himself with more for the journey. As
he continued to descend his legs would occasionally double up under him,
but he cared little for so trifling an inconvenience as that.

"Why," he said to himself, "when I am tired I have only to lie down and
go to sleep. I have plenty of bread and wine in my bag; what more could
any one want? I'm as free as the birds of the air. Yes, that's true; I
am free; I'm a bachelor now; that's a funny thing; once I was a married
man with a wife, and now I'm a bachelor." He thought that he found this
idea amusing.

Down and down, now watching the sandy path, winding between high grass
on either side, now gazing at the birds to whom he had compared himself,
as they flew hither and thither, at times almost skimming the ground,
then darting into the bushes where they would find a roosting-place for
the night. He thought of the prison magpie, and felt a sudden tightening
at his heart. Yes; it was true he had been sorry, when the time came to
leave that place of torment--the companions whom he disliked so
heartily, the horrible, enclosing walls, the strip of sky that for all
those years had seemed to overhang the prison courtyard like a metal
lid.

After the death of the real culprit days and months had elapsed before
Justice had completed its leisurely formalities and the innocent man
could be liberated. During these months Costantino, informed of the
event, had been wild with impatience, and the days had seemed like
years; yet, when the moment of departure actually came, he nearly wept.

This emotion, however, which was apparently the outcome of pity and
sympathy for the beings whom he was leaving behind, was, in reality,
for the things he was leaving behind; for all those inanimate objects
that had engulfed and swallowed up his life--both his past and his
future. Now this sorrow was done with, everything was done with; even
that horrible torture that followed Giovanna's act was all so much a
thing of the past that he really fancied that he could laugh at it.

Down, and down; he reached the bottom of the valley and began to skirt
the edge of the Isalle. The sunset sky was still bright, and here and
there the water shone between the oleanders and rushes, or reflected the
rose and yellow lights in the sky. The delicate lace umbrellas of the
elder-flower, and the brilliant coral blossoms of the oleanders stood
out in the clear atmosphere as though from a setting of silver.
Costantino, by this time very tired, began to think that perhaps the
valley was not, after all, so small as it had seemed at first.

"I can sleep out of doors perfectly well," he thought, "but it would
have been so amusing to walk up to Isidoro's door--Bang, bang--'Who's
there?' 'I'--'Who's I?' 'Why, Costantino Ledda!' How astonished old
Isidoro would look! Perhaps he would be singing the lauds; may be
_those_ lauds, who knows? Why, let's see! _I_ wrote a set of lauds once!
How extraordinary that seems!"

He wondered over many incidents of the past as a boy will sometimes be
astonished to think of things he did as a child. But the present held
many surprises as well. The glory of the springtide amazed him, as did
the length of time it took to cross a valley that appeared to be so
small. But most of all he wondered to think that he was crossing it on
his way back to his own village.

He was walking now between two fields of grain above which the slanting
light threw a veil of golden haze, and its surface, rippled by the
breeze, seemed stroked by an invisible hand.

He went on picturing his arrival, Isidoro having written to ask him to
come straight to his house: "'Come in,' he will say, and then, 'Giacobbe
Dejas is dead; it was he who did it!'--'I know that already. The devil!
Is that all you have to tell me?' 'Well, then, your wife has married
some one else.' 'I know that too.' 'Then why don't you cry?' 'Why on
earth should I? I have cried enough; I don't want to any more now. I've
crossed the sea; I've seen the world. I'm not a boy any longer; nothing
makes much difference to me any more.'" But at the very moment when he
was boasting to himself of his indifference and worldly cynicism, an icy
grip closed about his heart.

Oh! to be going back to find the little house, Giovanna, his child, his
past!

"There is nothing left," he said aloud. "The storm has swept over it and
carried everything away, everything, everything----"

He threw himself down on the edge of the field of grain in an agony of
grief. It was often this way; the great tempest of sorrow had broken
over him long before and seemingly passed on; but instead of that it had
only hidden itself for a time; it was there now, stealing along, keeping
pace with him; for long distances he would not see its evil shape; then
suddenly it would leap forth, bursting through the ground at his very
feet and whirling around its victim, clutch him by the throat, beat him
to the ground, suffocate him--then leave him spent, exhausted.

After a while Costantino sat up, unfastened his wallet, and drew out a
dried gourd filled with wine, throwing his head back, he took a deep
draught; then he put it away, and sat looking around him at the sea of
grain on whose golden-green surface floated splotches of crimson
poppies. Somewhat revived he presently resumed his journey, but all the
eagerness and spring with which he had set out had died away. What did
it matter whether he got home this day or the next, since there was no
one to expect him? And so he plodded on till the first shadows of
approaching night overtook him just as he reached the end of the valley.
The crickets had turned out like a tribe of mowers with their tiny
silver sickles, the scent of the shrubs and flowers hung heavy in the
warm air; the breeze had died away, and the birds were silent; but the
black triangles of the bats circled swiftly in the luminous grey dusk.

Oh, that divine melancholy of a spring evening! Felt even by happy
souls, may it not be an inherited homesickness, transmitted through all
the ages? A longing for the flowers, and perfumes, and joys of that
eternal, albeit earthly, paradise which our first parents lost for us
forever.

Costantino tramped on and on: he had passed long years under a brutal
oppression, between infected walls, amid corrupt companions in an
environment whose very air was confined, and now--he was walking in the
open, treading grass and stones under foot! As he ascended the mountain
from the valley below, every step brought more of the horizon into view
and a wider expanse of soft, overhanging sky as boundless as liberty
itself. And yet,--and yet,--never in all those years of imprisonment had
he experienced a sense of such utter hopelessness as that with which he
now saw the shadows fall from those free skies. He was pressing on, but
whither? and why? He had set forth eager, elated, as one hastening to a
place where pleasant things await him. Now he wondered at himself. In
the uncertain twilight he seemed to have lost his way; his journey had
turned out to be vain, abortive. He was trudging on aimlessly; he had no
country, nor home, nor family; he would never reach any destination; he
had gone astray, and was wandering about in a boundless, desert tract,
as grey and cheerless as the sky above him, where the stars were like
camp-fires lighted by solitary travellers who, unknown to one another,
wandered, lost like himself, in the unwished-for and oppressive liberty
of the trackless wilderness.

And yet it was not the actual thought of Giovanna herself that weighed
him down, nor yet his lost happiness, nor the misery that a wholly
undeserved fate had forced upon him; all these things had long ago so
eaten into his soul that they had come to form a part of his very
nature, and he had grown almost to forget them, as one forgets the shirt
he has on his back. Now his grief fastened upon memories of certain
specific objects which had passed out of the setting of his life, and
which he could never recover.

His mind dwelt, for instance, persistently on the little common in front
of Giovanna's cottage, the stones in the old wall where they used to sit
together on summer evenings, and above all on the great, wide bed, where
he would lay himself down beside her after the hard day's work was over.
He felt now as though he might be going home at the close of one of
those long, toilsome days. But now--now--where was he to turn for rest
and ease? Thus, up through the load of unhappiness that bore him down,
all-pervading and indefinable as the fragrance of the wild growth about
him, a sense of physical discomfort forced itself; he was conscious of
hunger and weariness.

Reaching the top of a knoll, he sat down and opened his wallet. Night
had fallen, but the atmosphere was clear and bright; the mountains which
hid the sea on the east were bathed in moonlight, and the Milky Way
spanned the heavens like a white, deserted causeway; in the west a pale,
uncertain reflection hung over the distant sea; a magical aurora
encircled the mountains. The path stood out distinctly, and the round,
compact clumps of bushes might have been a scattered flock of black
sheep. No sound broke the stillness but the mournful hoot of an owl.

Costantino ate and drank; then, stretching himself out on the ground, he
allowed his gaze to wander for a moment along that vast white roadway
that traversed the heavens; then he shut his eyes, and the sense of
bodily comfort, the repose for his tired limbs, and the effect of the
food and drink were such that he became almost cheerful again. Hardly,
however, had his lids closed, when all his prison companions began to
troop before his vision, and he seemed to be seated at work at his
shoemaker's bench. The thought of all the wonderful things he would have
to tell his friends at Orlei then came into his mind, and filled him
with such childish pride that he had an impulse to get up at once and
push on so as to get there without delay.

"Yes, I must get up and go on," he said, and then, "No, I won't; I shall
stay here and go to sleep; I am very sleepy; no, I must get on,"--the
words came confusedly this time. "Isidoro Pane expects me. I shall say,
'What a lot of people I have met! I have seen the sea; I know a man who
is a marshal, Burrai is his name; he's going to get me a position of
shoemaker in the king's household.' Now I am going to get up and
start--start--star----" But he did not. Confused visions flitted across
his brain. The _King of Spades_, astride of a donkey, came riding down
that great white road that stretched across the sky; all at once he
heard him cry out,--once,--twice,--three times. He was calling
Costantino, who, opening his sleepy eyes, shut them again, and then
opened them wide: "Idiot," he muttered; "it's the owl; yes, I'm going
directly; I'm going----" And he fell fast asleep.

When he awoke, the great, shining face of the moon was still high in the
heavens; with its flood of steely light there came a fall of dew.
Enormous shadows, like vast black veils, hung over certain parts of the
mountains, but every crag, every thicket and flower even, stood clearly
out wherever the moonlight fell. The owl still gave his penetrating cry,
sharp and metallic, cutting through the silence like a blade of steel.
Costantino shivered; he was wet with dew, and getting up, he yawned
loudly; the prolonged "Ah--ah-h-h" fairly resounded in the intense
stillness. He scrutinised the heavens to find out the hour. The _Star_,
that is to say, Diana, had not yet lifted her emerald-gold face above
the sea; dawn therefore was still a long way off, and Costantino resumed
his journey, hoping to reach the village before the people should be
about. He did not want to meet the gaze of the curious, and above all
else he dreaded being seen by Giovanna or her mother. He had made up his
mind to avoid them, if possible not even to see them or pass by their
cottage; what good would it do? Everything was over between them.

So he trudged on, and on; now up, now down; along the moonlit
mountain-side. The heaps of slate-stone, the asphodels heavy with dew,
the very rocks themselves, gave out a damp, penetrating odour, and here
and there a rill of water stole in and out between fragrant beds of
pennyroyal. As far away as the eye could reach, blue, vapoury skies
overhung blue, misty mountains, until, in the extreme distance, they met
and melted into one shimmering sea of silver. The man walked on, and on;
his brain yet only half awake, but his body refreshed and active. Now
and then he would take a short-cut, leaping from rock to rock, then
pausing breathless, with straining heart and pulses. In the moon's rays
his limpid eyes showed flecks of silver light.

The further he went the more familiar the way became; now he was
inhaling the wild fragrance of his native soil; he recognised the
melancholy _salti_ sown with barley, the grain not yet turned; the beds
of lentisks, the sparse trees whispering in some passing breath of wind,
like old people murmuring in their sleep; and there, far off, the range
of mighty sphinxes blue in the moonlight; and further still, the flash
of the sea, that sea that he was so proud to have crossed in no matter
what fashion. On reaching the little church of San Francisco he paused,
and, cap in hand, said a prayer, a perfectly honest and sincere one, for
at that moment his freedom gave him a sense of happiness such as he had
not as yet experienced at any time since leaving the prison.

       *       *       *       *       *

Day had hardly begun to break when Isidoro heard a tapping at his door.
For fifteen--twenty days, for four months, in fact, he had been waiting
for that sound, and he was on his feet before his old heart had started
its mad beating against his breast.

He opened the door; in the dim light he saw, or half saw, a tall figure
not dressed in the costume of the country, but wearing a fustian coat as
hard and stiff as leather, out of which emerged a long, pallid face. He
did not know who it was.

Costantino burst into a harsh laugh, and the fisherman, with a pang,
recognised his friend. Yes, at last; it was Costantino come back, but in
that very first moment he knew it was not the Costantino of other days.
He threw his arms around him, but without kissing him, and his heart
melted into tears.

"Well, you didn't know me, after all," said Costantino, unstrapping his
wallet. "I knew you wouldn't."

Even his voice and accent were strange; and now, after his first
sensations, first of chill and then of pity, Isidoro felt a sort of
diffidence. "What are you dressed that way for?" he asked. "If you had
let me know I would have brought you your clothes to Nuoro, and a horse
too. Did you come all the way on foot?"

"No; San Francisco lent me a horse. What are you about, Uncle Isidoro? I
don't want any coffee. Have you got any brandy?"

The fisherman, who had begun to uncover the fire, got up from his knees,
embarrassed and mortified at having nothing better to offer his guest
than a little coffee.

"I didn't know," he stammered, spreading out his hands, "but just wait a
moment, I'll go right off--you see I expected you, and I didn't expect
you----" And he started for the door.

"Stop; where are you going?" cried the other, seizing hold of him. "I
don't want anything at all. I only said it for a joke. Sit down here."

Isidoro seated himself, and began to look furtively at Costantino;
little by little he grew more at ease with him, and presently passing
his hand over his trousers he asked if he intended to go on dressing
that way. In the early morning light streaming through the open door,
Costantino's face looked worn and grey.

"Yes," he said, with another of those disagreeable laughs, "I am going
on dressing this way. I am going away soon."

"Going away soon! Where to?"

"Oh! I have met so many people," began Costantino, in the tone of one
reciting a lesson. "And I have friends who will help me. What is there
for me to do here, anyhow?"

"Why, shoemaking! Didn't you write to me that that was what you wanted
to do?"

"I know a marshal named Burrai," continued Costantino, who always
thought of the _King of Spades_ as still holding office. "He lives in
Rome now, and he's written me a letter; he's going to get me a position
in the King's household to be shoemaker."

Isidoro looked at him pitifully. "Ah, the poor fellow, he was altogether
different. What made him talk like that, and tell all those foolish
little things when there were such heartrending topics to discuss." Thus
Uncle Isidoro to his own heart.

Pretty soon, however, he began to suspect that Costantino was putting
all this on, and that his apparent indifference was assumed. But why? If
he could not be open and natural with him, with whom could he be?
"Come," said he, "let us talk of other things now; we can discuss all
that later. Really, though, won't you have a little coffee? It would do
you good."

"What do you want to talk about?" asked Costantino drearily. "I knew you
would think it strange that I don't cry, but I've cried until I haven't
the wish to any more. And I am going away; one can't stay in this place
after having crossed the sea--who is that going by?" he asked suddenly,
as the sound of footsteps was heard outside. "I don't want any one to
see me," and he jumped up and shut the door.

When he turned, his whole expression had changed and his features were
working.

"I walked by _there_," he said, his voice sinking lower and lower, "on
my way here. I didn't want to, but somehow I found myself there before I
knew it. How can I--how can I stay here? Tell me--you----"

He clasped both hands to his forehead and shook his head violently;
then, throwing himself at full length on the ground, he writhed and
twisted in an agony of sobs, his whole body shaking with the vehemence
of his grief. He was like a young bull caught and held fast in the
leash, and made to submit to the red-hot iron.

The old fisherman turned deathly white, but made no attempt whatever to
calm him. At last, at last, he recognised his friend.



CHAPTER XVI


No sooner had news of Costantino's return got abroad than visitors began
to stream to Isidoro's hut. Throughout the entire day there was an
incessant coming and going of friends and relatives, and even of persons
who had never in their lives so much as interchanged a word with the
late prisoner, but who now hastened with open arms to invite him to make
his home with them. The women wept over him, called him "my son," and
gazed at him compassionately; one neighbour sent him a present of bread
and sausages. All these kindly demonstrations seemed, however, only to
annoy their object.

"Why on earth should they be sorry for me?" he said to Isidoro. "For
Heaven's sake, send them about their business, and let's get away into
the country."

"Yes, yes, we will go, all in good time, child of the Lord, only have a
little patience," said the other, bending over the fireplace, where he
was cooking the sausage. "How naughty you are, I declare!"

Since witnessing that paroxysm of grief in the morning, Uncle Isidoro
had felt much more at ease with his guest, and even took little
liberties with him, scolding him as though he had been a child. During
the short intervals when they found themselves alone, he told him the
_facts_. Costantino listened eagerly, and was annoyed when the arrival
of fresh visitors interrupted the narrative. Among these visitors came
the syndic, he who was a herdsman, and looked like Napoleon I. His call
was especially trying.

"We will give you sheep and cows," he began, wiping his nose on the back
of his hand. "Yes, every herdsman will give you a _pecus_,[9] and if
there is anything you need, just say so; are we not all brothers and
sisters in this world, and especially in a small community like this?"

Costantino, thinking of the treatment he had received at the hands of
his "brothers and sisters" of this particular small community, shook his
head.

"Yes," he said; "my brothers have treated me as Cain treated Abel; it
would take a good deal more than sheep and cows to make it up to me."

"Oh, well! that has nothing to do with it," replied the syndic, absorbed
in his idea. "You have travelled; tell me now, have you never stood on
the top of some high mountain, and looked down on the villages scattered
about in the plain below? Well, didn't they seem to you like so many
houses, each with its little family living inside?" Costantino, who was
tired of the conversation, merely replied that all he wanted was to
leave this village and never come back to it again.

"Oh, no! You mustn't do that!" urged the other. "Where would you go? No,
no; you must stay here, where we are all brothers."

The next to arrive was Doctor Puddu, carrying a large, dirty, grey
umbrella. He at once peered into the earthenware saucepan to see what
was cooking.

"You are all degenerates, every one of you," he announced in his harsh
voice, rapping the saucepan with his umbrella. "And I'll tell you the
reason: it's because you will eat pork."

"Don't break the saucepan, please," said Uncle Isidoro. "And I beg your
pardon, but that is not pork; it's beans, and bacon, and sausage."

"Well, isn't bacon pork? You're all pigs. Well----," turning to
Costantino. "And so, good sheep, you've come back? I saw him die--what's
his name?--Giacobbe Dejas. He died a miserable death, as he deserved to.
You had better take a purgative to-morrow; it's absolutely necessary
after a sea voyage."

Costantino looked at him without speaking.

"You think I'm crazy?" shouted the doctor, going close to him, and
shaking his umbrella. "A purgative! do you understand? A purgative!"

"I heard you," said Costantino.

"Oh, so much the better! Well, I've heard that _you_ say you want to go
away. Go-o-o----! Go, by all means. Go to the devil. But first of all,
go to the cemetery, go to that dunghill you call a cem-e-te-ry; and dig
and scratch like a dog, and tear up Giacobbe Dejas's bones, and gnaw
them."

He ground his teeth as though he were crunching bones; it was both
grotesque and horrible, and Costantino could do nothing but stare at him
in utter amazement.

"What are you looking at me like that for? You've always been a fool, my
dear fellow--my dear donkey! Just look at you now! calm and amiable as a
pope! They've robbed you of everything you possessed, betrayed you,
murdered you, knocked you about among them as though you had been a
dried skeleton, and there you sit, bland and stupid as ever! Why don't
you do something? Why don't you go to that vile woman, and take her, and
her mother, and her mother-in-law by the hair of their heads, and tie
them to the tails of the cows they offer to give you as a charity, and
set fire to their petticoats, and turn them loose in the fields so that
they may spread destruction in every direction? Do you understand? I
say, do you understand, idiot?"

He flung the words in the other's face, his breath heavy with absinthe,
his eyes bloodshot.

Costantino recoiled, trembling, but the doctor turned to go. On the
threshold he paused again and shook his umbrella.

"You make me long to break your neck!" he cried. "Men such as you
deserve precisely the treatment they get! Well, take a purgative,
anyhow, stupid."

"Yes, I'll do that," said Costantino, with a laugh, but at the same time
the doctor's words made a deep impression on him. There were times,
indeed, when he felt utterly desperate. He said over and over again that
he meant to go away, but, as a fact, he did not know where to go. Nor,
on the other hand, could he see what was to become of him should he
decide to remain on in the village. He said to himself: "I have no home,
and there is no one belonging to me; for this one day every one rushes
to see me out of curiosity, but by to-morrow they will all have
forgotten my very existence. I am like a bird that has lost its nest.
What is there for me to do?"

All the time, though, those words of the doctor's kept ringing in his
head. Yes, truly, that would be something for him to do. Go there, fall
suddenly upon them like a bolt out of heaven, and utterly destroy all
those people who had destroyed his life!

"No, Costantino," resumed Uncle Isidoro, as they sat at table, eating
the neighbour's white bread and sausage. "No; she is not happy. I have
never looked her full in the face _since_, and it gives me a queer
feeling to meet her, as though I were meeting the devil! And yet, do you
know, I can't help feeling sorry for her. She has a little girl that
they tell me is like a young bean, it is so thin and puny. How could a
child born in mortal sin be pretty? It was baptised just like a bastard,
the priest wouldn't go back to the house, and the people were sneering
all along the street."

"Ah, do you remember my child?" asked Costantino, cutting off a slice of
fat, yellow bacon. "_He_ was not like a bean, not he! Ah, if he had only
lived!"

"It may be better so," said the fisherman, beginning to moralise. "Life
is full of suffering; better to die innocent, to go--to fly--up there,
above the blue sky, to the paradise that lies beyond the clouds, beyond
the storms, beyond all the miseries of human life. Drink something,
Costantino; this wine is not very good, but there is still some
left.--Well, I remember last year on Assumption Day, Giacobbe Dejas
asked me to take dinner with him. He was afraid of me; he thought I
knew, and he wanted his sister and me to get married. Oh! if you could
just see that little woman you wouldn't laugh. She went with the priest
and me to Nuoro. May the Lord desert me in the hour of death, if ever I
saw a more courageous woman in all my life! She hardly seemed to touch
the ground! Well, she's gone all shrunken and shrivelled now, don't you
know--like a piece of fruit that dries up on the tree before it is ripe.
I go all the time to see her, and just to amuse her I say: 'Well, little
barley-grain! Shall we two get married? She smiles and I smile, but we
feel more like crying! Who could ever have imagined such a thing?--I
mean, here was Giacobbe Dejas, seemingly happy and contented; he was
getting rich, and he talked of being married. And then--all of a
sudden--pum!--down he comes, like a rotten pear! Such is life! Bachissia
Era sold her daughter, thinking to improve her condition, and now she is
hungrier than ever. Giovanna Era did what she did, imagining that she
was going to have a heaven upon earth, and instead of that, she's like a
frog with a stick run through it!"

"But does he _beat_ her?" asked Costantino heavily.

"No, he doesn't do that; but there are worse things than beating. She's
treated just like a servant, or, rather, like a slave. You know how they
used to treat their slaves in the old times? Well, that's the way she's
treated in that house."

"Well, let her burst! Here's to her damnation!" cried Costantino,
raising his glass to his lips. It gave him a cruel pleasure to hear of
Giovanna's misery, such pleasure as a child will sometimes feel at
seeing an unpopular playmate receive a whipping.

Dinner over the two men went out and stretched themselves at full length
beneath the wild fig-tree. It was a hot, breathless noontide; the air,
smelling of poppies and filled with grey haze, was like that of a summer
midday, and there were bees flying about, sounding their little
trombones. Costantino, completely worn out by this time, fell asleep
almost immediately. The fisherman, on the contrary, could not close an
eye. A green grasshopper was skipping about among the blades of grass,
giving its sharp "tic, tic." Isidoro, stretching out one hand, tried to
catch it, his thoughts dwelling all the while on Costantino. "I know why
he wants to go away," he ruminated. "He still cares for her, poor boy;
and if he stays here he will just suffer the way San Lorenzo did on his
gridiron. There he lies, poor fellow, like a sick child! Ah, what have
they done to him? Torn him to pieces--Ah-ha! I have you now!" but just
as he was about to pull the grasshopper apart, it occurred to him that
possibly it too, like Costantino, had had its trials, and he let it go.

A shadow fell across the foot of the path; Uncle Isidoro, recognising
Priest Elias, sprang to his feet, went to meet him, and drew him into
the hut, so as not to awaken Costantino. The latter, however, was a
light sleeper, and, aroused presently by the sound of their voices, he
too got up. As he approached the hut he realised that he was being
talked about.

"It is far better that he should go," the priest was saying in a serious
tone. "Far, far better."

Costantino could not tell why, but at the sound of these words his heart
sank within him like lead.

However, he did not go.

The days followed one another and people soon ceased to trouble the
returned exile; before long he was able to go about the village as
much as he chose without being stared at, even by the gossips and
ragamuffins. With the savings laid up in prison he purchased a stock of
leather, soles, and thread, but he never began to work. Every day he
bought a supply of meat and fruit and wine, eating and drinking freely
himself, and urging Isidoro to do the same. He was in great dread lest
the villagers might think that he was living on the old man's charity,
and wanted to let them see that he had money and was openhanded, not
only with him, but with every one else; so he would conduct parties of
his acquaintances to the tavern where he would make them all tipsy and
get so himself at times, and then the tales he would relate of his
prison experiences were marvellous indeed to hear.

In this way his little store of money melted rapidly away, and when
Isidoro scolded him, all he would say was: "Well, I have no children nor
any one else to consider, so let me alone." He was counting, moreover,
on the inheritance left by his murdered uncle, which the other heirs had
agreed to resign without forcing him to have recourse to the law.
"Then," said he, "I shall take myself off. I am going to give you a
hundred scudi. Uncle Isidoro."

But poor old Isidoro did not want his scudi nor anything else except to
see him restored to the Costantino of other days--good, industrious, and
frank. Frank he certainly was not at present, and when, occasionally,
the fisherman surprised him with tears in his eyes, his sore, old heart
leaped for joy.

"What is it, child of grace?" he would ask. But Costantino would merely
laugh, even when the tears were actually running down his cheeks. It was
heartrending.

Sometimes the two would go off together to fish for leeches; that is,
Isidoro would stand patiently knee-deep in the yellow, stagnant water,
while Costantino, stretched on his back among the rushes, would spin
yarns about his former fellow-prisoners, gazing off, meanwhile, towards
the horizon with an unaccountable feeling of homesickness.

Go away? go away? Did he not long to go away? Did he not, up there,
beneath that fateful sky, in the deathly solitude of the uplands, under
the eternal surveillance of those colossal sphinxes, feel as though an
iron circle were pressing upon him? Every object, from the blades of
grass along the roadside to the very mountain-peaks, reminded him of the
past. Each night he prowled around Giovanna's house like some stealthy
animal, and one evening he saw her tall figure issue forth, and move
down in the direction of _their_ cottage. This was the first time that
he had seen her, and he recognised her instantly, notwithstanding that
it was by the fading light of a damp, overcast evening. His heart beat
violently, and each throb gave him an added pang, a fresh memory, a new
impulse of despair. His instinct was to throw himself upon her then and
there, clasp her in a close embrace,--kill her. Before long, however, he
was no longer satisfied to catch only furtive glances, secretly and in
the dark; he became possessed with the desire to see her and to be seen
of her in broad daylight; but she never left the house, and he dared not
go by there in the daytime. On another evening, a Saturday, he heard
Brontu's laugh ring out from the portico, and he fancied that _hers_
mingled with it. His eyes filled, and he had much the same sensation of
nausea as on that first morning of the sea voyage when he woke up ill.

All this time he continued to feign the utmost indifference, without
quite knowing why he did so. The Orlei people had, however, become
almost hateful to him, even Uncle Isidoro. Sometimes he asked himself in
wonder why he had ever come back.

"I am going away," he said one day to the fisherman, gazing across the
interminable stretch of uplands to the blue and crimson sky beyond,
against which the thickets of arbute seemed to float like green clouds.
"I have written to a friend of mine--Burrai--he can do anything, you
know; he could have gotten me a pardon, even if I had really been
guilty."

"You have told me all that before; I am tired of hearing it," said
Isidoro. "All the same, I notice that he has never even answered your
letter."

"He is going to get me a position; yes, I really mean to go. But tell me
why is it that the priest is so anxious for it? Is he afraid that I will
kill Brontu Dejas?"

"Yes, he is. He's afraid of just that."

"No, he's not; that's not it. I said to him: 'Priest Elias, you must
know perfectly well that if I had wanted to kill any one, I would have
done it right off.' And all he said was: 'Go away, go away! It would be
far better.' What do you think about it, Uncle Fisherman; shall I go or
not?"

"I don't think anything about it," answered the other in a tone of
strong disapproval. "What I do think is that you are an idle dog. Why
aren't you at work, tell me that? It's because you do nothing but think
all the time of your good-for-nothing Burrai, who, however, never gives
you a thought."

"Oh! he doesn't give me a thought?" said Costantino, piqued. "Well, I'll
just let you see whether he does or not. Look here!"

He drew a letter from the inside pocket of his coat, and proceeded to
read it aloud. It was from Burrai, written at Rome, where the ex-marshal
had opened a little shop for the sale of Sardinian wines. Naturally,
being himself, he had improved upon the facts, and announced that he was
the proprietor of a large and flourishing establishment; he invited
Costantino to pay him a visit, and reproached him for not having come at
once to Rome, where, he said, he could find him a position without
difficulty.

The fisherman's blue eyes grew round with innocent wonder.

"To think, only to think!" he exclaimed. "And you never told me a word
about it! What made you hide the letter? How much does it cost to go to
Rome?"

"Oh! only about fifty lire."

"And have you got that much?"

"Why, of course I have!"

"Then go, go by all means!" exclaimed the old man, stretching his arms
out towards the horizon.

They were both silent for a moment. The fisherman, bending his head,
gazed at the pebbles lying at his feet, while Costantino stared absently
ahead of him. Beyond the brook, the tall, yellow, meadow-grass was
bowing in the wind, and the long stems of the golden oats rippled
against the blue background of the sky.

Uncle Isidoro made up his mind that the moment had come to tell
Costantino plainly why all his friends wanted him to leave the village.

"Giovanna," he began quietly, "does not love her husband; you and she
might meet----"

"She and I might meet? Well, and if we did, what then?"

"Nothing; you might, that's all."

"Oh, nothing!" cried Costantino, and his voice rang out scornfully in
the profound stillness; "nothing! I tell you that I despise that low
woman. I don't want her."

"You don't want her, and yet you hang about her house all the time, like
a fly about the honey-pot."

"Ah, you know about that?" said Costantino, somewhat crestfallen. "It's
not true, though,--well--yes; perhaps it is. But suppose I do hang about
her house, what business is it of yours?"

"Oh! none at all, but--you had better go away."

"I am going. I suppose the truth is you are getting tired of having me
on your hands!"

"Costantino, Costantino!" exclaimed the old man in a hurt voice.

Costantino pulled up a tuft of rushes, threw it from him, and gazed
again into the distance. His face was working as it had done on the
morning of his return, after he had closed the door of Isidoro's hut;
his brain swam, once or twice he gulped down the bitter saliva that rose
in his throat; then he spoke:

"Well, after all, why does the priest insist so on my going? Am I not
actually her husband? Suppose even that she were to come back to me?
Wouldn't it be coming back to her own husband?"

"If she were to come back to you, my dear fellow, it would be Brontu
Dejas either killing you or having you arrested."

"Well, you needn't be afraid; I don't want her. She's a fallen woman, as
far as I am concerned. I shall go off somewhere, to a distance, and
marry some one else."

"Oh, no! You would never do that," murmured Isidoro appealingly. "You
are too good a Christian."

"No; I would never do that," repeated Costantino mechanically.

"Never in the world; you are far too good a Christian." The old man said
it again, but without conviction. The experience of a long life was
battling with the tenets of his simple faith.

"If he does not do it," he sighed to himself, "it will not be merely
because he is a good Christian."

FOOTNOTE:

[9] Head of cattle.



CHAPTER XVII


The July evening fell softly, tranquilly, like a bluish veil.
Costantino, seated on the stone bench outside the fisherman's hut, was
thoughtfully counting on his fingers.

Yes; it had been sixty-four days since his return. Six-ty-four days! It
seemed like yesterday, and--it seemed like a century! The exile's
fustian coat had grown worn and shabby; his face, dark and gloomy; and
his heart--yes, his heart as well, had worn away from day to day, from
hour to hour. Eaten into by misery, by rage and passion, it, too, had
turned black, like a thing on the verge of decay.

A habit of dissembling, a result of prison life, had clung to him; so
that now he found it impossible to be really open with any one, much as
he sometimes longed to unburden his heart; while the constant effort to
conceal his feelings harassed him and added to his general misery. A
frozen void seemed to surround him, like a great sea, calm, but
boundless, stretching away in all directions from a shipwrecked mariner.
For two months now he had been swimming in this sea, and he was wearied
out; his forces were spent. Scan the horizon as he would, his soul could
espy no friendly shore across that bleak and desolate expanse; no
prospect of an end to the unequal struggle; the icy water and the
measureless void were slowly swallowing him up.

Every day he would talk of going away, but nothing more. It was a
pretence, like all else that he did; in his heart he knew perfectly well
that now he would never go. Why should he? On this side of the water, or
on that, life would always be the same. He cared for no one; he hated no
one, and he felt that he had become as base and self-centred as his late
comrades in prison. Even Uncle Isidoro, who had meant so much to him at
a distance, now, in the close companionship of daily intercourse, had
become an object of indifference, at times almost of dislike.

When the old man went off on his fishing expeditions, or on the circuits
which he made from time to time through the country to dispose of his
wares, Costantino felt as though a weight had been lifted from him; the
semi-paternal oversight which the other exercised over him having, in
fact, come to both frighten and irritate him.

On this particular evening the fisherman was away, and Costantino was
sensible of this feeling of freedom from an irksome restraint. Now he
could do whatever came into his head, without any one to preach, or that
disagreeable sensation of being watched, which, possibly as a result of
the long years spent in prison, the mere presence of the old man was
sufficient to excite. Moreover, he was expecting a visitor. Although he
professed, now, to despise all women, and did, in fact, usually avoid
them as much as possible, he had allowed himself to be drawn into
relations with a strange creature--a half-witted girl--who lived near
Giovanna. She had surprised him one night prowling about the Dejas house
and had persuaded him to go home with her.

From this individual he got all the gossip of the white house, and he
took refuge with her whenever he thought he had been seen crossing the
common. He was waiting for her now at Isidoro's hut, in the owner's
absence, but he looked down on her, and her foolish talk jarred on him.
Presently she arrived, and Costantino told her to sit down out there on
the stone bench beside him.

"It's hot inside, and there are fleas, and spiders, and--devils. Stay
here in the fresh air," he said, without looking at her.

"But we'll be seen," she objected, in a deep, rough voice.

"All right; suppose we are! It makes no difference to me, why should it
to you?"

"But, as it happens, it does make a difference to me."

"Why?" he said, raising his voice. "Men cannot matter, since they are
all sinners as well; and as for God, he can see us just as well inside
as out."

"Oh, go away!" she said, but without any show of anger. "You've been
drinking." Then she turned away and went into the hut. Striking a light,
she looked into the cupboard where the food was usually kept, and, as
Costantino still did not come, she returned to the door and called to
him: "If you don't come at once I shall go away; but you had better be
careful; I have something to tell you."

He jumped up, and, going inside, took her in his arms. The girl broke
into a wild laugh.

"Ah-ha! you come quick enough now. That brought my little shorn lamb,
eh?"

She was tall and stout, with a small head and a dark, diminutive face,
red lips, and greenish eyes--not ugly, exactly--but rather repellent.
Though she never drank anything herself, she gave an impression of being
always a little tipsy, and was very prone to think that other people
were so, in fact. Still laughing, she went again to the cupboard.

"It's empty," she said. "Nothing there at all; and, do you know, I am
hungry!"

"If you'll wait a moment I'll go and buy something; but first, you must
tell me--"

She turned abruptly, laid one hand on his breast, and with the other
began to rain blows that were anything but playful.

"Ah, you want to know--crocodile. You want to know, do you? That's what
brought you in, is it? Go back--enjoy the air, poor, dear little lamb!
You want me to tell you? You think it is something about Giovanna Era,
eh? And you came in for that, and not to see me?"

"Let go," he said, seizing her hands. "You hit hard; the devil take you!
Yes, that's what I came in for--well?"

"I shan't tell you a word, so there!"

"Now, Mattea," he said gently, "don't make me angry; you are not
ill-natured. See now, I am going off to buy you whatever you want. What
shall it be? What would you like to have?"

He was like a child promising to be good if only it can have what it
wants. And, in fact, at that moment he did want something; he wanted it
badly, and not a nice thing, either. What he wanted was to be told that
Brontu had beaten his wife, or that she had met with an accident, or
that overwhelming disaster of one sort or another had engulfed the house
of Dejas, root and branch. It was, therefore, somewhat disappointing
when Mattea, closing one eye, announced that some cattle had been
stolen, and that Aunt Martina, on hearing the news, had rushed off like
a crazy thing to ascertain the exact extent of the loss. "She will
be up at the folds all night, and your wife is all alone--do you
understand--alone?"

"Well, what difference does that make to me?"

"Stupid! You can go to see her.--You won't go? Why, that's what I came
expressly to tell you! Of course you'll go; I want you to. I'm sorry
for you. After all, you are her husband."

"I'm not. I'm not any one's husband," he said, with a shrug. "I thought
you would have something very different to tell me. Now--what shall I
get you? Beans--milk--bacon--cheese?"

"If you're not any one's husband, then marry me," she said, in a low,
unsteady voice, like a person who has been drinking.

Costantino coughed, and spat on the ground.

Instantly a gleam of intelligence shot into her usually dull,
expressionless eyes.

"Why do you do that?" she asked sharply. "You think, perhaps, that she
is better than I?"

He flushed, and then a heartsick feeling came over him.

"Yes," he said; "you are worse, or--better than she."

"What do you say?"

"If you are not lying at this moment, and didn't come here to lay a trap
for me, with this story of her being alone--well, then you are better
than she."

"Why should I lay a trap for you? I'm sorry for you, that's all. I swear
by the memory of my dead, that if you go there this evening you'll run
no risk whatever."

"Who can believe you, woman, when you don't respect even the dead?"

Mattea, angry and offended, started to leave the hut; but he held her
back.

"A low dog," she said scornfully. "I take pity on you, and you speak to
me like that! What have you to reproach me with? What, I say?" She threw
her head back with a certain pride, knitting her brows, and turning upon
Costantino a look that was altogether new. He stared back at her for a
moment, amazed that a woman of her class should speak in that tone,
should hold up her head, and dare to look at him with such an
expression. Then he began to laugh.

"I'm off now," he said, "but I'll be back in a moment. I'll get some
wine too, even though you don't drink it. Wait for me here--wait, I
say," he repeated roughly, as she followed him to the door. "Don't
bother me." She stood still, and he went out, but before he had gone a
dozen steps he heard her deep voice calling him back.

Returning, he saw the tip of her nose through the crack of the door, and
one eye, regarding him with its habitual look of dull stolidity.

"What do you want, squint-eyed goat?"

"If you are going to her, there is no use in making me wait here."

"Go to the devil whom you came from!" exclaimed Costantino. "I would as
soon think of going to her house as you would of going to church. I say
you are to wait!" and he made as if to tweak her nose, but she quickly
drew back and shut the door.

Ten minutes later Costantino returned, but his strange guest had
disappeared. Thinking that she might be hiding somewhere outside, he
looked for her, calling in a low voice and telling her that he had bread
and meat and fruit, but in vain; she had taken herself off.

An intense stillness reigned all about the hut. Through the night, now
completely fallen, came only the sound of the fig-leaves rustling
mysteriously, as though an invisible hand were shaking a piece of stiff
silk. Nothing else could be heard, and nothing could be seen, except the
stars shining brilliantly in the warm sky.

Costantino felt much aggrieved by Mattea's defection. As lonely as an
outcast dog, what on earth was there for him to do throughout that
interminable evening? He was not sleepy, having, in fact, taken a long
nap in the afternoon, and he had nowhere to go. He began to eat and
drink, talking aloud from time to time in a querulous voice.

"If she imagines that I am coming to see her, she's
green,"--silence--"as green as a rose in springtime. She's crazy."
Another silence. Then--"Coming to see her! Not I; neither her nor the
other one. Mattea is sickening; she seems to be a sort of animal, and
that's all there is about it."

He swore, and then gave a light, purposeless laugh, such as people give
when they are alone. All the while he kept swallowing great gulps of
wine, and each time that he emptied his glass he would thrust out his
lips and exclaim: "Ah--ah--ah!" rubbing his chest up and down to express
the delicious sensation caused by the wine as it flowed down his
throat. Soon he began to feel more cheerful.

"She may go to the devil--or to hell, if she wants to!" he exclaimed,
thinking of Mattea and her sudden disappearance. But all the while he
knew perfectly well that he was forcing himself to dwell despitefully
upon her, in order to keep from thinking of the other. At last he went
out, and, stretching himself upon the stone bench, allowed his thoughts
to take their own course.

"She is alone," he reflected. "Well, what do I care? I loathe her and I
wouldn't go there, not if she were to give me a chest full of gold! What
should I do with gold, anyway?" He put the question to himself in
profound dejection, but immediately began to hum a gay little song,
having got into a way of trying to fool himself as well as other people:

    "'Little heart, dear heart,
    I await thee day by day,
    But, when thou seest me,
    Hovereth near the bird of prey.'"

For a time the sound of his own voice--low, monotonous,--arrested his
attention; then his thoughts once more asserted themselves.

"If I were to go there--well, what would happen? Sin, perhaps. But am I
not her husband? I have not the remotest idea of going there, though; I
should think not! Uncle Isidoro makes me laugh--old idiot! 'Go away, go
away,' [imitating Uncle Isidoro's voice], 'if you don't go away,
something dreadful is sure to happen! Brontu Dejas will kill you, or
have you arrested!' Well, if he does, what then?"

He began to sing again, the sharp rustle of the fig-leaves, almost like
the clash of metal blades, accompanying the subdued murmur of his voice:

    "'When you see life
    Bloom in January,
    When you see a swineherd
    Making cheese of pork----'"

He shifted his position and his heavy eyelids closed, his head,
supported on one hand, rolling from side to side.

"Well, what then?" he repeated, then opened his eyes, as though startled
by the sound of his own voice. They closed again presently, and he went
on talking to himself:

"No; I would never have her again for my wife. For me she is just an
abandoned woman. She has been living with another man, and, as long as
she has gone to live with him, she might come back and live with me, and
then go and live with some one else! She's no better than Mattea, and I
spit upon them both!"

He opened his eyes and spat on the ground. At the moment he had a
genuine scorn of Giovanna, and yet, at the very same time, tender,
distant memories surged up in his breast. He remembered a kiss he had
once given her as she lay asleep, and how she had opened her eyes with a
startled look, exclaiming: "Oh, I thought it was some one else!" Well,
what manner of foolishness was this for him to be thinking of now? He
was a simpleton, neither more nor less than a simpleton! Moreover, how
could he know, supposing for a moment that he were to go, whether
Giovanna would receive him or drive him away? The man's mind was neither
trained nor developed, yet, at that moment, he was reasoning as a much
more complex nature might have done. He hoped that she would not receive
him; he knew that for himself there was nothing for it but to go on
living and suffering; yet he felt that, should he go to her and be
repulsed, at least a ray of light would penetrate the cold, dreary void
that encircled him. But he wanted her, he longed for her still. From the
day he had lost her his whole being had suffered like a crushed and
twisted limb that still goes on living. Yet, mingled with this sense of
longing there was a spiritual breath as well, the instinct of the
immortal soul which never wholly dies out, even in the most degraded.

He dreamed of Giovanna an honest woman, lost forever in this world, but
restored to him in eternity. Now, if she were to betray her second
husband, even for the sake of her first, she would not--could not--be an
honest woman! So thought Costantino, and yet----

It was, perhaps, ten o'clock, and he had been lying for half an hour or
more on the stone bench, when a mournful strain broke in upon the
stillness. It was the blind man, singing and accompanying himself upon
his rude instrument. His voice, clear enough, but sad and monotonous,
vibrated through the night air with a sobbing suggestion of homesickness
that was hardly human, as though it were the wail of a lost soul,
recalling the few hours of happiness spent upon earth.

The music seemed to be a cry for light, happiness, the joy of living,
all those things whose existence the blind youth half understood, but
could never hope to realise--which the dead have lost, and can never
hope to repossess. Costantino shivered and got up; the voice and the
accompaniment began to die away, growing gradually fainter and fainter,
and ceasing at last altogether. He felt a great wave of agony and
tenderness surge up in his breast. In the darkness, the silence,
the unutterable loneliness that surrounded him, he, too, felt an
overmastering longing, like the blind man's, for light; an agonising
homesickness, like the dead recalling their brief experience of life. He
turned and began to walk in the direction of the village.

At first he seemed to be in a dream, although he heard beneath his feet
the rustle of the dead leaves and stubble blown by the wind about
Isidoro's hut. He rubbed his eyelids and little violet-coloured electric
circles seemed to flash and swim in the air. Soon though, his eyes
becoming used to the darkness, he discerned clearly the light line of
the road, the black cottages, the great, empty void above, where the
stars hung like drops of gold, ready to fall. He walked steadily on,
knowing perfectly whither he was bound, and never wavering for a single
instant. Here and there, on the thresholds of cottages whose owners were
too poor to indulge in the luxury of a light, little groups of people
sat, enjoying the freshness of the night air.

Occasionally the high-pitched voice of a woman would float across the
road, recounting some piece of gossip, or trifling incident of domestic
life. In a lonely angle Costantino espied a pair of lovers; the man,
hearing his footsteps approach, tried to hide his companion, who quickly
turned her face to the wall. Costantino walked on, but presently he
stopped and half turned, thinking he would give the two young people a
fright by calling out: "I am going to tell your father right away!" But
the fear of attracting attention, and being himself discovered, deterred
him, and he went on.

When he discerned the black mass of the almond-tree, rearing itself from
beside the path beyond Aunt Bachissia's cottage, his heart gave a sudden
bound, and then stood still; it was so like a great head with rough,
shaggy locks, thrusting itself out, intently watching for him to appear.
He had fully determined to pass the tree, cross the common, enter the
Dejas house, and speak to Giovanna; it all seemed perfectly simple and
plain, and he was prepared to do it; yet he was frightened, more than
frightened--terrified. A flexible, girlish voice floated out into the
night: "No matter how often you may say it, it's not true!"

He looked all about him; no one was to be seen, and he went on, his
nervousness increasing with every step. Crossing the common, he examined
Aunt Bachissia's cottage; then the white house; then Mattea's hovel;
from the last a faint light shone; the two others were in total
darkness. Again the idea crossed his mind that Mattea might be playing
him a trick; or, perhaps, Aunt Bachissia was with Giovanna, or the
latter might already have gone to bed, and would decline to open the
door! Nevertheless, he walked steadily on, and up on the portico.

Instantly the figure of Giovanna became apparent, seated on the
doorstep. At the same moment she recognised him and leaped to her feet,
rigid with terror. His voice, low, agitated, at once reassured her.

"Don't be frightened. Are you alone?"

"Yes."

A second later they were in each other's arms.



EPILOGUE


A year elapsed.

One night, when Brontu was away from home, Aunt Martina heard, or
thought she heard, a low murmur of voices in Giovanna's room. Had Brontu
come back? the old woman wondered, and if so, why? Could anything have
happened at the sheepfolds?

Tormented by the thought, she finally got up. The door was open, and she
listened a moment. Yes, undoubtedly some one was talking in Giovanna's
room. Not wishing to strike a light, she attempted to cross the room
that separated her own chamber from Giovanna's, in the dark. She made a
misstep, however, and, trying to recover herself, overthrew a chair.
"Holy Mary!" she muttered, setting it right again. Then she groped her
way to the door, felt for the handle, and tried to open it. It was
locked.

"What do you want?" demanded Giovanna's voice instantly.

"Has Brontu got back?"

"No; why?"

"I thought I heard some one talking. Why have you got the door locked?"

"Is it locked? I must have done it without thinking," said Giovanna
innocently. "I'll open it right away; just wait a moment. I was talking
to the baby; she wouldn't go to sleep."

"Mariedda!" called the grandmother. But there was no response.

"Is she asleep now?"

"She is just falling asleep."

In the pause that ensued a painful drama was enacted in the breasts of
the two women.

"I will get up now and open the door," said Giovanna presently in a
strained voice. But the old woman made no reply. Motionless, a cold
chill creeping through her, she _felt_ the horrible truth flash into her
mind like a sudden glare of blinding light. Giovanna must have a lover,
and that lover could be none other than Costantino Ledda. In that moment
of searching illumination a thousand little incidents to which she had
paid no heed at the time, a thousand little unconsidered trifles, rose
up to confront her, and she trembled from head to foot, in a paroxysm of
grief and rage. Yet, when Giovanna repeated: "I will open the door right
away," she was able to control herself, and answer quietly:

"It's not worth while; stay where you are."

Then she turned, and, crossing the room again in the dark, said to
herself with a sort of calm fury: "Now is the time to show them that old
Martina is no fool!"

Her first impulse was to hurry downstairs and look out to see if any one
had climbed from Giovanna's window to the roof below, which, in turn,
gave on another and still lower roof. But she restrained herself,
reflecting very sensibly that if Giovanna saw that she was suspected she
would instantly be on her guard. "No, no; this is a time to dissemble,
old Martina; to pretend, spy, listen, watch--and then?" What was to
happen afterwards? The _afterwards_ suggested such a multitude of
wretched possibilities that the old woman threw herself on her bed in a
torment of agonised conjecture.

What would Brontu do if he knew? Poor Brontu! With all his violent
temper he was such a good fellow at bottom, and so tremendously in love
with Giovanna! But there it was; he was so much in love with Giovanna
that he would be perfectly capable of committing some crime should he
suspect her constancy. Then, what would become of him? thought Aunt
Martina. "Ah, it will be far better for him to know nothing of all this
trouble. I will implore Giovanna to be loyal, and not to betray her poor
husband. And then--suppose, after all, I should be mistaken! Suppose she
really was talking to the baby! Eh, no, no! Some one else was there, and
it could have been no one but Costantino. Oh, wretched creature!
accursed beggar! Is this your gratitude towards those who have fed and
clothed and nourished you? But never mind, we will pay you back! We will
drive you out of this house with a whip, naked as when you came into
it!" And thus, torn by successive impulses of hatred, pity, fury, and
despair. Aunt Martina dragged through the weary night.

One significant circumstance she did recall--that Costantino was said
to be on good terms with Aunt Bachissia, Giovanna's mother. Some time
previously he had set to work in earnest; had rented a little shop, and
was making a good deal of money by his trade of shoemaking. A repulsive
thought came into the old woman's head. What if Aunt Bachissia knew and
encouraged her daughter's intimacy with her first husband! "The old
harpy detests us," said Brontu's mother to herself. "Perhaps Costantino
makes her presents!"

Daybreak found her still wide-eyed and sleepless. Getting up, she went
out to examine the wall above which rose the roofs leading to Giovanna's
window. Not a trace was to be found of any one having been on it. The
dawn was exquisitely tranquil and beautiful; the village was still
asleep, and the fields lay bathed in soft grey haze beneath a silver
sky. Aunt Martina drew a deep breath; she felt as though she had
awakened from a horrible dream; the utter peace and serenity of the
early morning seemed to communicate itself to her distracted spirit.
Then, on a sudden, happening to raise her eyes to Giovanna's window, she
saw the young woman watching her. Instantly the conviction flashed
across her that she too had lain awake the entire night; that she too
was looking now to see if any tell-tale traces remained to betray the
fact that she had had a visitor, and more than that, that she now was
fully aware of Aunt Martina's suspicions. Across the space that divided
them, the two women exchanged a look of mutual fear and hatred. War was
declared!

       *       *       *       *       *

The battle opened in ominous calm, each side marshalling its forces in
silence and secrecy. Aunt Martina's efforts were directed to allaying
Giovanna's suspicions in the hope that she might some day surprise her
and her lover together. Giovanna, perfectly awake to her mother-in-law's
tactics, pretended not to notice anything, but at the same time
proceeded with great caution in her relations with Costantino.

He had entirely altered his mode of life; he now worked regularly, and
was doing very well; but underneath everything was a sense of
unutterable melancholy, which he was never able wholly to throw off.

"I am doing everything I can to provoke Brontu to break with me," said
Giovanna one day. "I want him to apply for a divorce, so as to be rid of
me; then I will go back to you, beloved, and nothing shall ever part us
again. I will be your servant, your slave--and make you forget all your
past sorrows."

But Costantino only smiled wearily. It was true that he still loved
Giovanna, but it was a very different kind of love from that which she
had formerly inspired in him. Now, there was more of passion, perhaps,
but it did not go so deep, and he knew, though he could not tell her so,
that even were she free to return to him as his wife, he could never be
happy again as in the old days. She was not the woman to whom he had
given his heart, but another and a very different person. One who,
having been false to both husbands in succession, was now, perhaps,
deceiving them simultaneously.

Often Costantino was seized with an access of rage against the entire
human race, Giovanna included. He would have liked to murder some
one--Brontu, or Aunt Bachissia, or even Giovanna, in order to avenge
himself for what he had been made to suffer. And yet, all the time, he
knew himself to be quite incapable of doing anything brutal or violent,
and raged and fumed the more at his own weakness. His heart seemed to
have sunk into a state of torpor, and to have lost the power to enjoy
acutely.

Uncle Isidoro was now constantly urging him to marry again, much as such
an act would be contrary to his own principles.

"I have one wife already," Costantino would reply. "What could I do with
another? Have her betray me too? All women are exactly alike."

Then Uncle Isidoro would sigh, and remain silent. He was in constant
dread lest some new tragedy should befall. He was aware, partly from
intuition and partly because Costantino himself allowed him to have an
inkling of the truth, that the young man was holding secret intercourse
with his former wife, and his daily fear was of some explosion. Thus, he
argued to himself that if Costantino could only be induced to marry some
gentle, affectionate young woman, who would bear him children, he would
come in time to forget the other one, and find rest and peace. To these
suggestions, however, Costantino only gave the same weary smile that had
now become habitual.

"Are you afraid that I will murder some one?" he asked, divining the old
man's nervous terrors. "No, no; there is no need to feel alarmed now;
matters are going too much to my taste just at present for me to do
anything to disturb the current."

The current was, however, in a fair way to be disturbed after that night
on which Aunt Martina made her discovery.

On the following day Costantino went, as his frequent custom now was, to
Aunt Bachissia's cottage.

He had no liking for the old woman who had been chiefly instrumental in
bringing about Giovanna's divorce; there were even moments when the
thought of strangling his ex-mother-in-law got into his blood, filling
his veins with a sensation of almost voluptuous joy. But he went there,
nevertheless, mainly because he took a dreary pleasure in living over
the past in that little cottage where he had once been so happy.
Moreover, he enjoyed listening to Aunt Bachissia's never-ending abuse of
everything connected with the house of Dejas.

Did the old woman know of her daughter's renewed relations with
Costantino? Neither of them had said a word to her on the subject; yet,
like Isidoro, she suspected how matters stood, though, unlike him, she
made no effort to interfere. Costantino had made her a present of a pair
of shoes, and from time to time he performed other little services for
her. Had he asked her to allow him to meet Giovanna in her house, it is
quite possible that she would have offered no objection; but up to the
present time he had neither told nor asked her anything.

On this day, however, he arrived visibly anxious and perturbed, and Aunt
Bachissia, who was sitting by the door spinning, laid down her spindle
and gave him a steady look out of her sharp little eyes.

Night was falling, and Costantino, who had worked hard all day, was
tired, sad, unhappy. The soft brilliance of the summer night, the
silence of the little house, the peaceful solitude of the common, the
warm, sweet breath of the evening, all combined to create a flood of
homesickness for the past, and an acute sense of present misery that was
well-nigh unbearable. He threw himself down on a stool and rested his
elbows on his knees and his forehead on his interlocked hands. For a few
moments neither of them spoke; the man was thinking of Malthineddu, of
his little dead child; he seemed to see him then, playing before the
door, and hot tears trembled in his eyes.

"Do you know," said Aunt Bachissia suddenly, "the old colt is going
crazy?"

"Who?" asked Costantino.

"Who? Why, the old miser, Martina Dejas. She got up out of her bed last
night, and went and banged on my Giovanna's door. She said she heard
some one talking to her. Upon my soul, fancy such a thing! She has gone
entirely mad; she always was half so."

"Ah!" was all that Costantino said.

"Listen, my soul," said Aunt Bachissia, lowering her voice. "Giovanna
tells me that the old colt suspects----"

"What?" asked Costantino, raising his head quickly.

"Suspects that you and Giovanna--you understand? She has not said a
word, the old maniac, but Giovanna has guessed that she has some idea in
her head, and on that account----"

"I understand," said Costantino.

He did understand. Evidently Giovanna had taken this method of warning
him that they would have to be prudent.

"And so, my soul," Aunt Bachissia went on, "for the present it will be
as well for you to stop coming here--just so as not to arouse
suspicions. I will go every once in a while to see you--for a chat, you
know. Ah!" she gave a weary sigh, "you--yes, you are a man! Look at you,
standing there now, as tall and handsome as a banner! When I think of
that little freak of nature--Brontu Dejas--I declare, I wonder what on
earth Giovanna could have been thinking of to--forget you. Ah, if she
had only listened to me!"

Costantino, who had risen and was standing in the doorway, crimsoned
with anger when he heard these outrageous lies being calmly offered for
his acceptance.

"Hold your tongue," he began in a hoarse voice. But Aunt Bachissia was
not listening; she was looking intently up at the white house; presently
she whispered: "Look, my soul, we are being watched now. Giovanna is
right. Do you see the old harpy peering at us? Oh! I could tear out her
eyes!"

Sure enough the figure of Aunt Martina could be seen lurking in the
shadow of the portico. For the moment Costantino, who had never really
borne any especial ill-will towards Brontu's mother, felt all the anger,
and sorrow, and rebelliousness in his nature concentrate into one bitter
longing to do the old woman some bodily harm. He would dearly have liked
to make a wild dash across the common, fall upon her without warning,
and tear her eyes out, as Aunt Bachissia had said.

"Never mind, let her alone," said the latter. "Giovanna has told me that
she is doing everything she can to make them ill-use her and drive her
out of the house. Then we will apply for another divorce--you, my soul,
all you have to do is to be careful and--wait."

"What have I to wait for?" he asked roughly. "Nothing can happen now
that _I_ want."

She said something more, but he was not listening. Standing erect and
motionless on the threshold of the door that had once been _his_ door,
he stared across at the portico of the Dejas house, feeling even
more desolate and forlorn than usual. So, then, his one remaining
consolation, that of holding intercourse with Giovanna, was about to be
torn from him, and by the same people who had stolen from him everything
else that made life pleasant; moreover they might deprive him even of
life itself should he continue his relations with her who really was his
own wife!

Ah, Dejas! accursed race! Yes, now the old mother as well was included
in his hatred of that house, and the longing to cross the common, fling
himself on the portico, and make the still summer evening resound with
her shrill screams of agony, at last overmastered him. With a sudden
movement, right in the middle of one of Aunt Bachissia's sentences, he
stepped out into the twilight, and with rapid strides began to cross the
common. When he had gone about half-way, he stopped, stood motionless
for a moment, and then, altering his direction, walked away. Aunt
Bachissia watched his figure as it was slowly swallowed up by the
shadows; and the silence and languor of the dusk deepened into night.

After that evening Costantino visited her cottage no more.

       *       *       *       *       *

One day, towards the end of October, Uncle Isidoro Pane had an
unexpected visitor. The old fisherman, seated before his fireplace, was
getting supper ready for himself and Costantino, who still made his home
with him. Outside, the air felt almost cold, the wind was rising, and
long, violet-coloured clouds were flying across the clear, greenish,
western sky. Uncle Isidoro was thinking sadly of that evening when, amid
the chanting of the women, they had interred Giacobbe Dejas in the
dungheap. The earthen pot bubbled on the fire, and from without came the
melancholy rustling of the fig-tree and the bushes, shaken by the wind.
All at once a low knock came on the door.

"Who is there?" asked Uncle Isidoro.

"_Ave Maria!_" The salutation came from Aunt Martina Dejas, who now,
after satisfying herself that the old man was entirely alone, entered
and cautiously closed the door behind her.

"Oh, Martina! _Grazia plena!_" responded the fisherman, astonished to
see who his visitor was.

Her head and shoulders were completely enveloped in a petticoat worn in
lieu of a shawl; her features were paler and more gaunt even than
ordinary, and to Isidoro she seemed to have aged greatly.

"Sit down, Martina Dejas," said he politely, offering her a stool. "What
good wind blows you here?"

"It's an ill wind," she replied. Then, looking all around her, she said:
"I want to talk to you privately; can any one hear us? Where is _he_?"

"Still at the shop; he does not get back till later."

"Listen," said the old woman, seating herself; "you can probably guess
what it is that brings me here?"

"No, I cannot guess, Martina Dejas," declared the other, though all the
time he knew very well. "But why didn't you send for me? I would have
gone to your house."

"At my house there is some one who has the ears of a hare; she can hear
through a stone wall. Now, listen--I don't suppose I have to make you
promise not to tell any one? You wouldn't betray my confidence, would
you?"

"I will not betray you."

"You are a man of the Lord, Isidoro Pane; a very dreadful thing has
happened; will you help me to set it right?"

"If I can," he said, spreading out his arms and hands. "Tell me about
it!"

The old woman sighed.

"Tell you about it! Yes," she said, "that is what I am going to do,
Isidoro; but what I have to say burns my lips, and you are the only
human being I would breathe it to. A terrible misfortune has overtaken
my house. Do you see how old I have grown? For months I have not
been able to close my eyes. Giovanna, my daughter-in-law, has a
lover--Costantino Ledda. You don't seem surprised!" she added quickly,
seeing that the other remained unmoved. "You knew it already! Some one
has known about it! Perhaps there are others too--perhaps every one
knows the disgrace of my house!"

"Easy, easy; don't be frightened. I did not know it, and I don't think
any one else does. It may not be true, either, but if it were, and
people knew about it--no one would be surprised."

"No one would be surprised!"

"Certainly not, Martina Dejas; no one at all. Every one knows perfectly
well--pardon me if I speak frankly--that Giovanna married your son
entirely from motives of self-interest. Now Costantino has come back;
_they_ were in love with one another _before_, and now they are in love
with one another _after_; it is perfectly natural."

"It is perfectly natural! How can you say such things, Isidoro Pane? Is
it perfectly natural for a woman to be unfaithful? For a beggar taken in
out of the streets to betray her benefactors? Is it perfectly natural
that my son, Brontu Dejas, who had the courage to do what not another
soul would have dreamed of doing--is it natural that he should be
deceived?"

"Yes, it is all natural."

"Ah," exclaimed Aunt Martina, getting up, her eyes flashing with anger,
"then it was quite useless for me to come here!"

"Easy, easy!" said the old man again. "Just sit down, Martina, and tell
me quietly what brought you. Let us put all these questions aside--they
are of no use now, anyhow--and discuss the situation as it is. I think I
can guess what it is you want me to do; you want me to use my influence
with Costantino to get him to leave your family in peace----?"

The old woman sat down again, and opened her heart. Yes, that was what
she wanted, that Isidoro should do all he could to induce Costantino to
give Giovanna up.

"This misery will kill me," she said in conclusion, her voice trembling;
"but at least my Brontu will have been spared. Ah, if he should ever
find out about it, he is lost! He is sure to kill some one, either
Giovanna or Costantino. I am continually haunted by the most horrible
presentiments; I keep seeing a smear of blood before my eyes. You will
see, Isidoro; you will see! If we don't find some way to stop this
shameful thing, some horrible tragedy will occur----!"

As she talked, Aunt Martina had been growing steadily paler, until she
was now quite livid; her lips trembled, and her eyes gleamed partly
with anger, partly with unshed tears.

"You alarm me, and you make me feel very sorry for you as well," said
Uncle Isidoro gravely. "But see here, whose fault is it all? I
remember--this visit of yours brings it all back to me--another visit I
once had; it was from Giacobbe Dejas, poor soul. Well, he sat there,
just where you are sitting now, and he said almost the same words: 'We
must find some way to stop this thing; if we don't, some terrible
misfortune will surely happen!' And so we did; we tried our best to stop
that shameful thing, but without avail. You and your son, and all the
rest of you, were determined to bring about your own ruin. You fell into
mortal sin; you broke the laws of God, and now your punishment has
come!"

"We! only we!" exclaimed the old woman haughtily. "No; the fault belongs
to them as well. To Bachissia Era, for her avarice and wickedness in
throwing her daughter at Brontu; and to Giovanna, for abandoning her
first husband when she loved him, and marrying another out of
self-interest! The blame belongs equally to all, or, rather, it does
not; it is _theirs_ alone, for we did nothing but what was good.
It is theirs, theirs, and I hate every one of them--vile, low-born
beggars--traitors. And I can tell you, if Costantino does not give this
thing up, he'll bitterly regret it. Beg, implore, adjure him! Tell him
not to bring ruin on a respectable house, and then,--if he will not
listen----"

"Hush, Martina," begged the fisherman, seeing that she was working
herself into a fury. "Don't talk foolishness. But tell me, are you
really certain that Giovanna and Costantino are meeting each other?"

"Absolutely certain. For three months now, as I told you, I have hardly
closed my eyes. One night I heard some one talking to Giovanna. She saw
right away that I had noticed something, and for a while she was on her
guard. But now--now she has thrown aside all prudence. The other day
they met at Bachissia Era's cottage; I saw them plainly; and not only
that, I heard them; I listened at the door. Then, last night he was with
her again; do you understand? actually in my house, beneath my roof! And
I--I was trembling so with rage I hardly knew what I was about; but I
waited for him below; I was going to speak to him, and then I was going
to stab him--kill him, if I could--I had a knife ready in my hand. But
do you know, I could not stir a limb! I could not even open my lips when
he crept down as stealthily as a thief, first on to the roof, and then
the ground, and away! Ah, I am nothing but a poor old woman; I can't do
a thing. I was just frightened, and I hid. Giovanna knows that I care
more for Brontu than for anything else in the world, and that I would
sacrifice everything to spare him, even the honour of our name. And so
the ungrateful creature is taking advantage of the tenderest feeling
that I have. She is counting on my being afraid to tell him for fear
that he will commit murder, and so be ruined forever, and that is why
she dares to carry it on. But I--I--Isidoro, I will be capable of doing
almost anything if Costantino does not break this off. Tell him so."

"But why don't you speak to Giovanna?" asked the fisherman.

"Because--well, I'm afraid of her. She follows me about and watches me
all the time like a tigress ready to spring. She hates me, just as I
hate her at times; and at the very first word she would fly at me and
choke me to death. I don't dare to open my mouth. Oh, it is all so
horrible! You don't know what days I pass! Death would be far less
bitter than the life I am leading."

As she spoke these words, Aunt Martina buried her face in her hands and
began to sob.

A feeling of intense pity rose in the old fisherman's heart. In the days
of his most grinding poverty he had never been reduced to tears, and to
think of the rich, proud Martina Dejas being actually more wretched than
an old pauper like himself!

"I will do my very best," he said. "Now go, and try not to worry. You
had better get off at once, though; it is time for _him_ to be coming
back." She got up, wrapped the petticoat carefully around her head and
shoulders, and when Isidoro had looked out to make sure that no one was
about who might recognise her, walked slowly away.

The air was sharp; the wind was blowing in gusts, tearing the first dead
leaves from the trees. Aunt Martina, struggling against it, felt more
anxious and depressed even than when she came. It seemed as though that
chill, autumn wind that shook and lashed and tore her, were tearing and
lashing her spirit as well. The presentiments of evil that she had
spoken of as haunting her, were stronger than ever. Passing a certain
wretched little hovel, more forlorn and poverty-stricken than any of the
others, she shot a keen glance at it, and then quickly lowered her eyes,
as though in dread lest some invisible being should read the dark
thought of her soul. The owner of this hovel, a poor peasant, had come
to her some time before, and had asked her to lend him some money. "Lend
it to you!" she had exclaimed derisively. "And how do you propose to
repay it?" "If I can't pay you back in money," the man had replied,
"there may be some other way of showing my gratitude. You could require
any service at all of me."

She understood what he meant. He was ready to undertake anything, even
the commission of a crime, in order to get the money he needed. But she
had not wanted anything, and so had sent him off. Now, passing the
forlorn little house, rapidly falling into ruins, through the darkness
and wind, and melancholy of the night, she saw again before her the
gaunt, resolute figure of this man; his hollow, sunken eyes; his lips,
white from hunger; his dark, bony hands, ready for any act by which he
might hope to snatch a little ease and comfort out of life; and the
horrible schemes of vengeance that were tearing at her selfish old heart
began to take a fearful and well-defined shape.

Thus she passed on. A dark, forbidding form, enveloped in her black
_tunic_, swept by the wind past that wretched hovel like a shadowy
portent of evil.

       *       *       *       *       *

That same evening Uncle Isidoro reasoned with Costantino at length,
urging him by every argument at his command to avert what otherwise must
inevitably result in a catastrophe for himself, for Giovanna, and for
every one concerned.

Costantino regarded the old man steadily with his usual melancholy
smile. "What," he demanded, "could happen? You admit yourself that the
old harpy will never talk to her son. And--isn't she my wife, Giovanna?
Haven't I a perfect right to be with her whenever I choose?"

"Ah, child of the Lord," sighed Uncle Isidoro, clasping his hands and
shaking his head, "you will be made to suffer for it in some way; you
had better look out: Martina Dejas is capable of anything where her son
is concerned."

A look of hatred came into Costantino's eyes.

"Listen," he said; "my heart is like a vessel full of deadly poison; a
single drop more and it will overflow. Let them look out who have
brought all this on themselves." Then he got up and went out into the
night. For hours he wandered aimlessly about, like one who had lost his
way, in the wind-swept solitude. Then, about midnight, he found himself,
almost without knowing how he got there, as on that first evening,
beneath Giovanna's window. He climbed on the shed and tapped.

Aunt Martina, lying wakeful and alert, heard everything; heard
Costantino approach, heard his knock, heard Giovanna open to him; and
then she knew it was hopeless. Without doubt Isidoro had faithfully
reported his conversation with her, and this was Costantino's reply: he
had come directly and defiantly to Giovanna. "No doubt," thought the old
woman bitterly, "he argues that since old Martina lacks the courage to
make her son unhappy by telling him the truth, he may as well profit by
her weakness. Yes; no doubt that is what he thinks. But, he has
forgotten to take account of what the poor old mother may be stirred up
to do in order to protect her boy! Now, Costantino Ledda, it is between
us two!"

One night as Costantino slid down from the shed beneath Giovanna's
window, he felt something cold and sharp enter his side; in the darkness
he made out the figure of a man, his face covered with a black cloth. He
threw himself upon him, and after a brief struggle, breathless, silent,
determined, he succeeded in throwing him down and disarming him. Then he
let him go without so much as attempting to identify him. What did it
signify who the assassin was? Behind that black mask he knew only too
well that Aunt Martina's gaunt features looked out, and that it was her
hand that had directed the murderous stroke.

He made his way back to Isidoro's hut, and, the fisherman being absent
on one of his journeys, dressed the wound himself, hiding away like a
stricken animal, and concealing what had happened from every one. He did
not even undress, but for three days and nights lay stretched on his
pallet, a prey to the bitterest reflections.

The weather had become cold; outside, the wind whistled among the dry
hedges, and, forcing its way into the hut, made the long threads of
cobweb swing back and forth, and brought down clouds of dust from the
roof. Through the window Costantino could see processions of pale blue
clouds scudding across the cold, bright background of the sky; and he
said to himself that he wanted to die.

Death, death, what else remained for him? The world--his world--was now
only a cold and empty void.

His feeling for Giovanna could never be what it once had been; he had,
indeed, resumed his relations with her, but she could never mean the
same thing to him again after having deserted him in his hour of need.
The very pleasure which he felt in their clandestine intercourse was due
in part to his hatred of the Dejases. The Dejases! The mere thought of
the joy which his death would afford them, even now, aroused him and put
new life into his veins!

"They have stolen everything else of mine," he thought, "and now they
want to take my life as well. But they shan't have it; I will kill one
of them first." He recalled a trial at which he had once been present,
where the accused had proved that he had been attacked, and had struck
back in order to defend himself; the jury had acquitted him. "Well, they
will acquit me; I shall be striking in self-defence. And if they don't
acquit me----!" There arose before him the faces of his fellow-convicts.
The _King of Spades_ smiled at him lugubriously, and behind him he could
see the gloomy walls of the prison courtyard. At least, though, _they_
had been friendly; they might have been murderers, but they had never
tried to assassinate him.

On the third day of his seclusion in Uncle Isidore's hut a storm came
up. Nothing could exceed the comfortless desolation of the poor little
abode. The black clouds travelling overhead seemed to break directly
against the small, bare window; presently some big drops fell from the
roof; one leak in especial, directly over the black, cold fireplace was
so persistent that at last, seeing that the water was forming into a
thin stream, the young man reached out and shoved Uncle Isidoro's
earthenware saucepan beneath it. Drip, drip, drip, the sound was like
the monotonous and melancholy ticking of a clock. Night descended, if
anything colder and more dreary than before; the rain came down
steadily, and the drops fell into the saucepan with the regularity of a
machine. Costantino did not move; he had neither wood wherewith to build
a fire, nor any more food, and it did not occur to him to get up, to
bestir himself, to go out, to live. Perhaps Uncle Isidoro was stalled in
some neighbouring village by the storm, and would not get back.

During the night fever set in, and Costantino was racked by hideous
dreams, painful memories of the past, tempests of anger, mingled with
physical suffering. How long he lay in this condition he could never
remember, only he recollected hearing the steady drip, drip of the water
as it fell into the saucepan, the beating of the rain on the roof, and
the long sob of the wind as it swept about the deserted house. In the
intervals of the fever, when he would arouse from the lethargy that
weighed him down, he was conscious of sharp, shooting pains through all
his limbs, similar to those he had felt in prison on awaking after a
feverish night; and also of a savage, animal desire to do some harm, to
fling himself on some one or some thing, and bite, and tear, and
destroy. Another day and night went by. The rain was falling more
heavily than ever, and that steady, inexorable drip, drip had at last
filled and overflowed the saucepan. Between cold and starvation
Costantino had almost come to the end of his forces. Once he was visited
by a horrid illusion. He thought that a mad dog had thrown him down and
bitten him in the stomach. He awoke shaking, and could not throw the
idea off; perhaps he had been bitten by a mad dog, and this was
hydrophobia! Towards evening the storm died down, though the rain did
not cease entirely. Then, suddenly, he felt that he was dying; he had no
sense of rebellion now; all that was over; he seemed to have lost even
the power to care. To die, to die--Why should he want to go on living?
Everything both within him and about him was black and void. Through all
his fever-ridden dreams one idea had remained persistently by him--that
he was about to commit a crime. Now it was Aunt Martina whom he was on
the point of stabbing; then some one else; but in the intervals of
consciousness he realised that should he live, should he once more find
himself burdened with the dolorous gift of existence, while he would not
even attempt to resist the secret force that was urging him on, it would
matter little against whom his fury expended itself; it might be Aunt
Martina, or Brontu, or some one else. But then--then--deep down in his
soul he could never rid himself of a sense of terror of _what would
happen afterwards_. Yes; he wanted to die, so as to suffer no more and
to be saved from becoming a murderer.

At last the rain was ceasing; it still fell steadily, but more, now,
like a gentle shower, while the wind had died down completely. It was
cold, though, and the damp, chill atmosphere hung over the cabin like a
heavy wet cloth. So unutterably dreary were the weather and the
surroundings that Costantino, recalling the periods of his most acute
misery, could never remember being so utterly and hopelessly wretched
as now. Not even on the day of the sentence, not even on the day when
they had told him of the divorce, nor on that other day of his return:
for on every one of those occasions, desperate as the outlook had been,
there always remained the hope of better things in the life to come.
Then his conscience had been pure; but now, should he go on living, he
believed that he would surely forfeit all hope in the life to come. At
times, goaded by this horror, he would cry aloud, imploring death to
come and save him, as a terrified child cries for its mother.

Thus the hours wore on; he had dropped into a feverish sleep, but awoke
suddenly, trembling with terror at he could not tell what. The rain was
over at last, but in the profound stillness that enwrapped him,
Costantino fancied that he still heard it beating on the roof, and the
drip, drip from the leak over the fireplace; only now the sounds seemed
to come from far, far away, from a world that was already remote. He
thought that he was already dead, or lingering on the extremest confines
of life, in a place of shadows, of silence, of mystery. What would he
find there--just beyond? The light of eternity, or--the darkness of
eternity? He was afraid to open his eyes; he tried to cry out, but could
not utter a sound. Then--a knock came on the door. The sound dragged him
back from that vague tide on which he was floating; he opened his eyes
without moving, conscious both of relief and regret at finding himself
still alive.

The knocking was repeated louder than before. Who could it be? Not Uncle
Isidoro; he would have called out.

Costantino neither stirred nor spoke. Possibly he had not the strength
to get up, but in any case he had no wish to. Why must they come to
disturb him? dragging him back from those mysterious shores on which he
had almost set foot.

Meanwhile the knocking continued still more vigorously, but after a
little it ceased, and everything became perfectly still. A short time
elapsed; then some one again approached the hut; presently the end of a
stout stick was thrust under the door, serving as a lever; the frail
barrier, secured only by a metal hasp, quickly yielded, and the figure
of a woman, with a skirt thrown over her head and shoulders, appeared
for a moment in the opening; stepping inside, she turned and replaced
the rickety door before Costantino was able to recognise her. There was
a moment of breathless silence, during which he could hear his visitor
groping her way about, in the pitchy darkness, on the other side of the
hut; then she spoke, and he recognised the voice of Aunt Bachissia.

"Costantino! Are you there? Where are you? Are you dead or alive? Why
don't you answer? Some one said you had not been seen for three days,
and that Isidoro Pane was away. I came once before and knocked and
knocked, but you wouldn't answer. What's the matter? are you sick?"

Still he made no reply, burying his face like a sulky child.

"My soul!" moaned the woman, "he must be ill as well."

_As well!_ Then some one else was ill! Who, he wondered. Perhaps
Giovanna. He listened intently, still keeping his face covered.

"He has no fire and no light!" she muttered. "What does it all mean?
Wait, I'll strike a light. Where are my matches?"

The pale, blue flame of a sulphur match shot up for a moment, and then
suddenly died away.

Costantino could see nothing, but he heard Aunt Bachissia stumbling her
way towards him, moaning: "Costantino, Costantino!"

A wave of anger swept over him; he tried to cry out, to rise and fling
himself upon her, choke her--but he was powerless. A cold sweat broke
out all over him, and he knew that if he attempted so much as to speak,
he would burst into tears. How hatefully weak he was!

Aunt Bachissia struck another match, and began searching for a light of
some sort, but all she could find was a rude iron lamp hanging on a
nail, with neither wick nor oil. Then she groped her way to the
fireplace, and, stooping down, held out her hand with the lighted match
between her fingers. There were the saucepan full of water, the heap of
wet ashes, the soaked hearthstone, and beyond, half in the circle of
light, the figure of Costantino extended motionless on the pallet. The
match flared up and then went out, and all became again perfectly dark
and silent.

For a moment Aunt Bachissia did not stir; she hardly seemed to breathe;
then a long, choking sob broke from her.

Of what had she been thinking in that moment of silence and darkness?
Did that vision of Costantino lying apparently dead before her awaken a
sudden, agonising sense of what she had done; of her iniquitous
responsibility in the ruin that had been wrought in Giovanna's and
Costantino's lives, and in the lives of every one concerned in the
melancholy drama? Throwing herself on the floor beside the pallet, she
passed her hands tremblingly over his body and face, sobbing in the
darkness and silence: "Costantino, Costantino! are you alive? Answer
me----Yes," she murmured presently, "he is alive, but ill, ill--you are
ill, aren't you?" she went on coaxingly. "Is it a wound? Ah, God! If you
only knew what terrible things have happened! Giovanna sent me; she was
frightened, you know; she thought you might have been hurt, that some
one might have been lying in wait for you; she's more dead than alive
herself--Costantino----!"

At last Costantino gave a moan; something hard in his breast seemed to
melt; he was moved--affected. Then he was not forgotten, after all;
Giovanna had been anxious; she had sent to find out about him; she was
frightened, unhappy. Then, in his changed mood, Aunt Bachissia's words
of a moment before came back to him with fresh meaning. "He is ill _as
well_," she had said. Who was this other person who was ill? Again he
thought of Giovanna, and his heart sank.

"Is it a wound?" she repeated.

"Yes," murmured Costantino.

"Who did it?"

"I don't know; some one hired by Aunt Martina Dejas."

"Ah!" cried Aunt Bachissia, her voice thick with anger; then, in a
changed tone, she said: "The saying goes that God does not pay on
Saturday--well,--Brontu Dejas is dying--poor wretch!"

Costantino felt as though an electric shock had gone through him; he
started to his feet, swayed, and fell back on his knees. In the darkness
his hands encountered those of Aunt Bachissia, and she felt that they
were scorching hot and trembling.

"Costantino! my soul!" she cried, alarmed lest in his weak and
exhausted condition the shock of her news had been too great for him.
"Costantino, what is it? You are shaking all over like a little kid!
Yes; Brontu is very ill. He came back yesterday; it was a holiday, you
know, and he came home so drunk that he was like something crazy. It
seems that he has been drinking all the time lately, even up at the
sheepfolds. So then yesterday when he came in he was horribly drunk, and
he began quarrelling with his mother and Giovanna, and tried to beat
them; they were so frightened that they ran up and locked themselves in
their rooms. Brontu stayed down in the kitchen, and he must have
stretched himself out alongside the fire. After some time they heard him
crying out, but they thought it was just some drunken foolishness, and
did not go down to see what it was. After a while, though, when he had
become quiet, Aunt Martina went and found him lying there unconscious
and frightfully burned. He had evidently fallen asleep and had put his
legs right over the fire,[10] and then his clothing caught. There was an
empty brandy bottle lying beside him. He hasn't come to since, and the
doctor says he can't live through the night. Poor Brontu; he wasn't bad;
he was weak, but not really bad--Costantino! Costantino!--what on earth
is it? What are you doing?" For in the darkness Aunt Bachissia, who had
told her story with moans and sighs of sympathy, partly for Costantino,
partly for Brontu, heard what she at first took to be a burst of insane
laughter. The young man's hands became rigid, his limbs contracted, and
for one wild moment she thought he had lost his reason. Then the truth
broke upon her; he was crying, weeping bitterly, half from weakness and
reaction, but half, too, from horror and sympathy at the awful ending of
a man whom, but a short while before, he had thought that he hated so
much that he was in danger of killing him.

       *       *       *       *       *

That same night Brontu died, and some time later Giovanna and Costantino
were reunited. Old Aunt Martina, absorbed in her grief and completely
shattered by it, like an oak-tree that has been struck by lightning,
offered no objection, but neither did she forgive the young people, and
she demanded that the little Mariedda should be left under her care.
Thus the two, the old woman and the child, lived on in the white house,
while Giovanna and Costantino returned to the little grey cottage.
There, after a time, another child was born to them--Malthineddu.

       *       *       *       *       *

It is a soft spring day. Overhead the sky is a tender blue, and all
around the village the fields of grain sway like the waves of a green,
encircling sea. Aunt Martina sits on the portico, spinning, and praying
silently; a white, tragic figure, spiritualised by sorrow.

Aunt Bachissia sits spinning likewise, before the door of the cottage.
Giovanna is sewing, and hard by Costantino works at his bench. No one
speaks, but the thoughts of all are turned on the past.

In the middle of the common Mariedda and Malthineddu are playing
together with gurgles and shouts of joyous laughter, as happy and
unconcerned as the birds on the neighbouring hedges.

Hither and thither they go, trotting from Aunt Martina to Costantino,
from Aunt Bachissia to Giovanna, from Giovanna to Aunt Martina. And each
in turn, even the desolate, heartbroken old grandmother, looks up to
receive them with a smile of tender indulgence. They are the invisible
woof of peace and mutual forgiveness.


THE END

FOOTNOTE:

[10] In Sardinia the fireplaces almost always consist of four stones
placed so as to form a square in the centre of the kitchen. They have no
chimneys.



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After the Divorce. $1.50

By GRAZIA DELEDDA. Translated by M. H. LANSDALE

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Henry Holt and Company

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       *       *       *       *       *


Transcriber's Note:

Italic text is denoted by _underscores_ and bold text by =equal
signs=.

A heading "ADVERTISEMENTS" has been inserted to divide the text from
the advertisements which follow it. A page of advertisements at the
front of the book has been moved to the end.

There were two headings before the epilogue; one of these has been
removed.

On p. 138, the letter "n" in "no further" was not printed and is
conjectural.


The following are inconsistently hyphenated in the text:

almond tree and almond-tree

brandy bottle and brandy-bottle

dog roses and dog-roses

mountain side and mountain-side

under lip and under-lip

mean-time and meantime

re-marriage and remarriage


The following errors have been corrected:

p. 135 "homesicknness" changed to "homesickness"

p. 168 "responsibilty" changed to "responsibility"

p. 247 "if Isidoro," changed to "of Isidoro,"





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