The International (magazine)/Volume 1/Phenicia's Sin
OT even the children laughed any longer at poor Carmenio on account of his hunch-back and thin, weak legs, that could scarcely support his heavy body. Every one had become accustomed to him as he stood in the dim court of the palace of Corvejo, under the high Gothic window, beating into the kettles upon which he worked from morning till night. In some way he had become a part of that ancient, dilapidated palace that stood there like a Norman story within the Greek, Roman, Carthaginian,—and heaven knows what other sort of town, of Taormin. He seemed to be the re-incarnation of the Gothic monsters that in olden times had adorned the portals, but now were crumbling into dust.
"The monster!" old Nunziata would sometimes call him, as she sat spinning all day long beneath the shadow of a fig tree in the neighboring garden, having wide open her door, the threshold of which—made of an old relief of Roman times, but now worn smooth—was the favorite resort of all the gossips of the town, who could not pass the house without stopping to have a chat with the almost century-old Nunziata.
"The monster!" she would say; not in scorn or evil intent, but rather in wonder and pity. "To think of Phenicia being his own sister! Phenicia, with eyes as bright as the gold in the robe of the Madonna, and as beautiful as one of the pearls in her diadem, and straight as the candles burning upon her altar! Whenever I think of her, I pity her as I do the souls in purgatory."
She pitied poor Carmenio too,—he seemed so forsaken and lonesome in the dark court of the palace of Corvejo. But Carmenio thought: "There is light enough here for me to see clearly to work on my anvil, and my blows ring out like a bell, and scare away the devil whenever he comes to whisper in my ear how we have been wronged. And when the worst comes, when I'm tired and hungry, overcome with the burning heat of the sun, or the bitter cold winds of the winter, I always find some comfort by raising my eyes and looking at the sculptures upon the stairs and balustrade."
The reliefs represented Eve in Paradise, her temptation and fall, and the subsequent punishment. "Sorrow and labor is our lot," he murmured, glancing at old Nunziata sitting beneath the fig tree spinning. Like him, she came from Mola, that white nest perched high above Taormin, on a rock near the clouds, and looking down on the town below, just as Taormin itself, from its airy height, overlooks Giardini, bathing itself white in the blue sea, and concealed among gardens, as if crouching there to hide from the Olympic majesty of towering Ætna.Carmenio remembered the old days, when as a child he would stand on the crooked, stony road outside the gates of the town and gaze down on Taormin. He remembered the weird stories about the desolate castle beyond the gates, where the Saracens had once dwelt,—people that believed neither in Christ nor in the Madonna. He also had a dim recollection about some gods and goddesses in those places, but he had never been to Taormin until his sister Phenicia married and moved there.
Phenicia was all in all to Carmenio. Although younger than he, she took the place of the mother whom they had lost in tender years. Phenicia always had a smile and a kiss for him. Whenever he brought her a woven cage with a singing cicada, she would thank him as fervently, while hanging it among the blossoms of the passion flower spreading so luxuriously over the mouldering balcony, as if he had brought her all the treasures that, in their childish fancy, they imagined to be hidden within the burning crater of Ætna.
Phenicia would comfort him whenever Uncle Petrone—the kettle-maker to whom he was apprenticed—was unusually severe. She always gave him a part of her beans or bread when Aunt Pina had a streak of stinginess while apportioning their food in their little earthen dishes; she also proved herself a brave defender whenever the children, in their thoughtless cruelty, abused him, mocking him on account of his crooked legs, throwing stones at him, and calling out: "Pulcinello! Pulcinello!" And Phenicia had hard fists, for indeed Aunt Pina did not give her bread and beans for nought. From morning till night, she was obliged to toil in the small garden and vineyard that nestled on the rocky slopes of Mount Venera.
In the evening Phenicia might rest upon the mouldering balcony, where the passion flower bloomed. Here she could look down on the ocean beyond, which also was resting from its day's labor, could observe the stars as they twinkled above Ætna, and see the mount slowly enveloping itself in mist. Beautiful dreams visited her whenever she fell asleep there. Neither did Aunt Pina forbid her to go out with other girls and sit under the church portico of mouldering red marble and hard gray sandstone, beneath whose arch the old frescoes seemed to be fading away. There Phenicia could laugh heartily, and there one beautiful evening she was first seen by the young shoemaker, Archangelo Guisti. He had come that day to Mola on some business, and had been delayed till the cool of the evening. When he first spied Phenicia she was laughing: her voice sounded like the rippling of the fountain, her white teeth tinged with blue seemed like the blossoms of the pomegranate that she had stuck behind her ear, and her eyes beamed like stars that shine at night in the dark blue sky above the sea. Archangelo's mind involuntarily wandered to the strange goddess painted upon the crumbling ceiling of the old palace of Corvejo, where he dwelt with his mother, Venera, in Taormin. When he returned home that evening, his eyes constantly sought the face of that goddess, which seemed to smile at him through the smoke of the little lamp, by the light of which his mother was getting him his supper.
From that time he visited Mola quite often, and Uncle Petrone was not a little glad to get rid of the orphans, when Archangelo asked him for Phenicia, who consented only upon condition that Carmenio move down to Taormin with her.
Venera, however, wept and lamented when she heard that her son was to marry a girl without a single sou. She finally became somewhat resigned, and merely tore her hair when there was no one to see her but old Nunziata. To her she did not hesitate to unburden her heart; she was not ashamed to shake her fist at St. Christopher, the saint whom she had honored above all others, and who now repaid her with such treachery.
Nunziata tried to comfort her, by telling her that other saints were apt to serve their devotees in the same manner. What a trick had St. Rosalia played upon her once! If she should tell it! But no—it was so long ago.
Venera shrugged her shoulders, as much as to say: "How can you presume to compare that St. Rosalia of yours with my St. Christopher?"
Nunziata understood this and felt deeply insulted. In her young days she had been to Palermo, and once had gone on a pilgrimage to Mount Pelegrino, into the valley where St. Rosalia had lived. She was dazzled with the splendor surrounding the saint. Her statue of marble and gold stood upon a precipitous rock, as high as the tower of St. Dominick in Taormin, between the azure of the sea and sky, and glowing in the light of innumerable candles. She knew how such a saint should be honored, and so she had cause for offense.
"Better be careful, Venera," she said dryly, trying to suppress her anger. "'Tis but a step to the door of sin. You are too proud. You also think too much of your son. I should not be surprised if you would like him to be addressed ′Don′ Archangelo?"
Full of the pride and vanity of a doting mother, Venera drew herself up, as she exclaimed:
"Archangelo is as good a Christian as anybody else, and his trade is no worse than other trades—and he understands it, too, thank God! Did not one of those Englishmen that come here with their pockets full of money, and sit all day in the ruins of that Greek theatre, have a pair of shoes made by my Archangelo? And did he not say that they were the handsomest shoes he ever had on his feet? Now, see! And who knows but the time may come when he will be addressed as ′Don′ Archangelo! You know, Nunziata, that we have a claim against the town of three hundred and fifty liras. That may prove the beginning of a fine property. Twenty years ago, our syndic, Don Agostino Neri, did not have much more, and the people then did not call him ′Don;′ but he became rich, and others may become rich, too. He was not the first, my good Nunziata, and, blessed be the most holy Virgin, he need not be the last."
"True; but you have not got those three hundred and fifty liras yet," remarked Nunziata, quietly, as prudent and careful as ever.
"But we'll get them, and you know it," screamed Venera, as though Nunziata were trying to take them away from her." The whole world knows that that suit of ours, in regard to the estate beyond the Messina gate, cannot be decided otherwise than in our favor; yes, even though the Pope him self took sides against us." "I hope it may be so," rejoined Nunziata; "but it has gone on a long time since the death of your husband, and our present syndic is by no means friendly to you."
"Alas, that is true! "sighed Venera. "But who is to blame for that? Nobody but that unhappy Phenicia with those great staring eyes of hers, with which she be witched my son's heart, and with which she will doubtless sometime eat out his very soul. He could have married the syndic's niece, Marie,—it was almost arranged. She, indeed, has smaller eyes, but they say she has a whole chest full of silver."
"And the reputation that the syndic was obliged to marry her off at once," added Nunziata, dryly. "Now he has hung her upon the neck of that lame tailor that lives in the ducal palace of San Stefano. As for the silver, it does not seem that he is troubled as to what he shall do with it."
"Evil reports ring out like bells, but they do not bring people to church," replied Venera. "The one thing certain is that now we have the syndic against us,—a plague upon his soul! "And she hurried home.
Time passed on as rapidly as before this conversation, but the dispute concerning the estate beyond the Messina gate came no nearer to its settlement. But aside from Venera, no one at the palace of Corvejo seemed to be concerned about it. Archangelo had so much to do that he waited as patiently for those three hundred and fifty liras as one waits for a ripening apple. Of a Sunday afternoon, when the weather was pleasant, he would take Phenicia for a walk beyond the Messina gate, and explain to her all about the estate in question. She seemed to listen, but her beautiful eyes wandered away to the sea, beyond which the barren mountains of Calabria were heaped up in transparent mists. Carmenio also listened as to how the dispute arose, and upon hat they based their claims; but his mind, too, seemed to be preoccupied, and both forgot all about it, ere they entered the Gothic arch of the Corvejo palace.
Venera never had a smile for her daughter-in-law, and regarded Carmenio as an intruder whom her son was obliged to support, although she knew that the unfortunate cripple honestly earned every sou expended on his living. Fortunately for domestic peace, Phenicia was so quiet, so meek and good, that she paid no attention whatever to the eternal grumbling of her mother-in-law. Only when Venera's cursing sounded too dreadful through the gloomy corridors of the old palace, would she rush out of the house and seek her favorite place by the side of the fountain whose surface was bubbling with silvery waves. From there she would look wistfully towards Mola perched high on the mountain slope, covered with grape vines, almond and Indian fig trees. This scene always had a soothing effect upon her; she felt as if she had confided her troubles to her mother, and had received her sympathy and blessing. She would return to the palace with a patient smile upon her lips.
Two years of happy married life passed away very rapidly, when great changes took place in the palace of Corvejo. From all sides fate dealt cruel blows upon poor Archangelo. Besides a son, Venera had also a married daughter, who lived down in Girardini, at the foot of the hills on which Taormin was situated. Lucia had little love either for her mother or brother, and they had not seen each other for years. Her husband was a laborer upon the railroad track, and Lucia helped him whenever she could. They had three children, the youngest still an infant when the great misfortune over took them. One day, Lucia was sitting by the seashore, cooling her feet in the water and looking for a shell for her babe, her husband at work upon the track near by. Suddenly she heard the rumbling of the train, and turning around, saw him beneath the wheels. She had no time to cry out; her child slipped from herarms, and she fell upon her face, senseless, while the waves, the soft, beautiful waves, so full of sunlight and sweet murmurings, soothed her babe to its eternal rest, covering its fixed, staring eyes with white sand. When Lucia recovered from her swoon, she laughed night and day without ceasing. They cut off her long black hair, placed ice upon her head, but it brought no relief; they said the milk had gone to her head.
About an hour before her death, she became quiet, and regained to some extent her reason. She begged an old neighbor to take her boys, when all was over, to her brother in Taormin.
"Tell him that I charge him by the soul of our dead father to take pity upon them. Tell him," she added, after a pause, "that I send them to him as a legacy." Then she began to laugh again, and did not stop even when she struggled in her last agony. The bystanders shuddered as they heard that wild laugh mingling with the death rattle.
The neighbor kept her word. Leaning upon her staff, in the scorching heat of the sun, she limped up the precipitous, rocky road leading to Taormin, and led the two boys, Anibal and Ettor, almost smothered with dust, into the gloomy shadow of Corvejo. They were received by their grandmother with a wail of despair. She tore her hair, as she complained to Nunziata: "To support children now, when there is no work! Does not God know any more justice? He has left us nothing but our eyes, that we may weep over our misery."
"And perhaps a piece of heart, that you might feel for those poor orphans," retorted Nunziata, reproachfully.
Ettor and Anibal, however, found that piece of heart with Phenicia, with Archangelo, and with poor Carmenio, upon whom at first they could not look without laughing—he reminded them so strongly of Pulcinello. In their simplicity, they imagined he was hunchbacked and ugly to amuse them. But when he never laid aside the mark, they became accustomed to it, and, like every one else, took it as a matter of course. The only thing that filled their young hearts with terror was the malignant looks cast at them by their grandmother.
In one thing, however, Venera was right. God had sent her those little ones when times were very, very hard.
The suit concerning the estate beyond the Messina gate was rapidly coming to an end. The case seemed so clear that the town was finally compelled to admit the justness of the claim against it—of the 350 liras—and all would have been settled, had it not been for Marie, the wife of the lame tailor, and the niece and mistress of the syndic. Sitting upon the sculptured balcony, under dark shrubbery, in a court that every artist would have envied her, she spent her time plotting against Archangelo, whom she could never forgive for leaving her for Phenicia. She easily convinced the syndic, who himself was desirous of revenge, that he should oppose the payment of the claim, as his voice had great weight among the members of the council, many of whom envied Archangelo.
"I acknowledge that, in the end, we must pay," explained the syndic; "but it is well to let the law take its wonted course, and defer the payment as long as possible."
"Why, he has come by that money as if it had dropped into his lap from the sky," cried another, green with envy.
"But, in the meantime, Archangelo may perish; you know how hard up they are," said a timid voice in the crowd.
"We are in the right—let him perish; the law must take its course," was the reply.
″Why does he not compromise?" said the syndic. "If he would accept a fourth, we would pay him that amount at once."
Cries of approval were general; all wondered at the wisdom of the syndic. The following day they went to Archangelo, who indignantly declined the proposal. He had a right to the whole; why, then, should he be content with a part? They said he was greedy, which caused bitterness on both sides.
Venera dug her nails into her cheeks, and ran as usual to complain to Nunziata.
"We will seek justice to the last extremity!" she exclaimed. "God and all his angels must be with us."
Nunziata sympathized with them deeply. Nevertheless, she said: "Let not the poor seek for justice, it does not grow for them. Doubtless, God will be with you, but those that make and administer the laws have the devil with them, before whom, at times, God steps back to try our souls. From the beginning of the world, justice has gone in rags and fetters. If the law is for you, the whole world will be against you."
To their sorrow, Nunziata's prophecy was soon fulfilled. In a short time all the people of Taormin looked upon Archangelo as a public enemy, trying to enrich himself at the expense of the town. It did not occur to any one that the community also had duties toward the individual. Archangelo was despised by all. Not a single pair of shoes was brought to the little shop to be repaired, and gaunt poverty soon stared upon the inmates of Corvejo palace, from every nook and corner.
Archangelo wandered about like a spirit; Carmenio, who still got a little work, banged away at his copper kettles as if he were possessed; Venera wept without ceasing, clenched her fists, and cursed the day when her son brought Phenicia beneath their roof. Phenicia did what she could. She comforted the others—worked, prayed, and at times even went to their more fortunate neighbors to beg for a morsel of bread for the poor children.
Archangelo often went to Messina to see his attorney, who was so generous with his promises, that his client's return always brought a ray of hope to the suffering family. But the wheels of time turned very slowly, and the burden of poverty seemed all the heavier the longer it was borne. A black cloud hung over the Corvejo palace; the occupants no longer ate nor slept, and were as silent as though preparing for death. The hum of the busy street penetrated into the house like the scornful laugh of life, bringing joy to all except to them. And in the night, when all the city slept, they watched and sighed, and from afar they heard the sea singing something that sounded like a funeral dirge; through the battered Gothic windows the stars looked down upon them like the innumerable candles upon the altar of some great cathedral where mass was said for human souls. What souls? The millions that, like them, were perishing from misery and want. Archangelo would lie upon the stone steps like one dead; Phenicia, with dilated eyes and deadly pallor, looked like an angel upon some sarcophagus; and Venera, digging her nails into the ground, relapsed into a silence so woful that her worst cursing would have been a relief.
At sight of this great suffering, Nunziata—herself almost as poor as they—wept as though her blood had been changed to tears. Without ceasing, she prayed to the saints in Paradise, and daily looked for an answer to her prayers.
One day it seemed that the answer had come. Archangelo received a legal document, which, with the aid of the letter carrier, he succeeded in making out. The lawyer had not promised in vain ; this time the suit was really decided and in favor of the suffering family. For many a long day the palace of Corvejo had not heard such weeping for joy, such exclamations of triumph. Archangelo hurried to the syndic, but soon returned, pale and in despair. Don Agostino had persuaded the council to make another appeal, thus in definitely delaying the payment of the money. The family was so crushed by the news, that no one uttered a word. Venera resigned herself to her fate. "We shall die of starvation," she quietly said, and closed her eyes. During the pause that followed, no sound was heard save the rustling of the wind, as it played with the ragged tapestries on the walls. The old goddess crowned with flowers smiled upon them from the ceiling; and the Christ on the cross between the two windows seemed to bleed anew, the bunch of dark red pinks that Phenicia had laid that morning at his feet looking like drops of blood from his wounded side. Venera raised her eyes to him with a dumb reproach. Had not an English woman once offered her a handful of liras for that crucifix, and she had not sold it?
"Am I a Judas, that I should sell my Savior?" she exclaimed; and, behold, this was the reward for her loyalty! Venera forgot that she had not sold that pale Christ partly because she was afraid that with him luck would depart from her dwelling, and partly because she feared she might sell him too cheap. She did not recollect that later she herself had gone to the hotel "Bella Veduta" trying to find a purchaser for that very Christ, and that he still hung between the two windows of the palace of Corvejo simply because no tourist had happened to buy him.
But if her eyes were raised to him in reproach, other eyes, far more beautiful, were at that moment fixed upon him in adoration and hope. They were the eyes of Phenicia. Suddenly she arose, quietly and resolutely—indeed, almost proudly, like one who knows he is humbling him self,—but from love to others; who offers a great sacrifice,—but from a sense of duty.
"There is one hope left," she said, when all raised their eyes to her in curiosity and surprise." I will go to Marie—she is now a mother—nurses her babe. She cannot be inhuman." And while she was slowly descending the stairs into the court, the thought came to her that she had never been blessed with a child, although her heart longed for one and was overflowing with maternal tenderness.
Marie was sitting upon the balcony, beneath heavy vines that almost covered the roof of the small house, nursing her completely naked child. Don Agostino was seated in the darkened room behind her, talking with the lame tailor, Marie's husband, about the high price of provisions. The conversation was cut short by the entrance of Phenicia, at whom they all gazed in surprise. Marie's face became clouded with an ugly frown, as she asked sharply: "What do you want here?"
Phenicia was as pale as a marble statue: she bowed her head as one about to enter a low door, and said almost in a whisper:
"Marie, God has been very good to you," and the downcast eyes were fixed with tenderness upon the strong, healthy infant that looked up and smiled at her. Marie quickly covered her child, as though she feared it might be injured by the power of the evil eye.
"You speak sweetly," she replied dryly. "Venera has a sharper tongue. Whenever she sees me or Don Agostino, she curses like mad—as if we had it in our power to regulate the course of the law. Well, what do you want?"
"I have come to beg you to take pity upon us," replied Phenicia softly, bowing her head still lower and pressing her hand to her side. Marie smiled a hard, cruel smile, as she said:
"It seems you have a pain in your heart?"
"Yes," replied Phenicia, "sorrow has pierced my heart as deeply as the sword did the bosom of our Mater Dolorosa. Marie, be merciful!"
"What can I do for you?" exclaimed Marie exultantly.
"You know what you can do," replied Phenicia, casting a timid glance upon Don Agostino.
"Speak a word for us, Marie, for we are perishing."
"Why trouble me? There is the syndic; speak for yourself." Phenicia turned to Don Agostino: "Take pity upon us, we ask nothing but justice."
"That you have always had, and will continue to receive. The appeal has been sent to Messina to-day. In a few months you shall see . . ."
Phenicia became livid. "For the dear souls of your dead, be merciful," she whispered confusedly, no longer knowing what she said or what she had come for.
"Good day," replied the syndic impatiently, opening the door for her. Marie, with her back turned to Phenicia, was singing a gay song to her child.
Phenicia noticed the golden rays of the sun glancing upon the grape vines; she heard that gay song and also the warbling of a bird in the neighboring garden. The world seemed so happy. "And yet, God is so far away," she thought, as she slowly wended her way homeward.
"All is lost!" she murmured, as she fell on her knees before the crucifix and gazed up at the dying Christ. Ettor and Anibal began to cry, realizing that this meant that their hunger was not to be satisfied.
Phenicia briefly related all.
"Is the syndic still there with that damned Marie?" suddenly asked Archangelo. Phenicia nodded; he left the room.
"Where are you going?" asked his mother anxiously.
"To him," he replied, his teeth clinched so tightly that one could scarcely understand him. He rushed to the house of the lame tailor.
Marie was still seated beneath the grape vines, whose leaves cast beautiful shadows upon her. Don Agostino stood before her watching the plump body of the babe she was nursing. They did not hear Archangelo's footsteps on the balcony—did not see him seize an axe lying beside the white wall. Suddenly Marie heard confused words, saw something flash against the vines like lightning, then a dash of something red discolored the body of her child, and Don Agostino lay at her feet.
Sprinkled with blood and crazy with terror, Marie rushed screaming into the street, which was soon in an uproar. But a few moments and the noise reached the fountain where the women were dipping water into their earthen and wooden buckets. "Murder! murder!" resounded from every side, the news flying in every direction till it came to the fig tree where Nunziata sat spinning, and finally to the arched gateway of the palace of Corvejo, where Carmenio, weak with hunger, was feebly beating his copper kettles. He rushed into the house. It was dark and quiet there ; the lamp before the crucifix was blinking dimly, and the fragrance of the pinks passed through the room like a sigh. Venera and Phenicia sat motionless in a stony stupor, as if lulled to sleep by the echoing roar of the ocean that to-day impatiently tore at its banks and moaned without ceasing. Carmenio fell at his sister's feet.
"O, God, how unhappy we are!" he groaned; and his teeth chattered. She had her eyes fixed upon the pale Christ and seemed unable to turn them away. Surprised and almost stupid, she asked: "What is the matter now?"
In the meantime, the sound was coming nearer and nearer, and suddenly the house was so full of strange people that it seemed as if the whole town were trying to force its way into the gloomy Gothic halls where Christ was bleeding in his agony, and where the pinks smelled so sweet.
For a long time neither Phenicia nor Venera could comprehend what it all meant. But finally the meaning dawned upon their minds, dulled by misery; the syndic, Don Agostino, was dead, and Archangelo, his murderer, had been seized and put in chains.
Phenicia, rigid with horror, stood as if petrified, her eyes turned up so that only the whites were visible. They looked like the eyes of those marble heads that the peasants sometimes find while plowing, and that the foreigners pay such high prices for.
"For God's sake, cry!" exclaimed a neighbor, seizing hold of Phenicia and shaking her violently. "Cry, or you will strangle!"
As if wishing to obey, she fell upon the stone floor, buried her face in her hands, and big tears trickled through her fingers.
Soft words of consolation now fell upon her like gentle caresses. Some of the women, however, tried to tell her about the murder.
"He shot him in the head," said one.
"He plunged a knife into his heart," said another.
Then rose Venera, who till then had sat silent and motionless, her gaunt figure towering above the rest, her yellowish face radiant with joy.
"Ah, my Archangelo! My son, I am proud of you!" she exclaimed in a wild, triumphant tone, clapping her hands and laughing. "He avenged himself! He avenged himself! blessed be the day that he was born! Who has a son like mine!
"For some moments silence reigned in the room, many a mother really envying her her son. But suddenly a voice was heard, saying:
"Do not rejoice, neighbor Venera; you know that he cannot escape the gallows."
Then Venera fell back upon her bed, cursed the day she was born, and hurled such frightful reproaches both against God and the Virgin that all the women present crossed themselves and fled.
A great change came about in public opinion.
"He was driven to desperation," said Nunziata, as she shook her distaff into the air. "Woe to them that trample upon the law in the name of the law!"
And the voice of Nunziata was the voice of the whole town.
There was no longer any want in the palace of Corvejo. Gifts came in from all directions; and Phenicia, who before had begged in vain for work, now had more than she could do. She was thankful, but nevertheless she could not suppress a bitter smile, as she thought: "The half of this would have helped us before, and saved Archangelo from a desperate deed."
Time passed on, and still poor Archangelo pined away in the prison of Messina, awaiting his trial.
Fortunately, Don Agostino did not die, and was rapidly recovering. Old Nunziata, experienced in all things, prophesied to Venera and Phenicia that Archangelo's punishment would not, therefore, be severe.
"I believe your words," Venera would say; "but woe to the syndic if it does not turn out as we expect. I'll take a flint stone, aim at his head and, by the living God, finish the game that my son merely wounded. Then they can tear me to pieces."
Some time after this, a letter came from Archangelo's attorney, saying that he wished to speak with Phenicia on a matter of great importance. It was evident that her husband's fate was the matter in question, and she immediately decided to undertake the journey to Messina.
Nunziata's grandson, Nanni, willingly lent her his mule, for, to go by train would have cost money. Besides, from the time that Lucia's husband perished so miserably under the wheels of the locomotive, the whole family looked upon all steam engines with fear. So Phenicia preferred to intrust herself to the quiet, patient beast, and rode through the burning heat of the sun, along the highway lying between the sea and the hill slopes, which were cut by deep gullies, and covered with vineyards and orchards, above which, in the back ground now dark, now lighted by the sun, and overhung with eternal clouds of smoke, could be seen Mount Ætna, large and terrible as fate.
Phenicia returned from Messina a shade paler than she had been before. Her eyes, larger than ever, seemed to glow with some hidden fire. Indeed, they looked like live coals. The moment she entered the Corvejo palace, they sought the face of the rucified Savior, while her lips twitched convulsively, but she did not utter a word.
"My son is condemned!" exclaimed Venera, thrusting her bony fingers into her gray hair. "Do not keep me in suspense, but tell me all at once."
Phenicia sat down wearily upon the bed, as she replied:
"There has been no trial yet, and we must never give up all hope."
"Why, then, do you look like the Mater Dolorosa?" asked Venera. "What did that attorney want of you?"
Phenicia bowed her head and began to relate in a low voice: "The attorney said to me, ′Mistress Phenicia, your husband could not escape a long, long imprisonment; for many years he would eat the king's coarsest bread, on the island of Pantellarie, suffering like the souls in purgatory . . .′"
"Damn them!" hissed Venera, waving her hands wildly.
″′like the souls in purgatory,′ continued Phenicia, heedless of the interruption, ′if it were not for the otherwise sad circumstance, that for a long time, although unnoticed, he has been subject to fits of insanity, and if on that unhappy day he had not drank so hard . . .′″
Phenicia was silent for some moments, her eyes fixed upon the ground.
"What are you mumbling about?" asked Venera, indignantly. "Is that attorney of yours a fool or a devil, that he lies and slanders people so? Archangelo has a mind as clear as the sun, and you well know that he never drinks, and did not drink on that day."
After another brief silence, Phenicia continued: "The attorney also said to me: ′Unfortunately, the court refuses to believe your husband. It argues most inhumanly, that the madness that he exhibits here is not real, but assumed. Think how wickedly-disposed people are; it is even said that he does this at my advice.′″
Phenicia again relapsed into silence; but now Venera smiled craftily; she began to comprehend what was the question at issue.
"A Solomon, a very Solomon, that attorney of yours! "she exclaimed." What more did he say?"
"′A witness was needed,′ went on Phenicia, in a voice almost inaudible. ′No one but yourself can be that important witness, Mistress Phenica. According to law, no one can compel you to testify in your husband's suit; no one can make you take the oath; but the law will admit your testimony, if you offer it of your own accord. If you wish, you will be taken under oath′ . . . thus spoke that attorney, and every word was impressed into my memory as if it were cut there with a knife."
She said no more, but remained sitting there, her eyes still fixed upon the ground.
"You will not swear—of course, you will not!" cried Venera excitedly. "You knew how to bring my son into misfortune—yes, you—do not stare at me so astonished! With you misfortune moved under our roof. How can I tell what curse may be attached to you, and why? But this much I do know, you will never save Archangelo."
Phenicia sighed. Her eyes turned away from the hard, unjust old woman and sought the face of the pale Christ, but she said no more, and Venera remained silent.Time passed on, and in the Corvejo palace all was silent as the grave. No one was either seen or heard there except poor Carmenio, who sat at work before the portal.
"Is Venera dead?" wondered old Nunziata, spinning beneath her fig tree. "And that poor Phenicia flits about like a shadow, without blood or voice."
But one day Phenicia appeared under the shade of the fig tree and begged Nunziata to persuade her grandson again to lend her his mule.
"Where are you going?" asked Nunziata.
"To Messina, grandma, to testify."
"To testify—to testify!" and grandma Nunziata shook her head dubiously. After a pause, she said: "May God strengthen you, my daughter. Nanni will gladly lend you the mule . . . to testify!"
Phenicia thanked her, and, entering the house, said to Venera:
"To-morrow I go to Messina. Nanni is a good boy; he will lend me his mule again . . . I will testify." She sat down upon the edge of the bed.
Venera sprang up, and standing before her daughter-in-law, and piercing her pale face with her eyes, asked between closely set teeth: "What will you testify?"
"What else but the truth?" replied Phenicia, and her lips trembled like an aspen leaf. She raised her eyes to the crucifix, but instantly dropped them.
The journey to Messina, the streets there full of noise, the great house where the court was held, the witnesses, the long speeches, all seemed to her like an endless dream, full of trouble and misery. She fancied she could hear the ocean, and the wind roaring about her. The people seemed to be moving to and fro in a mist, like ghosts, their eyes like daggers—like live coals. Among the witnesses she saw Marie, with her child in her arms, a triumphant smile upon her lips. She was speaking of the island of Pantellarie, where the sun shines so hot that the bones of the prisoners bleach out beneath the skin, which becomes hard and dry like parchment. Her head went round and she did not know what it was that the attorney whispered to her again and again, when he met her in the entry. Why did he speak to her? What did he want? Why, she knew all.
That fearful roaring of the wind and the sea suddenly stopped, and she felt as though she lay in a grave, it was so quiet now, both within and around her, and she then realized that she stood in a great hall, which easily could have held half of the palace of Corvejo. From the elevated tribune behind her, thousands of curious eyes, glowing strangely, watched her; and before her, between two burning candles, stood a crucifix. She shuddered from head to foot. She thought of that pale, dying Christ in her home in Taormin, the crown of thorns upon his head, and of his bleeding side. Her hand involuntarily sought her heart . . . she was overcome with a sort of stupor, and she felt as if she was slowly and noiselessly sliding down an inclined surface—down, down, but she no longer cared where . . . Pale, calm, and beautiful she stood before the court.
A strange, monotonous voice came from the silence, like a spring bubbling from a rock; it was addressed to her. Yes, she finally understood that some one spoke to her. He explained to her that she was not obliged to testify, but that if she wished to do so she would be sworn. Then followed a short exposition of the duties of witnesses, the wickedness of perjury, its consequences both in this world and the next. It seemed to her that she had heard all this before. She could not listen with out impatience; she was waiting for some thing else, she herself not knowing what. But suddenly it came, the question that, according to her instructions, she expected, and to which she replied: "I wish to be sworn."
For the first time she raised her large beaming eyes, dark as the night and bright as the gold on the robe of the Madonna, as Nunziata used to say. A murmur arose in the hall, like the hum in a bee-hive; they marveled at her beauty, and in an instant she had the sympathy of all. She repeated the oath word for word, as it was read to her, and her voice did not tremble. Then came the examination. She replied briefly, clearly and with decision, but with a strange emphasis, as if she were trying to convince some one, and not merely replying to given questions. It thus came to light that Archangelo was the unhappy sufferer from temporary attacks of insanity, but that his wife succeeded in hiding it from the neighbors; and on the day of his assault of Don Agostino he had drank, and drank, and drank! She did not know where he bought the wine, nor where he got the money for it, no more than he could recollect it now; but she persistently declared that he drank, out of despair, and that no one but herself knew it . . . She had told all.
She was questioned no further, and was allowed to retire to the witnesses' room. As she passed the benches where the jury sat, a low voice coming from that direction said: "That woman testified falsely."
Phenicia felt as if she had been struck. She looked up. All eyes were fixed upon her, and in every face she could read the words, "testified falsely!"
But at the same time she saw deep sympathy there. They had guessed her extremity, her great sacrifice.
They pitied her! But would God pity her?
Her strength failed her. She fell into a swoon so deep that it lasted an hour. In the meantime, Archangelo's fate had been decided, and he was now a free man. Both the jury and the people were roused to indignation against Don Agostino on account of his heartless treatment of the poor family: and the state's attorney called forth a general feeling of resentment, by daring to apply the epithet of villain to the poor, heart-broken, and repentant Archangelo. His attorney, an eloquent young lawyer, scored a signal victory, as in burning words he depicted the sufferings of the stricken family, forsaken both by God and man, and hiding their misfortune within the shadows of the ruined old palace of Corvejo. . . . He pictured the condition of the poor little orphans dying of hunger, whom Archangelo so magnanimously had taken as his own: the agony of the old mother, half crazed with want and despair: the energy of the young wife pursued by so dark a fate! . . . The vision of pale Phenicia with those large eyes, that calm voice, with her unbounded self denial, that did not hesitate to offer even her soul as a sacrifice to duty and love—that vision was before their eyes. That blessed lie of hers, so evident and yet so touching, saved Archangelo. He was pronounced "Not guilty!" and the whole hall broke forth in shouts and acclamations of joy.
Good times now came to the palace of Corvejo. All Taormin rejoiced to see Archangelo return well and freed from all prosecution; all Taormin applauded, like the people of Messina; and good old Nunziata, under her fig tree, danced with joy as well as her stiff old legs would allow.
Don Agostino resigned his office. He had the whole community against him, and did not wish to see the day, now so near at hand, when he would be obliged to pay Archangelo the money in dispute, those accursed 350 liras.
It now seemed to Archangelo that the whole of that wide expanse of country that any one, standing at the Catania gate and facing Ætna, could see was his own.
Don Agostino went to Riporta, where he had a brother; and, having an opportunity to buy a vineyard there, he never returned to Taormin. Marie and her husband, the lame tailor, also soon disappeared from the town; but Marie first laid away her infant to sleep under the cypress in that quiet graveyard that dreams above the sea, and into whose bosom white Mola gazes from her rocky height. Marie's tears flowed like the water from the cistern on the piazza of the cathedral; and old Nunziata, sitting upon the judgment seat, under the fig tree, like Deborah of old, sitting under the palm tree arid judging Israel, nodded her head; and in her simple, hard vengeance-invoking sense of justice, said: "Still lives that old God who punishes unto the third and fourth generation!" And she waved her distaff as a queen her royal scepter.
Nevertheless, there was not so much happiness in the palace of Corvejo as had at first appeared. True, Venera held her head higher than ever before, and prosperity smiled upon them to such an extent that Archangelo was enabled to send the two orphans, Anibal and Ettor, to Messina to learn a trade, when once his neighbor, godfather Masi, went there to visit his brother, the carpenter. But the pallor that had settled upon the face of Phenicia during the days of their adversity never left it; day by day she grew thinner, and her eyes glowed like eternally burning lamps. A smile rarely visited her features, and when it did there was something so unnatural and woful in it that it awoke pain rather than pleasure.
The gossips soon noticed this and began to whisper among themselves. At first this whispering was low, very low, but it grew like the roar of the wind before a storm, when some of Agostino's old friends began to relate how it was in regard to that testimony in Messina. On one occasion, when Venera had a quarrel with the aunt of the lame tailor about a hen, the red-headed Agrippina, the latter cried out in her wrath, "I would not light my candle by your fire. Bad luck would surely visit me. You, mother of a robber, mother-in-law of a perjurer! The holy water should have been thrown into a ditch, rather than upon your head, in baptism!"
"Do you not fear God!" cried old Nunziata, "What monstrous story have you conjured up? A plague upon your tongue!"
"Conjured up, conjured up!" screamed Agrippina, "doesn't the whole town know it? Why does not Phenicia go to confession any longer? Do you think we are blind. Eh?" And she hurried away, laughing scornfully, and smoothing down the feathers of her black hen.
Venera uttered never a word, and Nunziata, too, remained silent. Phenicia standing by the window heard all. She turned white as a sheet, her eyes blazed wildly and her lips twitched convulsively. From that time she was never seen at mass.
Venera, greatly alarmed, told everywhere that Phenicia was very ill, and for that reason hardly ever left the house. Archangelo spoke with no one, and from that time really began to drink. For hours he would sit in the small tavern kept by Uncle Antonio, and play dominoes with disreputable characters, draining glass after glass of wine and mixed drinks, and in his gloomy reserve it seemed as if he really were losing his mind.
"Is it God's judgment?" whispered Venera, as she fingered her rosary and feared to look up at the crucified Christ. But Phenicia, in her distress, looked into his agonized face all day long, silently wringing her hands. She was very, very ill.
Thus passed the winter, which was unusually severe. While it lasted, the palace of Corvejo was never free from cold winds that chased each other through the empty corridors. Very likely that was why Phenicia constantly trembled.
But when the spring came, when the sun smiled upon the hill slopes, when every where glowed the almond blooms like Easter candles, then Venera thought that her daughter-in-law would be better. Nunziata was right when she said that the sun was our best physician, and cold and dark ness our worst enemies.
And one morning when the whole sky seemed one mass of roses, and the air interwoven with gold and diamonds, Phenicia suddenly appeared before the house with some color in her cheeks and a smile upon her lips as she said to Carmenio:
"It has occurred to me, Carmenio, that Passion Week is approaching. How beautiful it used to be up in Mola! . . . I'd like to know if the passion flowers still grow upon Aunt Pina's balcony, and whether she still keeps so much poultry. It is a long time since we were there. I'm going up to-day; come with me."
Carmenio was delighted, and throwing aside his hammer he ran into the house for his coat. In the meantime Phenicia stepped over to see grandmother Nunziata.
"What do you want in Mola?" asked Nunziata when she heard where Phenicia was going. "The way is very steep, and you are not well.""Oh yes, I am," replied Phenicia, "and what do I want there? Well, I want to see Father Philip," and after a pause she added, "I'm going to him to confession."
Nunziata nodded her head and looked not a little disturbed. "Why don't you go to confession here? Don Emilio is like oil, his words are sweet as honey, and his heart is full of compassion for poor erring sinners."
"I know it," said Phenicia, "and that is just why I am going to Father Philip."
"He is as pitiless as fire," Nunziata warned the young woman; "they say that he is a saint, and I do not question it. But from the time that that godless government destroyed his monastery, and he moved up to Mola—doubtless to be nearer heaven—he is so rigid that everybody is afraid of him. They say that the fires of purgatory flash from his eyes."
"Good-bye," said Phenicia lost in thought, and starting to go with her brother, who now returned with his best coat ready to accompany her.
The road leading from Taormin to Mola is precipitous and rocky, in fact, hewn out of the rock itself. On one side, towering high above one, are almost perpendicular walls, and on the other, one can look down into deep valleys, the bottoms of which are covered with fields and vineyards, and the sides with almond and fig trees. On this beautiful day the air was heavy with fragrance from the blossoming trees, and the sun kissed the sea and the mountains till they glowed. "The Mountain," as the Sicilians, for short, call Ætna, rising dark above a green hill, snow covering its summit, white clouds heaped about its zone, and sending forth volumes of white glistening smoke from its crater, seemed so near that one could almost touch it with. It stood there like some isolated Titan, bathing his head in ether and in the sea.
The brother and sister walked slowly up the steep road, giving little heed to the scenery about them. Many people passed them, some going up to Mola, some down to Taormin, and greetings were heard from all sides. Carmenio replied to them, Phenicia's mind being too preoccupied to hear them. With her head bowed low she walked on. Suddenly she stopped at a place where there was a well made by a spring issuing from the rock. It rang out like a bell as it fell against the rocks, and sang merrily as it lost itself in the grass.
"I am thirsty," she said, as she bent down and drank of the cool water. Then she raised her head and looked about her.
"How do you feel?" asked Carmenio.
"The peace of angels and the glory of approaching Easter seem to lie over the country," replied Phenicia, opening wide her large dreamy eyes and leaning against the rock as she contemplated the scene before her. Like gigantic stairs the rocks were piled up one above the other, from the sea to where she was standing, and on the highest one directly beneath her feet, stood an old Moorish castle. How often as a child had she looked down from that very spot into the grass-covered court, and dreamed with horror of the Moors, those heathen robbers, who broke crucifixes. Her eyes now wandered far down into the furrowed valley, within whose rocky recesses vineyards were hiding, and fields and or chards lay smiling, all bathed in a glow of molten gold. The blue sea foamed like milk around the island of St. Andrea far down beyond Taormin, whose white houses lay in groups between the Greek theatre and the church of St. Pancratium. The long rays of the sun played about the mouldering walls of the theatre, changing them to burnished metal. And beyond the golden, billowy sea could be seen the bblue, yellow, pink and purple rocks of Mount Calabria, naked and desolate as a desert.
Phenicia, however, looked neither at the sea nor at the Calabrian rocks; her eyes, dim with tears, were fixed upon a group of blossoming almond trees beneath which the grass grew luxuriantly, and in whose branches small birds were warbling, darting about like arrows as if they were trying to catch the rays of the sun. The soft murmur of leaves and birds reached the rock where Phenicia stood, and behind her the spring sang on and on . . .
Suddenly she leaned so far over the abyss, that Carmenio, alarmed, seized her by the shoulder. "What are you doing? You will fall," he warned her.
"He appeared to me," she murmured abstractedly, gazing before her into the empty air.
"Who? To whom?"
"O Christ, Christ!" whispered Phenicia, and her hands moved as though they were trying to seize some one by the robe.
"Are you raving? Talking in a dream?" he cried. Phenicia rubbed her eyes.
"Oh," she said, "I thought I saw Him down below walking under the almond trees." And after a moment's pause she added sadly: "It was an illusion." Then she became lost in thought until finally she addressed her brother.
"Look, my Carmenio," she said, "look and tell me if that garden where He appeared to Mary Magdalen on the day of the resurrection could have been more beautiful than that yonder?" She bowed her head and they walked slowly on.
In a short time, they reached the gate of the town, and then betook themselves through poor, ill-kept, narrow streets to the house of their uncle.
Aunt Pina, seeing that they were empty-handed, did not receive them very cordially. She fell at once to complaining of hard times, and did not ask them twice to drink the sour wine, which, after a brief in ward struggle, she poured out into small glasses for them.
"I shall come back to you after mass, auntie," said Phenicia, starting up after resting a short time. Carmenio followed her. She walked rapidly, passed quickly through the portico of mouldering red marble, in whose arch the frescoes were sadly fading, fell upon her face before the humble altar and remained kneeling thus a long time.
The women around the confessional raised their heads in curiosity, then bowed them again and continued their prayers.
The hard, stern face of Father Philip, yellow, wrinkled and scowling, appeared from time to time in the dim light of the confessional, when the zealous monk rested a few moments and dropped the curtain concealing him from view. Then he again inclined his head to listen to the sins confided to him, his pitiless words of reproof, uttered in a subdued, whispered voice, sounding weird and fearful in the deep silence.
Carmenio crouched in a corner, and weary with the long journey, soon fell asleep in the grateful coolness of the church, upon whose threshold the sun played and within whose walls were mingled the faint odors of incense and of flowers.
He did not know how long he had slept, when he was suddenly awakened by a piercing cry of distress. It was Phenicia's voice. He sprang up alarmed and looked in the direction whence came that fearful wail. What he saw there seemed to him like a wild dream. The monk stood up right before the confessional, out of which he had just stepped, and with a repellant gesture tried to drive away Phenicia, who with one hand held him by the robe, while the other clutched her hair. Her face was livid, her eyes stared wildly as if in the agony of death, and seemed starting from their sockets. . . . "For the dear souls of your dead," cried Phenicia hoarsely, "for the precious wounds of our Savior!"
The priest looked at her severely and in silence, loosened his robe, and walked away. . . . The women who were still in the church arose from their knees in alarm, forgetting to finish their prayers. With a deep groan Phenicia fell upon her face and dug her nails into the stone floor against which she was striking her forehead.
When the monk had disappeared, the startled women began to talk: "What has she done that he refused to give her absolution?" "Murder?" "Yes, yes!" "No," said an old woman standing near Carmenio, "I know what it was, I heard it down below in Taormin. She swore falsely."
"A lie, a lie!" screamed Carmenio, for getting that he was in church. They looked at him in amazement. The old woman touched the half-dead Phenicia, saying: "My child, do not despair, God can still forgive."
Phenicia arose, stared around like one awakening from a dream, and then flew out of the church.
Carmenio tried to follow her, but his legs shook so he was compelled to sit down under the portal. Nobody paid any attention to him. The people came out of the houses: it seemed to him as if they grew out of the pavement, and what at first was but low whisperings, now broke out into loud words, and the whole crowd spoke of nothing else but of the sin Phenicia had been guilty of, and that the priest had refused to give her absolution. Carmenio could bear it no longer; he arose and dragged his weary body along the crooked streets towards the gate of the town. But another crowd was coming from that direction. Their gestures were wild, their eyes shone and they were talking in an excited manner. "They are bringing her—they are bringing her!" sounded in Carmenio's ears. "Whom?" he asked, half crazed. "Whom are they bringing?"
"Your sister, Carmenio." said an old man sympathetically.
"Poor woman, she threw herself down from the rock near the spring!"
"A wicked ending will not correct a sinful life," severely remarked one of the women standing by.
Carmenio could not utter a word. He saw that the men carried something upon their shoulders, that it was covered with a cloth, and that it had the form of a human body.
"We brought her up with great difficulty; it was no easy task, I can assure you," explained one of the men.
They pushed Carmenio aside, because he stood in the way, and carried her into the house of Aunt Pina, where they laid her upon a bed by the window opposite the old mouldering balcony covered with a luxuriant growth of passion flowers. Aunt Pina was no friend to noise and confusion: she therefore drove the curious crowd out of the house, then raised the cloth that still covered the motionless form of the young woman. The lips were blue. Aunt Pina placed her hand upon Phenicia's forehead.
"Like a stone," she said. "It is all over." Nevertheless, after a short interval, she sent for a priest. He came,—not the monk Father Philip,—but Father Ambrosio, their pastor. Hardly had he entered the room when Phenicia's body gave a slight tremor and she slowly opened her eyes.
"You have brought her a happy death, Father Ambrosio," said Aunt Pina, giving him a chair and leaving the room. Carmenio remained. The priest took her hand; he had known her from childhood, and was deeply moved.
"Unhappy child," he said tenderly, "you wished to escape the reproaches of conscience, and you chose sin. Do you not know there is another way out of such agony? God be merciful to you."
Her eyes brightened, her lips trembled, she motioned to him to bend down to her, for she could not speak above a whisper.
"I am so happy," she said, "so happy!"
He looked at her in amazement. She now caught sight of Carmenio, and motioned him to approach. When he crawled to her on his knees, she took him by the hand and looked at him with emotion. With the other hand she held the old priest and again whispered, "God is inexpressibly good, our Savior is so kind; Oh, so kind!" She closed her eyes, and did not open them for some time. Then she said almost aloud: "I was not seeking death; I fell."
"Beware of a falsehood," said the priest, "God cannot be deceived."
She smiled sweetly and continued in a broken voice: "Certainly, and therefore I speak the truth. . . . What good would it do to deny the truth, and deceive my own self, as I did that time in Messina. . . . I testified falsely, persuading myself that I was doing my duty. . . . We were so wronged, and they wanted to wrong us still more. . . . Night and day I prayed to our Savior to tell me what to do, and it seemed to me that He replied: ′Listen to the voice of your heart!′ I did so, Father Ambrosio, and endured such agony,—agony worse than that of souls in purgatory. Yes, worse than lost souls suffer in hell. . ."
She closed her eyes and breathed with great difficulty. It appeared that she was suffering intensely. She remained silent a long time, then began to whisper again: "When I fled from the church as if pursued by demons. I ran—I did not know where, until I found myself by the spring. . . . Carmenio, there where the almond trees bloom down below. . . . It seemed to me that I saw Him again under the trees. . . . Christ our Lord. . . . He was like the morning sun. I threw myself at His feet. . . . That was how I fell. . . . But, Father Ambrosio, I did not know what I was doing, I did not feel the pain in my limbs as I feel it now. I raised my hands to Him and in mortal agony cried: ′Have mercy on me!′ And His eyes in which I expected to see reproof, were full of goodness, and He raised His hand, not as if wishing to destroy me, or drive me away, but as though commanding me to arise. The light shining in His eyes was like the dawn, that meant mercy. . . . ′You forgive me?′ I asked, and He bowed His head. . . ."
Phenicia was silent, and a bloody foam appeared upon her lips. Carmenio wiped it off with his handkerchief. Then spoke the priest in a low voice, "My daughter, it was an illusion."
"Perhaps," she replied, a strange smile playing about her lips, "perhaps so, Father Ambrosio, but I know that He forgave me."
"And so do I in His name," said the priest, solemnly. "Amen," exclaimed Carmenio, and burst into tears.
Phenicia closed her eyes. A stream of blood flowed from her mouth; her mind began to wander, and she did not regain her consciousness, although she breathed and suffered greatly for a whole day and night. Uncle Petrone wanted to send to Taormin for a physician, but Aunt Pina objected, saying it was of no use; and she was right. "And who will pay the bill?" she added, and that settled it, for Uncle Petrone was very close with his savings.
They carried her from the little chamber into which the light passed through the foliage of the passion flowers, and laid her away to rest in the picturesque little cemetery situated between Mount Venera and Mount Ætna. In the evening, when it is very quiet, one may hear the music of the spring there, as it falls ringing against the rocks, and losing itself in the green grass.
After Phenicia's death, Archangelo placed his lamenting mother upon a mule, and moved to Messina. He would live no longer in Taormin. Other people moved to the Corvejo palace. That pale Christ, upon whom Phenicia's eyes had gazed in mortal agony, was bought by that same English woman to whom, years before, Venera had refused to sell it. This time she sold him well, consequently did not reproach herself for being a Judas. That Christ now hangs in an old English monastery, in one of the western counties, among faded Gobelins, pearl-covered icons, gilded images of Buddha dreaming upon the lotus leaf, and other curiosities; and it seems as if in England, beneath that gloomy sky, covered with eternal clouds, he is homesick for sunny Sicily.
In Taormin no one of the family remained except poor Carmenio. He still sits before the Corvejo palace, beating at his kettles, and thinking of Phenicia. They say that since her death he is somewhat deranged. They shake their heads dubiously when he, at times, begins to relate to them how Christ appeared to his sister, beneath the blossoming almond trees.
"She expected the lightnings of his wrath, and he threw her a rose," is the usual end of his story. Thus a legend has been formed in his poor, weak head. If he notices an incredulous smile he grumbles out," You think with that old priest up in Mola, that it was merely an illusion? Of course, of course. He cannot appear to us poor, unfortunate ones, can He? He never comforted those whom the world scorned? He broke the bruised reed, did He not? An illusion, an illusion, when Phenicia saw Him." And he bangs away at the kettle.
"Who can say that it is not so?" says old Nunziata, taking his part.
I agreed with old Nunziata, still sitting, I hope, beneath her fig tree, and with her dry, faded fingers, spinning an uneven thread."Who can say that it is not so," I thought, as seated upon the porch in my home in Taormin, one evening, after my return from Mola, I sketched this simple tale, as it was related to me by that simple folk.
- Englished by Frances Gregor.Published in 1892 by Bursick & Kohout, Prague, in a collection of stories by the same author, entitled "Stratonika and other Tales."