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II FRA GAETANO
Gaetano had lived with Donna Elisa a month, and had been as happy as a child can be. Merely to travel with Donna Elisa had been like driving behind gazelles and birds of paradise; but to live with her was to be carried on a golden litter, screened from the sun.

Then the famous Franciscan, Father Gondo, came to Diamante, and Donna Elisa and Gaetano went up to the square to listen to him. For Father Gondo never preached in a church; he always gathered the people about him by fountains or at the town gates.

The square was swarming with people; but Gaetano, who sat on the railing of the court-house steps, plainly saw Father Gondo where he stood on the curb-stone. He wondered if it could be true that the monk wore a horse-hair shirt under his robes, and that the rope that he had about his waist was full of knots and iron points to serve him as a scourge.

Gaetano could not understand what Father Gondo said, but one shiver after another ran through him at the thought that he was looking at a saint.

When the Father had spoken for about an hour, he made a sign with his hand that he would like to rest a moment. He stepped down from the steps of the fountain, sat down, and rested his face in his hands. While the monk was sitting so, Gaetano heard a[40] gentle roaring. He had never before heard any like it. He looked about him to discover what it was. And it was all the people talking. “Blessed, blessed, blessed!” they all said at once. Most of them only whispered and murmured; none called aloud, their devotion was too great. And every one had found the same word. “Blessed, blessed!” sounded over the whole market-place. “Blessings on thy lips; blessings on thy tongue; blessings on thy heart!”

The voices sounded soft, choked by weeping and emotion, but it was as if a storm had passed by through the air. It was like the murmuring of a thousand shells.

That took much greater hold of Gaetano than the monk’s sermon. He did not know what he wished to do, for that gentle murmuring filled him with emotion; it seemed almost to suffocate him. He climbed up on the iron railing, raised himself above all the others, and began to cry the same as they, but much louder, so that his voice cut through all the others.

Donna Elisa heard it and seemed to be displeased. She drew Gaetano down and would not stay any longer, but went home with him.

In the middle of the night Gaetano started up from his bed. He put on his clothes, tied together what he possessed in a bundle, set his hat on his head and took his shoes under his arm. He was going to run away. He could not bear to live with Donna Elisa.

Since he had heard Father Gondo, Diamante and Mongibello were nothing to him. Nothing was anything compared to being like Father Gondo, and[41] being blessed by the people. Gaetano could not live if he could not sit by the fountain in the square and tell legends.

But if Gaetano went on living in Donna Elisa’s garden, and eating peaches and mandarins, he would never hear the great human sea roar about him. He must go out and be a hermit on Etna; he must dwell in one of the big caves, and live on roots and fruits. He would never see a human being; he would never cut his hair; and he would wear nothing but a few dirty rags. But in ten or twenty years he would come back to the world. Then he would look like a beast and speak like an angel.

That would be another matter than wearing velvet clothes and a glazed hat, as he did now. That would be different from sitting in the shop with Donna Elisa and taking saint after saint down from the shelf and hearing her tell about what they had done. Several times he had taken a knife and a piece of wood and had tried to carve images of the saints. It was very hard, but it would be worse to make himself into a saint; much worse. However, he was not afraid of difficulties and privations.

He crept out of his room, across the attic and down the stair. It only remained to go through the shop out to the street, but on the last step he stopped. A faint light filtered through a crack in the door to the left of the stairs.

It was the door to Donna Elisa’s room, and Gaetano did not dare to go any further, since his foster mother had her candle lighted. If she was not asleep she would hear him when he drew the heavy bolts on the shop door. He sat softly down on the stairs to wait.

[42]

Suddenly he happened to think that Donna Elisa must sit up so long at night and work in order to get him food and clothes. He was much touched that she loved him so much as to want to do it. And he understood what a grief it would be to her if he should go.

When he thought of that he began to weep.

But at the same time he began to upbraid Donna Elisa in his thoughts. How could she be so stupid as to grieve because he went. It would be such a joy for her when he should become a holy man. That would be her reward for having gone to Palermo and fetched him.

He cried more and more violently while he was consoling Donna Elisa. It was hard that she did not understand what a reward she would receive.

There was no need for her to be sad. For ten years only would Gaetano live on the mountain, and then he would come back as the famous hermit Fra Gaetano. Then he would come walking through the streets of Diamante, followed by a great crowd of people, like Father Gondo. And there would be flags, and the houses would be decorated with cloths and wreaths. He would stop in front of Donna Elisa’s shop, and Donna Elisa would not recognize him and would be ready to fall on her knees before him. But so should it not be; he would kneel to Donna Elisa, and ask her forgiveness, because he had run away from her ten years ago. “Gaetano,” Donna Elisa would then answer, “you give me an ocean of joy against a little brook of sorrow. Should I not forgive you?”

Gaetano saw all this before him, and it was so beautiful that he began to weep more violently. He[43] was only afraid that Donna Elisa would hear how he was sobbing and come out and find him. And then she would not let him go.

He must talk sensibly with her. Would he ever give her greater pleasure than if he went now?

It was not only Donna Elisa, there was also Luca and Pacifica, who would be so glad when he came back as a holy man.

They would all follow him up to the market-place. There, there would be even more flags than in the streets, and Gaetano would speak from the steps of the town hall. And from all the streets and courts people would come streaming.

Then Gaetano would speak, so that they should all fall on their knees and cry: “Bless us, Fra Gaetano, bless us!”

After that he would never leave Diamante again. He would live under the great steps outside Donna Elisa’s shop.

And they would come to him with their sick, and those in trouble would make a pilgrimage to him.

When the syndic of Diamante went by he would kiss Gaetano’s hand.

Donna Elisa would sell Fra Gaetano’s image in her shop.

And Donna Elisa’s god-daughter, Giannita, would bow before Fra Gaetano and never again call him a stupid monk-boy.

And Donna Elisa would be so happy.

Ah … Gaetano started up, and awoke. It was bright daylight, and Donna Elisa and Pacifica stood and looked at him. And Gaetano sat on the stairs[44] with his shoes under his arm, his hat on his head and his bundle at his feet. But Donna Elisa and Pacifica wept. “He has wished to run away from us,” they said.

“Why are you sitting here, Gaetano?”

“Donna Elisa, I wanted to run away.”

Gaetano was in a good mood, and answered as boldly as if it had been the most natural thing in the world.

“Do you want to run away?” repeated Donna Elisa.

“I wished to go off on Etna and be a hermit.”

“And why are you sitting here now?”

“I do not know, Donna Elisa; I must have fallen asleep.”

Donna Elisa now showed how distressed she was. She pressed her hands over her heart, as if she had terrible pains, and she wept passionately.

“But now I shall stay, Donna Elisa,” said Gaetano.

“You, stay!” cried Donna Elisa. “You might as well go. Look at him, Pacifica, look at the ingrate! He is no Alagona. He is an adventurer.”

The blood rose in Gaetano’s face and he sprang to his feet and struck out with his hands in a way which astonished Donna Elisa. So had all the men of her race done. It was her father and her grandfather; she recognized all the powerful lords of the family of Alagona.

“You speak so because you know nothing about it, Donna Elisa,” said the boy. “No, no, you do not know anything; you do not know why I had to serve God. But you shall know it now. Do you see, it was long ago. My father and mother were so[45] poor, and we had nothing to eat; and so father went to look for work, and he never came back, and mother and we children were almost dead of starvation. So mother said: ‘We will go and look for your father.’ And we went. Night came and a heavy rain, and in one place a river flowed over the road. Mother asked in one house if we might pass the night there. No, they showed us out. Mother and children stood in the road and cried. Then mother tucked up her dress and went down into the stream that roared over the road. She had my little sister on her arm and my big sister by the hand and a big bundle on her head. I went after as near as I could. I saw mother lose her footing. The bundle she carried on her head fell into the stream, and mother caught at it and dropped little sister. She snatched at little sister and big sister was whirled away. Mother threw herself after them, and the river took her too. I was frightened and ran to the shore. Father Josef has told me that I escaped because I was to serve God for the dead, and pray for them. And that was why it was first decided that I was to be a monk, and why I now wish to go away on Etna and become a hermit. There is nothing else for me but to serve God, Donna Elisa.”

Donna Elisa was quite subdued. “Yes, yes, Gaetano,” she said, “but it hurts me so. I do not want you to go away from me.”

“No, I shall not go either,” said Gaetano. He was in such a good mood that he felt a desire to laugh. “I shall not go.”

“Shall I speak to the priest, so that you may be sent to a seminary?” asked Donna Elisa, humbly.

“No; but you do not understand, Donna Elisa;[46] you do not understand. I tell you that I will not go away from you. I have thought of something else.”

“What have you thought of?” she asked sadly.

“What do you suppose I was doing while I sat there on the stairs? I was dreaming, Donna Elisa. I dreamed that I was going to run away. Yes, Donna Elisa, I stood in the shop, and I was going to open the shop door, but I could not because there were so many locks. I stood in the dark and unlocked lock after lock, and always there were new ones. I made a terrible noise, and I thought: ‘Now surely Donna Elisa will come.’ At last the door opened, and I was going to rush out; but just then I felt your hand on my neck, and you drew me in, and I kicked, and I struck you because I was not allowed to go. But, Donna Elisa, you had a candle with you, and then I saw that it was not you, but my mother. Then I did not dare to struggle any more, and I was very frightened, for mother is dead. But mother took the bundle I was carrying and began to take out what was in it. Mother laughed and looked so glad, and I grew glad that she was not angry with me. It was so strange. What she drew out of the bundle was all the little saints’ images that I had carved while I sat with you in the shop, and they were so pretty. ‘Can you carve such pretty images, Gaetano?’ said mother. ‘Yes,’ I answered. ‘Then you can serve God by it,’ said mother. ‘Do I not need to leave Donna Elisa, then?’ ‘No,’ said mother. And just as mother said that, you waked me.”

Gaetano looked at Donna Elisa in triumph.

“What did mother mean by that?”

[47]

Donna Elisa only wondered.

Gaetano threw his head back and laughed.

“Mother meant that you should apprentice me, so that I could serve God by carving beautiful images of angels and saints, Donna Elisa.”
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