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HOME > Classical Novels > The Miracles of Antichrist > III THE GOD-SISTER
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In the noble island of Sicily, where there are more old customs left than in any other place in the south, it is always the habit of every one while yet a child to choose a god-brother or god-sister, who shall carry his or her children to be christened, if there ever are any.

But this is not by any means the only use god-brothers and sisters have of one another. God-brothers and sisters must love one another, serve one another, and revenge one another. In a god-brother’s ear a man can bury his secrets. He can trust him with both money and sweetheart, and not be deceived. God-brothers and sisters are as faithful to each other as if they were born of the same mother, because their covenant is made before San Giovanni Battista, who is the most feared of all the saints.

It is also the custom for the poor to take their half-grown children to rich people and ask that they may be god-brothers and sisters to their young sons and daughters. What a glad sight it is on the holy Baptist’s day to see all those little children in festival array wandering through the great towns looking for a god-brother or sister! If the parents succeed in giving their son a rich god-brother, they are as glad as if they were able to leave him a farm as an inheritance.


When Gaetano first came to Diamante, there was a little girl who was always coming in and out of Donna Elisa’s shop. She had a red cloak and pointed cap and eight heavy, black curls that stood out under the cap. Her name was Giannita, and she was daughter of Donna Olivia, who sold vegetables. But Donna Elisa was her god-mother, and therefore thought what she could do for her.

Well, when midsummer day came, Donna Elisa ordered a carriage and drove down to Catania, which lies full twenty miles from Diamante. She had Giannita with her, and they were both dressed in their best. Donna Elisa was dressed in black silk with jet, and Giannita had a white tulle dress with garlands of flowers. In her hand Giannita held a basket of flowers, and among the flowers lay a pomegranate.

The journey went well for Donna Elisa and Giannita. When at last they reached the white Catania, that lies and shines on the black lava background, they drove up to the finest palace in the town.

It was lofty and wide, so that the poor little Giannita felt quite terrified at the thought of going into it. But Donna Elisa walked bravely in, and she was taken to Cavaliere Palmeri and his wife who owned the house.

Donna Elisa reminded Signora Palmeri that they were friends from infancy, and asked that Giannita might be her young daughter’s god-sister.

That was agreed upon, and the young signorina was called in. She was a little marvel of rose-colored silk, Venetian lace, big, black eyes, and thick, bushy hair. Her little body was so small and thin that one hardly noticed it.


Giannita offered her the basket of flowers, and she graciously accepted it. She looked long and thoughtfully at Giannita, walked round her, and was fascinated by her smooth, even curls. When she had seen them, she ran after a knife, cut the pomegranate and gave Giannita half.

While they ate the fruit, they held each other’s hand and both said:—
“Sister, sister, sister mine!
Thou art mine, and I am thine,
Thine my house, my bread and wine,
Thine my joys, my sacrifice,
Thine my place in Paradise.”

Then they kissed each other and called each other god-sister.

“You must never fail me, god-sister,” said the little signorina, and both the children were very serious and moved.

They had become such good friends in the short time that they cried when they parted.

But then twelve years went by and the two god-sisters lived each in her own world and never met. During the whole time Giannita was quietly in her home and never came to Catania.

But then something really strange happened. Giannita sat one afternoon in the room back of the shop embroidering. She was very skilful and was often overwhelmed with work. But it is trying to the eyes to embroider, and it was dark in Giannita’s room. She had therefore half-opened the door into the shop to get a little more light.

Just after the clock had struck four, the old miller’s widow, Rosa Alfari, came walking by. Donna Olivia’s shop was very attractive from the[51] street. The eyes fell through the half-open door on great baskets with fresh vegetables and bright-colored fruits, and far back in the background the outline of Giannita’s pretty head. Rosa Alfari stopped and began to talk to Donna Olivia, simply because her shop looked so friendly.

Laments and complaints always followed old Rosa Alfari. Now she was sad because she had to go to Catania alone that night. “It is a misfortune that the post-wagon does not reach Diamante before ten,” she said. “I shall fall asleep on the way, and perhaps they will then steal my money. And what shall I do when I come to Catania at two o’clock at night?”

Then Giannita suddenly called out into the shop. “Will you take me with you to Catania, Donna Alfari?” she asked, half in joke, without expecting an answer.

But Rosa Alfari said eagerly, “Lord, child, will you go with me? Will you really?”

Giannita came out into the shop, red with pleasure. “If I will!” she said. “I have not been in Catania for twelve years.”

Rosa Alfari looked delightedly at her; Giannita was tall and strong, her eyes gay, and she had a careless smile on her lips. She was a splendid travelling companion.

“Get ready,” said the old woman. “You will go with me at ten o’clock; it is settled.”

The next day Giannita wandered about the streets of Catania. She was thinking the whole time of her god-sister. She was strangely moved to be so near her again. She loved her god-sister, Giannita, and she did it not only because San Giovanni has commanded people to love their god-brothers and[52] sisters. She had adored the little child in the silk dress; she was the most beautiful thing she had ever seen. She had almost become her idol.

She knew this much about her sister, that she was still unmarried and lived in Catania. Her mother was dead, and she had not been willing to leave her father, and had stayed as hostess in his house. “I must manage to see her,” thought Giannita.

Whenever Giannita met a well-appointed carriage she thought: “Perhaps it is my god-sister driving there.” And she stared at everybody to see if any of them was like the little girl with the thick hair and the big eyes.

Her heart began to beat wildly. She had always longed for her god-sister. She herself was still unmarried, because she liked a young wood-carver, Gaetano Alagona, and he had never shown the slightest desire to marry her. Giannita had often been angry with him for that, and not least had it irritated her never to be able to invite her god-sister to her wedding.

She had been so proud of her, too. She had thought herself finer than the others, because she had such a god-sister. What if she should now go to see her, since she was in the town? It would give a lustre to the whole journey.

As she thought and thought of it, a newspaper-boy came running. “Giornale da Sicilia,” he called. “The Palmeri affair! Great embezzlements!”

Giannita seized the boy by the neck as he rushed by. “What are you saying?” she screamed. “You lie, you lie!” and she was ready to strike him.

“Buy my paper, signora, before you strike me,”[53] said the boy. Giannita bought the paper and began to read. She found in it without difficulty the Palmeri affair.

“Since this case is to be tried to-day in the courts,” wrote the paper, “we will give an account of it.”

Giannita read and read. She read it over and over before she understood. There was not a muscle in her body which did not begin to tremble with horror when she at last comprehended it.

Her god-sister’s father, who had owned great vineyards, had been ruined, because the blight had laid them waste. And that was not the worst. He had also dissipated a charitable fund which had been intrusted to him. He was arrested, and to-day he was to be tried.

Giannita crushed the newspaper together, threw it into the street and trampled on it. It deserved no better for bringing such news.

Then she stood quite crushed that this should meet her when she came to Catania for the first time in twelve years. “Lord God,” she said, “is there any meaning in it?”

At home, in Diamante, no one would ever have taken the trouble to tell her what was going on. Was it not destiny that she should be here on the very day of the trial?

“Listen, Donna Alfari,” she said; “you may do as you like, but I must go to the court.”

There was a decision about Giannita. Nothing could disturb her. “Do you not understand that it is for this, and not for your sake, that God has induced you to take me with you to Catania?” she said to Rosa Alfari.


Giannita did not doubt for a moment that there was something supernatural in it all.

Rosa Alfari must needs let her go, and she found her way to the Palace of Justice. She stood among the street boys and riff-raff, and saw Cavaliere Palmeri on the bench of the accused. He was a fine gentleman, with a white, pointed beard and moustache. Giannita recognized him.

She heard that he was condemned to six months’ imprisonment, and Giannita thought she saw even more plainly that she had come there as an emissary from God. “Now my god-sister must need me,” she thought.

She went out into the street again and asked her way to the Palazzo Palmeri.

On the way a carriage drove by her. She looked up, and her eyes met those of the lady who sat in the carriage. At the same moment something told her that this was her god-sister. She who was driving was pale and bent and had beseeching eyes. Giannita loved her from the first sight. “It is you who have given me pleasure many times,” she said, “because I expected pleasure from you. Now perhaps I can pay you back.”

Giannita felt filled with devotion when she went up the high, white marble steps to the Palazzo Palmeri, but suddenly a doubt struck her. “What can God wish me to do for one who has grown up in such magnificence?” she thought. “Does our Lord forget that I am only poor Giannita from Diamante?”

She told a servant to greet Signorina Palmeri and say to her that her god-sister wished to speak to her. She was surprised when the servant came back[55] and said that she could not be received that day. Should she be content with that? Oh, no; oh, no!

“Tell the signorina that I am going to wait here the whole day, for I must speak to her.”

“The signorina is going to move out of the palace in half an hour,” said the servant.

Giannita was beside herself. “But I am her god-sister, her god-sister, do you not understand?” she said to the man. “I must speak to her.” The servant smiled, but did not move.

But Giannita would not be turned away. Was she not sent by God? He must understand, understand, she said, and raised her voice. She was from Diamante and had not been in Catania for twelve years. Until yesterday afternoon at four o’clock she had not thought of coming here. He must understand, not until yesterday afternoon at four o’clock.

The servant stood motionless. Giannita was ready to tell him the whole story to move him, when the door was thrown open. Her god-sister stood on the threshold.

“Who is speaking of yesterday at four o’clock?” she said.

“It is a stranger, Signorina Micaela.”

Then Giannita rushed forward. It was not at all a stranger. It was her god-sister from Diamante, who came here twelve years ago with Donna Elisa. Did she not remember her? Did she not remember that they had divided a pomegranate?

The signorina did not listen to that. “What was it that happened yesterday at four o’clock?” she asked, with great anxiety.

“I then got God’s command to go to you, god-sister,” said Giannita.


The other looked at her in terror. “Come with me,” she said, as if afraid that the servant should hear what Giannita wished to say to her.

She went far into the apartment before she stopped. Then she turned so quickly towards Giannita that she was frightened. “Tell me instantly!” she said. “Do not torture me; let me hear it instantly!”

She was as tall as Giannita, but very unlike her. She was more delicately made, and she, the woman of the world, had a much more wild and untamed appearance than the country girl. Everything she felt showed in her face. She did not try to conceal it.

Giannita was so astonished at her violence that she could not answer at first.

Then her god-sister lifted her arms in despair over her head and the words streamed from her lips. She said that she knew that Giannita had been commanded by God to bring her word of new misfortunes. God hated her, she knew it.

Giannita clasped her hands. God hate her! on the contrary, on the contrary!

“Yes, yes,” said Signorina Palmeri. “It is so.” And as she was inwardly afraid of the message Giannita had for her, she began to talk. She did not let her speak; she interrupted her constantly. She seemed to be so terrified by everything that had happened to her during the last days that she could not at all control herself.

Giannita must understand that God hated her, she said. She had done something so terrible. She had forsaken her father, failed her father. Giannita must have read the last account. Then she burst out again in passionate questionings. Why did she[57] not tell her what she wished to tell her? She did not expect anything but bad news. She was prepared.

But poor Giannita never got a chance to speak; as soon as she began, the signorina became frightened and interrupted her. She told her story as if to induce Giannita not to be too hard to her.

Giannita must not think that her unhappiness only came from the fact of her no longer having her carriage, or a box at the theatre, or beautiful dresses, or servants, or even a roof over her head. Neither was it enough that she had now lost all her friends, so that she did not at all know where she should ask for shelter. Neither was it misfortune enough that she felt such shame that she could not raise her eyes to any one’s face.

But there was something else much worse.

She sat down, and was silent a moment, while she rocked to and fro in agony. But when Giannita began to speak, she interrupted her.

Giannita could not think how her father had loved her. He had always had her live in splendor and magnificence, like a princess.

She had not done much for him; only let him think out delightful things to amuse her. It had been no sacrifice to remain unmarried, for she had never loved any one like her father, and her own home had been finer than any one else’s.

But one day her father had come and said to her, “They wish to arrest me. They are spreading the report that I have stolen, but it is not true.” Then she had believed him, and helped him to hide from the Carabinieri. And they had looked for him in vain in Catania, on Etna, over the whole of Sicily.

But when the police could not find Cavaliere[58] Palmeri, the people began to say: “He is a fine gentleman, and they are fine gentlemen who help him; otherwise they would have found him long ago.” And the prefect in Catania had come to her. She received him smiling, and the prefect came as if to talk of roses, and the beautiful weather. Then he said: “Will the signorina look at this little paper? Will the signorina read this little letter? Will the signorina observe this little signature?” She read and read. And what did she see? Her father was not innocent. Her father had taken the money of others.

When the prefect had left her, she had gone to her father. “You are guilty,” she said to him. “You may do what you will, but I cannot help you any more.” Oh, she had not known what she said! She had always been very proud. She had not been able to bear to have their name stamped with dishonor. She had wished for a moment that her father had been dead, rather than that this had happened to her. Perhaps she had also said it to him. She did not rightly know what she had said.

But after that God had forsaken her. The most terrible things had happened. Her father had taken her at her word. He had gone and given himself up. And ever since he had been in prison he had not been willing to see her. He did not answer her letters, and the food that she sent him he sent back untouched. That was the most dreadful thing of all. He seemed to think that she wished to kill him.

She looked at Giannita as anxiously as if she awaited her sentence of death.

“Why do you not say to me what you have to say?” she exclaimed. “You are killing me!”


But it was impossible for her to force herself to be silent.

“You must know,” she continued, “that this palace is sold, and the purchaser has let it to an English lady, who is to move in to-day. Some of her things were brought in already yesterday, and among them was a little image of Christ.

“I caught sight of it as I passed through the vestibule, Giannita. They had taken it out of a trunk, and it lay there on the floor. It had been so neglected that no one took any trouble about it. Its crown was dented, and its dress dirty, and all the small ornaments which adorned it were rusty and broken. But when I saw it lying on the floor, I took it up and carried it into the room and placed it on a table. And while I did so, it occurred to me that I would ask its help. I knelt down before it and prayed a long time. ‘Help me in my great need!’ I said to the Christchild.

“While I prayed, it seemed to me that the image wished to answer me. I lifted my head, and the child stood there as dull as before, but a clock began to strike just then. It struck four, and it was as if it had said four words. It was as if the Christchild had answered a fourfold yes to my prayer.

“That gave me courage, Giannita, so that to-day I drove to the Palace of Justice to see my father. But he never turned his eyes toward me during the whole time he stood before his judges.

“I waited until they were about to lead him away, and threw myself on my knees before him in one of the narrow passages. Giannita, he let the soldiers lead me away without giving me a word.

“So, you see, God hates me. When I heard you[60] speak of yesterday afternoon at four o’clock, I was so frightened. The Christchild sends me a new misfortune, I thought. It hates me for having failed my father.”

When she had said that, she was at last silent and listened breathlessly for what Giannita should say.

And Giannita told her story to her.

“See, see, is it not wonderful?” she said at the end. “I have not been in Catania for twelve years, and then I come here quite unexpectedly. And I know nothing at all; but as soon as I set my foot on the street here, I hear your misfortune. God has sent a message to me, I said to myself. He has called me here to help my god-sister.”

Signorina Palmeri’s eyes were turned anxiously questioning towards her. Now the new blow was coming. She gathered all her courage to meet it.

“What do you wish me to do for you, god-sister?” said Giannita. “Do you know what I thought as I was walking through the streets? I will ask her if she will go with me to Diamante, I thought. I know an old house there, where we could live cheaply. And I would embroider and sew, so that we could support ourselves. When I was out in the street I thought that it might be, but now I understand that it is impossible, impossible. You require something more of life; but tell me if I can do anything for you. You shall not thrust me away, for God has sent me.”

The signorina bent towards Giannita. “Well?” she said anxiously.

“You shall let me do what I can for you, for I love you,” said Giannita, and fell on her knees and put her arms about her.


“Have you nothing else to say?” asked the signorina.

“I wish I had,” said Giannita, “but I am only a poor girl.”

It was wonderful to see how the features of the young signorina’s face softened; how her color came back and how her eyes began to shine. Now it was plain that she had great beauty.

“Giannita,” she said, low and scarcely audibly, “do you think that it is a miracle? Do you think that God can let a miracle come to pass for my sake?”

“Yes, yes,” whispered Giannita back.

“I prayed the Christchild that he should help me, and he sends you to me. Do you think that it was the Christchild who sent you, Giannita?”

“Yes, it was; it was!”

“Then God has not forsaken me, Giannita?”

“No, God has not forsaken you.”

The god-sisters sat and wept for a while. It was quite quiet in the room. “When you came, Giannita, I thought that nothing was left me but to kill myself,” she said at last. “I did not know where to turn, and God hated me.”

“But tell me now what I can do for you, god-sister,” said Giannita.

As an answer the other drew her to her and kissed her.

“But it is enough that you are sent by the little Christchild,” she said. “It is enough that I know that God has not forsaken me.”

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