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VII THE BELLS OF SAN PASQUALE
The people of Diamante soon perceived that Don Ferrante’s wife, Donna Micaela, was nothing but a great child. She could never succeed in looking like a woman of the world, and she really was nothing but a child. And nothing else was to be expected, after the life she had led.

Of the world she had seen nothing but its theatres, museums, ball-rooms, promenades, and race courses; and all such are only play places. She had never been allowed to go alone on the street. She had never worked. No one had ever spoken seriously to her. She had not even been in love with any one.

After she had moved into the summer palace she forgot her cares as gayly and easily as a child would have done. And it appeared that she had the playful disposition of a child, and that she could transform and change everything about her.

The old dirty Saracen town Diamante seemed like a paradise to Donna Micaela. She said that she had not been at all surprised when Don Ferrante had spoken to her in the square, nor when he had proposed to her. It seemed quite natural to her that such things should happen in Diamante. She had seen instantly that Diamante was a town where rich men went and sought out poor, unfortunate[78] signorinas to make them mistresses of their black lava palaces.

She also liked the summer-palace. The faded chintz, a hundred years old, that covered the furniture told her stories. And she found a deep meaning in all the love scenes between the shepherds and shepherdesses on the walls.

She had soon found out the secret of Don Ferrante. He was no ordinary shop-keeper in a side street. He was a man of ambition, who was collecting money in order to buy back the family estate on Etna and the palace in Catania and the castle on the mainland. And if he went in short jacket and pointed cap, like a peasant, it was in order the sooner to be able to appear as a grandee of Spain and prince of Sicily.

After they were married Don Ferrante always used every evening to put on a velvet coat, take his guitar under his arm, and place himself on the stairway to the gallery in the music-room in the summer-palace and sing canzoni. While he sang, Donna Micaela dreamed that she had been married to the noblest man in beautiful Sicily.

When Donna Micaela had been married a few months her father was released from prison and came to live at the summer palace with his daughter. He liked the life in Diamante and became friends with every one. He liked to talk to the bee-raisers and vineyard workers whom he met at the Café Europa, and he amused himself every day by riding about on the slopes of Etna to look for antiquities.

But he had by no means forgiven his daughter. He lived under her roof, but he treated her like a stranger, and never showed her affection. Donna[79] Micaela let him go on and pretended not to notice it. She could not take his anger seriously any longer. That old man, whom she loved, believed that he would be able to go on hating her year after year! He would live near her, hear her speak, see her eyes, be encompassed by her love, and he could continue to hate her! Ah, he knew neither her nor himself. She used to sit and imagine how it would be when he must acknowledge that he was conquered; when he must come and show her that he loved her.

One day Donna Micaela was standing on her balcony waving her hand to her father, who rode away on a small, dark-brown pony, when Don Ferrante came up from the shop to speak to her. And what Don Ferrante wished to say was that he had succeeded in getting her father admitted to “The Brotherhood of the Holy Heart” in Catania.

But although Don Ferrante spoke very distinctly, Donna Micaela seemed not to understand him at all.

He had to repeat to her that he had been in Catania the day before, and that he had succeeded in getting Cavaliere Palmeri into a brotherhood. He was to enter it in a month.

She only asked: “What does that mean? What does that mean?”

“Oh,” said Don Ferrante, “can I not have wearied of buying your father expensive wines from the mainland, and may I not sometimes wish to ride Domenico?”

When he had said that, he wished to go. There was nothing more to say.

“But tell me first what kind of a brotherhood it is,” she said.—“What it is! A lot of old men[80] live there.”—“Poor old men?”—“Oh, well, not so rich.”—“They do not have a room to themselves, I suppose?”—“No, but very big dormitories.”—“And they eat from tin basins on a table without a cloth?”—“No, they must be china.”—“But without a table-cloth?”—“Lord, if the table is clean!”

He added, to silence her: “Very good people live there. If you like to know it, it was not without hesitation they would receive Cavaliere Palmeri.”

Thereupon Don Ferrante went. His wife was in despair, but also very angry. She thought that he had divested himself of rank and class and become only a plain shop-keeper.

She said aloud, although no one heard her, that the summer palace was only a big, ugly old house, and Diamante a poor and miserable town.

Naturally, she would not allow her father to leave her. Don Ferrante would see.

When they had eaten their dinner Don Ferrante wished to go to the Café Europa and play dominoes, and he looked about for his hat. Donna Micaela took his hat and followed him out to the gallery that ran round the court-yard. When they were far enough from the dining-room for her father not to be able to hear them, she said passionately:—

“Have you anything against my father?”—“He is too expensive.”—“But you are rich.”—“Who has given you such an idea? Do you not see how I am struggling?”—“Save in some other way.”—“I shall save in other ways. Giannita has had presents enough.”—“No, economize on something for me.”—“You! you are my wife; you shall have it as you have it.”

[81]

She stood silent a moment. She was thinking what she could say to frighten him.

“If I am now your wife, do you know why it is?”—“Oh yes.”—“Do you also know what the priest promised me?”—“That is his affair, but I do what I can.”—“You have heard, perhaps, that I broke with all my friends in Catania when I heard that my father had sought help from them and had not got it.”—“I know it.”—“And that I came here to Diamante that he might escape from seeing them and being ashamed?”—“They will not be coming to the brotherhood.”—“When you know all this, are you not afraid to do anything against my father?”—“Afraid? I am not afraid of my wife.”

“Have I not made you happy?” she asked.—“Yes, of course,” he answered indifferently.—“Have you not enjoyed singing to me? Have you not liked me to have considered you the most generous man in Sicily? Have you not been glad that I was happy in the old palace? Why should it all come to an end?”

He laid his hand on her shoulder and warned her. “Remember that you are not married to a fine gentleman from the Via Etnea!”—“Oh, no!”—“Up here on the mountain the ways are different. Here wives obey their husbands. And we do not care for fair words. But if we want them we know how to get them.”

She was frightened when he spoke so. In a moment she was on her knees before him. It was dark, but enough light came from the other rooms for him to see her eyes. In burning prayer, glorious as stars, they were fixed on him.

“Be merciful! You do not know how much I love[82] him!” Don Ferrante laughed. “You ought to have begun with that. Now you have made me angry.” She still knelt and looked up at him. “It is well,” he said, “for you hereafter to know how you shall behave.” Still she knelt. Then he asked: “Shall I tell him, or will you?”

Donna Micaela was ashamed that she had humbled herself. She rose and answered imperiously: “I shall tell him, but not till the last day. And you shall not let him notice anything.”

“No, I shall not,” he said, and mimicked her. “The less talk about it, the better for me.”

But when he was gone Donna Micaela laughed at Don Ferrante for believing that he could do what he liked with her father. She knew some one who would help her.

In the Cathedral at Diamante there is a miracle-working image of the Madonna, and this is its story.

Long, long ago a holy hermit lived in a cave on Monte Chiaro. And this hermit dreamed one night that in the harbor of Catania lay a ship loaded with images of the saints, and among these there was one so holy that Englishmen, who are richer than anybody else, would have paid its weight in gold for it. As soon as the hermit awoke from this dream he started for Catania. In the harbor lay a ship loaded with images of the saints, and among the images was one of the holy Madonna that was more holy than all the others. The hermit begged the captain not to carry that image away from Sicily, but to give it to him. But the captain refused. “I shall take it to England,” he said, “and the Englishmen[83] will pay its weight in gold.” The hermit renewed his petitions. At last the captain had his men drive him on shore, and hoisted his sail to depart.

It looked as if the holy image was to be lost to Sicily; but the hermit knelt down on one of the lava blocks on the shore and prayed to God that it might not be. And what happened? The ship could not go. The anchor was up, the sail hoisted, and the wind fresh; but for three long days the ship lay as motionless as if it had been a rock. On the third day the captain took the Madonna image and threw it to the hermit, who still lay on the shore. And immediately the ship glided out of the harbor. The hermit carried the image to Monte Chiaro, and it is still in Diamante, where it has a chapel and an altar in the Cathedral.

Donna Micaela was now going to this Madonna to pray for her father.

She sought out the Madonna’s chapel, which was built in a dark corner of the Cathedral. The walls were covered with votive offerings, with silver hearts and pictures that had been given by all those who had been helped by the Madonna of Diamante.

The image was hewn in black marble, and when Donna Micaela saw it standing in its niche, high and dark, and almost hidden by a golden railing, it seemed to her that its face was beautiful, and that it shone with mildness. And her heart was filled with hope.

Here was the powerful queen of heaven; here was the good Mother Mary; here was the afflicted mother who understood every sorrow; here was one who would not allow her father to be taken from her.

Here she would find help. She would need only[84] to fall on her knees and tell her trouble, to have the black Madonna come to her assistance.

While she prayed she felt certain that Don Ferrante was even at that moment changing his mind. When she came home he would come to meet her and say to her that she might keep her father.

It was a morning three weeks later.

Donna Micaela came out of the summer palace to go to early mass; but before she set out to the church, she went into Donna Elisa’s shop to buy a wax candle. It was so early that she had been afraid that the shop would not be open; but it was, and she was glad to be able to take a gift with her to the black Madonna.

The shop was empty when Donna Micaela came in, and she pushed the door forward and back to make the bell ring and call Donna Elisa in. At last some one came, but it was not Donna Elisa; it was a young man.

That young man was Gaetano, whom Donna Micaela scarcely knew. For Gaetano had heard so much about her that he was afraid to meet her, and every time she had come over to Donna Elisa he had shut himself into his workshop. Donna Micaela knew no more about him than that he was to leave Diamante, and that he was always carving holy images for Donna Elisa to have something to sell while he was earning great fortunes away in Argentina.

When she now saw Gaetano, she found him so handsome that it made her glad to look at him. She was full of anxiety as a hunted animal, but no sorrow[85] in the world could prevent her from feeling joy at the sight of anything so beautiful.

She asked herself where she had seen him before, and she remembered that she had seen his face in her father’s wonderful collection of pictures in the palace at Catania. There he had not been in working blouse; he had had a black felt hat with long, flowing, white feathers, and a broad lace collar over a velvet coat. And he had been painted by the great master Van Dyck.

Donna Micaela asked Gaetano for a wax candle, and he began to look for one. And now, strangely enough, Gaetano, who saw the little shop every day, seemed to be quite strange there. He looked for the wax candle in the drawers of rosaries and in the little medallion boxes. He could not find anything, and he grew so impatient that he turned out the drawers and broke the boxes open. The destruction and disorder were terrible. And it would be a real grief to Donna Elisa when she came home.

But Donna Micaela liked to see how he shook the thick hair back from his face, and how his gold-colored eyes glowed like yellow wine when the sun shines through it. It was a consolation to see any one so beautiful.

Then Donna Micaela asked pardon of the noble gentlemen whom the great Van Dyck had painted. For she had often said to them: “Ah, signor, you have been beautiful, but you never could have been so dark and so pale and so melancholy. And you did not possess such eyes of fire. All that the master who painted you has put into your face.” But when Donna Micaela saw Gaetano she found that it all could be in a face, and that the master[86] had not needed to add anything. Therefore she asked the noble old gentlemen’s pardon.

At last Gaetano had found the long candle-boxes that stood under the counter, where they had always stood. And he gave her the candle, but he did not know what it cost, and said that she could come in and pay it later. When she asked him for something to wrap it in he was in such trouble that she had to help him to look.

It grieved her that such a man should think of travelling to Argentina.

He let Donna Micaela wrap up the candle and watched her while she did it. She wished she could have asked him not to look at her now, when her face reflected only hopelessness and misery.

Gaetano had not scrutinized her features more than a moment before he sprang up on a little step-ladder, took down an image from the topmost shelf, and came back with it to her. It was a little gilded and painted wooden angel, a little San Michele fighting with the arch-fiend, which he had created from paper and wadding.

He handed it to Donna Micaela and begged her to accept it. He wished to give it to her, he said, because it was the best he had ever carved. He was so certain that it had greater power than his other images that he had put it away on the top shelf, so that no one might see and buy it. He had forbidden Donna Elisa to sell it except to one who had a great sorrow. And now Donna Micaela was to take it.

She hesitated. She found him almost too daring.

But Gaetano begged her to look how well the image was carved. She saw that the archangel’s[87] wings were ruffled with anger, and that Lucifer was pressing his claws into the steel plate on his leg? Did she see how San Michele was driving in his spear, and how he was frowning and pressing his lips together?

He wished to lay the little image in her hand, but she gently pushed it away. She saw that it was beautiful and spirited, she said, but she knew that it could not help her. She thanked him for his gift, but she would not accept it.

Then Gaetano seized the image and rolled it in paper and put it back in its place.

And not until it was wrapped up and put away did he speak to her.

But then he asked her why she came to buy wax candles if she was not a believer. Did she mean to say that she did not believe in San Michele? Did she not know that he was the most powerful of the angels, and that it was he who had vanquished Lucifer and thrown him into Etna? Did she not believe that it was true? Did she not know that San Michele lost a wing-feather in the fight, and that it was found in Caltanisetta? Did she know it or not? Or what did she mean by San Michele not being able to help her? Did she think that none of the saints could help? And he, who was standing in his workshop all day long, carving saints!—would he do such a thing if there was no good in it? Did she believe that he was an impostor?

But as Donna Micaela was just as strong a believer as Gaetano, she thought that his speech was unjust, and it irritated her to contradiction.

“It sometimes happens that the saints do not help,” she said to him. And when Gaetano looked[88] unbelieving, she was seized by an uncontrollable desire to convince him, and she said to him that some one had promised her in the name of the Madonna that, if she was a faithful wife to Don Ferrante, her father should enjoy an old age free of care. But now her husband wished to put her father in a brotherhood, which was as wretched as a poor-house and strict as a prison. And the Madonna had not averted it; in eight days it would happen.

Gaetano listened to her with the greatest earnestness. That was what induced her to confide the whole story to him.

“Donna Micaela,” he said, “you must turn to the black Madonna in the Cathedral.”

“So you think that I have not prayed to her?”

Gaetano flushed and said almost with anger: “You will not say that you have turned in vain to the black Madonna?”

“I have prayed to her in vain these last three weeks—prayed to her, prayed to her.”

When Donna Micaela spoke of it she could scarcely breathe. She wanted to weep over herself because she had awaited help each day, and each day been disappointed; and yet had known nothing better to do than begin again with her prayers. And it was visible on her face that her soul lived over and over again what she had suffered, when each day she had awaited an answer to her prayer, while the days slipped by.

But Gaetano was unmoved; he stood smiling, and drummed on one of the glass cases that stood on the counter.

“Have you only prayed to the Madonna?” he said.

[89]

Only prayed, only prayed! But she had also promised her to lay aside all sins. She had gone to the street where she had lived first, and nursed the sick woman with the ulcerated leg. She never passed a beggar without giving alms.

Only prayed! And she told him that if the Madonna had had the power to help her, she ought to have been satisfied with her prayers. She had spent her days in the Cathedral. And the anguish, the anguish that tortured her, should not that be counted?

He only shrugged his shoulders. Had she not tried anything else?

Anything else! But there was nothing in the world that she had not tried. She had given silver hearts and wax candles. Her rosary was never out of her hand.

Gaetano irritated her. He would not count anything that she had done; he only asked: “Nothing else? Nothing else?”

“But you ought to understand,” she said. “Don Ferrante does not give me so much money. I cannot do more. At last I have succeeded in getting some silk and cloth for an altar cloth. You ought to understand!”

But Gaetano, who had daily intercourse with the saints, and who knew the power and wildness of enthusiasm that had filled them when they had compelled God to obey their prayers, smiled scornfully at Donna Micaela, who thought she could subjugate the Madonna with wax candles and altar-cloths.

He understood very well, he answered. The whole was clear to him. It was always so with[90] those miserable saints. Everybody called to them for help, but few understood what they ought to do to get their prayers granted. And then people said that the saints had no power. All were helped who knew how they ought to pray.

Donna Micaela looked up in eager expectation. There was such strength and conviction in Gaetano’s words that she began to believe that he would teach her the right words of salvation.

Gaetano took the candle lying in front of her on the counter and threw it down into the box again, and told her what she had to do. He forbade her to give the Madonna any gifts, or to pray to her, or to do anything for the poor. He told her that he would tear her altar-cloth to pieces if she sewed another stitch on it.

“Show her, Donna Micaela, that it means something to you,” he said, and fixed his eyes on her with compelling force. “Good Lord, you must be able to find something to do, to show her that it is serious, and not play. You must be able to show her that you will not live if you are not helped. Do you mean to continue to be faithful to Don Ferrante, if he sends your father away? I know you do. If the Madonna has no need to fear what you are going to do, why should she help you?”

Donna Micaela drew back. He came swiftly out from behind the counter and seized her coat sleeve.

“Do you understand? You shall show her that you can throw yourself away if you do not get help. You shall throw yourself into sin and death if you do not get what you want. That is the way to force the saints.”

She tore herself from him and went without a[91] word. She hurried up the spiral street, came to the Cathedral, and threw herself down in terror before the altar of the black Madonna.

That happened one Saturday morning, and on Sunday evening Donna Micaela saw Gaetano again. For it was beautiful moonlight, and in Diamante it is the custom on moonlight nights for all to leave their homes and go out into the streets. As soon as the inhabitants of the summer palace had come outside their door they had met acquaintances. Donna Elisa had taken Cavaliere Palmeri’s arm, and the syndic Voltaro had joined Don Ferrante to discuss the elections; but Gaetano came up to Donna Micaela because he wished to hear if she had followed his advice.

“Have you stopped sewing on that altar-cloth?” he said.

But Donna Micaela answered that all day yesterday she had sewn on it.

“Then it is you who understand what you are doing, Donna Micaela.”

“Yes, now there is no help for it, Don Gaetano.”

She managed to keep them away from the others, for there was something she wished to speak to him about. And when they came to Porta Etnea, she turned out through the gate, and they went along the paths that wind under Monte Chiaro’s palm groves.

They could not have walked on the streets filled with people. Donna Micaela spoke so the people in Diamante would have stoned her if they had heard her.

She asked Gaetano if he had ever seen the black Madonna in the Cathedral. She had not seen her[92] till yesterday. The Madonna perhaps had placed herself in such a dark corner of the Cathedral so that no one should be able to see her. She was so black, and had a railing in front of her. No one could see her.

But to-day Donna Micaela had seen her. To-day the Madonna had had a festival, and she had been moved from her niche. The floor and walls of her chapel had been covered with white almond-blossoms, and she herself had stood down on the altar, dark and high, surrounded by the white glory.

But when Donna Micaela had seen the image she had been filled with despair; for the image was no Madonna. No, she had prayed to no Madonna. Oh, a shame, a shame! It was plainly an old heathen goddess. She had a helmet, not a crown; she had no child on her arm; she had a shield. It was a Pallas Athene. It was no Madonna. Oh, no; oh, no!

It was like the people of Diamante to worship such an image. It was like them to set up such a blasphemy and worship it! Did he know what was the worst misfortune? Their Madonna was so ugly. She was disfigured, and she had never been a work of art. She was so ugly that one could not bear to look at her.

And to have been deceived by all the thousand votive offerings that hung in the chapel; to have been fooled by all the legends about her! To have wasted three weeks in praying to her! Why had she not been helped? She was no Madonna, she was no Madonna.

They walked along the path on the town wall running around Monte Chiaro. The whole world was white about them. A white mist wreathed the[93] base of the mountain, and the almond-trees on Etna were quite white. Sometimes they passed under an almond-tree, which arched them over with its glistening branches, as thickly covered with flowers as if they had been dipped in a bath of silver. The moonlight shone so bright on the earth that everything was divested of its color, and became white. It seemed almost strange that it could not be felt, that it did not warm, that it did not dazzle the eyes.

Donna Micaela wondered if it was the moonlight that subdued Gaetano, so that he did not seize her, and throw her down into Simeto, when she cursed the black Madonna.

He walked silent and quiet at her side, but she was afraid of what he might do. In spite of her fear, she could not be silent.

What she had still to say was the most dreadful of all. She said that she had tried all day long to think of the real Madonna, and that she had recalled to her mind all the images of her she had ever seen. But it had all been in vain, because as soon as she thought of the shining queen of heaven, the old black goddess came and placed herself between them. She saw her come like a dried-up and officious old maid, and stand in front of the great queen of heaven, so that now no Madonna existed for her any longer. She believed that the latter was angry with her because she had done so much for the other, and that she hid her face and her grace from her. And, on account of the false Madonna, her father was now to suffer misfortune. Now she would never be allowed to keep him in her home. Now she would never win his forgiveness. Oh, God! oh, God!

[94]

And all this she said to Gaetano, who honored the black Madonna of Diamante more than anything else in the world.

He now came close up to Donna Micaela, and she feared that it was her last hour. She said in a faint voice, as if to excuse herself: “I am mad. Grief is driving me mad. I never sleep.”

But Gaetano’s only thought had been what a child she was, and that she did not at all understand how to meet life.

He hardly knew himself what he was doing when he gently drew her to him and kissed her, because she had gone so astray and was such a helpless child.

She was so overcome with astonishment that she did not even think of avoiding it. And she neither screamed nor ran away. She understood instantly that he had kissed her as he would a child. She only walked quickly on and began to cry. That kiss had made her feel how helpless and forsaken she was, and how much she longed for some one strong and good to take care of her.

It was terrible that, although she had both father and husband, she should be so forsaken that this stranger should need to feel sympathy for her.

When Gaetano saw her trembling with silent sobs, he felt that he too began to shake. A strong and violent emotion took possession of him.

He came close to her once more and laid his hand on her arm. And his............
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