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HOME > Classical Novels > The Miracles of Antichrist > VIII TWO SONGS
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VIII TWO SONGS
It was the morning after the day when San Pasquale’s bells had rung; and Donna Elisa sat in her shop and counted her money. The day before, when everyone had been afraid, there had been an incredible sale in the shop, and the next morning, when she had come down, she had at first been almost frightened. For the whole shop was desolate and empty; the medallions were gone, the wax candles were gone, and so were all the great bunches of rosaries. All Gaetano’s beautiful images had been taken down from the shelves and sold, and it was a real grief to Donna Elisa not to see the host of holy men and women about her.

She opened the money-drawer, and it was so full that she could hardly pull it out. And while she counted her money she wept over it as if it had all been false. For what good did it do her to possess all those dirty lire and those big copper coins when she had lost Gaetano!

Alas! she thought that if he had stopped at home one day more he would not have needed to go, for now she was laden down with money.

While she was counting she heard the post-carriage stop outside her door. But she did not even look up; she did not care what happened, since Gaetano[114] was gone. Then the door opened, and the bell rang violently. She only wept and counted. Then some one said: “Donna Elisa, Donna Elisa!” And it was Gaetano!

“But heavens! how can you be at home?” she cried.—“You have sold all your images. I had to come home to carve new ones for you.”—“But how did you find out about it?”—“I met the post-carriage at two o’clock in the night. Rosa Alfari was in it, and she told me everything.”—“What luck that you went down to the post-carriage! What luck that you happened to think of going down to the post-carriage!”—“Yes; was it not good fortune?” said Gaetano.

In less than an hour Gaetano was again standing in his workshop; and Donna Elisa, who had nothing at all to do in her empty shop, came incessantly to the door to look at him. No, was he really standing there and carving? She could not let five minutes pass without coming to look at him.

But when Donna Micaela heard that he was back she felt no joy, rather anger and despair. For she was afraid that Gaetano would come to tempt her.

She had heard that a rich Englishwoman had come to Diamante the day the bells rang. She was deeply affected when she heard that it was the lady with the Christ image. He had therefore come as soon as she had called on him. The rain and the bell-ringing were his work!

She tried to rejoice her soul with the thought that there had been a miracle for her sake. It would be more to her than all earthly happiness and love to feel that she was surrounded by God’s grace. She[115] did not wish anything earthly to come and drag her down from that blessed rapture.

But when she met Gaetano on the street he hardly looked at her; and when she met him at Donna Elisa’s he did not take her hand and did not speak to her at all.

For the truth was that, although Gaetano had come home because it had been too hard to go without Donna Micaela, he did not wish to tempt or to persuade her. He saw that she was under the protection of the saints, and she had become so sacred to him that he scarcely dared to dream of her.

He wished to be near her, not in order to love her, but because he believed that her life would blossom with holy deeds. Gaetano longed for miracles, as a gardener longs for the first rose in the spring.

But when weeks went by and Gaetano never tried to approach Donna Micaela, she began to doubt, and to think that he had never loved her. She said to herself that he had won the promise from her to flee with him only in order to show her that the Madonna could work a miracle.

If that were true, she did not know why he had not continued his journey without turning back.

That caused her anxiety. She thought that she could conquer her love better if she knew whether Gaetano loved her. She weighed the pros and cons, and she was more and more sure that he had never loved her.

While Donna Micaela was thinking of this, she had to sit and keep Don Ferrante company. He had lain sick a long time. He had had two strokes of paralysis, and had risen from his sick-bed a[116] broken man. All at once he had become old and dull and afraid, so that he never dared to be alone. He never worked in the shop; he was in every way a changed man.

He had been seized with a great desire to be aristocratic and fashionable. It looked as if poor Don Ferrante’s head was turned with pride.

Donna Micaela was very good to him, and sat hour after hour and chatted with him.

“Who could it be,” she used to ask, “who once stood in the market-place with plumes on his hat, and braid on his coat, and sword at his side, and who played so that people said that his music was as uplifting as Etna, and as strong as the sea? And who caught sight of a poor signorina dressed in black, who did not dare to show her face to the world, and went forward to her and offered his arm? Who could it be? Could it be Don Ferrante, who stands the whole week in his shop and wears a pointed cap and a short jacket? No; that cannot be possible. No old merchant could have done such a thing.”

Don Ferrante laughed. That was just the way he liked to have her talk to him. She would also tell him how it would be when he came to court. The king would say this, and the queen would say that. “The old Alagonas have come up again,” they would say at court. And who has brought up the race? People will wonder and wonder. The Don Ferrante, who is a Sicilian prince and Spanish grandee, is that the same man who stood in a shop in Diamante and shouted at the teamsters? No, people will say, it cannot be the same. It is impossible for it to be the same.

[117]

Don Ferrante liked that, and wished to hear her talk so day in and day out. He was never tired of listening, and Donna Micaela was very patient with him.

But one day while she was chatting, Donna Elisa came in. “Sister-in-law, if you happen to own the ‘Legend of the Holy Virgin of Pompeii,’ will you lend it to me?” she asked.—“What, are you going to begin to read?” asked Donna Micaela.—“The saints preserve us! you know very well that I cannot read. Gaetano is asking for it.”

Donna Micaela did not own the “Legend of the Holy Virgin at Pompeii.” But she did not say so to Donna Elisa; she went to her book-shelf and took a little book, a collection of Sicilian love-songs, and gave it to Donna Elisa, who carried the little book over to Gaetano.

But Donna Micaela had no sooner done so before a lively regret seized her. And she asked herself what she had meant by behaving so,—she who had been helped by the little Christchild?

She blushed with shame as she thought that she had marked one of the little songs, one that ran thus:—
“For one single question’s answer longing,
Night I asked, and asked the daytime’s burning;
Watched the flight of birds, and swift clouds thronging,
In water strove to read the hot lead’s turning;
Leaves I counted plucked from many flowers,
Lured dark prophets forth, and sought their powers,
Till at last I called on Heaven above me:
‘Doth he love me still, as once he loved me?’”

She had hoped to get an answer to it. But it would serve her right if no answer came. It would serve[118] her right if Gaetano despised her and thought her forward.

Yet she had meant no harm. The only thing she had desired had been to find out if Gaetano loved her.

Several weeks again passed and Donna Micaela still sat with Don Ferrante.

But one day Donna Elisa had tempted her out. “Come with me into my garden, sister-in-law, and see my big magnolia-tree. You have never seen anything so beautiful.”

She had gone with Donna Elisa across the street and had come into her court-yard. And Donna Elisa’s magnolia was like the shining sun, so that people were aware of it even before they saw it. At a great distance the fragrance lay and rocked in the air, and there was a murmuring of bees, and a twittering of birds.

When Donna Micaela saw the tree she could hardly breathe. It was very high and broad, with a beautifully even growth, and its large, firm leaves were of a fresh, dark green. But now it was entirely covered with great, bright flowers, that lighted and adorned it so that it looked as if dressed for a feast, and one felt an intoxicating joy streaming forth from the tree. Donna Micaela almost lost consciousness, and a n............
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