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HOME > Classical Novels > The Miracles of Antichrist > XI THE FEAST OF SAN SEBASTIANO
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When Gaetano rushed away, Donna Micaela stood for a long time in Donna Elisa’s garden. She stood there as if turned to stone, and could neither feel nor think.

Then suddenly the thought came that Gaetano and she were not alone in the world. She remembered her father lying sick, whom she had forgotten for so many hours.

She went through the gate of the court-yard out to the Corso, which lay deserted and empty. Tumult and shots were still audible far away, and she said to herself that they must be fighting down by Porta Etnea.

The moon shed its clear light on the fa?ade of the summer-palace, and it amazed her that at such an hour, and on such a night, the balcony doors stood open, and the window shutters were not closed. She was still more surprised that the gate was standing ajar, and that the shop-door was wide open.

As she went in through the gate, she did not see the old gate-keeper, Piero, there. The lanterns in the court-yard were not lighted, and there was not a soul to be seen anywhere.

She went up the steps to the gallery, and her foot struck against something hard. It was a little[157] bronze vase, which belonged in the music-room. A few steps higher up she found a knife. It was a sheath-knife, with a long, dagger-like blade. When she lifted it up a couple of dark drops rolled down from its edge. She knew that it must be blood.

And she understood too that what she had feared all the autumn had now happened. Bandits had been in the summer-palace for plunder. And everyone who could run away had run away; but her father, who could not leave his bed, must be murdered.

She could not tell whether the brigands were not still in the house. But now, in the midst of danger, her fears vanished; and she hurried on, unheeding that she was alone and defenceless.

She went along the gallery into the music-room. Broad rays of moonlight fell upon the floor, and in one of those rays lay a human form stretched motionless.

Donna Micaela bent down over that motionless body. It was Giannita. She was murdered; she had a deep, gaping wound in her neck.

Donna Micaela laid the body straight, crossed the hands over the breast, and closed the eyes. In so doing, her hands were wet with the blood; and when she felt that warm, sticky blood, she began to weep. “Alas, my dear, beloved sister,” she said aloud, “it is your young life that has ebbed away with this blood. All your life you have loved me, and now you have shed your blood defending my house. Is it to punish my hardness that God has taken you from me? Is it because I did not allow you to love him whom I loved that you have gone from me?[158] Alas, sister, sister, could you not have punished me less severely?”

She bent down and kissed the dead girl’s forehead. “You do not believe it,” she said. “You know that I have always been faithful to you. You know that I have loved you.”

She remembered that the dead was severed from everything earthly, that it was not grief and assurances of friendship she needed. She said a prayer over the body, since the only thing she could do for her sister was to support with pious thoughts the flight of the soul soaring up to God.

Then she went on, no longer afraid of anything that could happen to herself, but in inexpressible terror of what might have happened to her father.

When she had at last passed through the long halls in the state apartment and stood by the door to the sick-room, her hands groped a long time for the latch; and when she had found it, she had not the strength to turn the key.

Then her father called from his room and asked who was there. When she heard his voice and knew that he was alive, everything in her trembled, and burst, and lost its power to serve her. Brain and heart failed her at once, and her muscles could no longer hold her upright. She had still time to think that she had been living in terrible suspense. And with a feeling of relief, she sank down in a long swoon.

Donna Micaela regained consciousness towards morning. In the meantime much had happened. The servants had come out of their hiding-places, and had gone for Donna Elisa. She had taken charge of the deserted palace, had summoned the[159] police, and sent a message to the White Brotherhood. And the latter had carried Giannita’s body to her mother’s house.

When Donna Micaela awoke, she found herself lying on the sofa in a room next her father’s. No one was with her, but in her father’s room she heard Donna Elisa talking.

“My son and my daughter,” said Donna Elisa, sobbing; “I have lost both my son and my daughter.”

Donna Micaela tried to raise herself, but she could not. Her body still lay in a stupor, although her soul was awake.

“Cavaliere, Cavaliere,” said Donna Elisa, “can you understand? The bandits come here from Etna, creeping down to Diamante. The bandits attack the custom-house and shout: ‘Long live Socialism!’ They do it only to frighten people away from the streets and to draw the Carabiniere down to Porta Etnea. There is not a single man from Diamante who has anything to do with it. It is the bandits who arrange it all, to be able to plunder Miss Tottenham and Donna Micaela, two women, Cavaliere! What did those officers think at the court-martial? Did they believe that Gaetano was in league with the bandits? Did they not see that he was a nobleman, a true Alagona, an artist? How could they have sentenced him?”

Donna Micaela listened with horror, but she tried to imagine that she was still dreaming. She thought she heard Gaetano ask if she was sacrificing him to God. She thought she answered that she did. Now she was dreaming of how it would be in case he really had been captured. It could be nothing else.

“What a night of misfortune!” said Donna Elisa.[160] “What is flying about in the air, and making people mad and confused? You have seen Gaetano, Cavaliere. He has always been passionate and fiery, but it has not been without intelligence; he has not been without sense and judgment. But to-night he throws himself right into the arms of the troops. You know that he wanted to cause an uprising; you know that he came home for that. And when he hears the shooting, and some one shouting, ‘Long live Socialism!’ he becomes wild, and beside himself. He says to himself, ‘That is the insurrection!’ and he rushes down the street to join it. And he shouts the whole time, ‘Long live Socialism!’ as loud as he can. And so he meets a great crowd of soldiers, a whole host. For they were on their way to Paternó, and heard the shooting as they passed by, and marched in to see what was going on. And Gaetano can no longer recognize a soldier’s cap. He thinks that they are the rebels; he thinks that they are angels from heaven, and he rushes in among them and lets them capture him. And they, who have already caught all the bandits sneaking away with their booty, now lay hands on Gaetano too. They go through the town and find everything quiet; but before they leave, they pass sentence on their prisoners. And they condemn Gaetano like the others, condemn him like those who have broken in and murdered women. Have they not lost their senses, Cavaliere?”

Donna Micaela could not hear what her father answered. She wished to ask a thousand questions, but she was still paralyzed and could not move. She wondered if Gaetano had been shot.

“What do they mean by sentencing him to twenty-nine[161] years’ imprisonment?” said Donna Elisa. “Do you think that he can live so long, or that any one who loves him can live so long? He is dead, Cavaliere; as dead for me as Giannita.”

Donna Micaela felt as if strong fetters bound her beyond escape. It was worse, she thought, than to be tied to a pillory and whipped.

“All the joy of my old age is taken from me,” said Donna Elisa. “Both Giannita and Gaetano! I have always expected them to marry each other. It would have been so suitable, because they were both my children, and loved me. For what shall I live now, when I have no young people about me? I was often poor when Gaetano first came to me, and people said to me that I should have been better off alone. But I answered: ‘It makes no difference, none, if only I have young people about me.’ And I thought that when he grew up he would find a young wife, and then they would have little children, and I would never need to sit a lonely and useless old woman.”

Donna Micaela lay thinking that she could have saved Gaetano, but had not wished to do so. But why had she not wished? It seemed to her quite incomprehensible. She began to count up to herself all her reasons for permitting him to rush to destruction. He was an atheist; a socialist; he wished to cause a revolt. That had outweighed everything else when she opened the garden gate for him. It had crushed her love also. She could not now understand it. It was as if a scale full of feathers had weighed down a scale full of gold.

“My beautiful boy!” said Donna Elisa, “my beautiful boy! He was already a great man over there[162] in England, and he came home to help us poor Sicilians. And now they have sentenced him like a bandit. People say that they were ready to shoot him, as they shot the others. Perhaps it would have been better if they had done so, Cavaliere. It had been better to have laid him in the church-yard than to know that he was in prison. How will he be able to endure all his suffering? He will not be able to bear it; he will fall ill; he will soon be dead.”

At these words, Donna Micaela roused herself from her stupor, and got up from the sofa. She staggered across the room and came in to her father and Donna Elisa, as pale as poor murdered Giannita. She was so weak that she did not dare to cross the floor; she stood at the door and leaned against the door-post.

“It is I,” she said; “Donna Elisa, it is I—”

The words would not come to her lips. She wrung her hands in despair that she could not speak.

Donna Elisa was instantly at her side. She put her arm about her to support her, without paying any attention to Donna Micaela’s attempt to push her away.

“You must forgive me, Donna Elisa,” she said, with an almost inaudible voice. “I did it.”

Donna Elisa did not heed much what she was saying. She saw that she had fever, and thought that she was delirious.

Donna Micaela’s lips worked; she plainly wished to say something, but only a few words were audible. It was impossible to understand what she meant. “Against him, as against my father,” she said, over[163] and over. And then she said something about bringing misfortune on all who loved her.

Donna Elisa had got her down on a chair, and Donna Micaela sat there and kissed her old, wrinkled hands, and asked her to forgive her what she had done.

Yes, of course, of course, Donna Elisa forgave her.

Donna Micaela looked her sharply in the face with great, feverish eyes, and asked if it were true.

It was really true.

Then she laid her head on Donna Elisa’s shoulder and sobbed, thanked her, and said that she could not live if she did not obtain her forgiveness. She had sinned against no one so much as against her. Could she forgive her?

“Yes, yes,” said Donna Elisa again and again, and thought that the other was out of her head from fever and fright.

“There is something I ought to tell you,” said Donna Micaela. “I know it, but you do not know it. You will not forgive me if you hear it.”

“Yes, of course I forgive you,” said Donna Elisa.

They talked in that way for a long time without understanding each other; but it was good for old Donna Elisa to have some one that night to put to bed, comforted and dosed with strengthening herbs and drops. It was good for her to still have some one to come and lay her head on her shoulder and cry away her grief.

Donna Micaela, who had loved Gaetano for nearly three years without a thought that they could ever belong to each other, had accustomed herself to a strange kind of love. It was enough for her to know[164] that Gaetano loved her. When she thought of it, a tender feeling of security and happiness stole through her. “What does it matter; what does it matter?” she said, when she suffered adversity. “Gaetano loves me.” He was always with her, cheering and comforting her. He took part in all her thoughts and undertakings. He was the soul of her life.

As soon as Donna Micaela could get his address, she wrote to him. She acknowledged to him that she had firmly believed that he had gone to misfortune. But she had been so much afraid of what he proposed to accomplish in the world that she had not dared to save him.

She also wrote how she detested his teachings. She did not dissemble at all to him. She said that even if he were free she could not be his.

She feared him. He had such power over her that, if they were united, he would make her a socialist and an atheist. Therefore she must always live apart from him, for the salvation of her soul.

But she begged and prayed that in spite of everything he would not cease to love her. He must not; he must not! He might punish her in any way he pleased, if only he did not cease to love her.

He must not do as her father had. He had perhaps reason to close his heart to her now, but he must not. He must be merciful.

If he knew how she loved him! If he knew how she dreamed of him!

She told him that he was nothing less than life itself to her.

“Must I die, Gaetano?” she asked.

“Is it not enough that those opinions and teachings part us? Is it not enough that they have[165] carried you to prison? Will you also cease to love me, because we do not think alike?

“Ah, Gaetano, love me! It leads to nothing; there is no hope in your love, but love me; I die if you do not love me.”

Donna Micaela had hardly sent off the letter before she began to wait for the answer. She expected a stormy and angry reply, but she hoped that there would be one single word to show her that he still loved her.

But she waited several weeks without receiving any letter from Gaetano.

It did not help her to stand and wait every morning for the letter-carrier out on the gallery, and almost break his heart because he was always obliged to say that he did not have anything for her.

One day she went herself to the post-office, and asked them, with the most beseeching eyes, to give her the letter she was expecting. It must be there, she said. But perhaps they had not been able to read the address; perhaps it had been put into the wrong box? And her soft, imploring eyes so touched the postmaster that she was allowed to look through piles of old, unclaimed letters, and to turn all the drawers in the post-office upside down. But it was all in vain.

She wrote new letters to Gaetano; but no answer came.

Then she tried to believe what seemed impossible. She tried to make her soul realize that Gaetano had ceased to love her.

As her conviction increased, she began to shut herself into her room. She was afraid of people, and preferred to sit alone.


Day by day she became more feeble. She walked deeply bent, and even her beautiful eyes seemed to lose their life and light.

After a few weeks she was so weak that she could no longer keep up, but lay all day on her sofa. She was prey to a suffering that gradually deprived her of all vital power. She knew that she was failing, and she was afraid to die. But she could do nothing. There was only one remedy for her, but that never came. While Donna Micaela seemed to be thus quietly gliding out of life, the people of Diamante were preparing to celebrate the feast of San Sebastiano, that comes at the end of January.

It was the greatest festival of Diamante, but in the last few years it had not been kept with customary splendor, because want and gloom had weighed too heavily on their souls.

But this year, just after the revolt had failed, and while Sicily was still filled with troops, and while the beloved heroes of the people languished in prison, they determined to celebrate the festival with all the old-time pomp; for now, they said, was not the time to neglect the saint.

And the pious people of Diamante determined that the festival should be held for a week, and that San Sebastiano should be honored with flags and decorations, and with races and biblical processions, illuminations, and singing contests.

The people bestirred themselves with great haste and eagerness. There was polishing and scrubbing in every house. They brought out the old costumes, and they prepared to receive strangers from all Etna.

The summer-palace was the only house in Diamante[167] where no preparations were made. Donna Elisa was deeply grieved at it, but she could not induce Donna Micaela to have her house decorated. “How can you ask me to trim a house of mourning with flowers and leaves?” she said. “The roses would shed their petals if I tried to use them to mask the misery that reigns here.”

But Donna Elisa was very eager for the festival, and expected much good to result from honoring the saint as in the old days. She could talk of nothing but of how the priests had decorated the fa?ade of the Cathedral in the old Sicilian way, with silver flowers and mirrors. And she described the procession: how many riders there were to be, and what high plumes they were to have in their hats, and what long, garlanded staves, with wax candles at the end, they were to carry in their hands.

When the first festival day came, Donna Elisa’s house was the most gorgeously decorated. The green, red, and white standard of Italy waved from the roof, and red cloths, fringed with gold, bearing the saint’s initials, were spread over the window-sills and balcony railings. Up and down the wall ran garlands of holly, shaped into stars and arches, and round the windows crept wreaths made of the little pink roses from Donna Elisa’s garden. Just over the entrance stood the saint’s image, framed in lilies, and on the threshold lay cypress-branches. And if one had entered the house, one would have found it as much adorned on the inside as on the outside. From the cellar to the attic it was scoured and covered with flowers, and on the shelves in the shop no saint was too small or insignificant to have an everlasting or a harebell in his hand. Like[168] Donna Elisa, every one in penniless Diamante had decorated along the whole street. In the street above the house of the little Moor there was such an array of flags that it looked like clothes hung out to dry from the earth to the sky. Every house and every arch carried flags, and across the streets were hung ropes, from which fluttered pennant after pennant.

At every tenth step the people of Diamante had raised triumphal arches over the street. And over every door stood the image of the saint, framed in wreaths of yellow everlastings. The balconies were covered with red quilts and bright-colored table-cloths, and stiff garlands wound up the walls.

There were so many flowers and leaves that no one could understand how they had been able to get them all in January. Everything was crowned and wreathed with flowers. The brooms had crowns of crocuses, and each door-knocker a bunch of hyacinths. In windows stood pictures with monograms, and inscriptions of blood-red anemones.

And between those decorated houses the stream of people rolled as mighty as a rising river. It was not the inhabitants of Diamante alone who were honoring San Sebastiano. From all Etna came yellow carts, beautifully ornamented and painted, drawn by horses in shining harness, and loaded down with people. The sick, the beggars, the blind singers came in great crowds. There were whole trains of pilgrims, unhappy people, who now, after their misfortunes, had some one to pray to.

Such numbers came that the people wondered how they all would ever find room within the town walls. There were people in the streets, people in the[169] windows, people on the balconies. On the high stone steps sat people, and the shops were full of them. The big street-doors were thrown wide, and in the openings chairs were arranged in a half-circle, as in a theatre. There the house-owners sat with their guests and looked at the passers-by.

The whole street was filled with an intoxicating noise. It was not only the talking and laughter of the people. There were also organ-grinders standing and turning hand-organs big as pianos. There were street-singers, and there were men and women who declaimed Tasso in cracked, worn-out voices. There were all kinds of criers, the sound of organs streamed from all the churches, and in the square on the summit of the mountain the town band played so that it could be heard over all Diamante.

The joyous noise, and the fragrance of the flowers, and the flapping of the flags outside Donna Micaela’s window had power to wake her from her stupor. She rose up, as if life had sent for her. “I will not die,” she said to herself. “I will try to live.”

She took her father’s arm and went out into the street. She hoped that the life there would mount to her head so that she might forget her sorrow. “If I do not succeed,” she thought, “if I can find no distrac............
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