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VIII A JETTATORE
In Catania there was once a man with “the evil eye,” a jettatore. He was almost the most terrible jettatore who had ever lived in Sicily. As soon as he showed himself on the street people hastened to bend their fingers to the protecting sign. Often it did not help at all; whoever met him could prepare himself for a miserable day; he would find his dinner burned, and the beautiful old jelly-bowl broken. He would hear that his banker had suspended payments, and that the little note that he had written to his friend’s wife had come into the wrong hands.

Most often a jettatore is a tall, thin man, with pale, shy eyes and a long nose, which overhangs and hacks his upper lip. God has set the mark of a parrot’s beak upon the jettatore. Yet all things are variable; nothing is absolutely constant. This jettatore was a little fellow with a nose like a San Michele.

Thereby he did much more harm than an ordinary jettatore. How much oftener is one pricked by a rose than burned by a nettle!

A jettatore ought never to grow up. He is well off only when he is a child. Then he still has his little mamma, and she never sees the evil eye; she never understands why she sticks the needle into[256] her finger every time he comes to her work-table. She will never be afraid to kiss him. Although she has sickness constantly in the house, and the servants leave, and her friends draw away, she never notices anything.

But after the jettatore has come out into the world, he often has a hard time enough. Every one must first of all think of himself; no one can ruin his life by being kind to a jettatore.

There are several priests who are jettatori. There is nothing strange in that; the wolf is happy if he can tear to pieces many sheep. They could not very well do more harm than by being priests. One need only ask what happens to the children whom he baptizes, and the couples whom he marries.

The jettatore in question was an engineer and wished to build railways. He had also a position in one of the state railway buildings. The state could not know that he was a jettatore. Ah, but what misery, what misery! As soon as he obtained a place on the railway a number of accidents occurred. When they tunnelled through a hill, one cave-in after another; when they tried to lay a bridge, breach upon breach; when they exploded a blast, the workmen were killed by the flying fragments.

The only one who was never injured was the engineer, the jettatore.

The poor fellows working under him! They counted their fingers and limbs every evening. “To-morrow perhaps we will have lost you,” they said.

They informed the chief engineer; they informed[257] the minister. Neither of them would listen to the complaint. They were too sensible and too learned to believe in the evil eye. The workmen ought to mind better what they were about. It was their own fault that they met with accidents.

And the gravel-cars tipped over; the locomotive exploded.

One morning there was a rumor that the engineer was gone. He had disappeared; no one knew what had become of him. Had some one perhaps stabbed him? Oh, no; oh, no! would any one have dared to kill a jettatore?

But he was really gone; no one ever saw him again.

It was a few years later that Donna Micaela began to think of building her railway. And in order to get money for it, she wished to hold a bazaar in the great Franciscan monastery outside Diamante.

There was a cloister garden there, surrounded by splendid old pillars. Donna Micaela arranged little booths, little lotteries, and little places of diversion under the arcades. She hung festoons of Venetian lanterns from pillar to pillar. She piled up great kegs of Etna wine around the cloister fountain.

While Donna Micaela worked there she often conversed with little Gandolfo, who had been made watchman at the monastery since Fra Felice’s death.

One day she made Gandolfo show her the whole monastery. She went through it all from attic to cellar, and when she saw those countless little cells with their grated windows and whitewashed walls and hard wooden seats, she had an idea.

[258]

She asked Gandolfo to shut her in in one of the cells and to leave her there for the space of five minutes.

“Now I am a prisoner,” she said, when she was left alone. She tried the door; she tried the window. She was securely shut in.

So that was what it was to be a prisoner! Four empty walls about one, the silence of the grave, and the chill.

“Now I can feel as a prisoner feels,” she thought.

Then she forgot everything else in the thought that possibly Gandolfo might not come to let her out. He could be called away; he could be taken suddenly ill; he could fall and kill himself in some of the dark passage-ways. Many things could happen to prevent him from coming.

No one knew where she was; no one would think of looking for her in that out-of-the-way cell. If she were left there for even an hour she would go mad with terror.

She saw before her starvation, slow starvation. She struggled through interminable hours of anguish. Ah, how she would listen for a step; how she would call!

She would shake the door; she would scrape the masonry of the walls with her nails; she would bite the grating with her teeth.

When they finally found her she would be lying dead on the floor, and they would find everywhere traces of how she had tried to break her way out.

Why did not Gandolfo come? Now she must have been there a quarter of an hour, a half-hour. Why did he not come?

[259]

She was sure that she had been shut in a whole hour when Gandolfo came. Where had he been such a long time?

He had not been long at all. He had only been away five minutes.

“God! God! so that is being a prisoner; that is Gaetano’s life!” She burst into tears when she saw the open sky once more above her.

A while later, as they stood out on an open loggia, Gandolfo showed her a couple of windows with shutters and green shades.

“Does any one live there?” she asked.

“Yes, Donna Micaela, some one does.”

Gandolfo told her that a man lived there who never went out except at night,—a man who never spoke to any one.

“Is he crazy?” asked Donna Micaela.

“No, no; he is as much in his right mind as you or I. But people say that he has to conceal himself. He is afraid of the government.”

Donna Micaela was much interested in the man. “What is his name?” she said.

“I call him Signor Alfredo.”

“How does he get any food?” she asked.

“I prepare it for him,” said Gandolfo.

“And clothes?”

“I get them for him. I bring him books and newspapers, too.”

Donna Micaela was silent for a while. “Gandolfo,” she said, and gave him a rose which she held in her hand, “lay this on the tray the next time you take food to your poor prisoner.”

After that Donna Micaela sent some little thing almost every day to the man in the monastery. It[260] might be a flower, a book or some fruit. It was her greatest pleasure. She amused herself with her fancies. She almost succeeded in imagining that she was sending all these things to Gaetano.

When the day for the bazaar came, Donna Micaela was in the cloister early in the morning. “Gandolfo,” she said, “you must go up to your prisoner and ask him if he will come to the entertainment this evening.”

Gandolfo soon came back with the answer. “He thanks you very much, Donna Micaela,” said the boy. “He will come.”

She was surprised, for she had not believed that he would venture out. She had only wished to show him a kindness.

Something made Donna Micaela look up. She was standing in the cloister garden, and a window was thrown open in one of the buildings above her. Donna Micaela saw a middle-aged man of an attractive appearance standing up there and looking down at her.

“There he is, Donna Micaela,” said Gandolfo.

She was happy. She felt as if she had redeemed and saved the man. And it was more than that. People who have no imagination will not understand it. But Donna Micaela trembled and longed all day; she considered how she would be dressed. It was as if she had expected Gaetano.

Donna Micaela soon had something else to do than to dream; the livelong day a succession of calamities streamed over her.

The first was a communication from the old Etna brigand, Falco Falcone:—

[261]

Dear friend, Donna Micaela,—As I have heard that you intend to build a railway along Etna, I wish to tell you that with my consent it will never be. I tell you this now so that you need not waste any more money and trouble on the matter.

Enlightened and most nobly born signora, I remain

Your humble servant,

Falco Falcone.

Passafiero, my sister’s son, has written this letter.

Donna Micaela flung the dirty letter away. It seemed to her as if it were the death sentence of the railway, but to-day she would not think of it. Now she had her bazaar.

The moment after, her road-builders, Giovanni and Carmelo, appeared. They wished to counsel her to get an engineer. She probably did not know what kind of ground there was on Etna. There was, first, lava; then there was ashes; and then lava again. Should the road be laid on the top layer of lava, or on the bed of ashes, or should they dig down still deeper? About how firm a foundation did a railway need? They could not go ahead without a man who understood that.

Donna Micaela dismissed them. To-morrow, to-morrow; she had no time to think of it to-day.

Immediately after, Donna Elisa came with a still worse piece of news.

There was a quarter in Diamante where a poverty-stricken and wild people lived. Those poor souls had been frightened when they heard of the railway. “There will be an eruption of Etna and an earthquake,” they had said. Great Etna will endure no fetters. It will shake off the whole railway. And[262] people said now that they ought to go out and tear up the track as soon as a rail was laid on it.

A day of misfortune, a day of misfortune! Donna Micaela felt farther from her object than ever.

“What is the good of our collecting money at our bazaar?” she said despondingly.

The day promised ill for her bazaar. In the afternoon it began to rain. It had not rained so in Diamante since the day when the clocks rang. The clouds sank to the very house-roofs, and the water poured down from them. People were wet to the skin before they had been two minutes in the street. Towards six o’clock, when Donna Micaela’s bazaar was to open, it was raining its very hardest. When she came out to the monastery, there was no one there but those who were to help in serving and selling.

She felt ready to cry. Such an unlucky day! What had dragged down all these adversities upon her?

Donna Micaela’s glance fell on a strange man who was leaning against a pillar, watching her. Now all at once she recognized him. He was the jettatore—the jettatore from Catania, whom people had taught her to fear as a child.

Donn............
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