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HOME > Classical Novels > The Miracles of Antichrist > IX PALAZZO GERACI AND PALAZZO CORVAJA
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IX PALAZZO GERACI AND PALAZZO CORVAJA
At the time when the Normans ruled in Sicily, long before the family of Alagona had come to the island, the two magnificent buildings, Palazzo Geraci and Palazzo Corvaja, were built in Diamante.

The noble Barons Geraci placed their house in the square, high up on the summit of Monte Chiaro. The Barons Corvaja, on the other hand, built their home far down the mountain and surrounded it with gardens.

The black-marble walls of Palazzo Geraci were built round a square court-yard, full of charm and beauty. A long flight of steps, passing under an arch adorned with an escutcheon, led to the second story. Not entirely round the court-yard, but here and there in the most unexpected places, the walls opened into little pillared loggias. The walls were covered with bas-reliefs, with speckled slabs of Sicilian marble and with the coats of arms of the Geraci barons. There were windows also, very small, but with exquisitely carved frames; some round, with panes so small that they could be covered with a grape leaf; some oblong, and so narrow that they let in no more light than a slit in a curtain.

The Barons Corvaja did not try to adorn the court-yard of their palace, but on the lower floor of[271] the house they fitted up a magnificent hall. In the floor was built a basin for gold-fish; in niches in the walls fountains covered with mosaic, in which clear water spouted into gigantic shells. Over it all, a Moorish vaulted roof, supported on slender pillars, with twining vines in mosaic. It was a hall whose equal is only to be seen in the Moorish palace in Palermo.

There was much rivalry and emulation during all the time of building. When Palazzo Geraci put forth a balcony, Palazzo Corvaja acquired its high Gothic bay-windows; when the roof of Palazzo Geraci was adorned with richly carved battlements, a frieze of black marble, inlaid with white a yard wide, appeared on Palazzo Corvaja. The Geraci house was crowned by a high tower; the Corvaja had a roof garden, with antique pots along the railing.

When the palaces were finished the rivalry began between the families who had built them. The houses seemed to breed hostility and strife for all who lived in them. A Baron Geraci could never agree with a Baron Corvaja. When Geraci fought for Anjou, Corvaja fought for Manfred. If Geraci changed sides, and supported Aragoni, Corvaja went to Naples, and fought for Robert and Joanna.

But that was not all. It was an understood thing that when Geraci found a son-in-law, Corvaja had to increase his power by a rich marriage. Neither of the families could rest. They had to vie with each other while eating, while amusing themselves, while working. The Geraci came to the court of the Bourbons in Naples, not out of desire of distinction, but because the Corvaja were there. The Corvaja[272] on the other hand had to grow grapes and mine sulphur, because the Geraci were interested in agriculture and the working of mines. When a Geraci received an inheritance some old relative of the Corvaja had to lie down and die, so that the honor of the family should not be hazarded.

Palazzo Geraci was always kept busy counting its servants, in order not to let Palazzo Corvaja lead. But not only the servants, but the braid on the caps, the harnesses and the horses. The pheasant feather on the heads of the Corvaja leaders must not be an inch higher than that on the Geraci. Their goats must increase in the same proportion, and the Geraci’s oxen must have just as long horns as the Corvaja’s.

In our time one might have expected an end to the enmity between the two palaces. In our time there are just as few Corvaja in the one palace as there are Geraci in the other.

The Geraci court-yard is now a dirty hole, which contains donkey-stalls and pig-styes and chicken houses. On the high steps rags are dried and the bas-reliefs are broken and mouldy. In one of the passage-ways a trade in vegetables is carried on, and in the other shoes are made. The gate-keeper looks like the most ragged of beggars, and from cellar to attic live none but poor and penniless people.

It is no better in Palazzo Corvaja. There is not a vestige of the mosaic left in the big hall; only bare, empty arches. No beggars live there, because the palace is principally in ruins. It no longer raises its beautiful fa?ade with the carved windows to the bright Sicilian sky.

But the enmity between Geraci and Corvaja is not over. In the old days it was not only the noble[273] families themselves who competed with one another; it was also their neighbors and dependents. All Diamante is to this day divided into Geraci and Corvaja. There is still a high, loop-holed wall running across the town, dividing the part of Diamante which stands by the Geraci from that which has declared itself for the Corvaja.

Even in our day no one from Geraci will marry a girl from Corvaja. And a shepherd from Corvaja cannot let his sheep drink from a Geraci fountain. They have not even the same saints. San Pasquale is worshipped in Geraci, and the black Madonna is Corvaja’s patron saint.

A man from Geraci can never believe but that all Corvaja is full of magicians, witches, and werewolves. A man from Corvaja will risk his salvation that in Geraci there are none but rogues and pick-pockets.

Donna Micaela lived in the Geraci district, and soon all that part of the town were partisans of her railway. But then Corvaja could do no less than to oppose her.

The inhabitants of Corvaja specially disliked two things. They were jealous of the reputation of the black Madonna, and therefore did not like to have another miracle-working image come to Diamante. That was one thing. The other was that they feared that Mongibello would bury all Diamante in ashes and fire if any one tried to encircle it with a railway.

A few days after the bazaar Palazzo Corvaja began to show itself hostile. Donna Micaela one day found on the roof-garden a lemon, which was so thickly set with pins that it looked like a steel ball.[274] It was Palazzo Corvaja, that was trying to bewitch as many pains into her head as there were pins in the lemon.

Then Corvaja waited a few days to see what effect the lemon would have. But when Donna Micaela’s people continued to work on Etna and stake out the line, they came one night and pulled everything up. And when the stakes were set up again the next day, they broke the windows in the church of San Pasquale and threw stones at the Christ-image.

There was a long and narrow little square on the south side of Monte Chiaro. On both the long sides stood dark, high buildings. On one of the short sides was an abyss; on the other rose the steep mountain. The mountain wall was arranged in terraces, but the steps were crumbled and the marble railings broken. On the broadest of the terraces rose the stately ruins of Palazzo Corvaja.

The chief ornament of the square was a beautiful, oblong water-basin which stood quite under the terraces, close to the mountain wall. It stood there white as snow, covered with carvings, and full of clear, cold water. It was the best preserved of all the former glories of the Corvaja.

One beautiful and peaceful evening two ladies dressed in black came walking into the little square. For the moment it was almost empty. The two ladies looked about them, and when they saw no one they sat down on the bench by the fountain, and waited.

Soon several inquisitive children came forward and looked at them, and the older of the two began to talk to the children. She began to tell them[275] stories: “It is said,” and “It is told,” and “Once upon a time,” she said.

Then the children were told of the Christchild who turned himself into roses and lilies when the Madonna met one of Herod’s soldiers, who had been commanded to kill all children. And they were told the legend of how the Christchild once had sat and shaped birds out of clay, and how he clapped his hands and gave the clay pigeons wings with which to fly away when a naughty boy wished to break them to pieces.

While the old lady was talking, many children gathered about her, and also big people. It was a Saturday evening, so that the laborers were coming home from their work in the fields. Most of them came up to the Corvaja fountain for water. When they heard that some one was telling legends they stopped to listen. Both the ladies were soon surrounded by a close, dark wall of heavy, black cloaks and slouch hats.

Suddenly the old lady said to the children: “Do you like the Christchild?” “Yes, yes,” they said, and their big, dark eyes sparkled.—“Perhaps you would like to see him?”—“Yes, we should indeed.”

The lady threw back her mantilla and showed the children a little Christ-image in a jewelled dress, and with a gold crown on his head and gold shoes on his feet. “Here he is,” she said. “I have brought him with me to show you.”

The children were in raptures. First they clasped their hands at the sight of the image’s grave face, then they began to throw kisses to it.

“He is beautiful, is he not?” said the lady.

[276]

“Let us have him! Let us have him!” cried the children.

But now a big, rough workman, a dark man with a bushy, black beard, pushed forward. He wished to snatch away the image. The old lady had barely time to thrust it behind her back.

“Give it here, Donna Elisa, give it here!” said the man.

Poor Donna Elisa cast one glance at Donna Micaela, who had sat silent and displeased the whole time by her side. Donna Micaela had been persuaded with difficulty to go to Corvaja and show the image to the people there. “The image helps us when it wills,” she said. “We shall not force miracles.”

But Donna Elisa had been determined to go, and she had said that the image was only waiting to be taken to the faithless wretches in Corvaja. After everything that he had done, they might have enough faith in him to believe that he could win them over also.

Now she, Donna Elisa, stood there with the man over her, and she did not know how she could prevent him from snatching the image away.

“Give it to me amicably, Donna Elisa,” said the man, “otherwise, by God, I will take it in spite of you. I will hack it to small pieces, to small, small pieces. You shall see how much there will be left of your wooden doll. You shall see if it can withstand the black Madonna.”

Donna Elisa pressed against the mountain wall; she saw no escape. She could not run, and she could not struggle. “Micaela!” she wailed, “Micaela!”

[277]

Donna Micaela was very pale. She held her hands against her heart, as she always did when anything agitated her. It was terrible to her to stand opposed to those dark men. These were they of the slouch hats and short cloaks of whom she had always been afraid.

But now, when Donna Elisa appealed to her, she turned quickly, seized the image and held it out to the man.

“See here, take it!” she said defiantly. And she took a step towards him. “Take it, and do with it what you can!”

She held the image on her outstretched arms, and came nearer and nearer to the dark workman.

He turned towards his comrades. “She does not believe that I can do anything to the doll,” he said, and laughed at her. And the whole group of workmen slapped themselves on the knee and laughed.

But he did not take the image; he grasped instead the big pick-axe, which he held in his hand. He drew back a few steps, lifted the pick over his head, and stiffened his whole body for a blow which was to crush at once the entire hated wooden doll.

Donna Micaela shook her head warningly. “You cannot do it,” she said, and she did not draw the image back.

He saw that nevertheless she was afraid, and he enjoyed frightening her. He stood longer than was necessary with u............
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