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HOME > Classical Novels > The Miracles of Antichrist > IV ONLY OF THIS WORLD
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As she grew up everybody said of her: “She is going to be a saint, a saint.”

Her name was Margherita Cornado. She lived in Girgenti on the south side of Sicily, in the great mining district. When she was a child her father was a miner; later he inherited a little money, so that he no longer needed to work.

There was a little, narrow, miserable roof-garden on Margherita Cornado’s house in Girgenti. A small and steep stairway led up to it, and one had to creep out through a low door. But it was well worth the trouble. When you reached the top you saw not only a mass of roofs, but the whole air over the town was gaily crowded with the towers and fa?ades of all Girgenti’s churches. And every fa?ade and every tower was a quivering lace-work of images, of loggias, of glowing canopies.

And outside the town there was a wide plain which sloped gently down towards the sea, and a semicircle of hills that guarded the plain. The plain was glittering red; the ocean was blue as enamel; the hillsides were yellow; it was a whole orient of warmth and color.

But there was even more to be seen. Ancient temples were dotted about the valley. Ruins and[355] strange old towers were everywhere, as in a fairy world.

As Margherita Cornado grew up, she used to spend most of her days there; but she never looked out over the dazzling landscape. She was occupied with other things.

Her father used to tell her of the life in the sulphur mines at Grotte, where he had worked. While Margherita Cornado sat on the airy terrace, she thought that she was incessantly walking about the dark mine veins, and finding her way through dim shafts.

She could not help thinking of all the misery that existed in the mines; especially she thought of the children, who carried the ore up to the surface. “The little wagons,” they called them. That expression never left her mind. Poor, poor little wagons, the little mine-wagons!

They came in the morning, and each followed a miner down into the mine. As soon as he had dug out enough ore, he loaded the mine-wagon with a basket of it, and then the latter began to climb. Several of them met on the way, so that there was a long procession. And they began to sing:—
“One journey made in struggling and pain,
Nineteen times to be travelled again.”

When they finally reached the light of day, they emptied their baskets of ore and threw themselves on the ground to rest a moment. Most of them dragged themselves over to the sulphurous pools near the shaft of the mine and drank the pestiferous water.

But they soon had to go down again, and they[356] gathered at the mouth of the mine. As they clambered down, they cried: “Lord and God, have mercy, have mercy, have mercy!”

Every journey the little wagons made, their song grew more feeble. They groaned and cried as they crawled up the paths of the mine.

The little wagons were bathed in perspiration; the baskets of ore ground holes in their shoulders. As they went up and down they sang:—
“Seven more trips without pause for breath,
The pain of living is worse than death.”

Margherita Cornado had suffered for those poor children all her own childhood. And because she was always thinking of their hardships, people believed that she would be a saint.

Neither did she forget them as she grew older. As soon as she was grown, she went to Grotte, where most of the mines are, and when the little wagons came out into the daylight, she was waiting for them by the shaft with fresh, clean water. She wiped the perspiration from their faces, and she dressed the wounds on their shoulders. It was not much that she could do for them, but soon the little wagons felt that they could not go on with their work any day that Margherita Cornado did not come and comfort them.

But unfortunately for the little wagons, Margherita was very beautiful. One day one of the mining-engineers happened to see her as she was relieving the children, and instantly fell very much in love with her.

A few weeks after, Margherita Cornado stopped coming to the Grotte mines. She sat at home[357] instead and sewed on her wedding outfit. She was going to marry the mining-engineer. It was a good match, and connected her with the chief people of the town, so she could not care for the little wagons any longer.

A few days before the wedding the old beggar, Santuzza, who was Margherita’s god-mother, came and asked to speak to her. They betook themselves to the roof-garden in order to be alone.

“Margherita,” said the old woman, “you are in the midst of such happiness and magnificence that perhaps there is no use speaking to you of those who are in need and sorrow. You have forgotten all such things.”

Margherita reproved her for speaking so.

“I come with a greeting to you from my son, Orestes. He is in trouble, and he needs your advice.”

“You know that you can speak freely to me, Santuzza,” said the girl.

“Orestes is no longer at the Grotte mines; you know that, I suppose. He is at Racalmuto. And he is very badly off there. Not that the pay is so bad, but the engineer is a man who grinds down the poor to the last drop of blood.”

The old woman told how the engineer tortured the miners. He made them work over time; he fined them if they missed a day. He did not look after the mines properly; there was one cave-in after another. No one was secure of his life as long as he was under earth.

“Well, Margherita, Orestes had a son. A splendid boy; just ten years old. The engineer came and wished to buy the boy from Orestes, and set him to[358] work with the little wagons. But Orestes said no. His boy should not be ruined by such work.

“Then the engineer threatened him, and said that Orestes would be dismissed from the mine.”

Santuzza paused.

“And then?” asked Margherita.

“Yes, then Orestes gave his son to the engineer. The next day the boy got a whipping from him. He beat him every day. The boy grew more and more feeble. Orestes saw it, and asked the engineer to spare the boy, but he had no mercy. He said that the boy was lazy, and he continued to persecute him. And now he is dead. My grandson is dead, Margherita.”

The girl had quite forgotten all her own happiness. She was once more only the miner’s daughter, the protector of the little wagons, the poor child who used to sit on the bright terrace and weep over the hardships of the black mines.

“Why do you let the man live?” she cried.

The old woman looked at her furtively. Then she crept close to her with a knife. “Orestes sends you this with a thousand questions,” she said.

Margherita Cornado took the knife, kissed the blade, and gave it back without a word.

It was the evening before the wedding. The parents of the bridegroom were awaiting their son. He was to come home from the mines towards night; but he never came. Later in the night a servant was sent to the Grotte mines to look for him, and found him a mile from Girgenti. He lay murdered at the roadside.

A search for the murderer was immediately instituted. Strict examinations of the miners were held,[359] but the culprit could not be discovered. There were no witnesses; no one could be prevailed upon to betray a comrade.

Then Margherita Cornado appeared and denounced Orestes, who was the son of her god-mother, Santuzza, and who had not moved to Racalmuto at all.

She did it although she had heard afterwards that her betrothed had been guilty of everything of which Santuzza had accused him. She did it although she herself had sealed his doom by kissing the knife.

She had hardly accused Orestes before she repented of it; she was filled with the anguish of remorse.

In another land what she had done would not have been considered a crime, but it is so regarded in Sicily. A Sicilian would rather die than be an informer.

Margherita Cornado enjoyed no rest either by night or by day. She had a continual aching feeling of anguish in her heart, a great unhappiness dwelt in her.

She was not severely judged, because every one knew that she had loved the murdered man and thought that Santuzza had been too cruel towards her. No one spoke of her disdainfully, and no one refused to salute her.

But it made no difference to her that others were kind to her. Remorse filled her soul and tortured her like an aching wound. Orestes had been sentenced to the galleys for life. Santuzza had died a few weeks after her son’s sentence had been passed, and Margherita could not ask forgiveness of either of them.


She called on the saints, but they would not help her. It seemed as if nothing in the world could have the power to free her from the horror of remorse.

At that time the famous Franciscan monk, Father Gondo, was sojourning in the neighborhood of Girgenti. He was preaching a pilgrimage to Diamante.

It did not disturb Father Gondo not to have the pope acknowledge the Christ-image in the church of San Pasquale as a miracle-worker. He had met the blind singers on his wanderings and had heard them tell of the image. Through long, happy nights he had sat at the feet of Father Elia and Brother Tommaso, and from sunset to sunrise they had told him of the image.

And now the famous preacher had begun to send all who were in trouble to the great miracle-worker. He warned the people not to let that holy time pass unheeded. “The Christchild,” he said, “had not hitherto been much worshipped in Sicily. The time had come when he wished to possess a church and followers. And to effect it he let his holy image perform miracle after miracle.”

Father Gondo, who had passed his novitiate in the monastery of Aracoeli on the Capitol, told the people of the image of the Christchild that was there, and of the thousand miracles he had performed. “And now that good little child wishes to be worshipped in Sicily,” said Father Gondo. “Let us hesitate no longer, and hasten to him. For the moment heaven is generous. Let us be the first to acknowledge the image! Let us be like the shepherds and wise men of the East; let us go to[361] the holy child while he is still lying on his bed of straw in the miserable hut!”

Margherita Cornado was filled with a new hope when she heard him. She was the first to obey Father Gondo’s summons. After her others joined him also. Forty pilgrims marched with him through the plateaus of the inland to Diamante.

They were all very poor and unhappy. But Father Gondo made them march with song and prayer. Soon their eyes began to shine as if the star of Bethlehem had gone before them.

“Do you know,” said Father Gondo, “why God’s son is greater than all the saints? Because he gives the soul holiness; because he forgives sins; because he grants to the spirit a blessed trust in God; because his kingdom is not of this world.”

When his little army looked tired, he gave them new life by telling them of the miracles the image had performed. The legends of the blind singers were like cooling drinks and cheering wine. The poor wanderers in the barren lands of Sicily walked with a lighter step, as if they were on their way to Nazareth to see the carpenter’s son.

“He will take all our burdens from us,” said Father Gondo. “When we come back our hearts will be freed from every care.”

And during the wandering through the scorched, glowing desert, where no trees gave cooling shade, and where the water was bitter with salt and sulphur, Margherita Cornado felt that her heart’s torments were relieved. “The little king of heaven will take away my pain,” she said.

At last, one day in May, the pilgrims reached the foot of the hill of Diamante. There the desert[362] stopped. They saw about them groves of olive-trees and fresh green leaves. The mountain shone; the town shone. They felt that they had come to a place in the shadow of God’s grace.

They toiled joyfully up the zigzag path, and with loud and exultant voices sang an old pilgrims’ song.

When they had gone some way up the mountain, people came running from Diamante to meet them. When the people heard the monotonous sound of the old song, they threw aside their work and hurried out. And the people of Diamante embraced and kissed the pilgrims.

They had expected them long ago; they could not understand why they had not come before. The Christ-image of Diamante was a wonderful miracle-worker; he was so compassionate, so loving that every one ought to come to him.

When Margherita Cornado heard them she felt as if her heart was already healed of its pain. All the people of Diamante comforted her and encouraged her. “He will certainly help you; he helps every one,” they said. “No one has prayed to him in vain.”

At the town-gate the pilgrims parted. The townspeople took them to their homes, so that they might rest after their journey. In an hour they were all to meet at the Porta Etnea in order to go out to the image together.

But Margherita had not the patience to wait a whole hour. She asked her way out to the church of San Pasquale and went there alone before all the others.

When Father Gondo and the pilgrims came out to San Pasquale an hour later, they saw Margherita[363] Cornado sitting on the platform by the high altar. She was sitting still and did not seem to notice their coming. But when Father Gondo came close up to her, she started up as if she had lain in wait for him and threw herself upon him. She seized him by the throat and tried to strangle him.

She was big, splendidly developed and strong. It was only after a severe struggle that Father Gondo and two of the pilgrims succeeded in subduing her. She was quite mad, and so violent that she had to be bound.

The pilgrims had come in a solemn procession; they sang, and held burning candles in their hands. There was a long line of them, for many people from Diamante had joined them. Those who came first immediately stopped their singing; those coming after had noticed nothing and continued their song. But then the news of what had happened passed from file to file, and wherever it came the song stopped. It was horrible to hear how it died away and changed into a low wail.

All the weary pilgrims realized that they had faile............
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