In spite of the fact that the unhappy

But a tacit promise of marriage was given many days later, in October,
at the first birth of the oil in the olive, and at the last migration
of the swallows. With Donna Cristina’s permission, one Monday Zacchiele
took Anna to the factory on the hills where his mill was located. They
left by the Portasale, on foot, took the Salaria road, turning their
backs on the river. From the day of the fable of Galeana and Mainetto,
they had experienced, the one toward the other, a kind of trepidation,
a mixture of bashful timidity and respect. They had lost that beautiful
familiarity of previous times; now they spoke seldom together and
always with a hesitating reserve, avoiding each other’s face, with
uncertain smiles, becoming confused at times through a sudden blush,
dallying thus with timid, childish acts of innocence.

They walked in silence, at first, each following the dry and narrow
path which the footsteps of travellers had marked on both sides of the
road, and between them ran the road, muddy and indented with deep ruts
from the wheels of vehicles. The unrestrained joy of the vintage filled
the country; the songs at the crushing of the wine resounded over the
plain. Zacchiele kept slightly in the rear, breaking the silence from
time to time with some remark on the weather, the vines, the harvest of
olives, while Anna examined curiously all of the bushes flaming with
berries, the tilled fields, the water in the ditches; and, little by
little, a vague joy was born in her soul, like one who, after a long
period of fasting, is rejoiced by pleasant sensations experienced long
ago. As the road took a turn up the declivity through the rich olive
orchards of Cardirusso, clearly arose to her mind the remembrance of
Saint Apollinare and the ass and the keeper of the herds. She felt her
blood suddenly surge toward her heart. That episode, buried with her
youth, now revived in her memory with a marvellous clearness; a picture
of the place formed itself before her mind’s eye and she saw again the
man with the hare-lip and again heard his voice, while experiencing a
new confusion without knowing why.

As they approached the factory the wind among the trees caused the
mature olives to fall and a patch of serene sea was revealed from the
heights. Zacchiele had moved to the side of the woman and was looking
at her from time to time with a pious supplicating tenderness. “What
was she thinking of now?” Anna turned with an air almost of fright, as
if she had been caught in a sin. “She was thinking of nothing.” They
arrived at the mill where the farmers were crushing the first harvest
of olives fallen prematurely from the trees. The room for the crushing
was low and dimly lighted; from the ceiling sparkling with saltpetre
hung lanterns of brass which smoked; a cart-horse, blindfolded, turned
with even steps an immense mill-stone; and the farmers, clothed in a
kind of long tunic similar to a sack, with legs and arms bare, muscular
and oily, were pouring the liquid into jugs, jars and vats.

Anna watched the work attentively, and as Zacchiele gave orders to the
workers and wound in and out among the machines, observing the quality
of the olives with great decision of judgment, she felt her admiration
for him increase. Later, as Zacchiele standing before her took up a
great brimful pitcher and on pouring the oil, so pure and luminous,
into a vat, spoke of God’s abundance, she made the sign of the cross,
quite overwhelmed with veneration for the richness of the soil.

There came at length to the door two women of the factory, and
each held at her breast a nursing child and dragged at her skirts
a luxuriant group of children. They fell to conversing placidly,
and, while Anna tried to caress the children, each talked of her own
fertility, and with an honest frankness of speech told of her various
deliverances. The first had had seven children; the second eleven. It
was the will of Jesus Christ, for working people were needed. Then
the conversation turned upon familiar matters. Albarosa, one of the
mothers, asked Anna many questions. Had she never had any children?
Anna, in answering that she was not married, experienced for the first
time a kind of humiliation and grief, before that chaste and powerful
maternity. Then, changing the subject of their discourse, she rested
her hand on the nearest child. The others looked on with wide-open
eyes that seemed to have acquired a limpid, vegetable colour from
the continuous sight of green things. The odour of the crushed olives
floated in the air, penetrating the throat and exciting the palate. The
groups of workers appeared and disappeared under the red light of the
lamps.

Zacchiele, who up to that moment had been watching carefully the
measuring of the oil, approached the women. Albarosa welcomed him with
a merry expression. “How long were they to wait for Don Zacchiele to
take a wife?” Zacchiele smiled, slightly confused by this question,
and gave a stealthy glance at Anna who was still caressing the
rustic child and feigning not to have heard. Albarosa, through a
kindly pleasantry, characteristic of the peasant, embracing Anna and
Zacchiele significantly with a wink of her bovine eyes, pursued her
comment. They were a couple blessed by God. Why were they delaying? The
farmers, having suspended their work to attend to their meal, made a
circle around them. The couple, even more confused by these witnesses,
remained silent in an attitude bordering between tremulous smiles and
shame-faced modesty. One of the youths among the onlookers, inspired by
the affectionate compunctions in the face of Don Zacchiele, nudged his
companions with his elbows. The hungry horse neighed.

The meal was prepared. A strenuous activity invaded the large rustic
family. In the yard, in the open air, among the peaceful olives and
within sight of the sea beneath, the men sat at their meal. The plates
of vegetables, seasoned with fresh oil, smoked; the wine scintillated
in the simple vases of liturgical shape, while the frugal food
disappeared rapidly into the stomachs of the workers.

Anna now felt herself filled by a tumult of joy, and she seemed
suddenly almost united by a kind of friendly domesticity with the two
women. They took her into their houses where the rooms were large and
light, although very old. On the walls sacred images alternated with
pasqual palms; joints of pork hung from the rafters; the posts, ample
and very high, rose from the pavement with cradles beside them; from
all emanated the serenity of family concord. Anna, beholding these
arrangements, smiled timidly at some inward sweetness, and at a certain
point was seized by a strange emotion, almost as if all of her latent
virtues of the domestic mother and her instincts to succour had escaped
and suddenly risen up.

When the women descended again to the yard, the men still remained
around the table and Zacchiele was talking to them. Albarosa took a
small loaf of corn-bread, divided it in the middle, spread it with oil
and salt, and offered it to Anna. The fresh oil, just pressed from the
fruit, diffused in the mouth a savoury, sharp aroma, and Anna, allured,
ate all of the bread. She even drank the wine. Then as the evening
was falling, she and Zacchiele began the descent of the hill on their
return. Behind them the farmers were singing. Many other songs arose
from the fields and pervaded the evening air with the soft fullness
of a Gregorian chant. The wind blew moistly through the olive trees, a
dying splendour between rose and violet suffused the sky. Anna walked
in front with swift steps, grazing the tree-trunks. Zacchiele called
the woman by name; she turned to him humbly and palpitatingly. “What
did he wish?” Zacchiele said no more; he took two steps and arrived at
her side. Thus they continued their walk, in silence, until the Salaria
road no longer divided them. As in going, each had taken the marginal
road, on the right and left. At length they re-entered the Portasale.

Through a native irresolution Anna continually deferred her matrimony.
Religious doubts tormented her. She had heard it said that only virgins
would be admitted to the circle around the mother of God in Paradise.
What then? Must she renounce that celestial sweetness for an earthly
blessing? An ardour for devotion even more compelling seized her. In
all of her unoccupied hours she went to the church of the Rosario;
knelt before the great confessional of oak and remained motionless in
the attitude of prayer. The church was simple and poor; the pavement
was covered with mortuary stones and a single shabby metal lamp burned
before the altar. The woman mourned inwardly for the pomp of her
basilica, the solemnity of the ceremonies, the eleven lamps of silver,
the three altars of precious marbles.

But in Holy Week of the year 1857 a great event happened. Between the
Confraternity commanded by Don Fileno d’Amelio and the Abbot Cennamele,
who was aided by the parochial satellites, broke out a war; and the
cause of it was a dispute about the procession of the dead Jesus. Don
Fileno wished this ostentation, furnished by the congregation, to issue
from the parochial church. The war attracted and enveloped all of the
citizens as well as the militia of the King of Naples, residing in the
fortress. Popular tumult arose, the roads were occupied by assemblies
of fanatical people, armed platoons went around to suppress disorders,
the Archbishop of Chieti was besieged by innumerable messages from
both parties; much money for corruption was spent everywhere and a
murmur of mysterious plots spread throughout the city. The house of
Donna Cristina Basile was the hearth of all the dissensions. Don Fiore
Ussorio shone for his wonderful stratagems and his boldness in these
days of struggle. Don Paolo Nervegna had a great effusion of bile.
Don Ignazio Cespa exercised, to no purpose, all of his conciliative
blandishments and mellifluous smiles. The victory was fought for with
an implacable violence up to the ritualistic hour for the funeral
ostentation. The people fermented with expectation; the captain of
the militia, a partisan of the abbey, threatened punishment to the
instigators of the Confraternity. Revolt was on the point of breaking
forth. When, lo, there arrived at the square a mounted soldier, bearer
of an episcopal message, that gave the victory to the congregation.

The ostentation then passed with rare magnificence through the streets
scattered with flowers. A chorus of fifty child voices sang the hymn of
the Passion and ten censers filled the entire city with the smell of
incense. The canopies, the standards, the tapers, which made up this
new display, filled the bystanders with wonder. The Abbot, although
discomfited, did not intervene, and in his place Don Pasquale Carabba,
the Great Coadjutor, clothed in ample vestments, followed with much
solemnity the bier of Jesus.

Anna, during the contest, had made offerings for the victory of the
Abbot. But the sumptuousness of this ceremony blinded her; a kind of
rapture overcame her at the spectacle, and she felt gratitude even
toward Don Fiore Ussorio, who passed bearing in his hand an immense
taper. Then as the last band of celebrators arrived before her, she
mingled with the fanatical crowd of men, women and children and thus
moved along as if scarcely touching the earth, while always holding her
eyes fixed on the surmounting wreath of the Mater Dolorosa. On high,
from one balcony to another, were stretched, consecutively, illustrious
flags; from the houses of the stewards hung rude figures of lambs
fashioned from corn, while at intervals, where three or four streets
met, lighted brasiers spread fumes of aromatics.

The procession did not pass under the windows of the Abbot. From time
to time a kind of irregular fluctuation ran the length of the line,
as if the band of standard-bearers had encountered an obstacle. The
cause of it was a struggle between the bearer of the Crucifix of the
Confraternity and the lieutenant of the militia, both having received
the command to follow a different route. Since the lieutenant could
not use violence without committing sacrilege, the Crucifix conquered.
The Congregation exulted, the Commanding General burned with wrath,
and the people were filled with curiosity. When the ostentation, in
the vicinity of the Arsenale, turned again to enter the church of
Saint John, Anna took an oblique path and in a few steps reached the
main door. She kneeled. First there arrived before her a man bearing
the enormous cross, while the standard-bearers followed him, balancing
very tall banners on their foreheads or chins, and gesticulating with
a clever play of muscles. Then, almost in the centre of a cloud of
incense, came the other bands, the angelic choruses, men in cassocks,
the virgins, the gentlemen, the clerics, the militias. The sight was
grand. A kind of mystic terror seized the soul of the woman.

There advanced in the vestibule, according to custom, an acolyte
carrying a large silver plate for receiving tapers. Anna watched. Then
it was that the Commander, crunching between his teeth bitter words for
the Confraternity, threw his taper violently upon the plate and turned
his back with a threatening shrug. All remained dumbfounded. And in the
sudden silence one heard the clash of the sword of the officer as he
left the church. Don Fiore Ussorio only had the temerity to smile.

X

For a long time these deeds aroused the vocal activity of the citizens
and were a cause for quarrels. As Anna had been a witness of the last
scene, several came to her to get the facts. She recounted her story
with patience, and always in the same way. Her life from now on was
entirely expended in religious practices, domestic duties, and in
loving ministrations for her turtle. At the first signs of spring,
it awoke from its condition of lethargy. One day, unexpectedly, it
unsheathed from its shield the serpentine head and swung it weakly,
while its feet remained in torpor. The little eyes were half covered
with the eyelids. The animal, perhaps no longer conscious of being a
captive, pushed by the need to find food, as in the sand of its native
wood, moved at length with a lazy and uncertain effort, while feeling
the ground with its feet.

Anna, in the presence of this reawakening, was filled with an ineffable
tenderness, and looked on with eyes wet with tears. Then she took
the turtle, laid it upon her bed, and offered it some green leaves.
The turtle hesitated to touch the leaves, and in opening its jaws
showed its fleshy tongue, like that of a parrot. The covering of the
neck and claws seemed to be the flaccid and yellowish membrane of
a dead body. The woman, at this sight, felt herself overcome with a
great tenderness; and to restore her beloved she caressed it as would
a mother a convalescent child. She greased with sweet oil the bony
shield, and as the sun beat down upon it the polished sections shone
with beauty.

Among such cares passed the months of spring. But Zacchiele, counselled
by the spring season to greater pursuit of love, beset the woman
with such tender supplications that he had at last from her a solemn
promise. The nuptials should be celebrated the day preceding the
nativity of Christ.

Then the idyl reblossomed. While Anna attended to her needlework
for her trousseau, Zacchiele read in a loud voice the story of the
New Testament. The marriage at Cana, the miracles of the Redeemer,
the dead of Nain, the multiplication of the loaves and fishes, the
liberation of the daughter of Cainan, the ten lepers, the blind-born,
the resurrection of the Nazarene, all of those miraculous narrations
ravished the soul of the woman. And she pondered long on Jesus who
entered into Jerusalem riding on an ass, while the people spread in His
path their garments and waved palms.

In the room, the herb of thyme shed odour from an earthen vase. The
turtle came sometimes to the seamstress and caught in its mouth the hem
of the cloth, or chewed the leather of her shoe. One day Zacchiele,
while reading the parable of the Prodigal Son, feeling suddenly
something soft under his feet, through an involuntary motion of fright,
gave a kick, and the turtle, struck against the wall, fell back upside
down. Its dorsal shell burst in many places, while a little blood
appeared on one of its claws, which the animal waved fruitlessly in an
effort to regain its correct position.

In spite of the fact that the unhappy lover showed himself contrite and
even inconsolable, Anna, after that day, locked herself in a kind of
diffident severity, scarcely spoke, and no longer wished to hear his
reading. And thus the Prodigal Son was left forever under the trees
with the acorns to watch his master’s pigs.

Zacchiele lost his life in the great flood of October, 1857. The dairy
farm where he lived, in the neighbourhood of the Cappuccini Convent,
beyond the Porta-Giulia, was inundated by the flood. The waters
covered the entire country, from the hill of Orlando to the hill of
Castellammare; and, since it had flown over vast deposits of clay, it
looked bloody as in the ancient fable. The tops of the trees emerged
here and there from this blood, so miry and extensive. At intervals
passed enormous trunks of trees with all of their roots, furniture,
unrecognisable materials, groups of beasts not yet dead who bellowed
and disappeared and then reappeared and were lost sight of in the
distance. The droves of oxen, especially, presented a wonderful sight;
their great white bodies pursued one another, their heads reared
desperately from out the water, furious interlacings of horns occurred
in their rushes of terror. As the sea was to the east, the waves at the
mouth of the river overflowed into it. The salt lake of Palata and its
estuaries also joined with the river. The fort became a lost island.
Inland the roads were submerged, and in the house of Donna Cristina the
water-line reached almost half way up the stairs. The tumult increased
continuously, while the bells sounded clamorously. The prisoners,
within their prisons, howled.

Anna, believing in some supreme chastisement from the Most High, took
recourse in prayers for salvation. The second day, as she mounted
to the top of the pigeon-house, she saw nothing but water, water
everywhere under the clouds, and later observed, terrified, horses
galloping madly on the ridge of San Vitale. She descended, dulled, with
her mind in a turmoil, and the persistency of the noise and the mists
of the air blurred in her every sense of place and time.

When the flood began to subside, the country people entered the city by
means of scows. Men, women and children carried in their faces and eyes
a grievous stupefaction. All narrated sad stories. And a ploughman of
the Cappuccini came to the Basile house to announce that Don Zacchiele
had been washed out to sea. The ploughman spoke simply in telling of
the death. He said that in the vicinity of the Cappuccini certain women
had bound their nursing children to the top of an enormous tree to
rescue them from the waters and that the whirlpools had uprooted the
tree, dragging down the five little creatures. Don Zacchiele was upon
a roof with other Christians in a compact group, and as the roof was
about to be submerged the corpses of animals and broken branches beat
against these desperate ones. When at length the tree with the babies
passed over them, the impact was so terrible that after its passage
there was no longer a trace of roof or Christians.

Anna listened without weeping, and in her mind, shaken by the account
of that death, by that tree with its five infants, and those men all
crouched upon the roof while the corpses of beasts beat against it,
sprang up a kind of superstitious wonder like the excitement she had
felt in hearing certain stories of the Old Testament. She mounted
slowly to her room, and tried to compose herself. The sun shone upon
her window, and the turtle slept in a corner, covered with his shield,
while the chattering of swallows came from the tiles. All of these
natural things, this customary tranquillity of her daily life, little
by little comforted her. From the depths of that momentary calm at
length her grief arose clearly, and she bent her head upon her breast
in deep depression.

Her heart was stung with remorse for having preserved against Zacchiele
that strange, silent rancour for so long a time; recollections one
after another came to mind, and the virtues of her lost lover shone
more brightly than ever in her memory. As the scourgings of her grief
increased, she got up, went to her bed, and there stretched herself out
upon her face. Her weeping mingled with the chattering of the birds.

Afterwards, when her tears were dried, the peace of resignation began
to descend upon her soul, and she came to feel that everything of this
earth was frail and that we ought to bend ourselves to the will of God.
The unction of this simple act of consecration spread in her heart a
fulness of sweetness. She felt herself freed from all inquietude, and
found repose in her humble but firm faith. From now on in her law there
was but this one clause: The sovereign will of God, always just, always
adorable, established in all things praised and exalted through all
eternity.

Thus to the daughter of Luca was opened the true road to Paradise.
The passing of time was not marked by her except in ecclesiastical
occurrences. When the river re-entered its channel, there issued in
consecutive order for many days processions throughout the cities and
country. She followed all of them, together with the people, singing
the _Te Deum_. The vineyards everywhere had been devastated; the earth
was soft and the air pregnant with white vapours, singularly luminous,
like those rising from the swamps in spring.

Then came the feast of All Saints; then the solemnity for the dead.
A great number of masses were celebrated for the assistance of the
victims of the flood. At Christmas Anna wished to make a manger; she
bought a Christ-child, Mary, Saint Joseph, an ox and an ass, wise men,
and shepherds, all made of wax. Accompanied by the daughter of the
sacristan she went to the ditches of the Salaria road to search for
moss. Under the glassy serenity of the fields, the lands were covered
with lime, the factory of Albarosa appeared on the hill among the
olives, and no voice disturbed the silence. Anna, as she discovered
the moss, bent and with a knife cut the clod. On contact with the
cold verdure her hands became violet coloured. From time to time,
at the sight of a clod greener than the others, there escaped from
her an exclamation of contentment. When her basket was full, she sat
down upon the edge of the ditch with the girl. She raised her eyes
thoughtfully and slowly to the olive-orchard, and they rested upon the
white wall of the factory that resembled a cloisteral edifice. Then she
bowed her head, tormented by her thoughts. Later she turned suddenly
to her companion—”Had she never seen the olives crushed!” She began
to picture the work of the crushing with voluble speech; and, as she
spoke, little by little arose in her mind other recollections than
those she was describing, and they showed themselves in her voice by a
slight trembling.

That was the last weakness. In April of 1858, shortly after Ascension
Day, she fell sick. She remained in bed almost a month, tormented by
a pulmonary inflammation. Donna Cristina came morning and evening to
her room to visit her. An aged maid servant who made public profession
of assisting the sick gave her medicines to her. Then the turtle
cheered the days of her convalescence. And as the animal was emaciated
from fasting, and was nothing but skin, Anna, seeing him so lean, and
perceiving herself so debilitated, felt that secret satisfaction that
we experience when we suffer the same pain as a beloved one. A mild
tepidity arose from the tiles covered with lichens, in the court the
cocks crew, and one morning two swallows entered suddenly, flapped
their wings about the room, and fled away again.

When Anna returned for the first time to the church, after her
recovery, it was the festival of roses. On entering she breathed in
greedily the perfume of incense. She walked softly along the nave,
in order to find the spot where she had been accustomed to kneel, and
she felt herself seized with a sudden joy when finally she discovered
between the mortuary stories that one which bore in its centre an
almost effaced bas-relief. She knelt upon it, and fell to praying. The
people multiplied. At a certain point in the ceremony two acolytes
descended from the choir with two silver basins full of roses, and
commenced to scatter the flowers upon the heads of the prostrate ones,
while the organ played a joyful hymn. Anna remained bent in a kind of
ecstasy that gave her the blessedness of the mystic celebration and a
vaguely voluptuous feeling of recovery. When several roses happened to
fall upon her, she gave a long sigh. The poor woman had never before
in her life experienced anything more sweet than that sigh of mystic
delight and its subsequent languor.

The Rose Easter remained therefore Anna’s favourite festival and it
returned periodically without any noteworthy episode. In 1860 the city
was disturbed with serious agitations. One heard often in the night the
roll of drums, the alarms of sentinels, the reports of muskets. In the
house of Donna Cristina a more lively fervour for action manifested
itself among the five suitors. Anna was not frightened, but lived in
profound meditation, having neither a realisation of public events nor
of domestic wants, fulfilling her duties with machine-like exactness.

In the month of September the fortress of Pescara was evacuated, the
Bourbon militia dispersed, their arms and baggage thrown into the
water of the river, while bands of citizens flocked through the streets
with liberal acclamations of joy. Anna, when she heard that the Abbot
Cennamele had fled precipitately, thought that the enemies of the
Church of God had triumphed, and was greatly grieved at this.

After this her life unfolded in peace for a long time. The shell of the
turtle increased in breadth and became more opaque; the tobacco plant
sprang up annually, blossomed and fell; the wise swallows every autumn
departed for the land of the Pharaohs. In 1865 the great contest of the
suitors at length culminated in the victory of Don Fileno D’Amelio. The
nuptials were celebrated in the month of March with banquets of solemn
gaiety. There came to prepare the valuable dishes two Capuchin fathers,
Fra Vittorio and Fra Mansueto.

They were the two who after the suppression of the order remained
to guard the convent. Fra Vittorio was a sexagenary, reddened,
strengthened and made happy by the juice of the grape. A little
green band covered an infirmity of his right eye, while the left
scintillated, full of a penetrating liveliness. He had exercised from
his youth the art of drugs, and, as he had much skill in the kitchen,
gentlemen were accustomed to summon him on occasions of festivity.
At work he used rough gestures that revealed in the ample sleeves his
hairy arms, his whole beard moved with every motion of his mouth and
his voice broke into shrill cries. Fra Mansueto, on the contrary, was
a lean old man with a great head and on his chin a goatee. He had two
yellowish eyes full of submission. He cultivated the soil and going
from door to door carried eatable herbs to the houses. In serving
a company he took a modest position, limped on one foot, spoke in
the soft idiomatic patois of Ortona, and, perhaps in memory of the
legend of Saint Thomas, exclaimed, “For the Turks!” every little while
stroking his polished head with his hand.

Anna attended to the placing of the plates, the kitchen ware and the
coppers. It seemed to her now that the kitchen had assumed a kind of
secret solemnity through the presence of the brothers. She remained
to watch attentively all of the acts of Fra Vittorio, seized with
that trepidation that all simple people feel in the presence of men
gifted with some superior virtue. She admired especially the infallible
gesture with which the great Capuchin scattered upon the dishes certain
secret drugs of his, certain particular aromas known only to him. But
the humility, the mildness, the modest jokes of Fra Mansueto little by
little made a conquest of her. And the bonds of a common country and
the still stronger ones of a common dialect cemented their friendship.

As they conversed, recollections of the past germinated in their
speech. Fra Mansueto had known Luca Minella and he was in the basilica
when the death of Francesca Nobile had happened among the pilgrims.
“For the Turks!” He had even helped to carry the corpse up to the house
at the Porta-Caldara, and he remembered that the dead woman wore a
waist of yellow silk and many chains of gold….

Anna grew sad. In her memory this matter up to that moment had remained
confused, vague, almost uncertain, dimmed by the very long inert
stupor that had followed her first paroxysms of epilepsy. But when Fra
Mansueto said that her mother was in Paradise because those who die
in the cause of religion dwell among the saints, Anna experienced an
unspeakable sweetness and felt suddenly surge up in her soul an immense
adoration for the sanctity of her mother.

Then, remembering the places of her native country, she began to
discourse minutely on the Church of the Apostle, mentioning the
shapes of the altars, the position of the Chapels, the number of the
ornaments, the shape of the cupola, the positions of the images, the
divisions of the pavement and the colours of the windows. Fra Mansueto
followed her with benignity; and, since he had been in Ortona several
months before, recounted the new things seen there. The Archbishop of
Orsogna had given the Church a precious vase of gold with settings of
precious stones. The Confraternity of the Holy Sacrament had renovated
all the wood and leather of the stoles. Donna Blandina Onofrii
had furnished an entire change of apparel, consisting in Dalmatian
chasubles, stoles, sacerdotal cloaks and surplices.

Anna listened greedily, and the desire to see these new things and
to see again the old ones began to torment her. When the Capuchin
was silent she turned to him with an air half of pleasure, half of
timidity. The May feast was drawing near. Should they go?

During the last days of May, Anna, having had permission from Donna
Cristina, made her preparations. She felt anxious about the turtle.
Ought she to leave it or carry it with her? She remained a long time
in doubt but at length decided to carry it for security. She put
it in a basket with her clothes and the boxes of confection which
Donna Cristina was sending to Donna Veronica Monteferrante, Abbess
of the monastery of Santa Caterina. At dawn Anna and Fra Mansueto
set out. Anna had from the first a nimble step and a gay aspect; her
hair, already almost entirely grey, lay in shining folds beneath her
handkerchief. The brother limped, supporting himself with a stick, and
an empty knapsack swung from his shoulders. When they reached the wood
of pines, they made their first halt.

The trees in the May morning, immersed in their native perfume, swayed
voluptuously between the serenity of the sky and that of the sea. The
trunks wept resin. The blackbirds whistled. All the fountains of life
seemed open for the transfiguration of the earth.

Anna sat down upon the grass, offered the monk bread and fruit, and
began to talk about the festivity, eating at intervals. The turtle
tried with its two foremost legs to reach the edge of the basket, and
its timid serpent-like head projected and withdrew in its efforts.
Then, when Anna took it out, the beast began to advance on the moss
toward a bush of myrtle, with less slowness, perhaps feeling the joy
of its primitive liberty arise confusedly in it. Its shell amongst
the green looked more beautiful. Fra Mansueto made several moral
reflections and praised Providence that gives to the turtle a house,
and sleep during the winter season. Anna recounted several facts which
demonstrated great frankness and rectitude in the turtle. Then she
added, “What are the animals thinking of?”

The brother did not answer. Both remained perplexed. There descended
from the bark of a pine a file of ants and they extended themselves
across the ground, each ant dragged a fragment of food and the entire
innumerable family fulfilled its work with diligent precision. Anna
watched, and there awoke in her mind the ingenuous beliefs of her
childhood. She spoke of wonderful dwellings that the ants excavated
beneath the earth. The brother replied with an accent of intense faith,
“God be praised!” And both remained pensive, beneath the greatness,
while worshipping God in their hearts.

In the early hours of the evening they arrived in the country of
Ortona. Anna knocked at the door of the monastery and asked to see
the abbess. On entering they saw a little court paved with black and
white stone with a cistern in the centre. The reception parlour was
a low room, with a few chairs around it; two walls were occupied by a
grating, the other two by a crucifix and images. Anna was immediately
seized by a feeling of veneration for the solemn peace that reigned
in this spot. When the Mother Veronica appeared unexpectedly behind
the grating, tall and severe in her monastic habit, Anna experienced
an unspeakable confusion as if in the presence of a supernatural
apparition. Then, reassured by the kind smile of the abbess, she
delivered her message briefly, placed her boxes in the cavity of the
turnstile and waited. The Mother Veronica moved about her benignly,
watching her with her beautiful lion-like eyes; she gave her an effigy
of the Virgin, and in taking leave she extended her illustrious hand to
be kissed through the grating, and disappeared.

Anna went out full of trepidation. As she passed the vestibule, there
reached her ears a chorus of litanies, a song, very regular and sweet,
which came perhaps from some subterranean chapel. When she passed
through the court she saw on the left, at the top of the wall, a branch
loaded with oranges. And, as she set foot again on the road, she seemed
to have left behind her a garden of blessedness.

Then she turned toward the eastern road in order to search for her
relations. At the door of the old house an unknown woman stood leaning
against the door-post. Anna approached her timidly and asked news of
the family of Francesca Nobile. The woman interrupted her: “Why? Why?
What did she want?”—with a voice and an investigating expression.
Then, when Anna recalled herself, she permitted her to enter.

The relations had almost all died or emigrated. There remained in
the house an old, rich man, Uncle Mingo, who had taken for his second
wife “the daughter of Sblendore” and lived with her almost in misery.
The old man at first did not recognise Anna. He was seated upon an
old ecclesiastical chair, whose red material hung in shreds; his
hands rested on the arms, contorted and rendered enormous through
the monstrosity of gout, his feet with rhythmic movements beat the
earth, while a continuous paralytic trembling agitated the muscles
of his neck, elbows and knees. As he gazed at Anna he held open with
difficulty his inflamed eyelids. At length he remembered her.

As Anna proceeded to explain her own experiences, the daughter
of Sblendore, sniffing money, began to conceive in her mind hopes
of usurpation, and by virtue of these hopes became more benign in
her expression. Anna’s tale was scarcely told when she offered her
hospitality for the night, took her basket of clothes and laid it down,
promised to take care of her turtle and then made several complaints,
not without tears, about the infirmity of the old man and the misery of
their house. Anna went out with her soul full of pity; she went up the
coast toward the belfry of the church, feeling anxious on approaching
it.

Around the Farnese palace the people surged like billows; and that
great feudal relic ornamented with figures, magnificent in the
sunlight, was most conspicuous. Anna passed through the crowd,
alongside of the benches of the silversmiths who made sacred apparel
and native objects. At all of that scintillating display of liturgical
forms her heart dilated with joy and she made the sign of the cross
before each bench as before an altar. When at night she reached the
door of the church and heard the canticle of the ritual, she could no
longer contain her joy as she advanced as far as the pulpit, with steps
almost vacillating. Her knees bent beneath her and the tears welled up
in her eyes. She remained there in contemplation of the candelabras,
the ostensories, of all those objects on the altar, her mind dizzy
from having eaten nothing since morning. An immense weakness seized
her nerves and her soul shrank to the point of annihilation. Above her,
along the central nave, the glass lamps formed a triple crown of fire.
In the distance, four solid trunks of wax flamed at the sides of the
tabernacle.

The five days of the festival Anna lived thus within the church from
early morning until the hour at which the doors were closed—most
faithfully she breathed in that warm air which implanted in her senses
a blissful torpor, in her soul a joy, full of humility. The orations,
the genuflections, the salutations, all of those formulas, all of those
ritualistic gestures incessantly repeated, dulled her senses. The fumes
of the incense hid the earth from her.

Rosaria, the daughter of Sblendore, meanwhile profited by moving
her to pity with lying complaints and by the miserable spectacle
of the paralytic old man. She was an unprincipled woman, expert in
fraud and dedicated to debauchery; her entire face was covered with
blisters, red and serpentine, her hair grey, her stomach obese. Bound
to the paralytic by vices common to both and by marriage, she and
he had squandered in a short time their substance in guzzling and
merry-making. Both in their misery, venomous from privation, burning
with thirst for wine and liquor, harassed by the infirmities of
decrepitude, were now expiating their prolonged sinning.

Anna, with a spontaneous impulse for charity, gave to Rosaria all her
money kept for alms-giving and her superfluous clothes as well as her
earrings, two gold rings and her coral necklace and she promised still
further support. At length she retraced the road to Pescara, in company
with Fra Mansueto, and bearing the turtle in her basket.

During their walk, as the houses of Ortona withdrew into the distance,
a great sadness descended upon the soul of the woman. Crowds of singing
pilgrims were passing in other directions, and their songs, monotonous
and slow, remained a long while in the air. Anna listened to them;
an overwhelming desire drew her to join them, to follow them, to live
thus, making pilgrimages from sanctuary to sanctuary, from country to
country, in order to exalt the miracles of every saint, the virtues of
every relic, the bounty of every Mary.

“They go to Cucullo,” Fra Mansueto said, pointing with his arm to
some distant country. And both began to talk of Saint Domenico,
who protected the men from the bite of serpents and the seed from
caterpillars; then they spoke of the patron saints. At Bugnara, on
the bridge of Rivo, more than a hundred cart-houses, among horses and
mules, laden with fruit, were going in a procession to the Madonna of
the Snow. The devotees rode on their chargers, with sprigs of spikenard
on their heads, with strings of dough on their shoulders, and they
laid at the feet of the image their cereal gifts. At Bisenti, many
youths, with baskets of grain on their heads, were conducting along
the roads an ass that carried on its back a larger basket, and they
entered the Church of the Madonna of the Angels, to offer them up,
while singing. At Torricella Peligna, men and children, crowned with
roses and garlands of roses, went up on a pilgrimage to the Madonna of
the Roses, situated upon a cliff where was the foot-prints of Samson.
At Loreto Apentino a white ox, fattened during the year with abundance
of pasturage, moved in pomp behind the statue of Saint Zopito. A red
drapery covered him and a child rode upon him. As the sacred ox entered
the church, he gave forth the excrescence of his food and the devotees
from this smoking material presaged future agriculture.

Of such religious usages Anna and Fra Mansueto were speaking, when
they reached the mouth of the Alento. The Channel carried the water
of spring between the green foliage not yet flowered. And the Capuchin
spoke of the Madonna of the Incoronati, where for the festival of Saint
John the devotees wreath their heads with vines, and during the night
go with great rejoicing to the River Gizio to bathe.

Anna removed her shoes in order to ford the river. She felt now in
her soul an immense and loving veneration for everything, for the
trees, the grass, the animals, for all that those Catholic customs had
sanctified. Thus from the depths of her ignorance and simplicity arose
the instinct of idolatry.

Several months after her return, an epidemic of cholera broke out in
the country, and the mortality was great. Anna lent her services to the
poor sick ones. Fra Mansueto died. Anna felt much grief at this. In
the year 1866, at the recurrence of the festival, she wished to take
leave and return to her native place forever, because she saw in her
sleep every night Saint Thomas who commanded her to depart. So she took
the turtle, her clothes and her savings, weeping she kissed the hand
of Donna Cristina, and departed upon a cart, together with two begging
nuns.

At Ortona she dwelt in the house of her paralytic uncle. She slept upon
a straw pallet and ate nothing but bread and vegetables. She dedicated
every hour of the day to the practices of the Church, with a marvellous
fervour, and her mind gradually lost all ability to do anything save
contemplate Christian mysteries, adore symbols and imagine Paradise.
She was completely absorbed with divine charity, completely encompassed
with that divine passion which the sacerdotals manifest always with
the same signs and the same words. She comprehended but that one single
language; had but that one single refuge, sweet and solemn, where her
whole heart dilated in a pious security of peace and where her eyes
moistened with an ineffable sweetness of tears.

She suffered, for the love of Jesus, domestic miseries, was gentle
and submissive and never proffered a lament, a reproof, or a threat.
Rosaria extracted from her little by little all of her savings, and
commenced then to let her go hungry, to overtax her, to call her
vicious names and to persecute the turtle with fierce insistency.
The old paralytic gave forth continuously a species of hoarse howls,
opening his mouth where the tongue trembled and from which dripped
continually quantities of saliva. One day, because his greedy wife
swallowed before him some liquor and denied him a drink, escaping with
the glass, he arose from his chair with an effort and began to walk
toward her, his legs wavering, his feet striking the ground with an
involuntary rhythmic stroke. Suddenly he moved faster, his trunk bent
forward, while hopping with short pursuing steps, as if pushed by an
irresistible impulse, until at length he fell face downward upon the
edge of the stairs.