They remained with her two days

No one had dared to close the balcony, where Mazzagrogna had fallen.
His corpse was lying in a contorted position. Then the rebels, in
order to be freer, had left the pole, holding the bleeding body of
the messenger, leaning against the balcony. Some of his limbs had
been cut off with a hatchet, and the body could be seen through the
curtains as they were inflated by the wind. The evening was still. The
stars scintillated endlessly. A few stubble fields were burning in the
distance.

Upon hearing the blows against the door the Duke of Ofena wished to try
another experiment.

Don Filippo, stupefied with terror, kept his eyes closed and was
speechless. Carletto Grua, his head bandaged, doubled up in the
corner, his teeth chattering with fever and fear, watched with his
eyes sticking out of their orbits, every gesture, every motion of his
master. The servants had found refuge in the garrets. A few of them
still remained in the adjoining rooms.

Don Luigi gathered them together, reanimated their courage and rearmed
them with pistols and guns, and then assigned to each one his place
under the parapets of the windows, and between the shutters of the
balcony. Each one had to shoot upon the rebels with the greatest
possible celerity, silently, without exposing himself.

“Forward!”

The firing began. Don Luigi was placing his hopes in a panic. He was
untiringly discharging his long-range pistols with most marvellous
energy. As the multitude was dense, no shot went astray. The cries
arising after every discharge excited the servants and increased their
ardour. Already disorder invaded the mutineers. A great many were
running away, leaving the wounded on the ground.

Then a cry of victory arose from the group of the domestics.

“Long live the Duke of Ofena!” These cowardly men were growing brave,
as they beheld the backs of their enemy. They no longer remained
hidden, no longer shot at haphazard, but, having risen to their feet,
were aiming at the people. And every time they saw a man fall, would
cry, “Long live the Duke!”

Within a short time the palace was freed from the siege. All around
the wounded ones lay, groaning. The residue of the sticks, which were
still burning over the ground and crackling as they died out, cast
upon the bodies uncertain flashes of light reflected in the pools of
blood. The wind had grown, striking the old oaks with a creeping sound.
The barking of dogs, answering one another, resounded throughout the
valley.

Intoxicated by their victory and broken down with fatigue, the
domestics went downstairs to partake of some refreshments. They were
all unhurt. They drank freely and abundantly. Some of them announced
the names of those they had struck, and described the way they had
fallen. The cook was boasting of having killed the terrible Rocco
Furci; and as they became excited by the wine the boasting increased.

Now, while the Duke of Ofena feeling safe, for at least that night,
from any danger, was attending the whining Carletto, a glare of light
from the south was reflected in the mirror, and new clamours arose
through the gusts of the south wind beneath the palace. At the same
time four or five servants appeared, who, while sleeping, intoxicated,
in the rooms below, had been almost suffocated by the smoke. They had
not yet recovered their senses, staggering, being unable to talk, as
their tongues were thick with drink. Others came running up, shouting:

“Fire! Fire!”

They were trembling, leaning against one another like a herd of sheep.
Their native cowardice had again overtaken them. All their senses were
dull as in a dream. They did not know what they ought to do, nor did
the consciousness of real danger urge them to use a ruse as a means of
escape.

Taken very much by surprise the Duke was at first perplexed. But
Carletto Grua, noticing the smoke coming in, and hearing that singular
roar which the flames make by feeding themselves, began to cry so
loudly, and to make such maddened gestures, that Don Filippo awoke from
the half drowsiness into which he had fallen, on beholding death.

Death was unavoidable. The fire, owing to the strong wind, was
spreading with stupendous speed through the whole edifice, devouring
everything in flames. These flames ran up the walls, hugging the
tapestries, hesitating an instant over the edge of the cloth, with
clear and changeable yet vague tints penetrating through the weave,
with a thousand thin, vibrating tongues, seeming to animate, in an
instant, the mural figures, with a certain spirit, by lighting up for a
second a smile never before seen upon the mouths of the nymphs and the
Goddess, by changing in an instant their attitudes and their motionless
gestures.

Passing on, in their still increasing flight, they would wrap
themselves around the wooden carvings, preserving to the last their
shapes, as though to make them appear to be manufactured of fiery
substance when they were suddenly consumed, turning to Cinders, as
if by magic. The voices of the flames were forming a vast choir, a
profound harmony, like the rustling of millions of weeds. At intervals,
through the roaring openings, appeared the pure sky with its galaxy of
stars.

Now the entire palace was a prey of the fire.

“Save me! Save me!” cried the old man, attempting in vain to get up,
already feeling the floor sinking beneath him, and almost blinded by
the implacable reddish glare.

“Save me! Save me!”

With a supreme effort he succeeded in rising and began to run, the
trunk of his body leaning forward, moving with little hopping steps, as
if pushed by an irresistible progressive impulse, waving his shapeless
hands, until he fell overpowered—the victim of the fire—collapsing
and curling up like an empty bladder.

By this time the cries of the people increased and at intervals arose
above the roar of the fire. The servants, crazed with terror and pain,
jumped out of the windows, falling upon the ground dead, where if not
entirely dead they were instantly killed. With every fall a greater
clamour arose.

“The Duke! The Duke!” the unsatisfied barbarians were crying as if they
wanted to see the little tyrant jump out with his cowardly protégé.

“Here he comes! Here he comes! Is it he?”

“Down! down! We want you!”

“Die, you dog! Die! Die! Die!”

In the large doorway, in the presence of the people, Don Luigi appeared
carrying on his shoulders the motionless body of Carletto Grua. His
whole face was burned and almost unrecognisable. He no longer had
any hair nor beard left. He was walking boldly through the fire,
endeavouring to keep his courage in spite of that atrocious pain.

At first the crowd was dumb. Then again broke forth in shouts and
gestures, waiting ferociously for this great victim to expire before
them.

“Here, here, you dog! We want to see you die!”

Don Luigi heard through the flames these last insults. He gathered
together all of his will-power and stood for an instant in an attitude
of indescribable scorn. Then turning abruptly he disappeared forever
where the fire was raging fiercest.

Towards the middle of August—when in the fields the wheat was
bleaching dry in the sun—Antonio Mengarino, an old peasant full of
probity and wisdom, standing before the Board of the Council when they
were discussing public matters, heard some of the councillors, citizens
of the place, discoursing in low tones about the cholera, which was
spreading through the province; and he listened with close attention to
the proposals for preserving the health and for eliminating the fears
of the people and he leaned forward curiously and incredulously as he
listened.

With him in the Council were two other peasants, Giulio Citrullo of the
Plain, and Achille di Russo of the Hills, to whom the old man would
turn from time to time, winking and grimacing insinuatingly, to warn
them of the deception which he believed was concealed in the words of
the Councillors and the Mayor.

At last, unable to restrain himself longer, he spoke out with the
assurance of a man who knows and sees.

“Stop your idle talk! What if there is a little cholera among us. Let
us keep the secret to ourselves.”

At this unexpected outburst, the Councillors were taken by surprise,
then burst into laughter.

“Go on, Mengarino! What foolishness are you talking!” exclaimed Don
Aiace, the Assessor, slapping the old man on the shoulder, while the
rest, with much shaking of heads and beating of fists upon the table,
talked of the pertinacious ignorance of the country people.

“Well, well, but do you think we are deceived by your talk?” asked
Antonio Mengarino, with a quick gesture, hurt by the laughter which
his words had created, and in the hearts of the three peasants their
instinctive hostility toward and hatred of the upper classes were
revived. Then they were excluded from the secrets of the Council? Then
they were still considered ignoramuses? Oh, those were two galling
thoughts!

“Do as you please. We are going,” said the old man bitterly, putting on
his hat and the three peasants left the hall in silent dignity.

When they were outside the town, in the upland country filled with
vineyards and cornfields, Giulio Citrullo stopped to light his pipe,
and said decisively:

“We will not mind them! We can be on our guard, and know that we shall
have to take precautions. I would not like to be in their places!”

Meanwhile, throughout the farming country, the fear of the disease
had taken possession of all. Over the fruit trees, the vineyards, the
cisterns, and the wells, the farmers, suspicious and threatening, kept
close and indefatigable watch. Through the night frequent shots broke
the silence, and even the dogs barked till dawn. Imprecations against
the Government burst forth with greater violence from day to day. All
the peaceful labours of the farm-hands were undertaken with a sort of
carelessness; from the fields expressions of rebellion rose in songs
and rhymes, improvised by the hands.

Then, the old men recalled instances in the past which confirmed the
suspicions about poisoning. In the year ’54, some vintagers had one day
caught a man hidden in the top of a fig-tree, and when they forced him
to descend, they noticed in his hand a vial, which he had attempted to
conceal. With dire threats they compelled him to swallow the yellowish
ointment which it contained, whereupon shortly he fell writhing in
agony with greenish foam issuing from his mouth and died within a few
minutes. In Spoltore, in the year ’57, Zinicche, a blacksmith, killed
the Chancellor, Don Antonio Rapino, in the square, after which the
mysterious deaths ceased, and the country was saved.

Then stories began to be circulated of recent mysterious happenings.
One woman said that seven cases of poison had come to the City Hall,
sent by the Government to be distributed through the country by mixing
it with the salt. The cases were green, fastened with iron bands and
three locks. The Mayor had been obliged to pay seven thousand ducats
to bury the cases and save the country. Another story went about that
the Government paid the Mayor five ducats for every dead person because
the population was too large, and it was the poor who must die. The
Mayor was now making out a list of those selected. Ha! He would get
rich, this great signore! And so the excitement grew. The peasants
would not buy anything in the market of Pescara; the figs were left to
rot on the trees; the grapes were left among the vine-leaves; even the
nightly depredations in the orchards and vineyards did not occur, for
the robbers feared to eat poisoned fruit. The salt, which was the only
provision obtained from the city stores, was given to dogs and cats
before being used, to make sure that it was harmless.

One day the news came that in Naples the people were dying in large
numbers and hearing the name of Naples, of that great, far-distant
kingdom where “Gianni Without Fear” made his fortune, the imaginations
of the people were inflamed. The vintage time came, but the merchants
of Lombardy bought the home grapes, and took them to the north to make
artificial wines. The luxury of new wine was scarce; the vintagers
who trampled out the juice of the grapes in the vats to the songs of
maidens, had little to do.

But when the work of the vineyards was ended, and the fruit of the
trees was gone, the fears and suspicions of the people grew less,
for now there was little chance for the Government to scatter the
poison. Heavy, beneficent rains fell upon the country, drenching the
soil and preparing it for the ploughing and the sowing, and together
with the favour of the soft autumnal sun and the moon in its first
quarter, had its beneficent influence upon seeds. One morning through
all the country the report was spread that at Villareale, near the
oak groves of Don Settimio, over the shore of the river, three women
had died after having eaten soup made from dough bought in the city.
The indignation of every person in the country was aroused, and with
greater vehemence after the quiet of the transient security.

“Aha! That is well! The ‘great Signore’ does not wish to renounce the
ducats!… But they cannot harm us now, for there is no more fruit to
eat, and we do not go to Pescara. The ‘great Signore’ is playing his
cards very badly. He wishes to see us die! But he has mistaken the
time, poor Signore!

“Where can he put the poison? In the dough? In the salt?… But we
shall not eat any more dough, and we have our salt first tried by the
dogs and cats. Ha, rascally Signore! What have you done? Your day will
come, too….”

Thus, everywhere the grumbling rose, mixed with mocking and contumely
against the men of the Commune and the Government.

In Pescara, one after another, three, four, five persons were taken
with the disease. Evening was approaching, and over the houses hung a
funereal dread, which seemed to be mingled with the dampness arising
from the river. Through the streets the people ran frantically towards
the City Hall, where the Mayor, the Councillors, and the gendarmes,
overwhelmed with the miserable confusion, ran up and down the stairs,
all talking loudly, giving contrary orders, not knowing what action to
take, where to go, nor what to do.

The strange occurrence and the excitement which followed it, caused
many of the people to grow slightly ill. Feeling a strange sensation in
their stomachs, they would begin to tremble, and with chattering teeth
would look into one another’s faces; then, with rapid strides, would
hasten to lock themselves in their homes, leaving their evening meals
untouched.

Then, late in the night, when the first tumult of the panic had
subsided, the police lighted fires of sulphur and tar at the corners of
the streets. The red flames lighted up the walls and the windows, and
the unpleasant odour of manure pervaded the air of the frightened city,
and in the light of the distant moon, it looked as though the tar men
were merrily smearing the keels of vessels. Thus did the Asiatic Plague
make an entrance into Pescara.

The disease, creeping along the river, spread through the little
seashore hamlets,—through those groups of small, low houses where the
sailors live, and where old men are engaged in small industries.

Most of those seized with the disease died, because no amount of
reasoning and assurance, or experiments, could persuade them to take
the medicine. Anisafine, the hunchback who sold water mixed with spirit
of anise to the soldiers, when he saw the glass of the physician,
closed his lips tightly and shook his head in refusal of the potion.
The doctor tried to coax him with persuasive words and first drank half
the liquid, then the assistants each took a sip. Anisafine continued to
shake his head.

“But don’t you see,” exclaimed the doctor, “we have been drinking? But
you….”

Anisafine began to laugh sceptically, “Ha! ha! ha! You took the
counter-poison,” he said, and soon after he was dead.

Cianchine, simple-minded butcher, did the same thing. The doctor, as
a last resort, poured the medicine between the man’s teeth. Cianchine
spit it out wrathfully, overwhelmed with horror. Then he began to abuse
those present, and died raging, held by two amazed gendarmes.

The public kitchens, instituted by charitably-disposed people, were
at first thought by the peasants to be laboratories for the mixing of
poisons. The beggars would starve rather than eat meat cooked in those
boilers. Costantino di Corropoli, the cynic, went about scattering his
doubts through his circle. He would wander around the kitchens, saying
aloud with an indescribable gesture, “You can’t entrap me!”

The woman Catalana di Gissi was the first to conquer her fears.
Hesitating a little, she entered and ate a small mouthful, waiting
to notice the effect of the food and then took a few sips of wine,
whereupon, feeling restored and fortified, she smiled with astonishment
and pleasure. All the beggars were waiting for her to come out and when
they saw her unharmed, they rushed in to eat and drink.

The kitchens are inside an old open theatre in the neighbourhood of
Portanova. The kettles in which the food is prepared are placed where
the orchestra used to sit. The steam from them rises and fills the
old stage; through the smoke you see the scenery behind on the stage,
representing a feudal castle in the light of the full moon. Here at
noon-time gathers around a rustic table the tribe of the beggars.
Before the hour strikes, there is a swarming of multi-coloured rags
in the pit, and there arises the grumbling of hoarse voices. Some new
figures appear among the well-known ones; noteworthy among whom is a
certain woman called Liberata Lotta di Montenerodomo, stupendous as
the mythological Minerva, with a regular and austere brow and with her
hair strained tightly over her head and adhering to it like a helmet.
She holds in her hands a grass-green vase, and stands aside, taciturn,
waiting to be asked to partake.

However, the great epic account of this chronicle of the cholera is the
War of the Bridge.

An old feud exists between Pescara and Castellammare Adriatico, which
districts lie on either side of the river.

The opposing factions were assiduously engaged in pillage and
reprisals, the one doing all that lay in its power to hinder the
prosperity of the other, and as the important factor in the prosperity
of a country is its commerce, and as Pescara possessed many industries
and great wealth, the people of Castellammare had long sought with much
astuteness and all manner of allurements to draw the merchants away
from the rival town.

An old wooden bridge, built on big tarred boats chained together and
fastened to the piers, spans the river. The cables and the ropes,
which stretch from almost the height of the piers to the low parapets,
cross each other in the air, looking like some barbaric instrument. The
uneven boards creak under the weight of the wagons, and when the ranks
of the soldiers pass over, the whole of the great structure shakes and
vibrates from one end to the other, resounding like a drum. It was from
this bridge that the popular legends of Saint Cetteo, the Liberator,
originated, and the saint yearly stops in the centre with great
Catholic pomp to receive the salutes which the sailors send him from
the anchored boats.

Thus, between the panorama of Montecorno and the sea, the humble
structure looms up like a monument of the country, and possessing
the sacredness of all monuments, gives to strangers the impression of
a people who live in primeval simplicity. As the hatred between the
Pescarese and the Castellammarese meets on this bridge, the boards
of which are worn under the daily heavy traffic, and as the trade of
the city spreads to the province of Teramo, with what joy would the
opposing faction cut the cables and push out to sea to be wrecked the
seven supporting boats.

A good opportunity having presented itself, the leader of the enemy,
with a great display of his rural forces, prevented the Pescarese from
passing over the wide road which stretches out from the bridge far
across the country, uniting numberless villages. It was his intention
to blockade the rival city by a siege, in order to shut away from it
all internal and external traffic in order to draw to the market of
his own city the sailors and buyers who were accustomed to trade on
the right shore of the river, and having thus stagnated the business
of Pescara, and having cut off from the town all source of revenue,
to rise up in triumph. He offered to the owners of the Pescarese boats
twenty francs for every hundred pounds of fish, on condition that all
boats should land and load their cargoes on his shore, and with the
stipulation that the price should last up to the day of the Nativity
of Christ. But as the price of fish usually rose shortly before
the Nativity to fifteen ducats for every hundred pounds, the profit
to himself was evident, and the cunning of his scheme was clearly
revealed. The owners refused such an offer, preferring to allow their
nets to remain idle.

Then the wily fellow spread the report of a great mortality in Pescara.
Professing friendship for the province of Teramo he succeeded in
rousing both that province and Chieti against the peaceful city, from
which the plague had really disappeared entirely. He waylaid and kept
prisoners some honest passers-by who were exercising their legitimate
right to pass along this road on their way to a more distant part
of the country. He stationed a group of loafers on the border line
who kept watch from dawn to sunset, shouting out warnings to anyone
who approached. All this caused violent rebellion on the part of the
Pescarese against such unjust and arbitrary measures. The great class
of rough, ugly labourers were lounging about in idleness, and merchants
sustained severe losses from the enforced dulness of trade. The cholera
had left the city and seemed to have disappeared also from the seashore
towns, where only a few decrepit old men had died. All the citizens,
rugged and full of health and spirits, would have rejoiced to take up
their customary labours.

Then the tribunes rose to action: Francesco Pomarice, Antonio
Sorrentino, Pietro D’Amico; and in the streets the people, divided
into groups, listened to their words, applauding, proposing, and
uttering cries. A great tumult was brewing. As an illustration, some
recounted the heart-rending tale of Moretto di Claudia, who had been
taken by force, by men paid to do the deed, and being imprisoned in the
Lazzaretto, was kept for five consecutive days without other food than
bread, at the end of which time he succeeded in escaping from a window,
swam across the river, and came to his people dripping with water, out
of breath, and overcome with exultation and joy at his escape.

The Mayor, seeing the storm gathering, endeavoured to arbitrate with
the Great Enemy of Castellammare. The Mayor is a little fellow, a
knighted Doctor of Law, carefully dressed, curly haired, his shoulders
covered with dandruff, his small roving eyes accustomed to pleasant
simulation. The Great Enemy is a degenerate, a nephew of the good
Gargantuasso, a big fellow, puffing, exploding, devouring. The meeting
of the two took place on neutral ground, with the Prefects of Teramo
and of Chieti as witnesses.

But towards sunset one of the guards went into Pescara to bring a
message to one of the councillors of the Commune; he went in with
another of the loafers to drink, after which he strolled about the
streets. When the tribunes saw him, they immediately gave chase. With
cries and shouts, he was driven towards the banks of the river as far
as Lazzaretto. The water glared in the light of the setting sun, and
the belligerent reddening of the air intoxicated the people.

Then from the willow trees on the opposite shore a crowd of
Castellammarese poured out, with vehement gestures and angry protests
against the outrage. With a fury equalling their own, the Pescarese
answered their gibes. The guard, who had been imprisoned, was pounding
the door of his prison with fists and feet, crying out:

“Open to me! Open to me!”

“You go to sleep in there and don’t worry!” the men called to him
scornfully, while someone cruelly added:

“Ah, if you knew how many have been killed down there! Don’t you smell
the blood? Doesn’t it make you sick?”

“Hurrah! Hurrah!”

Towards Bandiera the gleam of gun-barrels could be seen. The little
Mayor, at the head of a band of soldiers, was coming to liberate the
guard that the wrath of the Great Enemy might not be incurred.

Suddenly the irritated rabble broke out in an angry uproar. Loud
cries rose against the cowardly liberator of the Castellammarese. From
Lazzaretto to the city sounded the clamour of hisses and contumely. To
the delight of the people the shouting lasted until their voices grew
hoarse. After the first outburst the revolt began to turn in other
directions. The shops were all closed, the citizens gathered in the
street, rich and poor mingling together familiarly, all possessed of
the same wild desire to speak, to shout, to gesticulate, to express in
a thousand different ways the feelings which burned within them.

Every few minutes another tribune would arrive with fresh news. Groups
dissolved to form new groups, varying according to differences of
opinion.

The free spirit of the day affected everyone; every breath of air
seemed to intoxicate like a draught of wine, the hilarity of the
Pescarese revived, and they continued their rebellion ironically for
pure enjoyment, for spite, and for the love of novelty. The stratagems
of the Great Enemy were increased. Any agreement was broken to further
the skilful schemes which were suggested, and the weakness of the
little Mayor favoured this method of procedure.

On the morning of All Souls’ Day at about seven o’clock, when the first
ceremonies were being performed in the churches, the tribunes started
to make a tour of the city, followed by a crowd which grew larger at
every step, and became more and more clamorous. When all the people
had gathered, Antonio Sorrentino addressed them in a stirring harangue.
Then the procession proceeded in an orderly way towards the City Hall.
The streets in the shadows were still bluish from smoke; the houses
were bathed in sunlight.

At the sight of the City Hall an immense cry broke out. From every
mouth vituperations were hurled; every fist rose threateningly. The
shouts vibrated at intervals as though produced by an instrument,
and above the confused mass of heads the vermilion flags waved as if
agitated by a heavy popular breath. No one appeared upon the balcony
of the City Hall. The sun was gradually descending from the roof to
the meridian sand, black with figures and lines, upon which vibrated
the indicating shadow. From the Torretta of the D’Annunzio to the
bell-tower of the Abbey, flocks of doves were flying against the azure
sky.

The shouts increased. A number of the more zealous ones took by assault
the stairs of the building. The little Mayor, pallid and timid, yielded
to the wish of the people. He left his seat in the City Hall, resigned
his office, and passed down the street between two gendarmes, followed
by the whole Board of Councillors. He then left the city and withdrew
to the hall of Spoltore.

The doors of the City Hall were closed and for a time Anarchy ruled
the city. In order to prevent an open battle, which seemed imminent,
between the Castellammarese and the Pescarese, the soldiers stationed
themselves at the extreme left end of the bridge. Having torn down the
flags, the crowd set out for the road to Chieti, where the Prefect, who
had been summoned by a Royal Commissary, was expected. All their plans
seemed to be ferocious. However, in the soft warmth of the sunlight,
their ire was soon decreased.

Through the wide street poured forth from the church the women of the
place, dressed in various coloured gowns, and covered with jewelry
consisting mostly of silver filigree and gold necklaces. The appearance
of these happy and joyful faces quieted and soothed the turbulent
spirits of the mob. Jests and laughter broke forth spontaneously,
and the short period of waiting was almost gay. Towards noon the
carriage of the Prefect came in sight. The people formed themselves
in a semicircle to stop its passage. Antonio Sorrentino again gave a
harangue, not without a certain flowery eloquence. The crowd, in the
pauses of the speech, asked in various ways for justice and relief from
the abuses, and that no measure should be taken which would involve
killing.

The two large skeletons of horses, still animated, however, shook their
bells from time to time, showing the rebels their white gums as if in
a grimace of derision. A delegate of the police, looking like an old
singer of some comic opera, who still wore around his face a druid
beard, from the height of the back seat was emphasising the words of
the tribune’s speech with grave gestures of his hand. As the speaker
in his enthusiasm went on with impetuous eloquence, he became too
audacious, and the Prefect, rising from his seat, took advantage of the
moment to interrupt. He ventured several irrelevant and timid remarks,
which were drowned by the cries of the people.

“To Pescara! To Pescara!”

The carriage, pushed along by the press of the crowd, entered the city
and the City Hall being closed, it stopped before the Delegation. Ten
men, named by the people, together with the Prefect, formed a temporary
parliament. The crowd filled the street and every now and then an
impatient murmur arose.

The houses, heated by the sun, radiated a delightful warmth, and an
indescribable mildness emanated from the sky and sea, from the floating
vegetation alongside the water-troughs, from the roses, from the
windows, from the white walls of the houses, from the very air of the
place itself. This place is renowned as the home of the most beautiful
women of Pescara, from generation to generation its fame for its
beauties has been perpetuated.

The home of Don Ussorio is the abode of flourishing children and
pretty girls; the house is all covered with little loggias, which are
overflowing with carnations growing in rough vases ornamented with
bas-reliefs.

Gradually the impatient crowd grew quiet. From one end of the street
to the other the speakers were subsiding. Domenico di Matteo, a sort
of rustic Rodomonte, was making loud jests upon the asininity and
avidity of the doctors who cause their patients to die in order to get
a larger fee from the Commune. He was telling of some marvellous cures
he had effected on himself. Once he had a terrible pain on his chest,
and was about to die. The physician had forbidden him to drink water,
and he was burning with thirst. One night, when everyone was asleep
he got up quietly, felt about for a water tank, and having found it,
stuck his head in it and drank like a pack horse until the tank was
empty. Next morning he had entirely recovered. Another time, he and
a companion, having been ill for a long time with intermittent fever,
and having taken large quantities of quinine without avail, decided to
make an experiment. Across the river from them was a vineyard filled
with grapes, hanging ripe and delicious in the sun. Going to the shore,
they undressed themselves, plunged into the water, and swam through
the current to the other shore, and after having eaten as many grapes
as they could, swam back again. The intermittent fever disappeared.
Another time he was ill with blood poisoning, and spent more than
fifteen ducats for doctors and medicine in vain. As he watched his
mother doing the washing, a happy thought struck him. One after another
he swallowed five glasses of lime-water, and was cured.

From the balconies, from the windows, from the loggias, a number of
beautiful women leaned out, one after another. The men in the street
raised their eyes towards these fair apparitions, walking along
with heads bent backward. As the dinner hour was passed, they felt a
certain dizziness in their heads and their stomachs, and an awakening
faintness. Brief talks between street and windows took place, the
young men making gestures and little speeches to the belles, the
belles answering with motions of their hands or shakes of their heads,
or sometimes by laughing aloud. Their fresh laughter poured out on
the men below like strings of crystals, increasing their admiration.
The heat given out by the walls of the houses mingled with the heat
of the bodies of the crowd. The whitish reflection dazzled the eyes;
something enervating and stupefying seemed to descend upon the restless
mob. Suddenly upon the loggia appeared the woman Ciccarina, the belle
of the belles, the rose of the roses, the adorable object whom all
desired. With a common impulse, every look was turned towards her. She
acknowledged this homage with triumphant smiles, laughing, radiant,
like a Venetian Dogess before her people. The sunlight fell on her full
flushed face, reminding one of the pulp of a succulent fruit. Her loose
hair, so bright that it seemed to dart golden flames, encircled her
forehead, temples and neck. The fascination of a Venus emanated from
her whole person. She simply stood there, between two cages of black
birds, smiling in great unconcern, not at all troubled by the longing
and admiration shown in the eyes of all the men watching her.

The black birds, singing a sort of rustic madrigal, fluttered their
wings towards her. Ciccarina, smiling, withdrew from the loggia. The
crowd remained in the street, dazzled by the vision, and a little dizzy
from hunger. Then one of the speakers, leaning out from the window of
the Delegation, announced in a shrill voice:

“Citizens! The matter will be settled within three hours!”

Luca Minella, born in the year 1789 at Ortona in one of the houses of
Porta Caldara, was a seaman. In early youth he sailed for some time on
the brigantine _Santa Liberata_, from the bay of Ortona to the ports
of Dalmatia, loaded with varieties of wood, fresh and dried fruit.
Later, because of a whim to change masters, he entered the service of
Don Rocco Panzavacante, and upon a new skiff made many voyages for the
purpose of trading in lemons, to the promontory of Roto, which is a
large and agreeable elevation on the Italian coast, wholly covered with
orchards of oranges and lemons.

In his twenty-seventh year he kindled with love for Francesca Nobile,
and after several months they were married. Luca, a man of short and
very strong build, had a soft blond beard upon his flushed visage,
and, like a woman, wore two circles of gold in his ears. He loved
wine and tobacco; professed an ardent devotion for the holy Apostle
Saint Thomas; and, in that he was of a superstitious nature and given
to trances, he recounted singular and marvellous adventures of those
foreign countries and told stories of the Dalmatian people and the
islands of the Adriatic as if they were tribes and countries in the
proximity of the poles. Francesca, a woman whose youth was on the wane,
had the florid complexion and mobile features of the Ortonesian girl.
She loved the church, the religious functions, the sacred pomp, the
music of the organ; she lived in great simplicity; and, since she was
somewhat stunted in intelligence, believed the most incredible things
and praised her Lord in His every deed.

Of this union Anna was born in the month of June of the year
1817. Inasmuch as the confinement was severe, and they feared some
misfortune, the sacrament of baptism was administered before the birth
of the child. After much travail the birth took place. The little
creature drank nourishment from its mother and grew in health and
happiness. Toward evening Francesca went down to the seacoast, with the
nursing baby in her arms, whenever she expected the skiff to return
loaded from Roto, and Luca on coming ashore wore a shirt all scented
with the southern fruits. When mounting together to their home above,
they always stopped a moment at the church and knelt in prayer. In the
chapels the votive lamps were burning, and in the background, behind
the seven bronzes, the statue of the Apostle sparkled like a treasure.
Their prayers asked for celestial benediction to fall upon their
daughter. On going out, when the mother bathed Anna’s forehead in holy
water, her infantile screams echoed the length of the naves.

The infancy of Anna passed smoothly, without any noteworthy event. In
May of 1823 she was dressed as a cherub, with a crown of roses and
a white veil; and, in the midst of an angelical company, confusedly
followed a procession, holding in her hand a thin taper. In the
church her mother wished to lift her in her arms and have her kiss her
protecting Saint. But, as other mothers lifting other cherubs pushed
through the crowd, the flame of one of the tapers caught Anna’s veil
and suddenly a flame enveloped her tender body. A contagion of fear
spread among the people and each one strove to be the first to escape.
Francesca, for all that her hands were almost rendered useless by
terror, succeeded in tearing off the burning garments, strained the
nude and unconscious child to her heart, threw herself down behind the
fugitives, and invoked her Lord with loud cries.

From the burns Anna was ill and in peril for a long time. She lay upon
her bed with thin, bloodless face and without speech as if she had
become mute, while her eyes, open and fixed, held an expression of
forgetful stupor rather than of pain. In the autumn she recovered and
went to take her vow.

When the weather was mild the family descended to the boat for their
evening meal. Under the awning Francesca lit the fire and placed the
fish upon it; the hospitable odour of the food spread the length of
the harbour, blending with the perfume from the foliage of the Villa
Onofria. The sea lay so tranquilly that one scarcely heard between the
rocks the rustling of the water, and the air was so limpid that one saw
the steeple of San Vito emerge in the distance amid the surrounding
houses. Luca and the other men fell to singing, while Anna tried to
help her mother. After the meal, as the moon mounted in the sky, the
sailors prepared the skiff for weighing anchor. Meanwhile Luca, under
the stimulation of the wine and food, seized with his habitual avidity
for miraculous stories, commenced to tell of distant shores. “There
was, further up than Roto, a mountain all inhabited by monkeys and
men from India; it was very high, with plants that produced precious
stones.” His wife and daughter listened in silent astonishment. Then,
the sails unfolded along the masts, sails all covered with black
figures and Catholic symbols, like the ancient flags of a country. Thus
Luca departed.

In February of 1826 Francesca gave birth to a dead child. In the spring
of 1830 Luca wished to take Anna to the promontory. Anna was then on
the threshold of girlhood. The voyage was a happy one. On the high
seas they encountered a merchant vessel, a large ship borne along by
means of its enormous white sails. The dolphins swam in the foam; the
water moved gently around, scintillating, and seeming to carry upon its
surface a covering of peacock feathers. Anna gazed from the ship into
the distance with eyes never satiated. Then a kind of blue cloud rose
from the line of horizon; it was the fruit covered mountain.

The coast of Puglia came into view little by little under the sunlight.
The perfume of the lemons permeated the morning air. When Anna
descended to the shore, she was overcome by a sense of gladness as she
examined curiously the plantations and the men native to the place. Her
father took her to the house of a woman no longer young, who spoke with
a slight stutter.

They remained with her two days. Once Anna saw her father kiss this
woman upon the mouth, but she did not understand. On their return
the skiff was loaded with oranges, and the sea was still gentle. Anna
preserved the remembrance of that voyage as if it were a dream; and,
since she was by nature taciturn, she did not recount many stories of
it to her comrades, who pursued her with questions.