“He never told me anything, but it seems that he went straight to her house, broke into her room, and carried her off. She was the daughter of a rich mine-owner, so you may imagine our peril. Her father came down, with a clever lawyer, but they could do no more than I. They argued and they threatened, but at last they had to go back and we lost nothing—that is to say, no money. We took Giuseppe and Maria to the church and had them married. Ugh! that wedding! The priest made no jokes afterward, and coming out the children threw stones…. I think I would have died to make her happy; but as always happens, one could do nothing.”
“Were they unhappy together then?”
“They loved each other, but love is not happiness. We can all get love. Love is nothing. Love is everywhere since the death of Jesus Christ. I had two people to work for now, for she was like him in everything—one never knew which of them was speaking. I had to sell our own boat and work under the bad old man you have to-day. Worst of all people began to hate us. The children first—everything begins with them—and then the women and last of all the men. For the cause of every misfortune was—you will not betray me?”
I promised good faith, and immediately he burst into the frantic blasphemy of one who has escaped from supervision, cursing the priests, who had ruined his life, he said.”Thus are we tricked!” was his cry, and he stood up and kicked at the azure ripples with his feet, till he had obscured them with a cloud of sand.
I too was moved. The story of Giuseppe, for all its absurdity and superstition, came nearer to reality than anything I had known before. I don’t know why, but it filled me with desire to help others—the greatest of all our desires, I suppose, and the most fruitless. The desire soon passed.
“She was about to have a child. That was the end of everything. People said to me, ‘When will your charming nephew be born? What a cheerful, attractive child he will be, with such a father and mother!’ I kept my face steady and replied, ‘I think he may be. Out of sadness shall come gladness’—it is one of our proverbs. And my answer frightened them very much, and they told the priests, who were frightened too. Then the whisper started that the child would be Antichrist. You need not be afraid; he was never born.
“An old witch began to prophesy, and no one stopped her. Giuseppe and the girl, she said, had silent devils, who could do little harm. But the child would always be speaking and laughing and perverting, and last of all he would go into the sea and fetch up the Siren into the air and all the world would see her and hear her sing. As soon as she sang, the Seven Vials would be opened and the Pope would die and Mongibello flame, and the veil of Santa Agata would be burned. Then the boy and the Siren would marry, and together they would rule the world, for ever and ever.
“The whole village was in tumult, and the hotelkeepers became alarmed, for the tourist season was just beginning. They met together and decided that Giuseppe and the girl must be sent inland until the child was born, and they subscribed the money. The night before they were to start there was a full moon and wind from the east, and all along the coast the sea shot up over the cliffs in silver clouds. It was a wonderful sight, and Maria said she must see it once more.