Signa, by Ouida

Chapter 23.

WITH the spring a little house was reared on the bit of ground by the brook; a little square, low house, of the grey stone that is quarried above; roofed with red tiles, and entered by a small arched door.

A peasant came to live in it; a very poor labouring man, who could hardly keep body and soul together; but he was enough for the work of the place. The corn was green and promised fairly; the olives and the vines were well set for blossom; the reeds and the rushes grew all the thicker for deep winter rains and some weeks of hard frost.

When the little grass paths between the fields were all white with the clusters of the sweet‐smelling snowflakes, that are called in this country the churchbells of the spring, there came up on Sundays and days of Feast, a handsome, pensive‐looking man; a black‐browed, stout‐built woman, with a red shawl and gold pins in her uncovered hair; and a tribe of riotous children.

Bruno, working in his cattle‐shed, saw them.

They were Lippo and the family of Lippo.

They came up often, and brought a flask of wine with them, and rolls of bread and cold‐meats, and would sit down under the olives and eat and drink, and see the children race about, and laugh very noisily, and seem the very soul and symbol of content; — never quarreling by any chance whatever.

Bruno saw them through the trees. Their words could not reach him, but the echo of their laughter did.

They were friends of the cheese‐seller no doubt. The cheese‐seller never cared to come up thither himself; perhaps being so far away down in the city.

Bruno never spoke of it; and no one ever spoke of it to him.

Who would, must come. He was a stranger there.

Later on fell S. Mark’s day.

Bruno was at work.

Since he had lost the land and the boy, he could not keep the saints’ days holy; he could not lie idle in the sun; he could not endure the quiet of leisure. Unless he had always some toil to do, some effort to make, he felt as if he would turn sick or mad, or do some evil thing. In the dawn he would go to the first mass; that done, he laboured all the rest of the day till nightfall.

He was digging up his early potatoes and shaking the earth off the roots; it was a calm, bright day; there had been showers; the yellow water iris was pricking up in every runlet, and the little black velvet lily, that the city took for her arms and her emblem, was in the grass everywhere wherever he turned.

He did not strike them down with his spade now. Signa had cared so much for flowers.

He was working on the side of his farm that looked upward to the land he had lost.

There was a belt of fir‐trees between him and it, and then a field of young barley, and then again another row of firs. Looking down on the black earth and the green plants of the potatoes, he did not see three men come through the trees and stand and look at him.

He only raised his head as a voice said his name softly.

Then he saw his brother Lippo, with his youngest child clinging to his knees, and beside him his two friends, Momo the barber, and Tonino the tinman.

“Bruno!” said Lippo, very softly.

Bruno struck his spade deep down into the earth, and struck his heel on it; and seemed as though he had not heard.

Lippo left the nearer belt of firs between his brother and himself. He stood a little distance amongst the half‐grown barley. His youngest child, a girl of three years old, with a face like a little St. John, and a temper like her mother’s, clung to him, dressed in fresh white clothes, and with a knot of red field tulips in her hand.

“Bruno — dear Bruno,” said he, softly. “You must see us often here. I thought I would come and tell you; you might hear it by accident and wonder. I thought you would be sorry for your land to go out of the family; once having been in it. So — the name was Avellino’s, I have known him long and well, a most good creature; but the money was mine, and the land is transferred to me, you understand? I am a poor man, but I have a kind father‐in‐law, and when one has so many young ones, one tries to save and better oneself — you understand? I thought you would be glad. And you wil see us often here; and if you will be neighbourly and brotherly dear Bruno, both Nita and I shall be most willing. The children might come in and cheer you, you so lonely here —”

The self‐satisfied, soft smile died off his face; the little girl hid hers and screamed. Yet Bruno had done nothing; he had only dashed his spade into the soil to stand erect there by itself, and stood with his eyes blazing upon Lippo’s. Then by the mightiest effort of his life he controlled himself, and bent over the earth and dug again, stamping his foot down on the iron as though he stamped a traitor’s life out with it.

Lippo waited with a vague and gentle appeal upon his face, and a look every now and then of gentlest wonder at his friends.

Bruno dug on, scattering the black ground right and left.

“Will you not speak, dear Bruno?” said Lippo, mournfully. “I thought to give you pleasure.”

Bruno stood erect.

“Christ spoke to Iscariot — and forgave him. He was the Son of God. I am a man. If you say one word, or tarry one moment, I will brain you where you stand.”

Momo the barber and Tonino the tinman plucked back at Lippo’s sleeve.

“Come away — come away. He is possessed —”

“Envy!” murmured Lippo, with a sigh, and let himself be led away back through the green and bending barley.

Bruno, leaning on his heavy spade, breathed loudly, like a man exhausted; the veins of his throat swelled; his bronzed face grew black with the rush of blood.

 

“Christ, keep my hands from blood guiltiness,” he muttered. “I cannot! — I cannot!”

http://ebooks.adelaide.edu.au/o/ouida/signa/v2.23.html

Last updated Thursday, March 6, 2014 at 21:06