The Silver Christ by Ouida

I

Genistrello is a wild place in the Pistoiese hills.

Its name is derived from the genista or broom which covers many an acre of the soil, and shares with the stone pine and the sweet chestnut the scanty earth which covers its granite and sandstone. It is beautiful exceedingly; but its beauty is only seen by those to whom it is a dead letter which they have no eyes to read. It is one of the many spurs of the Apennines which here lie overlapping one another in curve upon curve of wooded slopes with the higher mountains rising behind them; palaces, which once were fortresses, hidden in their valleys, and ruined castles, or deserted monasteries, crowning their crests.

From some of these green hills the sea is visible, and when the sun sets where the sea is and the red evening glows behind the distant peaks, it is lovely as a poet's dream.

On the side of this lonely hill, known as Genistrello, there dwelt a man of the name of Castruccio Lascarisi. He was called 'Caris' by the whole countryside; indeed, scarcely any knew that he had another patronymic, so entirely amongst these people does the nickname extinguish, by its perpetual use, the longer appellative.

His family name was of Greek extraction undoubtedly; learned Greeks made it familiar in the Italian Renaissance, at the courts of Lorenzo and of Ludovico; but how it had travelled to the Pistoiese hills to be borne by unlearned hinds none knew, any more than any know who first made the red tulip blossom as a wild flower amidst the wheat, or who first sowed the bulb of the narcissus amongst the wayside grass.

He lived miles away from the chapel and the hamlet. He had a little cabin in the heart of the chestnut woods, which his forefathers had lived in before him; they had no title which they could have shown for it except usage, but that had been title enough for them, and was enough for Caris.

 It had been always so. It would be always so. His ideas went no further. The autumnal migration was as natural and inevitable to him as to the storks and herons and wild duck which used to sail over his head, going southward like himself as he walked through the Tuscan to the Roman Maremma. But his dislike to the Maremma winters was great, and had never changed in him since he had trotted by his father's side, a curly-pated baby in a little goatskin shirt looking like a Correggio's St. John.

What he longed for, and what he loved, were the cool heights of Genistrello and the stone hut with the little rivulet of water gushing at its threshold. No one had ever disturbed his people there. It was a square little place built of big unmortared stones in old Etruscan fashion; the smoke from the hearth went out by a hole in the roof, and a shutter and door of unplaned wood closed its only apertures.

The lichen and weeds and mosses had welded the stones together, and climbed up over its conical rush roof. No better home could be needed in summer-time; and when the cold weather came, he locked the door and went down with his pack on his back and a goatshair belt round his loins to take the familiar way to the Roman Maremma.

Caris was six-and-twenty years old; he worked amongst the chestnut woods in summer and went to the Maremma for field labour in the winter, as so many of these husbandmen do; walking the many leagues which separate the provinces, and living hardly in both seasons. The songs they sing are full of allusions to this semi-nomadic life, and the annual migration has been a custom ever since the world was young—when the great Roman fleets anchored where now are sand and marsh, and stately classic villas lifted their marble to the sun where now the only habitation seen is the charcoal-burner's rush-roofed, moss-lined hut.

Caris was a well-built, lithe, slender son of the soil, brown from sun and wind, with the straight features and the broad low brows of the classic type, and great brown eyes like those of the oxen which he drove over the vast plains down in the Maremma solitudes. He knew nothing except his work.

He was not very wise, and he was wholly unlearned, but he had a love of nature in his breast, and he would sit at the door of his hut at evening time, with his bowl of bean-soup between his knees, and often forget to eat in his absorbed delight as the roseate glow from the vanished sunrays overspread all the slopes of the Pistoiese Apennines and the snow-crowned crests of the Carara mountains.

'What do you see there, goose?' said a charcoal-burner, once passing him as he sat thus upon his threshold with the dog at his feet.

Caris shrugged his shoulders stupidly and half-ashamed. He could not read the great book outspread upon the knees of the mountains, yet he imperfectly felt the beauty of its emblazoned pages.

The only furniture in the cabin was a table made of a plank, two rude benches, and one small cupboard; the bed was only dried leaves and moss. There were a pipkin, two platters, and a big iron pot which swung by a cord and a hook over the stones where the fire, when lighted, burned. They were enough; he would not have known what to do with more if he had had more. He was only there from May to October; and in the fragrant summers of Italian chestnut woods, privation is easily borne. The winter life was harder and more hateful; yet it never occurred to him to do else than to go to Maremma; his father and grandfather had always gone thither, and as naturally as the chestnuts ripen and fall, so do the men in autumn join the long lines of shepherds and drovers and women and children and flocks and herds which wind their way down the mountain slopes and across the level wastes of plain and marsh to seek herbage and work for the winter-time.

It never entered the head of Caris, or of the few who knew him or worked with him, to wonder how he and his had come thither. They were there as the chestnut-trees were, as the broom was, as the goats and squirrels and wood-birds were there. The peasant no more wonders about his own existence than a stone does. For generations a Lascaris had lived in that old stone hut which might itself be a relic of an Etruscan tomb or temple. No one was concerned to know further.

The peasant does not look back; he only sees the road to gain his daily meal of bread or chestnuts. The past has no meaning to him, and to the future he never looks. That is the reason why those who want to cultivate or convince him fail utterly. If a man cannot see the horizon itself, it is of no use to point out to him spires or trees or towers which stand out against it.

The world has never understood that the moment the labourer is made to see, he is made unhappy, being ill at ease and morbidly envious and ashamed, and wholly useless. Left alone, he is content in his own ruminant manner, as the buffalo is when left untormented amidst the marshes, grazing at peace and slumbering amidst the rushes and the canes.

Caris was thus content. He had health and strength, though sometimes he had a fever-chill from new-turned soil and sometimes a frost-chill from going out on an empty stomach before the sun had broken the deep shadows of the night. But from these maladies all outdoor labourers suffer, and he was young, and they soon passed. He had been the only son of his mother; and this fact had saved him from conscription. As if she had lived long enough when she had rendered him this service, she died just as he had fulfilled his twenty-third year; and without her the stone hut seemed for awhile lonely; he had to make his fire, and boil or roast his chestnuts, and mend holes in his shirts, and make his own rye loaves; but he soon got used to this, and when in Maremma he always worked with a gang, and was fed and lodged—badly, indeed, but regularly—at the huge stone burn which served such purposes on the vast tenuta where the long lines of husbandmen toiled from dusk of dawn to dusk of eve under the eye and lash of their overseer; and when on his native slopes of Genistrello he was always welcome to join the charcoal-burners' rough company or the woodsmen's scanty supper, and seldom passed, or had need to pass, his leisure hours alone. And these were very few.

His mother had been a violent-tempered woman, ruling him with a rod of iron, as she had ruled her husband before him; a woman loud of tongue, stern of temper, dreaded for miles around as a witch and an evil-eye; and although the silence and solitude which reigned in the cabin after her death oppressed him painfully at first, he soon grew used to these, and found the comfort of them. He brought a dog with him after his winter in Maremma which followed on his mother's loss—a white dog of the Maremma breed, and he and the dog kept house together in the lonely woods in fellowship and peace. Caris was gentle and could never beat or kick a beast as others of his kind do; and the oxen he drove knew this. He felt more akin to them and to the dogs than he did to the men with whom he worked. He could not have expressed or explained this, but he felt it.

He had little mind, and what he had moved slowly when it moved at all; but he had a generous nature, a loyal soul, and a simple and manly enjoyment of his hard life. It did not seem hard to him. He had run about on his bare feet all his childhood until their soles were as hard as leather, and he was so used to his daily meal of chestnuts in cold weather, and of maize or rye-bread with cabbage, or bean-soup, in the hot season, that he never thought of either as meagre fare. In summer he wore rough hempen shirt and trousers; in winter goatskin and rough homespun wool. In appearance, in habits, in clothing, in occupation, he differed little from the peasant who was on that hillside in the times of Pliny and of Properticus. Only the gods were changed; Pan piped no more in the thicket, the Naiad laughed no longer in the brook, the Nymph and Satyr frolicked never beneath the fronds of the ferns.

In their stead there was only a little gaudy chapel on a stony slope, and a greasy, double-chinned, yellow-cheeked man in black, who frowned if you did not give him your hardly-earned pence, and lick the uneven bricks of the chapel floor when he ordered you a penance.

Caris cared little for that man's frown.

He sat thus at his door one evening when the sun was setting behind the many peaks and domes of the Apennine spurs which fronted him. The sun itself had sunk beyond them half an hour before, but the red glow which comes and stays long after it was in the heavens and on the hills.

Genistrello was a solitary place, and only here and there a hut or cot like his own was hidden away under the saplings and undergrowth. Far away down in the valley were the belfries and towers of the little strong-walled city which had been so often as a lion in the path to the invading hosts of Germany; and like a narrow white cord the post-road, now so rarely used, wound in and out until its slender thread was lost in the blue vapours of the distance, and the shadows from the clouds.

Bells were tolling from all the little spires and towers on the hills and in the valleys, for it was a vigil, and there was the nearer tinkle of the goats' bells under the heather and broom as those innocent marauders cropped their supper off the tender chestnut-shoots, the trails of ground ivy, and the curling woodbine. Caris, with his bowl of bean-soup between his knees and his hunch of rye-bread in his hand, ate hungrily, whilst his eyes filled themselves with the beauty of the landscape. His stomach was empty—which he knew, and his soul was empty—which he did not know.

He looked up, and saw a young woman standing in front of him. She was handsome, with big, bright eyes, and a rosy mouth, and dusky glossy hair coiled up on her head like a Greek Venus.

He had never seen her before, and her sudden apparition there startled him.

'Good-even, Caris,' she said familiarly, with a smile like a burst of sunlight. 'Is the mother indoors, eh?'

Caris continued to stare at her.

 'Eh, are you deaf?' she asked impatiently. 'Is the mother in, I want to know?'

'My mother is dead,' said Caris, without preamble.

'Dead! When did she die?'

'Half a year ago,' said Caris, with the peasant's confusion of dates and elongation of time.

'That is impossible,' said the young woman quickly. 'I saw her myself and spoke with her here on this very spot in Easter week. What makes you say she is dead?'

'Because she is dead!' said Caris doggedly. 'If you do not believe it, go and ask the sacristan and sexton over there.'

He made a gesture of his head towards the belfry of an old hoary church, dedicated to St. Fulvo, which was seven miles away amongst the chestnut woods of an opposing hillside, and where his mother had been buried by her wish, because it was her birthplace.

The girl this time believed him. She was dumb for a little while with astonishment and regret. Then she said, in a tone of awe and expectation, 'She left her learning and power with you, eh?—and the books?'

'No,' said Caris rudely. 'I had all the uncanny things buried with her. What use were they? She lived and died with scarce a shift to her back.'

'Oh!' said the girl, in a shocked tone, as though she reproved a blasphemy. 'She was a wonderful woman, Caris.'

Caris laughed a little.

'Eh, you say so. Well, all her wisdom never put bit nor drop in her mouth nor a copper piece in her hand that I did not work for; what use was it, pray?'

'Hush. Don't speak so!' said the maiden, looking timidly over her shoulder to the undergrowth and coppice growing dim in the shadows of the evening.

'Tis the truth!' said Caris stubbornly. 'I did my duty by her, poor soul; and yet I fear me the Evil One waited for her all the while, for as soon as the rattle came in her throat, a white owl flapped and screeched on the thatch, and a black cat had sat on the stones yonder ever since the sun had set.'

'The saints preserve us!' murmured the girl, her rich brown and red skin growing pale.

There was silence; Caris finished munching his bread; he looked now and then at his visitor with open-eyed surprise and mute expectation.

'You have buried the things with her?' she asked him, in a low tone, at length.

He nodded in assent.

'What a pity! What a pity!'

'Why that?'

'Because if they are underground with her nobody can use them.'

Caris stared with his eyes wider opened still.

'What do you want with the devil's tools, a fresh, fair young thing like you?'

'Your mother used them for me,' she answered crossly. 'And she had told me a number of things—ay, a vast number! And just in the middle uncle spied us out, and he swore at her and dragged me away, and I had never a chance to get back here till to-night, and now—now you say she is dead, and she will never tell me aught any more.'

'What can you want so sore to know?' said Caris, with wonder, as he rose to his feet.

'That is my business,' said the girl.

'True, so it is,' said Caris.

But he looked at her with wonder in his dark-brown, ox-like eyes.

 'Where do you live?' he asked; 'and how knew you my name?'

'Everybody knows your name,' she answered. 'You are Caris, the son of Lisabetta, and when you sit on your doorstep it would be a fool indeed would not see who you are.'

'So it would,' said Caris. 'But you,' he added after a pause, 'who are you? And what did you want with Black Magic?'

'I am Santina, the daughter of Neri, the smith, by the west gate in Pistoia,' she said in reply to the first question, and making none to the second.

'But what wanted you of my mother?' he persisted.

'They said she knew strange things,' said the girl evasively.

'If she did she had little profit of them,' said Caris sadly.

The girl looked at him with great persuasiveness in her face, and leaned a little nearer to him.

'You did not really bury the charms with her? You have got them inside? You will let me see them, eh?'

'As the saints live, I buried them,' said Caris truthfully; 'they were rubbish, or worse; accursed maybe. They are safe down in the ground till the Last Day. What can such a bright wench as yourself want with such queer, unhallowed notions?'

The girl Santina glanced over her shoulders to make sure that no one was listening; then she said in a whisper:

'There is the Gobbo's treasure in these woods somewhere—and Lisabetta had the wand that finds gold and silver.'

Caris burst into a loud laugh.

'Ah, truly! That is a good jest. If she could find gold and silver, why did we always have iron spoons for our soup, and a gnawing imp in our stomachs? Go to, my maiden. Do not tell such tales. Lisabetta was a poor and hungry woman all her days, and scarce left enough linen to lay her out in decently, so help me Heaven!'

The girl shook her head.

'You know there is the treasure in the woods,' she said angrily.

'Nay, I never heard of it. Oh, the Gobbo's? Che-che! For hundreds of years they have grubbed for it all over the woods, and who ever found anything, eh?'

 'Your mother was very nigh it often and often. She told me.'

'In her dreams, poor soul!'

'But dreams mean a great deal.'

'Sometimes,' said Caris seriously. 'But what is it to you?' he added, the suspicion always inherent to the peasant struggling with his admiration of the girl, who, unbidden, had seated herself upon the stone before the door. With feminine instinct she felt that to make him do what she wished, she must confide in him, or appear to confide.

And thereon she told him that unless she could save herself, her family would wed her to a wealthy old curmudgeon who was a cart-maker in the town; and to escape this fate she had interrogated the stars by means of the dead Lisabetta and of the astrologer Faraone, who dwelt also in the hills, but this latter reader of destiny would tell her nothing, because he was a friend of her father's, and now the witch of Genistrello was dead and had left her fate but half told!

'What did she tell you?' said Caris, wincing at the word witch.

'Only that I should go over the mountains to some city and grow rich. But it was all dark—obscure—uncertain; she said she would know more next time; and how could I tell that before I came again she would have died?'

'You could not tell that, no,' said Caris absently.

He was thinking of the elderly well-to-do wheelwright in the town, and he felt that he would have liked to brain him with one of his own wooden spokes or iron linchpins. For the girl Santina was very beautiful as she sat there with her large eyes shining in the shadows and the tears of chagrin and disappointment stealing down her cheeks. For her faith in her charms and cards had been great, and in her bosom there smouldered desires and ideas of which she did not speak.

She saw the effect that her beauty produced, and said to herself: 'He shall dig up the things before he is a week older.'

She got up with apparent haste and alarm; seeing how dark it had grown around her, only a faint red light lingering far away above the lines of the mountains.

'I am staying at the four roads with my aunt, who married Massaio,' she said as she looked over her shoulder and walked away between the chestnut sapling and the furze.

Caris did not offer to accompany or try to follow her. He stood like one bewitched watching her lithe, erect figure run down the hill and vanish as the path wound out of sight amongst the pines. No woman had ever moved him thus. He felt as if she had poured into him at once scalded wine and snow-water.

She was so handsome and bold and lissom, and yet she made his flesh creep talking of his mother's incantations, and bidding him knock at the door of the grave.

'What an awful creature for tempting a man is a woman,' he thought, 'and they will scream at their own shadows one minute and dare the devil himself the next!'

That night Caris sat smoking his black pipe on the stone before the door where she had sat, and the scalded wine and the snow-water coursed by turns feverishly through his veins, as once through Cymon's.

II

'Where hast been, hussy?' said Massaio crossly, yet jokingly, to his niece when she went home that night.

The four roads was a place where the four cart-tracks at the foot of that group of hills met and parted; the man was a seller of wood, and his cottage and his wood-yards and sheds thatched with furze stood where the four roads met under some huge stone pines. The aunt of Santina had married there many years before.

They were people well-off, who ate meat, drank wine, and had a house full of hardware, pottery, and old oak: people as far removed from Caris and his like as if they had been lords or princes. He knew them by sight, and doffed his hat to them in the woods.

The thought that she was the niece of Massaio, the man who paid for his wood and charcoal with rolls of banknotes, and sent his own mules to bring the loads down from the hills, placed Santina leagues away from and above him.

The only women with whom he had ever had any intercourse had been the rude wenches who tramped with the herds, and dug and hoed and cut grass and grain on the wastes of the Maremma; creatures burnt black with the sun and wrinkled by the winds, and with skin hard and hairy, and feet whose soles were like wood—'la femelle de l'homme,' but not so clean of hide or sweet of breath as the heifers they drove down along the sea-ways in autumn weather.

This girl who called herself Santina was wholesome as lavender, fresh as field thyme, richly and fairly odoured as the flower of the wild pomegranate.

When supper was over and the house was on the point of being bolted and barred, Santina threw her brown soft round arm round her uncle's neck.

'I went down to see Don Fabio, and he was out, and I sat talking with his woman and forgot the time,' she said penitently.

Don Fabio was the priest of the little gaudy church low down in the valley where the post-road ran.

Massaio patted the cheek, which was like an apricot, and believed her.

Her aunt did not.

'There is still snow where the man of God lives up yonder, and there is no water, only dust, on her shoes,' thought the shrewd observer.

But she did not say so; for she had no wish to put her husband out of humour with her kinsfolk.

But to Santina, when with her alone, she said testily:

'I fear you are going again to the black arts of that woman Lisabetta; no good ever is got of them; it is playing with fire, and the devil breathes the fire out of his mouth!'

'I cannot play with it if I wished,' said Santina innocently; 'Lisabetta is dead months ago.'

'That is no loss to anybody if it be true,' said Eufemia Massaio angrily.

Lisabetta had been such an obscure and lonely creature, that her death had been taken little note of anywhere, and the busy, bustling housewife of Massaio had had no heed of such an event. She had not even known the woman by sight; had only been cognizant of her evil repute for powers of sorcery.

Santina went up to her room, which she shared with three of the Massaio children. Long after they were sleeping in a tangle of rough hair and brown limbs and healthy rosy nudity, the girl, their elder, sat up on the rude couch staring at the moon through the little square window.

She was thinking of words that Lisabetta had said, as she had dealt out the cards and gazed in a bowl of spring water, 'Over the hills and far away; wealth and pleasure and love galore—where? how? when?—ay, that is hid; but we shall see, we shall see; only over the hills you go, and all the men are your slaves.'

How? when? where? That was hidden with the dead fortune-teller under the earth.

Santina did not for a moment doubt the truth of the prophecy, but she was impatient for its fulfilment to begin. She knew she was of unusual beauty, and the organist at the duomo in Pistoia had told her that her voice was of rare compass, and only wanted tuition to be such a voice as fetches gold in the big world which lay beyond these hills. But that was all.

She could sing well and loudly, and she knew all the 'canzoe' and 'stornelli' of the district by heart; but there her knowledge stopped; and no one had cared to instruct or enlighten her more. Her own family thought the words of the organist rubbish.

There are so many of these clear-voiced, flute-throated girls and boys singing in their adolescence in the fields and woods and highways; but no one thinks anything of their carols, and life and its travail tell on them and make them hoarse, and their once liquid tones grow harsh and rough from exposure to the weather, and from calling so loudly from hill to hill to summon their children, or their cattle, or their comrades, home.

The human voice is a pipe soon broken. The nightingale sings on and on and on, from youth to age, and neither rain nor wind hurt his throat; but men and women, in rough, rustic lives, soon lose their gift of song. They sing at all ages, indeed, over their furrows, their washing-tank, their yoked oxen, their plait of straw or hank of flax; but the voice loses its beauty as early as the skin its bloom.

Santina had no notion in what way she could make hers a means to reach those distant parts in which her fate was to await her if the cards spake truly. Only to get away somewhere, somehow, was her fixed idea; and she would no more have married the sober, well-to-do wheelwright her people picked out for her, than she would have thrown her vigorous and virgin body down the well.

'He shall get me the cards and the treasure wand out of her grave before this moon is out,' she said, between her white teeth, with which she could crack nuts and bite through string and grind the black bread into powder.

Caris took no definite shape in her eyes except as an instrument to get her will and ways. She was but a country girl just knowing her letters, and no more; but the yeast of restless ambition was fermenting in her.

She sat staring at the moon, while the tired children slept as motionless as plucked poppies. The moon was near its full. Before it waned she swore to herself that she would have Lisabetta's magic tools in her hands. Could she only know more, or else get money! She was ignorant, but she knew that money was power. With money she could get away over those hills which seemed drawn like a screen between her fate and her.

Marry Matteo! She laughed aloud, and thought the face in the moon laughed too.

The outfit was made, the pearls were bought, the 'stimatore' who is called in to appraise every article of a marriage corredo had fingered and weighed and adjudged the cost of every single thing, and the wheelwright had bought the bed and the furniture, and many other matters not usual or incumbent on a bridegroom, and her parents had said that such a warm man and so liberal a one was never seen in their day: and very little time was there now left wherein she could escape her fate.

All unwillingness on her part would have been regarded by her parents as an insanity, and would have only seemed to her bridegroom as the spice which is added to the stewed hare. There was no chance for her but to use this single fortnight which she had been allowed to spend in farewell at the four roads of Genistrello.

Her uncle and aunt had helped generously in the getting together of the corredo; and their wish to have her with them had been at once conceded. Her parents were poor, and the woodsman was rich as rubies are esteemed, amongst the oak scrub and chestnut saplings of the Pistoiese Apennines.

The Massaio people liked her and indulged her; but had they dreamed that she meant to elude her marriage they would have dragged her by the hair of her head, or kicked her with the soles of their hob-nailed boots down the hillside into her father's house, and given her up to punishment without pity, as they would have given a runaway horse or dog.

The day for the ceremony had not been fixed, for in this country, where love intrigues speed by as swift as lightning, matrimonial contracts move slowly and cautiously; but the word was passed, the goods were purchased, the house was ready; and to break a betrothal at such a point would have been held a crime and a disgrace.

Santina herself knew that; she was well aware that decent maidens do not do such things when the dower clothing and linen are all stitched, and the marriage-bed bought by the bridegroom. She knew, but she did not care. She was headstrong, changeable, vain and full of thirst for pleasure and for triumph and for wealth. She would not pass her life in her little native town, in the wheelwright's old house with a jealous rheumatic curmudgeon, for all the saints in heaven and all the friends on earth.

'Not I! Not I! Oh, why did Lisabetta go underground for ever with half the cards unread?' she thought, as she sat upon her couch of sacking and dry maize leaves, and she shook her clenched hands at the moon with anger at its smiling indifference. The moon could sail where it chose and see what it liked; and she was chained down here by her youth, and her sex, and her ignorance, and her poverty; and her only one faint hope of escape and aid lay in the closed grave of a dead old woman.

Though she was voluble and garrulous and imprudent and passionate, she could keep her own counsel.

Under her Tuscan volubility there was also the Tuscan secretiveness. Nobody saw inside her true thoughts. Her mind was like a little locked iron box into which no one could peep.

The Tuscan laughs quickly, weeps quickly, rages, fumes, smiles, jumps with joy; seems a merely emotional creature, with his whole heart turned inside out; but in his inmost nature there is always an ego wholly different to that which is shown to others, always a deep reserve of unspoken intents and calculations and desires.

It resembles a rosebush all bloom and dew and leaf and sunshine, inside which is made the nest of a little snake, never seen, but always there; sometimes, instead of the snake, there is only a flat stone; but something alien there always is under the carelessly blowing roses.

The Tuscan never completely trusts his nearest or dearest, his oldest friend, his truest companion, his fondest familiar; be he gentle or simple, he never gives himself away.

The homeliest son and daughter of the soil will always act as though he or she were cognizant of the axiom of the fine philosopher of courts: 'Deal with your friend at all times as though some day he would become your enemy.'

Santina, therefore, had told her secret intent to no living soul, and only Caris's old weird mother had been shrewd enough to guess it in the girl's flashing eyes and in her eager questioning of Fate.

The house of Massaio was a very busy house, especially so at this season of the year, when the purchasing and fetching and stacking of wood for the coming winter was in full vigour, and all the boys and girls were up in the woods all day long, seeking out and bringing down brushwood and pines and cut heather.

Santina with wonderful alacrity entered into the work, although usually she was averse to rough labour, fearing that it would spoil her hands and her skin before she could get to that unknown life of delight which she coveted.

But going with the heedless and unobservant children up on the hillsides where the heather and chestnut scrub grew, and farther up still where the tall stone pines grew, she had chances of meeting Caris or of again getting away to his hut unnoticed. He was usually at this season occupied in carrying wood or helping the charcoal-burners, and was now in one place, now in another, as men who have no fixed labour must be.

Moreover, her just estimate of her own attraction for him made her guess that this year he would choose to labour nearer the four roads than usual, if he could get employment, and she was in no manner surprised when she saw him amongst a group of men who were pulling at the ropes of one of her uncle's wood-carts, to prevent the cart and the mules harnessed to it from running amuck down the steep incline which led to that green nook at the foot of Genistrello, where the woodman's buildings and sheds were situated.

She gave him a sidelong glance and a shy smile as she passed them, and Caris, colouring to the roots of his hair, let his rope slacken and fall, and was sworn at fiercely by his fellow-labourers, for the cart lurched, and one of the wheels sunk up to its hub in the soft wet sand.

'Get away, lass!' shouted the carter roughly. 'Where women are men's work is always fouled.'

'You unmannerly churl!' shouted Caris; and he struck the carter sharply across the shoulders with his end of the rope.

The man flung himself round and tried to strike his assailant in return with the thong of his long mule-whip; but Caris caught it in his grip and closed with him.

They wrestled savagely for a moment, then the carter, freeing his right arm, snatched out of his breeches belt the knife which every man carries, however severely the law may denounce and forbid such a habit. It would have buried its sharp, narrow blade in the ribs or the breast of Caris had not the other men, at a shout from Massaio, who came hurrying up, thrown themselves on the two combatants, and pulled them apart.

'To —— with you both!' cried Massaio, furious to see his cart stuck in the sand, its load of wood oscillating, and the time wasted of men whom he paid by the day.

Santina had stood quietly on the bank above the mules and the men, watching with keen interest and pleasure.

'Why did you stop them, uncle?' she cried to Massaio pettishly. 'I do love to see two good lads fight. 'Tis a sight that warms one's blood like good communion wine.'

But no one heeded what she said.

On these hills women are used but never listened to by any man.

 'The cows give milk, not opinions,' the men said to their womenkind.

Only Caris had seen in the sunlight that lithe erect figure amongst the gorse, and those two burning, melting, shining eyes, which had incited him to combat.

He was deeply angered with Massaio for stopping the duello.

A knife? What mattered a knife? He had one, too, in his breeches band; in another second he, too, would have had his out, and then Santina would have seen work fit for a brave, bold woman to watch, with the red blood running merrily through the thirsty sand and the tufted heather.

He was not quarrelsome or bloodthirsty; but any man who goes down into Maremma through the 'macchia,' where the 'mal-viventi' hide, learns to know very well how to sell his own life dearly, and hold the lives of others cheaply; and these contraband knives, which the law forbids so uselessly, cost very little to buy, and yet do their work surely, quickly, and well.

He cast one longing look up at Santina standing above amongst the gorse, and moved on sullenly with the other men and the mule, when the cart with rare effort had been pulled erect and dragged out of the sand. It was then only an hour or two after daybreak.

The day came and ended without Caris seeing his goddess again.

During the repose at noontide, when he with others broke bread and ate soup at the big table in Massaio's kitchen, she was not there. They were served by her aunt Eufemia. He had only accepted this work of fetching and stacking for sake of the vicinity to her which it offered; and his heart was heavy and his blood was turned, as he would himself have expressed it.

Chagrin and irritation, in the Italian's opinion, turns the blood as tempest changes milk. He was too shy and tongue-tied to venture to inquire for her; and the instinct of secrecy which characterizes all passion was joined to his natural hesitation in speech.

Massaio's people seemed, too, to him to be very grand folks, with their byres and stalls filled with beasts, and their casks of wine and great earthen jars of oil standing there for anybody to read in mute declaration of their prosperity.

 A barrel of wine had never entered the hut of the Lascarises within the memory of man. No one took any notice of him. He was a 'bracciante,' paid by the day, nothing more. Had Eufemia known that he was the old witch's son he would have attracted her attention; but she did not know it. When there is quick rough work to be done, nobody notices who does it.

When the last wood of the day was brought in, Caris went home by himself, by ways he knew. He was downcast and dull. He had been baulked of his knife-play with the carter, and he had not seen Santina.

At a bend in the hill-path, where the chestnut saplings grew taller than usual, and aged pines with scaly scarred trunks were left standing, he heard a laugh amongst the leafy scrub, and in the dusk of the moonless evening a slender straight figure shot up from its screen of heather.

'Eh, Caris!' cried the girl to him. 'What a poor day's work! Have you left Black Simon without an inch of steel in him? Fie for shame! A man should always write his name large when he has a stiletto for his pen.'

 Caris gazed at her dumb and agitated, the veins in his throat and temples throbbing.

'It was your uncle stopping the play,' he muttered; 'and I could not begin to brawl in his house.'

Santina shrugged her shoulders. 'Brave men don't want excuses,' she said unkindly.

'Ask of me in Maremma,' said Caris sullenly. 'They will tell you whether men taste my blade.'

'Maremma is far,' said Santina, sarcastic and jeering; 'and the men there are weak!'

'You shall see what you shall see,' muttered Caris, growing purple, red, and then pale. 'Tell me a man you have a quarrel with—nay, one who stands well with you—that will be better.'

'Those are words,' she said, with curt contempt.

'You shall see deeds. Who is it stands well with you?'

'No one. Many wish it.'

'Your promised man should; but he is old, and a poor creature. 'Twould be no credit to do away with him.'

'He is a poor creature,' said Santina, her lips curling. 'So are you, when to do a woman a pleasure you will not open a grave.'

'Open a grave! Nay, nay, the saints forbid.'

'The saints! That is how all weaklings and cowards talk. What harm could it do any saint in heaven for you to get those magic things? If they be the devil's toys and tools, as you say, more reason to pluck them out of holy ground.'

'How you go on!' muttered Caris, whose slower brain was scared and terrified by his companion's rapid and fearless strides of thought. 'Heaven have mercy on us! You would have me commit sacrilege! Rifle a tomb! Holy Christ! and that tomb my mother's!'

The sweat stood on his brow, and made the chestnut curls of his hair wet as with dew or rain.

Santina poured into his all the magnetic force and fire of her own eyes, shining in the dusk like some wild cat of the woods.

'Sacrilege! whew! Where got you that big word? You put the things in; you can take the things out. Your mother will sleep sounder without them. I want them, my lad, do you understand? I want them. And what I want I get from those who love me; and those who deny me, hate me, and I hate them.'

Caris shuddered as he heard.

'I love you,' he stammered. 'Do not hate me—for pity's sake, do not hate me.'

'Obey me, then,' she said, with her dark level brows contracting over her luminous eyes.

'In anything else!'

'Oh, ay! It is always anything else, except the one thing which is wanted!'

'But what is it you want?'

'I want the charms and the wand and the book out of your mother's grave.'

'What could you do with them? Without the knowledge, they are no more than a dry twig and a few dirty play-cards.'

'How know you what knowledge I have? I want the things, that is all, I tell you.'

'They were accursed if they had any use in them. And what use had they? She who understood them lived and died all but a beggar. If they had any power in them, they cheated and starved her.'

The speech was a long one for Caris, whose thoughts were so little used to fit themselves to utterance.

 Santina heard him with the passionate impatience and intolerance of a swift mind with a dull one, of a bold will with a timid nature.

She had set her soul on possessing these magic things; she was convinced that she should find the way to make them work; superstition was intense and overwhelming in her, and allied to a furious ambition, all the more powerful because given loose rein through her complete ignorance.

'Oh, you white-livered ninny!' she cried to him, with boundless scorn. 'Would to Heaven Black Simon had buried his blade into you! It would have rid the earth of a dolt and a dastard!'

'Then let me be, if I be worth so little,' said Caris sullenly, whilst his eyes devoured her beauty half seen in the darkness which preceded the late rising of the moon. Then she saw that she had mistaken her path, and she changed it. She let great tears come into her eyes, and her mouth trembled, and her bosom heaved.

'This was the lad I could have loved!' she murmured. 'This was the strong bold youth whom I thought would be my brave and bonny damo before all the countryside. Oh, what fools are women—what fools!—taken by the eye, with a falcon glance and a sheaf of nut-brown curls and a broad breast that looks as if the heart of a true man beat in it. Oh, woe is me! Oh, woe is me! I dreamed a dream, and it has no more truth in it than the slate shingle here has of silver.'

She kicked downward scornfully as she spoke the crumbling slate and mia which showed here and there betwixt the heather plants in the tremulous shadow relics of a quarry worked long centuries before, and forsaken when the fires of the camp of Hun and Goth had blazed upon those hillsides.

III

Caris stared at her as she spoke, his whole frame thrilling and all his senses alive as they had never been before under a woman's glamour. He heeded not the derision, he thought not of the strangeness of the avowal; delicacy is not often a plant which grows in uncultured soil, and he had none of the intuition and suspicion which an educated man would have been moved by before such an avowal and such an upbraiding. He only knew, or thought he was bidden to know, that he had the power in him to please her fancy and awaken her desire.

'You love me! You can love me!' he shouted in a loud, vibrating, exultant voice which wakened all the echoes of the hills around him, and he sprang forward to seize her in his arms. But Santina, agile and strong, pushed him back, and stood aloof.

'Nay, nay, stand off!' she cried to him. 'Ne'er a coward shall touch me. All I said was, you might have won me.'

'I am no coward,' said Caris hotly. 'And why do you fool and tempt one so? 'Tis unfair. 'Tis unfair. You may rue it.'

His face was convulsed, his eyes were aflame, he breathed like a bull in a hard combat.

Santina smiled; that was how she liked to see a man look.

She had all the delight in watching and weighing the effects of the passion which she excited that moved the great queens of Asia and the empresses of Rome. She was only a poor girl, but the love of dominance and the violence of the senses were in her strong and hot and reckless.

In her was all that ferment of ambition and vanity and discontent which drives out from their hamlets those who are born with something in them different to their lot and alien to their fellows. She had never been anywhere farther afield than the hills and woods about Pistanse, but she knew that there were big cities somewhere, where men were made of money, and women wore satin all day long, and everybody ate and drank out of gold plates and silver vessels. She knew that; and to get to these kingdoms of delight was the one longing which possessed her day and night.

She wanted to get one thing out of this man—the means of liberty—and she cared nothing how she won it. Besides, he was so simple, so malleable, so credulous, it diverted her to play on him as one could play on a chitarra, making the strings leap and sigh and thrill and groan. And he was good to look at, too, with his tanned, fresh face, and his clustering curls, and his strong, straight, cleanly limbs.

'I only said you might have won me,' she repeated—'nay, you may still, if you have the heart of a man and not of a mouse. Hearken!'

'Do not fool me,' said Caris sternly, 'or as the Lord lives above us——'

She laughed airily.

'Oh, big oaths cannot frighten me. It shall lie with you. I want those things of your mother's. When you bring them I will thank you—as you choose.'

He grew gray under his brown, bright skin.

'Always that,' he muttered—always that!'

 'Naturally, it is what I want.'

'Go, get them, since you think it holy work.'

'I will,' said Santina, 'and then good-night to you, my good Caris; you will never see me more.'

She turned on her heel and began to run down the slope in the moonlight.

Santina would not have ventured inside the graveyard at night to get mountains of gold. She would not have passed after nightfall within a mile of its gate without crossing herself and murmuring Aves all the way. Superstition was born and bred in every inch of her bone and every drop of her blood, and she would no more have carried out her threat than she would have carried the mountain upon her shoulders.

But he did not know that. She was so bold, so careless, so self-confident, if she had told him she would split open the earth to its centre he would have believed her.

He overtook her as she fled down the slope and seized her in his arms.

'No, no!' he cried, close in her ear. 'It is not work for you. If it must be done I will do it. Will you swear that you will give yourself to me if I bring you the unholy things?'

'I love you!' she said breathlessly, while her lips brushed his throat—'yes, I do love you! Go, get the things, and bring them hither at dawn. I will meet you. Oh, I will find the way to use them, never fear. That is my business. Get you gone. They are calling below. They shut the house at the twenty-four.'

No one was calling, but she wished to get rid of him. He was strong, and he was on fire with her touch and her glance; he strained her in his arms until her face was bruised against the hairy sinews and bones of his chest.

She thrust him away with a supreme effort, and ran down the stony side of the hill, and was swallowed up in the duskiness of the tangled scrub.

A little scops owl flitted past, uttering its soft, low note, which echoes so far and long in the silence of evening in the hills.

Caris shook himself like a man who has been half stunned by a heavy fall. He was on fire with the alcohol of passion, and chilled to the marrow by the promise he had made.

 Open a tomb! Rifle a grave! See his mother again in her cere clothes—see all the untold and untellable horrors of which the dead and the earth make their secrets!

Oh, why had he ever admitted that he had sealed up the uncanny things in the coffin! He could have bitten his tongue out for its tell-tale folly.

He had thrust them in almost without consciousness of his act as he had hammered the lid down on the deal shell all alone with it in his cabin.

The things had been always under his mother's pillow at night; it had seemed to him that they ought to go with her down to the grave. He had had a secret fear of them, and he had thought that their occult powers would be nullified once thrust in sacred soil. He had been afraid to burn them.

The churchyard in which his mother lay was on the topmost slope of Genistrello, where the brown brick tower of the massive medieval church of St. Fulvo rose amongst the highest pines, upon a wind-swept and storm-scarred scarp.

Few were the dead who were taken there; meagre and miserable were the lot and the pittance of its poor Vicar, and weather-beaten and worn by toil were the score of peasants who made up its congregation, coming thence from the scattered huts and farmhouses of the hillside.

It was seven miles off from the chestnut wood where he dwelt, and twice seven from the four roads; a lonely and not over-safe tramp across the hills and the water-courses and the brushwood.

But it was not the distance which troubled him, nor any possible danger. He knew his way through all that country, and the full round moon was by now showing her broad disc over the edge of the farther mountains on the south-east. But the thought of what he would have to do at the end of his pilgrimage made him sick with fear not altogether unmanly.

He knew that what he would do would be sacrilege and punishable by law, but it was not of that he thought: his mind was filled with those terrors of the nether world, of the unknown, of the unseen, which a lonely life and a latent imagination made at once so indistinct and so powerful to him.

 'Had she but asked me anything else! 'he thought piteously. 'Anything!—to cut off my right hand or to take the life of any man!'

But she had set him this task; inexorably as women of old set their lovers to search for the Grail or beard the Saracen in his mosque, and he knew that he must do what she willed or never again feel those warm red lips breathe on his own.

He tightened the canvas belt round his loins, and went home to his cabin to fetch a pickaxe and a spade, and, bidding his dog stay to guard the empty hut, he set out to walk across the vast steep breadth of woodland darkness which separated him from the church and churchyard which were his goal.

A labourer on those hills all his life, and accustomed also to the more perilous and murderous thickets of Maremma, where escaped galley-slaves hid amongst the boxwood and the bearberry, and lived in caves and hollow trees, no physical alarm moved him as he strode on across the uneven ground with the familiar scents and sounds of a woodland night around him on every side.

The moon had now risen so high that the valleys were bathed in her light, and the sky was radiant with a brilliancy which seemed but a more ethereal day.

He had no eyes for its beauty. His whole soul was consumed by the horror of his errand. He only looked up at the pointers and the pole-star which he knew, so as to guide himself by them up the steep slopes to the church, for he had left the cart-tracks and mule-paths and struck perforce through the gorse and undergrowth westward, gradually ascending as he went.

'Poor mother! poor mother!' he kept saying to himself. It seemed horrible to him to go and molest her out in her last sleep and take those things which were buried with her. Would she know? Would she awake? Would she rise and strike him?

Then he thought of a dead woman whom he had found once in the 'macchia' in Maremma, lying unburied under some myrtle bushes; he remembered how hideous she had looked, how the ants and worms had eaten her, how the wild boars had gnawed her flesh, how the jaws had grinned and the empty eyeballs had stared, and how a black toad had sat on her breast.

 Would his mother look like that?

No; for she was safe under ground, under sacred ground, shut up secure from wind and weather in that deal shell which he had himself made and hammered down; and she was in her clothes, all neat and proper, and the holy oil had been upon her.

No, she had been put in her grave like a Christian, witch though they said that she was. She could not look like the woman in Maremma, who had been a vagrant and a gipsy.

Yet he was afraid—horribly afraid.

IV

It was a soft and luminous night; there was the faintest of south winds now and then wandering amongst the tops of the pines, and fanning their aromatic odours out of them. The sound of little threads of water trickling through the sand and moss, and falling downward through the heather, was the only sound, save when a night bird called through the dark, or a night beetle whirred on its way.

The summit of the hillside was sere and arid, and its bold stony expanse had seldom a living thing on it by daylight. By night, when the priest and sacristan of St. Fulvo were sleeping, there was not a single sign of any life, except the blowing of the pine-tops in the breeze.

He had never been there except by broad day; his knees shook under him as he looked up at the tall straight black tower, with the moonlit clouds shining through the bars of its open belfry. If he had not heard the voice of Santina crying to him, 'No coward shall win me,' he would have turned and fled.

He was alone as utterly as though all the world were dead.

It was still barely midnight when he saw the bell-tower on high looming darker than the dark clouds about it, and the pine-trees and the presbytery and the walls of the burial-ground gathered round it black and gaunt, their shapes all fused together in one heap of gloom.

The guardians of the place, old men who went early to their beds, were sleeping somewhere under those black roofs against the tower. Below, the hills and valleys were all wrapped in the silence of the country night.

On some far road a tired team of charcoal-bearing mules might be treading woefully to the swing of their heavy bells, or some belated string of wine-carts might be creeping carefully through the darkness, the men half-drunk and their beasts half-asleep.

But there was no sound or sign of them in the vast brooding stillness which covered like great soft wings the peaceful hills overlapping one another, and the serenity of the mountains bathed in the rays of the moon.

 There was no sound anywhere: not even the bleat of a sheep from the flocks, nor the bark of a dog from the homesteads.

Caris crossed himself, and mounted the steep path which led to the church-gate.

The last time he had come thither he had climbed up with the weight of his mother's coffin on his shoulders; the ascent being too steep for a mule to mount and he too poor to pay for assistance.

The walls of the graveyard were high, and the only access to it was through a wooden iron-studded door, which had on one side of it a little hollowed stone for holy water, and above it a cross of iron and an iron crown. To force the door was impossible; to climb the wall was difficult, but he was agile as a wild cat, and accustomed to crawl up the stems of the pines to gather their cones, and the smooth trunks of the poplars in the valleys to lop their crowns.

He paused a moment, feeling the cold dews run like rain off his forehead, and wished that his dog was with him, a childish wish, for the dog could not have climbed: then he kicked off his boots, set his toe-nails in the first crevice in the brick surface, and began to mount with his hands and feet with prehensile agility.

In a few moments he was above on the broad parapet which edged the wall, and could look down into the burial-place below. But he did not dare to look; he shut his eyes convulsively and began to descend, holding by such slight aids as the uneven surface and the projecting lichens afforded him. He dropped at last roughly but safely on the coarse grass within the enclosure.

All was black and still; the graveyard was shut in on three sides by its walls, and at the fourth side by the tower of the church.

The moon had passed behind a cloud and he could see nothing.

He stood ankle-deep in the grass; and as he stirred he stumbled over the uneven broken ground, made irregular by so many nameless graves. He felt in his breeches pockets for his pipe and matches, and drew one of the latter out and struck it on a stone.

But the little flame was too feeble to show him even whereabouts he was, and he could not in the darkness tell one grave from another.

 Stooping and stretching out his hands, he could feel the rank grass and the hillocks all round him; there were a few head-stones, but only a few; of such dead as were buried in the graveyard of St. Fulvo, scarce one mourner in a century could afford a memorial stone or even a wooden cross.

He stood still and helpless, not having foreseen the difficulty of the darkness.

He could feel the stirring of wings in the air around him. His sense told him that they were but owls and bats, of which the old tower was full; but he shivered as he heard them go by; who could be sure what devilish thing they might not be?

The horror of the place grew on him.

Still, harmless, sacred though it was, it filled him with a terror which fastened upon him, making his eyeballs start, and his flesh creep, and his limbs shake beneath him.

Yet he gripped his pickaxe closer and tighter, and held his ground, and waited for the moon to shine from the clouds.

Santina should see he was no white-livered boy. He would get her what she asked, and then she would be his—his—his; and the woods would hide their loves and the cold moss grow warm with their embrace.

Stung into courage and impatience by her memory, he struck violently upon one of the stones his whole handful of brimstone matches; they flared alight with a blue, sharp flash, and he saw there at his feet his mother's grave.

He could not doubt that it was hers; it was a mound of clay on which no grass had had time to grow, and there were the cross-sticks he had set up on it as a memorial, with a bit of an old blue kerchief which had been hers tied to them.

It was just as he had left them there four months before, when the summer had been green and the brooks dry and the days long and light. She was there under his feet where he and the priest had laid her, the two crossed chestnut sticks the only memorial she would ever have, poor soul!

She was there, lying out in all wind and weather alone—horribly, eternally alone; the rain raining on her and the sun shining on her, and she knowing nought, poor, dead woman!

Then the wickedness of what he came to do smote him all of a sudden so strongly that he staggered as under a blow, and a shower of hot tears gushed from his eyes, and he wept bitterly.

'Oh, mother, poor mother!' he cried aloud.

She had been a hard mother to him, and had had ways which he had feared and disliked, and a cruel tongue and a bad name on the hillside, but she had been his mother, and when she had lain dying she had been sorrowful to think that she would leave him alone.

She had been his mother, and he came to rifle her grave.

What a crime! What a foul, black crime, such as men and women would scarce speak of with bated breath by their hearths in the full blaze of day! What a crime! He abhorred himself for doing it, as he would have abhorred a poisoner or a parricide seeing them pass to the gallows.

'Oh, mother, mother, forgive me! She will have it so!' he sobbed with a piteous prayer.

He thought that, being dead, his mother would understand and forgive, as she would never have understood or forgiven when living.

Then he struck his spade down into the heavy clay on which no bird-sown seed of blade or blossom had yet had any time to spring.

He dug and dug and dug, till the sweat rolled off his limbs and his shoulders ached and his arms quivered.

He threw spadefuls of clay one after another out on the ground around, his eyes growing used to the darkness, and his hands gripping the spade handle harder and harder in desperation. The very horror of his action nerved him to feverish force.

'Oh, Santina, Santina, you give my soul to hell fires everlasting!' he cried aloud once, as he jammed the iron spade down deeper and deeper into the ground, tearing the stiff soil asunder and crushing the stones.

The moon came forth from the clouds, and the burial-ground grew white with her light where the shadows of the wall did not fall. He looked up once; then he saw black crosses, black skulls and cross-bones, rank grass, crumbling headstones, nameless mounds all round him, and beyond them the tower of the church.

But his mother's coffin he did not find. In vain he dug, and searched, and frantically tossed aside the earth in such haste to have ended and finished with his horrible task.

His mother's coffin he could not find.

Under the rays of the moon the desecrated ground lay, all broken up and heaped and tossed together, as though an earthquake had riven the soil. But the deal shell which he had made with his own hands and borne thither on his own shoulders, he could not find.

'She will never believe! she will never believe!' he thought.

Santina would never believe that he had come there if he met her at dawn with empty hands. He could hear in fancy her shrill, cruel, hissing shriek of mockery and derision; and he felt that if he did so hear it in reality it would drive him mad.

He dug, and dug, and dug, more furiously, more blindly, going unconsciously farther and farther away from where the two crossed chestnut sticks had been; they had been uprooted and buried long before under the first heap of clay which he had thrown out from the grave.

He had forgotten that they alone were his landmarks and guides; in the darkness which had been followed by the uncertain, misleading light of the moon, he had gone far from them.

His work had become almost a frenzy with him; his nerves were strung to an uncontrollable pitch of excitation, fear, and horror, and obstinacy, and a furious resolve to obtain what he sought, with a terrible dread of what he should see when he should reach it, had together, in their conflict of opposing passions, driven him beside himself.

He dug on and on, without any consciousness of how far he had gone from his goal, and no sense left but the fury of determination to possess himself of what he knew was there in the earth beneath him.

He stood up to his knees in the yawning clay, with the heavy clods of it flung up on either side of him, and the moon hanging up on high in the central heavens, her light often obscured by drifting cloud wrack, and at other times shining cold and white into his face, as though by its searching rays to read his soul.

How long he had been there he knew not; time was a blank to him; his supernatural terrors were lost in the anguish of dread lest he should be unable to do Santina's will.

 He felt as though he strove with the fiend himself.

Who but some hideous power of evil could have moved the corpse and baffled and beaten him thus? Perhaps truly the charms had been things born of the devil, and the devil had taken them both to himself, and the body of his mother with them. He dug on and on frantically, deriving relief from the fever within him through that violent exertion which strained every vein and muscle in his body, till he felt as though beaten with iron rods.

He did not see, in the confusion of his mind and the gloom of the night, that he had come close under the graveyard wall, and was digging almost at its base. He believed himself still to be on the spot where he had buried his mother; and he had deepened the pit about him until he was sunk up to his loins. He never remembered the danger of the priest or the sacristan waking and rising and seeing him at his occult labour.

He never remembered that the bell would toll for matins whilst the stars would be still in their places, and the hills and the valleys still dark. All sense had left him except one set, insane resolve to obtain that by which the beauty of a woman was alone to be won.

Of crime he had grown reckless, of emotion he had none left; he was only frantically, furiously determined to find that which he had come to seek. Standing in the damp, clogging soil, with the sense of moving creatures about him which his labours had disturbed in the bowels of the earth, he dug and dug and dug until his actions had no purpose or direction in them, only hurling clod upon clod in breathless, aimless, senseless monotony and haste.

At last his spade struck on some substance other than the heavy soil and the slimy worms; he thrilled through all his frame with triumph and with terror.

At last! At last! He never doubted that it was the coffin he sought; he did not know that his mother's grave lay actually yards away from him. Oh, were there only light, he thought; it was so dark, for the moon had now passed down behind the wall of the graveyard, and there would be only henceforth growing ever darker and darker that dense gloom which precedes the dawn. He dared not go on digging; he was afraid that the iron of his spade should stave in the soft wood of the coffin, and cut and maim the body within it. He stooped and pushed the clay aside with his hands, trying to feel what the tool had struck.

What met his touch was not wood, but metal—rounded, smooth, polished; though clogged and crusted with the clay-bed in which it lay. He pushed the earth farther and farther away, and the object he had reached seemed to lie far down, under the soil, and to be held down by it.

He was himself hemmed in by the broken clods, and stood in the hole he had dug, half imprisoned by it. But he could move enough to strike a few remaining matches on the iron of the spade, and let their light fall on what he had unearthed.

Then it seemed to him that a miracle had been wrought.

Before him lay a silver image of the Child Christ. His knees shook, his whole frame trembled, his lips gasped for breath; the flame of the matches died out; he was left in the dark with the image.

'It is the Gesu! It is the Gesu!' he muttered, sure that his dead mother, or the saints, or both, had wrought this miracle to show him the evil of his ways.

In truth, the statue had lain there many centuries, buried against the wall by pious hands in times when the torch of war had been carried flaming over all the wasted villages and ravaged fields in the plain below.

But no such explanation dawned on the mind of Caris.

To him it was a miracle wrought by the saints or by the dead. In the dark he could feel its round shoulders, its small hands folded as in prayer, its smooth cheek and brow, its little breast; and he touched them reverently, trembling in every nerve.

He had heard of holy images shown thus to reward belief or to confound disbelief.

His faith was vague, dull, foolish, but it was deep-rooted in him. He was a miserable sinner; and the dead and the saints turned him thus backward on his road to hell; so he thought, standing waist-deep in the rugged clay and clutching his spade to keep himself from falling in a swoon.

V

To Caris miracles were as possible as daily bread.

He knew little of them, but he believed in them with his whole soul. It seemed wonderful that the heavenly powers should create one for such a poor and humble creature as himself; but it did not seem in any way wonderful that such a thing should be.

The Divine Child was there in the earth, keeping away all evil things by its presence, and he could not doubt that the saints who were with Mary, or perchance his own mother's purified spirit, had called the image there to save him from the fiend.

He sank on his knees on the clay, and said over breathlessly all the Aves he could think of in his awe. They were few, but he repeated them over and over again, hoping thus to find grace and mercy for his sin for having broken into these sacred precincts and disturbed the dead in their rest.

 But what of Santina? Would she believe him when he told her of this wondrous thing?

If he went to her with his hands empty, would she ever credit that he had courage to come upon this quest? He could hear, as it were, at his ear, her mocking, cruel, incredulous laughter.

She had said, 'Bring me the magic toys.' What would the tale of a miracle matter to her? She wanted treasure and knowledge. She would care nothing for the souls of the dead or the works of the saints—nothing.

He knew that her heart was set on getting things which she knew were evil, but believed were powerful for good and ill, for fate and future.

Suddenly a thought which froze his veins with its terror arose in him, and fascinated him with its wickedness and his daring. What if he took the holy image to her in proof that he had tried to do her will, and had been turned from his errand by powers more than mortal?

Since she had believed in the occult powers of his mother's divining tools, surely she would still more readily believe in the direct and visible interposition of the dead?

 If he bore the Gesu to her in his arms, she could not then doubt that he had passed the hours of this night in the graveyard of St. Fulvo.

She could not, before its sacred testimony, be angry, or scornful, or incredulous, or unkind.

But could he dare to touch the holy thing? Would the image consent to be so taken? Would not its limbs rebel, its lips open, its body blister and blast the mortal hands which would thus dare to desecrate it?

A new fear, worse, more unspeakable than any which had moved him before, now took possession of him as he knelt there on the bottom of the pit which he had dug, gazing through the blackness of the darkness to the spot where he knew the silver body of the Christ Child lay.

The thing was holy in his eyes, and he meant to use it for unholy purposes. He felt that his hands would wither at the wrist if they took up that silver Gesu from its bed of earth.

His heart beat loudly against his ribs, his head swam.

It was still dark, though dawn in the east had risen.

 He crawled out of the pit of clay with difficulty, holding the silver image to his bosom with one arm, and stood erect, and gazed around him.

If saints or friends were there beside him, they made no sign; they neither prevented nor avenged the sacrilege.

The sweet, sharp smell of the wet blowing grasses was in his nostrils, and the damp clinging sods were about his feet, dragging at the soles of his boots, that was all.

He began to think of the way in which he could, thus burdened, climb the wall.

The silver Christ was heavy in his hold, and he needed to have both hands free to ascend the height above him.

He knew it was an image and not a living god; yet none the less was it in his sight holy, heaven-sent, miraculous, potent for the service of the saints, and to take it up and bear it away seemed to him like stealing the very Hostia itself.

True, he would bring it back and give it to the vicar, and let it, according to the reverend man's choice, be returned to its grave or laid on the altar of the church for the worship of the people, and the continued working of miracles.

Yes, he said to himself, assuredly he would bring it back. He would only bear it in his arms most reverently to Santina, that she might see and believe, and become his; and then he would return hither with it and tell the priest the wondrous story.

Yet he shook as with palsy at the thought of carrying the blessed image as though it were a mere living human babe.

It seemed to him as if no man could do such a deed and live. The anointed hands of a priest might touch it, but not his—his so hard and rough and scarred with work, never having held aught better than his pipe of clay and his tool of wood or of iron, and the horn haft of his pocket-knife.

Nor was even his motive for taking it pure. He wanted through it to justify himself in the sight of a woman, and to find favour with her, and to gratify a strong and furious passion. His reasons were earthly, gross, selfish; they could not redeem, or consecrate, or excuse his act. That he knew.

All was still, dusky, solitary; the church was wrapt in gloom, the daybreak did not reach it; only above the inland hills the white light spread where he could not see; behind the high wall of the graveyard, beyond the ranges of the inland hills, the gray soft light of daybreak had arisen.

He thought he heard voices all around him, and amongst them that of his mother warning him to leave untouched the sacred Child, and get up on his feet and flee. But above these he heard the laughter of Santina mocking him as an empty-handed, white-livered fool, who came with foolish tales of visions to hide his quaking soul.

Better that his arms should shrivel, that his sight should be blinded, that his body should be shrunken and stricken with the judgment of heaven, than that he should live to hear her red lips laugh and call him a feckless coward.

With all the life which was in him shrinking and sickening in deadly fear, he stooped down, groped in the dark until he found the image, grasped its metal breast and limbs, and dragged it upward from the encircling earth.

It was of the size of a human child of a year old.

He plucked it roughly upward, for his terror made him rude and fierce, and held it in his arms, whilst he wondered in his great awe and horror that no judgment of affronted heaven followed on his desperate act.

All was still well with him; he saw, he heard, he breathed, he lived; the cool night air was blowing about him, the clouds were letting fall a faint fine mist-like rain.

He undid the belt about his loins—a mere piece of webbing with a buckle—strapped it around the body of the Gesu, and taking the ends thereof between his firm, strong teeth, sought in the dark for the place whence he had descended, and found it.

He climbed the wall with slow, laborious, and painful effort, the dead weight of the silver figure encumbering him as he mounted with cat-like skill, cutting his hands and bruising his skin against the rough, undressed stones.

He dropped carefully down on the earth beneath, and began the descent of the hill.

'When I can bring the little Christ back, I can get the tools,' he thought. It seemed a small matter.

He was forced to leave behind him his spade and pickaxe.

VI

When at last he reached the top of the coping, he saw that it was dawn. His heart leaped in his breast. Down in the chestnut coppice Santina would be awaiting him; and she would believe—surely, certainly she would believe—when she should see this holy Gesu brought out from the tomb.

He was in good time. It was barely day. He unslung the little Christ and took it again in his arms, as carefully as a woman would take a new-born child. The polished limbs grew warm in his hands; its small face leaned against his breast; he lost his awe of it; he ceased to fear what it might do to him; he felt a kind of love for it.

'Oh, Gesu, dear Gesu, smile on us!' he said to it; and although it was still too dark to see more than its outline faintly, he thought he saw the mouth move in answer.

Holding it to him, he started homeward down the stony slope. He was thankful to be out of that ghostly place of tombs; he was thankful to have escaped from that scene of terror whole in limb, and uncursed if unpardoned; the tension of his nerves in the past hours had given place to an unreasoning and overstrung gladness. But for his reverence for the burden he carried, he could have laughed aloud.

Only once now and then, as he went, his conscience smote him. His poor mother!—he had forgotten her; he had displaced the mark set above her grave; no one would ever now be sure where she was buried. Did it hurt her, what he had done? Would she be jealous in her grave of the woman for whom he did it? Was it cruel to have come away without smoothing the rugged earth above her bed and saying an Ave for her?

But these thoughts, this remorse, were fleeting; his whole mind was filled with the heat of passion and its expectation. Fatigued and overworked and sleepless as he was, he almost ran down the paths of the hills in his haste, and tore his skin and his clothes as he pushed his way through the brushwood and furze, guarding only the Gesu from hurt as he went.

 The day had now fully dawned, and the sun had risen; its rosy flush was warm over all the land and sky; the woodlarks and the linnets were singing under the bushes; the wild doves were dabbling in the rivulets of water; the hawks were circling high in the light.

On the wooded hillside all was peaceful with the loveliness of the unworn day; the air was full of the smell of heather and wet mosses and resinous pine-cones; rain was falling above where the church was, but in these lower woods there was a burst of sunrise warmth and light. None of these things, however, did he note. He went on and on, downward and downward, holding the silver image close against his breast, scarcely feeling the boughs which grazed his cheeks or the flints which wounded his naked feet.

When he came within sight of the place where he had left Santina the night before, he strained his eyes to catch a glimpse of her through the tangle of leaves and twigs and fronds. And true enough to her tryst she was there, waiting impatiently, fretting, wishing the time away, blaming her own folly in setting all her hopes of freedom and the future on a foolish, cowardly churl—for so she called him in her angry thought, as she crouched down under the chestnut scrub and saw the daylight widen and brighten.

She ran a great risk in hiding there; if any of her people or their carters saw her, their suspicions would be aroused and their questions endless. She would say that she came for mushrooms; but they would not believe her. She was too well known for a late riser and a lazy wench.

Still, she had imperilled everything to keep her word with him, and she waited for him seated on the moss, half covered with leaves, except at such times as her impatient temper made her cast prudence to the winds and rise and look out of the thicket upward to the hills.

She had made herself look her best; a yellow kerchief was tied over her head, her hair shone like a blackbird's wing, her whole face and form were full of vivid, rich, and eager animal beauty. To get away—oh, only to get away! She looked up at the wild doves sailing over the tops of the tall pines and envied them their flight.

Caris saw that eager, longing look upon her countenance before he reached her, and he thought it was caused by love for him.

He held the Gesu to his bosom with both hands and coursed like lightning down the steep slope which still divided him from her; he was unconscious of how jaded, soiled, and uncomely he looked after his long night's work and all his ghostly fears; his feet were scratched and bleeding, his shirt soaked in sweat, his flesh bespattered with the clay, his hair wet and matted with moisture; he had no remembrance of that, he had no suspicion that even in that moment of agitation, when she believed her errand done, her will accomplished, she was saying in her heart as she watched him draw nigh: 'He has got them, he has got them; but, Holy Mary! what a clown!—he has all the mud of fifty graves upon him!'

He rushed downward to her, and held the silver image out at arm's-length, and sobbed and laughed and cried aloud, indifferent who might hear, his voice trembling with awe and ecstasy.

'It is the Gesu Himself, the Gesu—and I have brought Him to you because now you will believe—and my mother must be well with them in heaven or they never had wrought such a miracle for me—and such a night as I have passed, dear God! such things as I have seen and heard—but the Child smiles—the Child is pleased—and now you will believe in me, though I could not find the magic things—and I said to myself when she sees the Gesu she will believe—and she will be mine—mine—mine! The Lord forgive me, that has been all my thought, though heaven wrought such a miracle for me!'

The words poured out of his mouth one over another like the rush of water let loose through a narrow channel. He was blind with his own excess of emotion, his own breathless desire; he did not see the changes which swept over the face of Santina in a tumult of wrath, wonder, fury, eagerness, suspicion, cupidity, as one after another each emotion went coursing through her soul and shining in her eyes, making her beauty distorted and terrible.

Her first impulse was fury at his failure to bring her what she wanted; the second was to comprehend in a flash of instantaneous insight the money value of that to which he only attached a spiritual merit.

 She snatched the image from him, and in the morning light she saw the silver of it glisten through the earth which still in parts clung to it. It might be better, surer, more quick aid to her than the uncertain divining tools whereof she was ignorant of the full employ. Her rapid mind swept over in a second all the uses to which it might be put, and comprehended the superstitious adoration of it which moved Caris and made him control his passion for herself, as he stood gazing at it in her arms, his own hands clasped in prayer, and his whole frame trembling with the portentous sense of the mercy of heaven which had been made manifest to him.

She in a second divined that it had been part of some buried treasure which he had by accident disinterred, but she was too keen and wise to let him see that she did so; it was her part to humour and to confirm him in his self-deception.

She calmed the angry, gibing words which rose to her lips, she held back the exultant covetousness which flashed in her eyes and betrayed itself in the clutching grasp of her fingers; she gazed on the Gesu with a worship half real, half affected, for it was also a holy image to her, if its sanctity were to her outweighed and outshone by its monetary worth in precious metal.

'Tell me how you found this?' she asked, under her breath, as one almost speechless with awe before such a manifestation from on high.

She was really in genuine fear. He had been into precincts which none could enter without offending immortal and unseen powers. He had done it at her bidding. Who could be sure that the offending spirits would not avenge his sacrilege on her?

But through her fears she kept her hold upon the image, whilst she asked the question.

Tremblingly he told her how he had passed the awful hours of the night and failed to find his mother's tomb, but in its stead found this.

'And I brought it that you should know that I had been there,' he said in conclusion, 'that you might know I had been where you willed, and am no coward; and we will take it back together and give it to the holy man up yonder—and now—and now—and now——'

His hands touched her, his breath was upon her, his timid yet violent passion blazed in his eyes and quivered all over his frame: he had dared all things for his reward, and he claimed it. But, quick as lightning, and merciless as dishonest, she put the holy image between her and him. The sacred silver froze his burning lips.

His arms fell to his side as though they were paralyzed.

'Not while the Gesu is with us,' she murmured in rebuke. 'Let us not be unworthy—you say yourself a miracle was wrought.'

'But——'

He stood before her, checked, daunted, breathing heavily, like a horse thrown back on its haunches in full flight.

'Hush!' she said, with a scared look. 'There are people near; I hear them. We will take the Gesu back to the church, but that cannot be till dusk. I will keep Him safe with me. Go, you dear, and clean your skin and your clothes, lest any seeing you should suspect what you have done.'

'I will not go,' he muttered; 'you promised——'

'I promised, oh fool!' she said, with quick passion, 'and my word I will keep, but not while the Gesu is with us. I love you for all you have braved. I love you for all you have done. I will be yours and no other's. See! I swear it on the Holy Child's head!'

And she kissed the silver brow of the babe.

He was convinced, yet irresolute and impatient.

'Let us go back with it now, then,' he muttered. 'I did but bring him to show you in witness of what I had done.'

'No,' she said, with that imperious command in her voice and her gaze which made the resolve in him melt like wax beneath a flame. 'You cannot be seen with me in such a state as you are. I will carry the Christ back to the church if so be that He rests uneasily in common arms like ours, and then—well, I will pass by your cabin as I come down. Dost complain of that, my ingrate?'

A flood of warmth and joy and full belief swept like flame through the whole being of Caris. Her eyes were suffused, her cheek blushed, her lips smiled; he believed himself beloved; he thought himself on the threshold of ecstasy; the minutes seemed like hours until he should regain his hut and watch from its door for her coming.

'You will go now?' he asked eagerly.

'At once,' she answered, holding the Gesu to her as a woman would hold a sucking child.

Caris closed his eyes, dazed with her beauty and the wild, sweet thought of how she would hold to her breast some child of his on some fair unborn morrow.

'Then go,' he muttered. 'The sooner we part, the sooner we shall meet. Oh, my angel!'

She gave him a smile over her shoulder, and she pushed her way upward through the chestnut boughs, carrying the Gesu folded to her bosom.

Watching her thus depart, a sudden and new terror struck him.

'Wait,' he called to her. 'Will the priest be angered that I disturbed the graves, think you?'

'Nay, nay, not when he sees that you give him the image,' she called backward in answer.

Then she disappeared in the green haze of foliage, and Caris struck onward in the opposite direction, to take the way which led to his cabin on Genistrello. Her words had awakened him to a consciousness of his bruised, befouled, and tattered state.

He wished to avoid meeting anyone who might question him as to his condition.

He got as quickly as he could by solitary paths to his home, and was met with rapture by his dog. He entered the house, and drank thirstily; he could not eat; he washed in the tank at the back of the hut, and clothed himself in the best that he had: what he wore on holy and on festal days.

Then he set his house-door wide open to the gay morning light which, green and gleeful, poured through the trunks of the chestnuts and pines; and he sat down on his threshold with the dog at his feet, and waited.

It would be a whole working-day lost, but what of that? A lover may well lose a day's pay for love's crown of joy.

Hour after hour passed by, and his eyes strained and ached with looking into the green light of the woods. But Santina came not.

The forenoon, and noontide and afternoon went by; and still no living thing came up to his solitary house. The whole day wore away, and he saw no one, heard nothing, had no visitant except the black stoat which flitted across the path, and the grey thrushes which flew by on their autumn flights towards lower ground.

The long, fragrant, empty day crept slowly by, and at last ended. She had not come.

He was still fasting. He drank thirstily, but he could not eat, though he fed the dog.

He was in a state of nervous excitation almost delirious. The trees and the hills and the sky seemed to whirl around him. He dared not leave the hut, lest she should come thither in his absence. He stared till he was sightless along the green path which led down to the four roads. Now and then, stupidly, uselessly, he shouted aloud; and the mountains echoed his solitary voice.

The dog knew that something was wrong with his master, and was pained and afraid.

The evening fell. The night wore away. He put a little lamp in his doorway, thinking she might come, through shyness, after dark; but no one came. Of her there was no sign, or from her any word.

When the day came he was still dressed and sleepless, seated before his door; the flame of the little lamp burnt on, garish and yellow in the sunshine.

The sun mounted to the zenith; it was again noon. He went indoors, and took a great knife which he was accustomed to carry with him to Maremma. He put it in his belt inside his breeches, so that it was invisible.

Then he called the dog to him, kissed him on the forehead, gave him bread, and motioned to him to guard the house; then he took his way once more down the hillside to Massaio's house.

If she had fooled him yet again, she would not live to do it thrice. His throat was dry as sand; his eyes were bloodshot; his look was strange.

The dog howled and moaned as he passed out of sight.

He went onward under the boughs tinged with their autumnal fires, until he came to the place where the house and sheds and walls of the wood merchant's homestead stood. He walked straight in through the open gates, and then stood still.

He saw that there was some unusual stir and trouble in the place: no one was at work, the children were gaping and gabbling, the housewife was standing doing nothing, her hands at her sides; Massaio himself was seated drumming absently on the table.

'Where is Santina?' asked Caris.

They all spoke in answer, 'Santina is a jade'—Massaio's voice louder and rougher than the rest.

'She has gone out of the town and away, none knows where; and she has left a letter behind her saying that none need try to follow, for she is gone to a fine new world, where she will want none of us about her; and my brother says it is all my fault, giving her liberty out on the hills. And the marvel is where she got the money, for we and they kept her so close—not a stiver—not a penny—and it seems she took the train that goes over the mountains ever so far, and paid a power of gold at the station wicket.'

The voice of Caris crossed his in a loud, bitter cry. 'She sold the Gesu! As God lives—she sold the Gesu!'

Then the blood rushed from his nostrils and his mouth, and he fell face downwards.

VII

A few days later he was arrested for having violated and robbed the tombs in the burial-grounds of St. Fulvo. The pickaxe and the spade had been found with his name burned on the wood of them; he was sentenced to three years at the galleys for sacrilege and theft.

When the three years were ended he was an old, gray, bowed man, though only twenty-nine years of age; he returned to his cabin, and the dog, who had been cared for by the charcoal-burners, knew him from afar off, and flew down the hill-path to meet him.

'The wench who ruined you,' said the charcoal-burners around their fire that night, 'they do say she is a fine singer and a rich madam somewhere in foreign parts. She sold the Gesu—ay, she sold the Gesu to a silversmith down in the town. That gave her the money to start with, and the rest her face and her voice have done for her.'

 'Who has the Gesu?' asked Caris, hiding his eyes on the head of the dog.

'Oh, the Gesu, they say, was put in the smelting-pot,' said the charcoal-burner.

Caris felt for the knife which was inside his belt. It had been given back to him with his clothes when he had been set free at the end of his sentence.

'One could find her,' he thought, with a thrill of savage longing. Then he looked down at the dog and across at the green aisles of the pines and chestnuts.

'Let the jade be,' said the forest-man to him. 'You are home again, and 'twas not you who bartered the Christ.'

Caris fondled the haft of the great knife under his waistband.

'She stole the Gesu and sold Him,' he said, in a hushed voice. 'One day I will find her, and I will strike her: once for myself and twice for Him.'