A Lemon Tree by Ouida

I

It was a small lemon-tree, not more than forty inches high, growing in its red earthen vase as all lemons are obliged to be grown further north than Rome. There were many thousands and tens of thousands of other such trees in the land; but this one, although so little, was a source of joy and pride to its owner. He had grown it himself from a slender slip cast away on a heap of rubbish, and he had saved his pence up with effort and self-denial to purchase, second-hand, the big pot of ruddy clay in which it grew, now that it had reached its first fruit-bearing prime. It had borne as its first crop seven big, fragrant lemons, hanging from its boughs amidst leaves which were as fresh and green as a meadow in May. He had watched its first buds creep out of the slender twigs, and swell and swell gradually into sharp-pointed little cones, which in their turn became pale yellow fruit, 'fit for a princess,' as he said, patting their primrose-coloured rind. They seemed so many separate miracles to him, coming as by some magic out of the little starry white flowers on the glossy twigs.

He was a poor, ignorant man, by name Dario Baldassino, known as Fringuello (or the Chaffinch) to his neighbourhood and fellow workmen. He lived on the south side of the ferry of Royezano, and dug and carted the river-sand; a rude labour and a thankless, taking the sinew and spirit out of a man, and putting little in return into his pocket. The nave or ferry is a place to please an artist. All the land around on this south side is orchard—great pear-trees and cherry-trees linked together by low-growing vines, and in the spring months making a sea of blossom stretching to the river's edge. The watermills, which were there centuries ago, stand yellow and old, and cluster like beavers' dams upon the water. The noise of the weir is loud, but the song of the nightingale can be heard above it. Looking along westward down the widening, curving stream, above the fruit-trees planted thick as woods, there arise, two miles off, the domes and spires of the city of Florence, backed by the hills, which here take an Alpine look upon them when the sun sets beyond the rounded summits of the more distant Carrara range; and the spurs of the Apennines grow deeply blue with that intense transparent colour which is never seen in northern lands. To the north also lie the mountains, and on the east; and late into May the snow lingers where the day breaks above Vallombrosa and Casentino. All the vale is orchard, broken now and then by some great stone-pine, some walnut or chestnut tree, some church spire with its statue of its saint, some low, red-brown roofs, some grey old granary with open-timbered lofts. It is a serene and sylvan scene—at sunset and at sunrise grand—and the distant city rises on its throne of verdure, seeming transfigured as Dante, exiled, may have seen it in his dreams.

Of all this beauty outspread before his sight Fringuello saw little; his eyes were always set on the sand and shingle into which he drove his heart-shaped spade—all which is the pageant of the painter, the paradise of the poet, but is nothing to the toiler of the soil. The sweat of his fatigue drops down before his eyes, and shuts out from him the scenes amidst which he dwells. For him the weir has no song, the orchard no poem, the mountains no counsel, and the vales no charm. He does but see the cart-rucks in the sand, the house-fly in the sunlight, the coins hard-earned in his horny palm, the straw which covers the coveted wine-flask, or the glass which holds the hot and acid flavours of less natural drinks. Now and then Giotto looks up from his sheepfold, and Robert Burns from his furrow, but it is only once in a century. This poor labourer, Fringuello, lived in two little rooms in a poor house which looked on the weir and the water-mills. He had never been able to have a house of his own, and even the small charge of the rooms was more than he could easily pay, miserable though they were. His employment was intermittent, and in winter, when the river was spread wide over its bed, covering the sand and shingle, it ceased entirely. Some odd jobs he got elsewhere, but nothing certain. He had no knowledge of any other work than the digging and carrying which had been his lot. But he was always merry, with the mirth which had gained him his nickname, and in his light-hearted poverty had done what the poorest always do—he had married at twenty a girl as poor as himself. She was called Lizina, the familiar corruption of Luisa, and was the daughter of a cobbler of the adjacent village of Ripoli.

It was an imprudent union and a foolish one, but it was happier than many which fulfil every condition of prudence and thrift. Lizina was a blithe, buoyant, active, and laborious creature, and whilst she lived he never had a hole in his hempen shirt, or went without a tablespoonful of oil to his beans and bread. They were as merry and happy as if they had really been a pair of chaffinches in a nest in one of the pear-trees. But of joy the gods are envious, whether it go to roost in garret or palace, and in a few brief years Lizina died of fever and left him all alone with one little girl, as like herself as the bud is like the flower.

For months he never sang as he worked, and his ruddy face was pale, and he had long fits of weeping when he lay on his lonely bed, and stared up at the starry skies which were visible through the square, unshuttered window. Lizina was in the ground, in a nameless grave, with two crossed sticks set above it, and the river rolled over the weir, and the wide wheel turned, and the orchards blossomed, and the people laughed on the yellow sand, and no one cared that a little merry, glad, tender, harmless life was done for and over, stamped down into the clay like a crushed butterfly, a broken branch, a rotten fruit, or a dead grasshopper. Nobody cared; and after a time he, too, ceased to care, and began to hum and whistle and carol once more as he worked, and laughed once more at his comrades' jokes as they dug up the heavy sand. In the lives of the poor there is little leisure for sorrow, and toil passes over them like an iron roller over the inequalities of a road, forcing them down into dull indifference, as the roller forces into level nothingness alike the jagged flint and the sprouting grass.

Meanwhile, Lizina, as she was called after her mother, grew up apace like the little lemon-tree which had been planted at her birth, a lovely child like a Correggio cherub, thriving on her dry bed and herb-soup as the lemon plant thrived on the dry earth and uncongenial atmosphere of the attic under the roofs.

 Fringuello did his best by both of them, making up to them by tenderness and gentleness what he was forced to refuse to both of material comfort. Both the child and the tree went hungry often, suffered from cold and frost in the sharp, short winters, and languished in the scorching days, when foul odours rose from the naked bed of the shrunken river, and white clouds of little moths hovered over the cracked sand, and the leaves of the orchards grew yellow and wrinkled, and curled up, and dropped in the heat before their time.

All that he could not help; he could not help it more than he could help the shrinking of the river in drought, and the coming of blight to the orchards. Though it went to his soul like a knife-thrust when he saw the child pale and thin, and the lemon-tree sickly and shrunk, he could do nothing. But he murmured always, 'Patience, courage,' as he coaxed the child to eat a morsel of crust, and consoled the tree with a spray of spring-water, and he got them both safely through several burning summers and icy winters, and when they were both sixteen years old the tree was strong and buxom, with glossy foliage and fine fruit, and the child was healthy and handsome, with shining eyes and laughing mouth.

He had worked as hard as any mule for them both, and though a young man in years, he looked an old man from excess of toil, though his heart was light and his smile was like sunshine.

When he got up in the dark to go to his work, and drew his leathern belt about his lean ribs, he always looked at the pale light of dawn as it touched the green leaves of the tree and the closed eyes of the child, and then he muttered an Ave, content and thankful at heart. Many would have thought the hardness of his lot excuse enough for suicide; he never knew what it was not to feel tired, he never knew what it was to have a coin in his pocket for pleasure. His bones ached, and the gnawing of rheumatism was in his nerves, from the many hours spent knee-deep in water or damp sand, and always at the pit of his stomach was that other still worse gnawing of perpetual insufficiency of food. But he was content and grateful to his fate, as the birds are, though they hunger and thirst, and every man's hand is against them.

The child and the tree were indissolubly united in his mind and memory. They had grown up together, and seemed part and parcel of each other. Imagination scarcely exists in the brains of the poor; they do not know what it is. The perpetual grind of daily want leaves no space for or possibility of impersonal fancy in it; but, in a vague kind of superstitious way, he associated the well-being of the one with the welfare of the other. If the tree sickened and drooped for a day, he always looked nervously at Lizina to see if she ailed anything also. If the little girl coughed or grew hot with fever, he always watched anxiously the leaves of the lemon. It was a talisman and fetish to him; and when he came up from the river at evening when his work was done, he looked upward always to see the green boughs of the tree at the square little window of his garret under the deep eaves, and above an archway of old brown-red brick.

If it had been missing at the window, he would have told himself that Lizina was dead. There was no likelihood that it would ever be missing there. Lemon-trees live long, and this one would, he knew, most likely outlive himself if he kept it from worm and fly, and rot and mildew. Nevertheless, he always glanced upward to make sure that it was there when he toiled up the strip of road which led to his home when his work in the sand was done. Lizina herself did not wait at the window. She always came jumping and dancing down the path, her auburn curls flying, and her big brown eyes sparkling; barefooted, ill-clad, scarcely fed, but happy and healthy, singing at the top of her voice as her father had always done in his youth.

When they reached their fifteenth birthday, neither she nor the lemon-tree had ever ailed anything worse than a passing chill from a frosty week, or a transient sickness from a sultry drought.

The lemon-tree had given her the few little gifts she had ever received. The pence brought in by its fruit were always laid out for her: cake at Christmas, sugar-egg at Easter, a white ribbon for her first Communion, a pair of shoes to wear on high feasts and holy days—these little joys, few and far between, had all come to her from the copper pieces gained by the pale, wrinkled, fragrant fruit sold at five centimes each in the village or the town. 'Soldi della Lizinanina,' said her father whenever he put any so gained in his trousers pocket.

Well as he loved his pipe, and thankful as he was when he could get a drink of watered wine, he never touched a halfpenny of the lemon money to buy a pinch of tobacco or a glass of mezzo-vino. It was all saved up carefully for his little girl's small wants. Sometimes in hard seasons it had even to go in bread for her, but of that bread he would never himself take a mouthful. Moreover, the pence were few, for the lemons were not many.

Lizina remained quite a child, though she grew fast, and her little round breasts swelled up high and firm where the rough hempen shift cut across them. Young as she was, the eyes of an admirer had fallen upon her, and young Cecco, the son of Lillo, the contadino where the big pine stood (a pine three hundred years old if one), had said to her father and to her that when he had served out his time in the army he should say something serious about it; but Fringuello had answered him ungraciously that he could never give her bridal clothes or bridal linen, so that she would needs die a maid, and his own people had told him roughly that when he should have served his time he would be in a different mind. But Cecco, nevertheless, thought nothing would please him ever so well as this ragged, pretty child with her blowing cloud of short, crisp bright curls, and he said to her one evening as she sat on the wall by the ferry, 'If you will be patient, my Lizinanina, I will be true;' and Lizina, too young to be serious, but amused and triumphant, laughed gaily and saucily, and replied to him: 'I will make no promises, Cecco. You will come back with a shorn pate and soft hands and tender soles to your feet.'

For the soldier seems but a poor creature to the children of the soil, and is, indeed, of but little use when the barracks vomit him out of their jaws and send him back to his home, a poor, indifferent trooper, but also a spoiled peasant; having learned to write indeed, but having forgotten how to handle a spade, drive a plough, or prune a grape-vine, and to whose feet, once hard and firm as leather, the once familiar earth with its stones and thorns and sticks seems rough and sharp and painful, after having marched in ill-fitting boots for three years along smooth roads and paven streets.

 To the city lad and lass the conscript may seem somebody very fine; but to the country ones he seems but a mere popinjay, only useful to waste powder. Lizina, although only a river labourer's daughter, was country born and bred, and had the prejudices and preferences of the country, and had run about under the orchard boughs and down the vineyards of the countryside till she thought as a peasant and spoke as one.

Cecco was mortified, but he shared her views of the life to which he was about to go. He was useful now to tame a steer, to milk a heifer, to fell a tree, to mow a meadow, to reap a field, to get up in the dark and drive the colt into the city with a load of straw and bring back a load of manure. But in the barracks he would be nothing—worse than nothing; a poor numb-skull, strapped up in stiff clothes with a pack on his back, and a musket, which he must fire at nothing, on his shoulder.

'Wait for me, Lizina,' he said sadly. 'The time will soon pass, and I will come back and marry you, despite them all.'

'Pooh! I shall have married a man with a mint of money by the time they let you come back,' said the unkind child, saucily tossing the curls out of her eyes; but through her long lashes her glance rested a moment softly on the ruddy face of Cecco, which had looked down on her so often through the boughs and twigs of the cherry or pear trees of his father's farm, as he threw down fruit into her outstretched and eager little hands where she stood in the grass of the orchard.

She said nothing more tender then, being coy and wayward and hard to please, as became her incipient womanhood; but before she went to bed that night she came close to her father's side and put her hand on his.

'Cecco says he will come back and marry me, babbo,' she said, with a child's directness. Her father stroked her curls.

'That is a joke, dear; his people would never let him marry a little penniless chit like you.'

Lizina shook her head sagely with a little proud smile.

'He will not mind his people. He will do it—if I wish—when he comes back.'

Her father looked at her in amazement; in his eyes she was a little child still.

 'Why, baby, you speak like a woman!' he said stupidly. 'I am glad this lad goes away, as he puts such nonsense into your head.'

'But if we both wish, you would not mind, babbo?' she asked, persistent and serious.

'The angels save us! She speaks like a grown woman!' cried her father. 'My poor little dear,' he thought sadly, 'you will never be able to wed anyone. We are poor! so poor! I can never give you even a set of shifts. Who could go to a house so naked—in rags, as one may say? My poor little angel, you must live a maid or go to a husband as beggared as I.'

He wished to say all this, but the words choked him in his throat. It seemed so cruel to set before the child the harsh, mean demands of life, the merciless rules and habits of that narrow world of theirs, which was bounded by the river and the sand on one side, and the cornfields and orchards on the other.

'Let be, let be,' he said to himself. 'She is but a child, and the youth is going away for years; if it please her to think of this thing, it can hurt no one. He will forget, and she will forget.'

 So he patted her pretty brown cheek, and drew her closer and kissed her.

'You are but a baby, my treasure,' he said softly. 'Put these grave thoughts out of your head. Many moons will wax and wane before Cecco will be free again to come to his old home. The future can take care of itself. I will say neither yea nor nay. We will see what the years will bring forth.'

'But you would not mind?' she murmured coaxingly.

The tears started to his eyes.

'Ah! God knows, dear, how sweet it would be to me!'

He thought of his little girl safe and happy for her lifetime in that pleasant and plentiful household under the red-brown roofs where the big pine grew amongst the pear and cherry trees. The vision of it was beautiful and impossible. It hurt him to look on it, as the sun dazzles the eyes at noon.

'But put it out of your head—out of your head, little one!' he said. 'Even if the boy should keep of the same mind, never would Lillo consent.'

'Cecco will keep in the same mind,' said Lizina, with the serene undoubting certainty of childhood, and she broke off a little twig of the lemon-tree, with a bud upon it and three leaves, and gave it to Cecco that evening in the dusk as they sat again upon the river-wall. It was all she had to give, except her little waking heart.

The next day he went away along the dusty high-road in his father's cart to begin his new life. He sobbed as if his heart would break, and fastened in his shirt was the lemon shoot.

'To break off a bud! Oh, Lizina!' cried her father, in reproof and reproach. 'A bud means a fruit, and a fruit means a halfpenny, perhaps a penny.'

'It is only one,' said the child; 'and I have nothing else.'

Lizina did not speak of him, nor did she seem to fret in any way. Her blithe voice rang in clear carol over the green river water, as she sat on the wall whilst her father worked below, and she ate her dry bread with healthy and happy appetite.

'She is only a baby. She has forgotten the boy already,' thought her father, half disappointed, half relieved, whilst he broke up the earth about the roots of the lemon-tree, and counted the little pointed fruits coming out on it, green as malachite, and promising a fair crop.

No letters could arrive to stimulate her memory, for Cecco could scarcely scrawl his name, and Lizina could not read her A B C. Absence to the poor is a complete rupture, an absolute blank, over which the intelligence can throw no bridge.

Fringuello worked early and late, worked like a willing mule, and lost no chance of doing anything, however hard, which could bring in a centime; and he was so tired when night fell that he could do little except swallow his bread-soup and fling himself down on his bed of dry leaves thrust into an old sack. So that as long as Lizina's voice was heard in song, and her little bare feet ran busily to and fro, he noticed nothing else, and was content, believing all was well with her.

The winter which followed on Cecco's departure to his military service was of unusual rigour for the vale of Arno; the waters were stormy and dark, and the fields were frozen and brown, and snow lay on the long lines of the mountains from their summit to their base. But the lemon-tree flourished before its narrow window, and Lizina was well and gay in the cold little brick-floored, plaster-walled, unceiled garret; and her father asked nothing more of Fate, and went out to his work in the bitter coldness and darkness of the morning dawns with an empty stomach but a warm heart, leaving her sleeping, easily and dreamlessly, curled up like a little dormouse in her corner of the room.

The winter passed and the spring came, making all the orchard lands once more become seas of white flowers, and setting the chaffinches and linnets and nightingales to work at their nests amongst the lovely labyrinth of bursting blossom; and one sunlit afternoon, towards the close of April, the village priest, coming along the road by the river, saw Fringuello, who was backing his sand-cart into the bed of the now shallow stream, and beckoned to him. The priest had an open letter in his hand, and his plump, smooth olive face was sad.

'Dario,' he said gravely, 'I have some terrible news in this paper. Lillo's son, Cecco, is dead. I have to go and tell the family. The authorities have written to me.'

 He stopped suddenly, surprised by the effect which his news had on his hearer.

'Saints protect us, how you look!' he cried. 'One would think you were the lad's father!'

'Is it sure? Is it true?' stammered Fringuello.

'Ay, ay, it is true and sure enough. The authorities write to me,' answered the vicar, with some pride. 'Poor lad! Poor, good, pretty lad! They sent him to the Marenna marshes, and the ague and fever got on him, and he died in the fort a week ago. And only to think that this time last year he was bringing me armfuls of blooming cherry boughs for the altar at Easter-day! And now dead and buried. Good lack! Far away from all his friends, poor lad! The decrees of heaven are inscrutable, but it is of course for the best.'

He crossed himself and went on his way.

Fringuello doffed his cap mechanically, and crossed himself also, and rested against the shaft of his cart with his face leaning on his hands. His hope was struck down into nothingness; the future had no longer a smile. Though he had told himself, and them, that children were fickle and unstable, and that nothing was less likely than that the lad would come back in the same mind, he had nevertheless clung to and cherished the idea of such a fate for his little daughter with a tenacity of which he had been unconscious until his air castle was scattered to the winds by the words of the priest. The boy was dead; and never would Lizina go to dwell in peace and plenty at the old farmhouse by the great pine.

'It was too good to be. Patience!' he said to himself, with a groan, as he lifted his head and bade the mule between the shafts move onward. His job had to be done; his load had to be carried; he had no leisure to sit down alone with his regret.

'And it is worse for Lillo than it is for me,' he said to himself, with an unselfish thought for the lad's father.

He looked up at the little window of his own attic which he could see afar off; the lemon-tree was visible, and beside it the little brown head of Lizina as she sat sewing.

'Perhaps she will not care; I hope she will not care,' he thought.

He longed to go and tell her himself lest she should hear it from some gossip, but he could not leave his work. Yet, he could not bear the child to learn it first from the careless chattering of neighbouring gossips.

When he had discharged the load he carried, he fastened the mule to a post by the water-side, and said to a fellow-carter, 'Will you watch him a moment whilst I run home?' and on the man's assenting he flew with lightning speed along the road and up the staircase of his house.

Lizina dropped her sewing in amazement as he burst into the room and stood on the threshold with a look which frightened her.

She ran to him quickly.

'Babbo! Babbo! What is the matter?' she cried to him. Then, before he could answer, she said timidly, under her breath, 'Is anything wrong—with Cecco?'

Then Fringuello turned his head away and wept aloud.

He had hoped the child had forgotten. He knew now that she had remembered only too well. All through the year which had gone by since the departure of the youth she had been as happy as a field-mouse undisturbed in the wheat. The grain was not ripe yet for her, but she was sure that it would be, and that her harvest would be plenteous. She had always been sure, quite sure, that Cecco would come back; and now, in an instant, she understood that he was dead.

Lizina said little then or at any time; but the little gay life of her changed, grew dull, seemed to shrink into itself and wither up as a flower will when a worm is at its root. She had been so sure that Cecco would return!

'She is so young; soon it will not matter to her,' her father told himself.

But the months went by and the seasons, and she did not recover her bloom, her mirth, her elasticity; her small face was always grave and pale. She went about her work in the same way, and was docile, and industrious, and uncomplaining, but something was wrong with her. She did not laugh, she did not sing; she seldom even spoke unless she was spoken to first. He tried to persuade himself that there was no change in her, but he knew that he tried to feed himself on falsehood. He might as well have thought his lemon-tree unaltered if he had found it withered up by fire.

II

Once Lizina said to her father, 'Could one walk there?'

'Where, dear? Where?'

'Where they have put Cecco,' she answered, knowing nothing of distances or measurements or the meaning of travel or change of place.

She had never been farther than across the ferry to the other bank of the river.

Her father threw up his hands in despair.

'Lord! my treasure! why it is miles and miles and miles away! I don't know rightly even where—some place where the sun goes down.'

And her idea of walking thither seemed to him so stupefying, so amazing, so incredible, that he stared at her timorously, afraid that her brain was going wrong. He had never gone anywhere in all his life.

'Oh, my pretty, what should we do, you and I, in a strange place?' moaned Fringuello, weeping with fear at the thought of change and with grief at the worn, fevered face lifted up to his. 'Never have I stirred from here since I was born, nor you. To move to and fro—that is for well-to-do folks, not for us; and when you are so ill, my poor little one, that you can scarcely stand on your feet—if you were to die on the way——'

'I shall not die on the way,' said the child firmly.

'But I know nought of the way,' he cried wildly and piteously. 'Never was I in one of those strings of fire-led waggons, nor was ever any one of my people that ever I heard tell of. How should we ever get there, you and I? I know not even rightly what place it is.'

'I know,' said Lizina; and she took a crumpled scrap of paper out of the breast of her worn and frayed cotton frock. It bore the name of the seashore town where Cecco had died. She had got the priest to write it down for her. 'If we show this all along as we go people will put us right until we reach the place,' she said, with that quiet persistency which was so new in her. 'Ask how one can get there,' she persisted, and wound her arm about his throat, and laid her cheek against his in her old caressing way.

'You are mad, little one—quite mad!' said Fringuello, aghast and affrighted; and he begged the priest to come and see her.

The priest did come, but said sorrowfully to him:

'Were I you, I would take her down to one of the hospitals in the town; she is ill.'

He did so. He had been in the town but a few times in his whole life; she never. It was now wintry weather; the roads were wet, the winds were cold; the child coughed as she walked and shivered in her scanty and too thin clothes. The wise men at the hospital looked at her hastily among a crowd of sick people, and said some unintelligible words, and scrawled something on a piece of paper—a medicine, as it proved—which cost to buy more than a day of a sand carter's wage.

'Has she really any illness?' he asked, with wild, imploring eyes, of the chemist who made up the medicine.

'Oh no—a mere nothing,' said the man in answer; but thought as he spoke: 'The doctors might spare the poor devil's money. When the blood is all water like that there is nothing to be done; the life just goes out like a wind-blown candle.' 'Get her good wine; butcher's meat; plenty of nourishing food,' he added, reflecting that while there is youth there is hope.

The father groaned aloud, as he laid down the coins which were the price of the medicine. Wine! Meat! Nourishment! They might as well have bidden him feed her on powdered pearls and melted gold. They got home that day footsore and wet through; he made a little fire of boughs and vine-branches, and, for the first time ever since it had been planted, he forgot to look at the lemon-tree.

'You are not ill, my Lizinanina?' he said eagerly. 'The chemist told me it was nothing.'

'Oh no, it is nothing,' said the child; and she spoke cheerfully and tried to control the cough which shook her from head to foot.

Tears rolled down her father's cheeks and fell on to the smouldering heather, which he set all right. Wine! Meat! Nourishment! The three vain words rang through his head all night. They might as well have bade him set her on a golden throne and call the stars down from their spheres to circle round her.

'My poor little baby!' he thought; 'never did she have a finger ache, or a winter chill, or an hour's discomfort, or a moment's pain in mind or body until now!'

The child wasted and sickened visibly day by day. Her father looked to see the lemon-tree waste and sicken also; but it flourished still, a green, fresh, happy thing, though growing in a place so poor. A superstitious, silly notion took possession of him, begotten by his nervous terrors for his child, and by the mental weakness which came of physical want. He fancied the lemon-tree hurt the child, and drew nourishment and strength away from her. Perhaps in the night, in some mysterious way—who knew how? He grew stupid and feverish, working so hardly all day on hardly more than a crust, and not sleeping at night through his fears for Lizina. Everything seemed to him cruel, wicked, unintelligible. Why had the State taken away the boy who was so contented and useful where he was born? Why had the strange, confined, wearisome life amongst the marshlands killed him? Why was he himself without even means to get decent food? Why, after working hard all these years, could he have no peace? Must he even lose the one little creature he had? The harshness and injustice of it all disturbed his brain and weighed upon his soul. He sank into a sullen silence; he was in the mood when good men turn bad, and burn, pillage, slay—not because they are wicked or unkind by nature, but because they are mad from misery.

But she was so young, and had been always so strong, he thought; this would pass before long, and she would be herself again—brisk, brown, agile, mirthful, singing at the top of her voice as she ran through the lines of the cherry-trees. He denied himself everything to get her food, and left himself scarce enough to keep the spark of life in him. He sold even his one better suit of clothes and his one pair of boots; but she had no appetite, and perceiving his sacrifice, took it so piteously to heart that it made her worse.

The neighbours were good-natured and brought now an egg, now a fruit, now a loaf for Lizina; but they could not bring her appetite, and were offended and chilled by her lassitude, her apparent ignorance of their good intentions, and her indifference to their gifts.

Some suggested this nostrum, others that; some urged religious pilgrimages, and some herbs, and some charms, and some spoke of a wise woman, who, if you crossed her hand with silver, could relieve you of any evil if she would. But amidst the multitude of counsellors, Lizina only grew thinner and thinner, paler and paler, all her youth seeming slowly to wane and die out of her.

Her little sick heart was set obstinately on what her father had told her was impossible.

None of Cecco's own people thought of going to the place where he died. He was dead, and there was an end to it; even his mother, although she wept for him, did not dream of throwing away good money in a silly and useless journey to the place where he had been put in the ground.

Only the little girl, who had laughed at him and flouted him as they sat on the wall by the river, did think of it constantly, tenaciously, silently. It seemed to her horrible to leave him all alone in some unfamiliar, desolate place, where no step was ever heard of any whom he had ever known. She said nothing of it, for she saw that even her father did not understand; but she brooded over the thought of it constantly, turning to and fro in her mind the little she had ever known or heard of the manner and means by which people transported themselves from place to place. There were many, of course, in the village who could have told her how others travelled, but she was too shy to speak of the matter even to the old man of the ferry, in whose boat, when it was moored to a poula driven in the sand, she had spent many an hour of playtime. She had always been a babbling, communicative, merry child, chattering like a starling or a swift, until now. Now she spoke rarely, and never of the thing of which her heart was full.

One day her father looked from her pinched, wan face to the bright green leaves of the flourishing lemon-tree, and muttered an oath.

'Day and night, for as many years as you are old, I have taken care of that tree, and sheltered it and fed it; and now it alone is fair to see and strong, whilst you—verily, oh verily, Lizina, I could find it in my heart to take a billhook and hew it down for its cruelty in being glad and full of vigour, whilst you pinch and fade, day by day, before my sight!'

Lizina shook her head, and looked at the tree which had been the companion of her fifteen years of life.

'It's a good tree, babbo!' she said gently. 'Think how much it has given us; how many things you bought me with the lemon money! Oh! it is very good; do not ever say a word against it; but—but—if you are in anger with it, there is a thing which you might do. You have always kept the money which it brought for me?'

'Surely, dear. I have always thought it yours,' he answered, wondering where her thoughts were tending.

'Then—then,' said Lizina timidly, 'if it be as mine really, and you see it no more with pleasure in its place there, will you sell it, and with the price of it take me to where Cecco lies?'

Her eyes were intensely wistful; her cheeks grew momentarily red in her eagerness; she put both hands to her chest and tried to stop the cough which began to choke her words. Her father stared, incredulous that he could hear aright.

'Sell the tree?' he asked stupidly.

Not in his uttermost needs had the idea of selling it come to him. He held it in a superstitious awe.

'Since you say it is mine,' said the child. 'It would sell well. It is strong and beautiful and bears good fruit. You could take me down where the sun sets and the sea is—where Cecco lies in the grass.'

'Good Lord!' said Fringuello, with a moan.

It seemed to him that the sorrow for her lost sweetheart had turned the child's brain.

'Do, father—do!' she urged, her thin brown lips trembling with anxiety and with the sense of her own powerlessness to move unless he would consent.

Her father hid his face in his hands; he felt helpless before her stronger will. She would force him to do what she desired, he knew; and he trembled, for he had neither knowledge nor means to make such a journey as this would be to the marshlands in the west, where Cecco lay.

'And the tree—the tree!' he muttered.

 He had seen the tree so long by that little square window, it was part of his life and hers. The thought of its sale terrified him as if he were going to sell some human friend into bondage.

'There is no other way,' said Lizina sadly.

She, too, was loth to sell the tree, but they had nothing else to sell; and the intense selfishness of a fixed idea possessed her to the exclusion of all other feeling.

Then the cough shook her once more from head to foot, and a little froth of blood came to her lips.

Lizina, in the double cruelty of her childhood and of her ill-health, was merciless to her father, and to the tree which had been her companion so long. She was possessed by the egotism of sorrow. She was a little thing, now enfeebled and broken by long nights without sleep and long days without food, and her heart was set on this one idea, which she did not reveal—that she would die down there, and that then they would put her in the same ground with him. This was her idea.

In the night she got up noiselessly, whilst her father was for awhile sunk in the deep sleep which comes after hard manual toil, and came up to the lemon-tree and leaned her cheek against its earthen vase.

'I am sorry to send you away, dearie,' she said to it; 'but there is no other way to go to him.'

She felt as if it must understand and must feel wounded. Then she broke off a little branch—a small one with a few flowers on it.

'That is for him,' she said to it.

And she stood there sleepily with the moonlight pouring in on her and the lemon-tree through the little square hole of the window.

When she got back to her bed she was chilled to the bone, and she stuffed the rough sacking of her coverture between her teeth to stop the coughing, which might wake her father. She had put the little branch of her lemon into the broken pitcher which stood by her at night to slake her thirst.

'Sell it, babbo, quick, quick!' she said in the morning.

She was afraid her strength would not last for the journey, but she did not say so. She tried to seem cheerful. He thought her better.

'Sell it to-day—quick, quick!' she cried feverishly; and she knew that she was cruel and ungrateful, but she persisted in her cruelty and ingratitude.

Her father, in despair, yielded.

It seemed to him as if he were cutting the throat of a friend. Then he approached the tree to carry it away. He had called in one of his fellow-carters to help to move it, for it was too heavy for one man. With difficulty it was forced through the narrow, low door and down the steep stair, its leaves brushing the walls with a sighing sound, and its earthen jar grinding on the stone of the steps. Lizina watched it go without a sigh, without a tear. Her eyes were dry and shining; her little body was quivering; her face was red and pale in quick, uneven changes.

'It goes where it will be better than with us,' said Fringuello, in a vague apology to it, as he lifted it out of the entrance of the house.

He had sold it to a gardener in a villa near at hand.

'Oh yes, it will be better off,' he said feverishly, in the doubtful yet aggressive tone of one who argues that which he knows is not true. 'With rich people instead of poor; out in a fine garden half the year, and in a beautiful airy wooden house all winter. Oh yes, it will be much better off. Now it has grown so big it was choked where it stood in my little place; no light, no air, no sun, nothing which it wanted. It will be much better off where it goes; it will have rich, new earth and every sort of care.'

'It has done well enough with you,' said his comrade carelessly, as he helped to shove the vase on to the hand-cart.

'Yes, yes,' said Fringuello impatiently, 'but it will do better where it goes. It has grown too big for a room. It would starve with me.'

'Well, it is your own business,' said the other man.

'Yes, it is his own business,' said the neighbours, who were standing to see it borne away as if it were some rare spectacle. 'But the tree was always there; and the money you get will go,' they added, in their collective wisdom.

He took up the handles of the little cart and placed the yoke of cord over his shoulders, and began to drag it away. He bent his head down very low so that the people should not see the tears which were running down his cheeks.

 When he came back to his home he carried its price in his hands—thirty francs in three paper notes. He held them out to Lizina.

'All is well with it; it is to stand in a beautiful place, close to falling water, half in shade, half in sun, as it likes best. Oh, all is well with it, dear! do not be afraid.' Then his voice failed him, and he sobbed aloud.

The child took the money. She had a little bundle in her hand, and she had put on the only pair of shoes she possessed.

'Clean yourself, father, and come—come quickly,' she said in a little hard, dry, panting voice.

'Oh wait, wait, my angel!' he cried piteously through his sobs.

I cannot wait,' said the child, 'not a minute, not a minute. Clean yourself and come.'

In an hour's time they were in the train. The child did everything—found the railway-station, asked the way, paid their fares, took their seats, pushing her father hither and thither as if he were a blind man. He was dumb with terror and regret; he resisted nothing. Having sold the tree, there seemed to him nothing left for him to do. Lizina obeyed him no more—she commanded.

People turned to look after this little sick girl with death written on her face, who spoke and moved with such feverish decision, and dragged after her this thin dumb man, her small lean hand shut with nervous force upon his own. All the way she ate nothing; she only drank thirstily of water whenever the train stopped.

The novelty and strangeness of the transit, the crowd, and haste, and noise, the unfamiliar scenes, the pressure of unknown people, and the stare of unknown eyes—all which was so bewildering and terrible to her father, had no effect upon her. All she thought of was to get to the place of which the name was written on the scrap of paper which she had shown at the ticket-office, and which she continued to show mutely to anyone who spoke to her. It said everything to her; she thought it must say everything to everyone else.

Nothing could alarm her or arrest her attention. Her whole mind was set on her goal.

'Your little lady is very ill!' said more than one in a crowded railway-waggon, where they jammed one on to another, thick as herrings in a barrel.

'Ay, ay, she is very ill,' he answered stupidly; and they did not know whether he was unfeeling or daft. He was dizzy and sick with the unwonted motion of the train, the choking dust, the giddy landscape which seemed to run past him, earth and sky together; but on Lizina they made no impression, except that she coughed almost incessantly. She seemed to ail nothing and to perceive nothing. He was seized with a panic of dread lest they should be taken in some wrong direction, even out of the world altogether; dreaded fire, accident, death, treachery; felt himself caught up by strong, invisible hands, and whirled away, the powers of heaven or hell alone knew where. His awful fear grew on him every moment greater and greater; and he would have given his soul to be back safe on the sand of the river at his home.

But Lizina neither showed nor felt any fear whatever.

The journey took the whole day and part of the ensuing night; for the slow cheap train by which they travelled gave way to others, passed hours motionless, thrust aside and forgotten, and paused at every little station on the road. They suffered from hunger and thirst, and heat and draught, and fatigue and contusion, as the poor cattle suffered in the trucks beside them. But the child did not seem to feel either exhaustion or pain, or to want anything except to be there—to be there. The towns, the mountains, the sea, the coast, all so strange and wonderful to untravelled eyes, had no wonder for her. She only wanted to get beyond them, to where it was that Cecco lay. Every now and then she opened her bundle and looked at the little twig of the lemon-tree.

Alarmed at her aspect, and the racking cough, their companions shrank away from them as far as the crowding of the waggon allowed of, and they were left unquestioned and undisturbed, whilst the day wore on and the sun went down into the sea and the evening deepened into night.

It was dawn when they were told to descend; they had reached their destination—a dull, sun-baked, fever-stricken little port, with the salt water on one side of it, and the machia and marsh on the other.

 Lizina got down from the train, holding her little bundle in one hand and in the other her father's wrist. Their limbs were bruised, aching, trembling, their spines felt broken, their heads seemed like empty bladders, in which their brains went round and round; but she did not faint or fall—she went straight onward as though the place was familiar to her.

Close to the desolate, sand-strewn station there was a fort of decaying yellow stone, high walls with loopholes, mounds of sand with sea-thistle and bryony growing in them; before these was the blue water, and a long stone wall running far out into the water. To the iron rings in it a few fisher boats were moored by their cables. The sun was rising over the inland wilderness, where wild boars and buffalo dwelt under impenetrable thickets. Lizina led her father by the hand past the fortifications to a little desolate church with crumbling belfry, where she knew the burial-ground must be. There were four lime-washed walls, with a black iron door, through the bars of which the graves within and the rank grass around them could be seen. The gate was locked; the child sat down on a stone before it and waited. She motioned to her father to do the same. He was like a poor steer landed after a long voyage in which he has neither eaten nor drank, but has been bruised, buffeted, thrown to and fro, galled, stunned, tormented. They waited, as she wished, in the cool dust of the breaking day. The bell above in the church steeple was tolling for the first Mass.

In a little while a sacristan came out of the presbytery near the church, and began to turn a great rusty key in the church door. He saw the two sitting there by the graveyard, and looking at them over his shoulder, said to them, 'You are strangers—what would you?'

Lizina rose and answered him: 'Will you open to me? I come to see my Cecco, who lies here. I have something to give him.'

The sacristan looked at her father.

'Cecco?' he repeated, in a doubtful tone.

'A lad of Royezzano, a soldier who died here,' said Fringuello, hoarsely and faintly, for his throat was parched and swollen, and his head swam. 'He and my child were playmates. Canst tell us, good man, where his grave is made?'

The sacristan paused, standing before the leathern curtain of the church porch, trying to remember. Save for soldiers and the fisher folk, there was no one who either lived or died there; his mind went back over the winter and autumn months, to the last summer, in which the marsh fever and the pestilential drought had made many sicken and some die in the fort and in the town.

'Cecco? Cecco?' he said doubtfully. 'A Tuscan lad? A conscript? Ay, I do recall him now. He got the tertian fever and died in barracks. His reverence wrote about him to his family. Yes, I remember. There were three soldier lads died last year, all in the summer. There are three crosses where they lie. I put them there; his is the one nearest the wall. Yes, you can go in; I have the key.'

He stepped across the road and unlocked the gate. He looked wonderingly on Lizina as he did so. 'Poor little one!' he muttered, in compassion. 'How small, how ill, to come so far!'

Neither she nor her father seemed to hear him. The child pressed through the aperture as soon as the door was drawn ajar, and Fringuello followed her. The burial-ground was small and crowded, covered with rank grass, and here and there sea-lavender was growing. The sacristan led them to a spot by the western wall where there were three rude crosses made of unbarked sticks nailed across one another. The rank grass was growing amongst the clods of sun-baked yellow clay; the high white wall rose behind the crossed sticks; the sun beat down on the place: there was nothing else.

The sacristan motioned to the cross nearest the wall, and then went back to the church, being in haste, as it was late for matins. Lizina stood by the two poor rude sticks, once branches of the hazel, which were all that marked the grave of Cecco.

Her father, uncovering his head, fell on his knees.

The child's face was illuminated with a strange and holy rapture. She kissed the lemon bough which she held in her hand, and then laid it gently down upon the grass and clay under the wall.

'I have remembered, dear,' she said softly, and knelt on the ground and joined her hands in prayer. Then the weakness of her body overcame the strength of her spirit; she leaned forward lower and lower until her face was bowed over the yellow grass. 'I came to lie with you,' she said under her breath; and then her lips parted more widely with a choking sigh, the blood gushed from her mouth, and in a few minutes she was dead.

They laid her there in the clay and the sand and the tussocks of grass, and her father went back alone to his native place and empty room.

*****

One day on the river-bank a man said to him:

'It is odd, but that lemon-tree which you sold to my master never did well; it died within the week—a fine, strong, fresh young tree. Were there worms at its root, think you, or did the change to the open air kill it?'

Fringuello, who had always had a scared, wild, dazed look on his face since he returned from the sea-coast, looked at the speaker stupidly, not with any wonder, but like one who hears what he has long known but only imperfectly understands.

'It knew Lizina was dead,' he said simply; and then thrust his spade into the sand and dug.

He would never smile nor sing any more, nor any more know any joys of life; but he still worked on from that habit which is the tyrant and saviour of the poor.