A Lemon Tree by
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
Lizina shook her head sagely with a little
'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
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
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
'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
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
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
'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 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
'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
'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
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
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.
Once Lizina said to her father, 'Could one
'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
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
'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
'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
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
'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
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
'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
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
'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
'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
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
'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
'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
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
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
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
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
'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
'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
'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
'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
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
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
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
'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
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
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
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
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
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
'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
One day on the river-bank a man said to
'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
'It knew Lizina was dead,' he said simply;
and then thrust his spade into the sand and
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.