Author: Crawford, F. Marion (Francis Marion), 1854-1909
Sicily (Italy) — Fiction
Mafia — Fiction
Corleone: A Tale of Sicily
A Table of Contents has been added.
THE NOVELS OF F. MARION CRAWFORD.
New Uniform Edition. Crown 8vo. 3s. 6d. each.
Mr. Isaacs: A Tale of Modern India.
Doctor Claudius: A True Story.
Tale of a Lonely Parish.
Khaled: A Tale of Arabia.
Witch of Prague.
Marion Darche: A Story without Comment.
Children of the King.
With the Immortals.
Adam Johnstone’s Son.
Rose of Yesterday.
Taquisara. A Novel.
Via Crucis. A Romance of the Second Crusade. Crown 8vo. 6s.
In the Palace of the King. Crown 8vo. 6s.
Marietta: A Maid of Venice. Crown 8vo. 6s.
Whosoever Shall Offend. Crown 8vo. 6s.
The Heart of Rome: A Tale of the “Lost Water.” Crown 8vo. 6s.
Cecilia: A Story of Modern Rome. Crown 8vo. 6s.
Love in Idleness. A Bar Harbour Tale. Fcap. 8vo. 2s.
MACMILLAN AND CO., Ltd., LONDON.
A Tale of Sicily
By F. MARION CRAWFORD
MACMILLAN AND CO., Limited
NEW YORK: THE MACMILLAN COMPANY
All rights reserved
F. MARION CRAWFORD
First Edition (2 Vols. Globe 8vo) 1897
Second Edition (Crown 8vo) 1898
Reprinted 1902, 1905
‘If you never mean to marry, you might as well turn priest, too,’ said Ippolito Saracinesca to his elder brother, Orsino, with a laugh.
‘Why?’ asked Orsino, without a smile. ‘It would be as sensible to say that a man who had never seen some particular thing, about which he has heard much, might as well put out his eyes.’
The young priest laughed again, took up the cigar he had laid upon the edge of the piano, puffed at it till it burned freely, and then struck two or three chords of a modulation. A sheet of ruled paper on which several staves of music were roughly jotted down in pencil stood on the rack of the instrument.
Orsino stretched out his long legs, leaned back in his low chair, and stared at the old gilded rosettes in the square divisions of the carved ceiling. He was a discontented man, and knew it, which made his discontent a matter for self-reproach, especially as it was quite clear to him that the cause of it lay in himself.
He had made two great mistakes at the beginning of life, when barely of age, and though neither of them had ultimately produced any serious material consequences, they had affected his naturally melancholic temper and had brought out his inherited hardness of disposition. At the time of the great building speculations in Rome, several years earlier, he had foolishly involved himself with his father’s old enemy, Ugo del Ferice, and had found himself at last altogether in the latter’s power, though not in reality his debtor. At the same time, he had fallen very much in love with a young widow, who, loving him very sincerely in her turn, but believing, for many reasons, that if she married him she would be doing him an irreparable injury, had sacrificed herself by marrying Del Ferice instead, selling herself to the banker for Orsino’s release, without the latter’s knowledge. When it was all over, Orsino had found himself a disappointed man at an age when most young fellows are little more than inexperienced boys, and the serious disposition which he inherited from his mother made it impossible for him to throw off the impression received, and claim the youth, so to speak, which was still his.
Since that time, he had been attracted by women, but never charmed; and those that attracted him were for the most part not marriageable, any more than the few things which sometimes interested and amused him were in any sense profitable. He spent a good deal of money in a careless way, for his father was generous; but his rather bitter experience when he had attempted to occupy himself with business had made him cool and clear-headed, so that he never did anything at all ruinous. The hot temper which he had inherited from his father and grandfather now rarely, if ever, showed itself, and it seemed as though nothing could break through the quiet indifference which had become a second outward nature to him. He had travelled much, of late years, and when he made an effort his conversation was not uninteresting, though the habit of looking at both sides of every question made it cold and unenthusiastic. Perhaps it was a hopeful sign that he generally had a definite opinion as to which of two views he preferred, though he would not take any trouble to convince others that he was right.
In his own family, he liked the company of Ippolito best. The latter was about two years younger than he, and very different from him in almost every way. Orsino was tall, strongly built, extremely dark; Ippolito was of medium height, delicately made, and almost fair by comparison. Orsino had lean brown hands, well knit at the base, and broad at the knuckles; Ippolito’s were slender and white, and rather nervous, with blue veins at the joints, the tips of the fingers pointed, the thumb unusually delicate and long, the nails naturally polished. The elder brother’s face, with its large and energetic lines, its gravely indifferent expression and dusky olive hue, contrasted at every point with the features of the young priest, soft in outline, modelled in wax rather than chiselled in bronze, pale and a little transparent, instead of swarthy,—feminine, perhaps, in the best sense of the word, as it can be applied to a man. Ippolito had the clear, soft brown eyes which very gifted people so often have, especially musicians and painters of more talent than power. But about the fine, even, and rather pale lips there was the unmistakable stamp of the ascetic temperament, together with an equally sure indication of a witty humour which could be keen, but would rather be gentle. Ippolito was said to resemble his mother’s mother, and was notably different in appearance and manner from the rest of the numerous family to which he belonged.
He was a priest by vocation rather than by choice. Had he chosen deliberately a profession congenial to his gifts, he would certainly have devoted himself altogether to music, though he would probably never have become famous as a composer; for he lacked the rough creative power which hews out great conceptions, though he possessed in a high degree the taste and skill which can lightly and lovingly and wisely impart fine detail to the broad beauty of a well-planned whole. But by vocation he was a priest, and the strength of the conviction of his conscience left the gifts of his artistic intelligence no power to choose. He was a churchman with all his soul, and a musician with all his heart.
Between the two brothers there was that sort of close friendship which sometimes exists between persons who are too wholly different to understand each other, but whose non-understanding is a constant stimulant of interest on both sides. In the midst of the large and peaceable patriarchal establishment in which they lived, and in which each member made for himself or herself an existence which had in it a certain subdued individuality, Orsino and Ippolito were particularly associated, and the priest, when he was at home, was generally to be found in his elder brother’s sitting-room, and kept a good many of his possessions there.
It was a big room, with an old carved and gilded ceiling, three tall windows opening to the floor, two doors, a marble fireplace, a thick old carpet, and a great deal of furniture of many old and new designs, arranged with no regard to anything except usefulness, since Orsino was not afflicted with artistic tastes, nor with any undue appreciation of useless objects. Ippolito’s short grand piano occupied a prominent position near the middle window, and not far from it was Orsino’s deep chair, beside which stood a low table covered with books and reviews. For, like most discontented and disappointed people who have no real object in life, Orsino Saracinesca read a good deal, and hankered after interest in fiction because he found none in reality. Ippolito, on the contrary, read little, and thought much.
After Orsino had answered his remark about marriage, the priest busied himself for some time with his music, while his brother stared at the ceiling in silence, listening to the modulations and the fragments of tentative melody and experimental harmony, without in the least understanding what the younger man was trying to express. He was fond of any musical sound, in an undefined way, as most Italians are, and he knew by experience that if he let Ippolito alone something pleasant to hear would before long be evolved. But Ippolito stopped suddenly and turned half round on the piano stool, with a quick movement habitual to him. He leaned forward towards Orsino, tapping the ends of his fingers lightly against one another, as his wrists rested on his knees.
‘It is absurd to suppose that in all Rome, or in all Europe, for that matter, there is nobody whom you would be willing to marry.’
‘Quite absurd, I suppose,’ answered Orsino, not looking at his brother.
‘Then you have not really looked about you for a wife. That is clear.’
‘Perfectly clear. I do not argue the point. Why should I? There is plenty of time, and besides, there is no reason in the world why I should ever marry at all, any more than you. There are our two younger brothers. Let them take wives and continue the name.’
‘Most people think that marriage may be regarded as a means of happiness,’ observed Ippolito.
‘Most people are imbeciles,’ answered Orsino gloomily.
Ippolito laughed, watching his brother’s face, but he said nothing in reply.
‘As a general rule,’ Orsino continued presently, ‘talking is a question of height and not of intelligence. The shorter men and women are, the more they talk; the taller they are, the more silent they are, in nine cases out of ten. Of course there are exceptions, but you can generally tell at a glance whether any particular person is a great talker. Brains are certainly not measurable by inches. Therefore conversation has nothing to do with brains. Therefore most people are fools.’
‘Do you call that an argument?’ asked the priest, still smiling.
‘No. It is an observation.’
‘And what do you deduce from it?’
‘From it, and from a great many other things, I deduce and conclude that what we call society is a degrading farce. It encourages talking, when no one has anything to say. It encourages marriage, without love. It sets up fashion against taste, taste against sense, and sense against heart. It is a machinery for promoting emotion among the unfeeling. It is a—’
Orsino stopped, hesitating.
‘Is it anything else?’ asked Ippolito mildly.
‘It is a hell on earth.’
‘That is exactly what most of the prophets and saints have said since David,’ remarked the priest, moving again in order to find his half-smoked cigar, and then carefully relighting it. ‘Since that is your opinion, why not take orders? You might become a prophet or a saint, you know. The first step towards sanctity is to despise the pomps and vanities of this wicked world. You seem to have taken the first step at a jump, with both feet. And it is the first step that costs the most, they say. Courage! You may go far.’
‘I am thinking of going further before long,’ said Orsino gravely, as though his brother had spoken in earnest. ‘At all events, I mean to get away from all this,’ he added, as though correcting himself.
‘Do you mean to travel again?’ inquired Ippolito.
‘I mean to find something to do. Provided it is respectable, I do not care what it is. If I had talent, like you, I would be a musician, but I would not be an amateur, or I would be an artist, or a literary man. But I have no talent for anything except building tenement houses, and I shall not try that again. I would even be an actor, if I had the gift. Perhaps I should make a good farmer, but our father will not trust me now, for he is afraid that I should make ruinous experiments if he gave me the management of an estate. This is certainly not the time for experiments. Half the people we know are ruined, and the country is almost bankrupt. I do not wish to try experiments. I would work, and they tell me to marry. You cannot understand. You are only an amateur yourself, after all, Ippolito.’
‘An amateur musician—yes.’
‘No. You are an amateur priest. You support your sensitive soul on a sort of religious ambrosia, with a good deal of musical nectar. Your ideal is to be Cardinal-Protector of the Arts. You are clever and astonishingly good by nature, and you deserve no credit for either. That is probably why I like you. I hate people who deserve credit, because I deserve none myself. But you do not take your clerical profession seriously, and you are an amateur, a dilettante of the altar. If you do not have distractions about the vestments you wear when you are saying mass, it is because you have an intimate, unconscious artistic conviction that they are beautiful and becoming to you. But if the choir responded a flat “Amen” to your “per omnia sæcula sæculorum,” it would set your teeth on edge and upset your devout intention at the beginning of the Preface. Do you think that a professional musician would be disturbed in conducting a great orchestra by the fact that his coat collar did not fit?’
Ippolito smiled good humouredly, but did not answer.
‘Very well,’ continued Orsino at once, ‘you are only an amateur priest. It does not matter, since you are happy. You get through life very well. You do not even pretend that you do any real work. Your vocation, as you call it, was a liking for the state of priesthood, not for the work of a priest. Now I do not care about any state in particular, but I want work of some sort, at any cost. I was never happy but once, during that time when I worked with Contini and got into trouble. I preferred it to this existence, even when we got into Del Ferice’s clutches. Anything rather than this.’
‘I thought you had grown indifferent,’ said Ippolito.
‘Indifferent? Yes, I am indifferent—as a machine is indifferent when the fire is out and there is no steam. But if the thing could think, it would want work, as I do. It would not be satisfied to rust to pieces. You ought to know a little theology. Are we put into the world with a purpose, or not? Is there an intention in our existence, or is there not? Am I to live through another forty or fifty years of total inactivity because I happen to be born rich, and in a position—well, a position which is really about as enviable as that of a fly in a pot of honey? We are stuck in our traditions, just as the fly is in the honey—’
‘I like them,’ said Ippolito quietly.
‘I know you do. So does our father. They suit you both. Our father is really a very intelligent man, but too much happiness and too much money have paralysed him. His existence seems to have been a condition of perpetual adoration of our mother.’
‘He has made her happy. That is worth something.’
‘She has made him happy. They have made each other happy. They have devoured a lifetime of happiness together in secret, as though it were their lawful prey. As they never wanted anything else, they never found out that the honey of traditions is sticky, and that they could not move if they would.’
‘They are fond of us—’
‘Of course. We have none of us done anything very bad. We are a part of their happiness. We are also a part of their dulness; for they are dull, and their happiness makes us dull too.’
‘What an idea!’
‘It is true. What have we accomplished, any of us four brothers? What shall we ever accomplish? We are ornaments on the architecture of our father’s and mother’s happiness. It is rather a negative mission in life, you must admit. I am glad that they are happy, but I should like to be something more than a gargoyle on their temple.’
‘Then marry, and have a temple of your own!’ laughed Ippolito. ‘And gargoyles of your own, too.’
‘But I do not want that sort of happiness. Marriage is not a profession. It is not a career.
‘No. At least you might not turn a dilettante husband, as you say that I am an amateur priest.’ Ippolito laughed again.
Orsino laughed dryly, but did not answer, not being in a humour for jesting. He leaned back in his chair again, and looked at the carved ceiling and thought of what it meant, for it was one of those ceilings which are only to be found in old Roman palaces, and be