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master is out, and I must mind the shop. There is baby too."
"By Saints Pan and Silvanus, my girl, it will be the worse for you if you come not," said La Testolina with a tragic sniff. "Eh, you little fool, don't you know that it is you and your brat have set all Verona by the ears?"
Vanna had never thought of the ears of Verona, and knew not how to think of them now; but she saw that her friend was in a fever of suppressed knowledge. Therefore she shawled her head and her baby in her sea-blue cloak, locked the shopdoor, and followed La Testolina.
The sealed gates in the white convent wall were barred and double-locked. A scared brother cocked his eye through the grille to see who was there. "She is here," hissed La Testolina. "Dio mio, the causa causans!" cried he, and let them in through a cranny. "Follow me, mistresses, and God give good ending to this adventure, he prayed as he slippered up the court. Vanna, blank and smiling, La Testolina with wandering fearful eyes, followed.
They found the prior sitting well back in his ebony chair and in a meditation, his chin buried in his hand. Behind him (and behind his back his hands) stood Fra Corinto the pittanciar, pockmarked, thin, and mortified. He looked the prior's reproach, and
"Now, women,' said the prior testily a fat and flabby old man with a sour mouth "Now, women, which of you is at the bottom of this accursed
business? Where is the baby? Let me judge for myself."
La Testolina, protesting her remarkable innocence by every quiver of her head, edged Vanna to the front. Vanna stood up, straight as a candle, and unveiled her bosom.
"Do you want to see my little son, reverend prior?" she said. "Behold him here (Eccolol)." She held him out proudly in her arms, as if he were monstrance and she priest.
Now whether it was that motherhood had fired a comely girl with the beautiful seriousness of a woman, so that she was transfigured before him; or whether some chance passage of the crossing lights played tricks with his vision-which it was, or whether it was both, I know not. He saw, or thought he saw, a tall smiling lady, hooded in blue over white, holding up a child; he saw, or thought for a moment that he saw, the Image of all Mothers displaying the Image of all Sons. His fingers pattered over his scapular. "Eh, my Lady the Virgin! What dost thou here, glorifying this place?" As soon as he had said it he knew that he was а fool; Vanna's large grey eyes loomed upon him to swallow him up, her colour of faint rose glowed and throbbed. Vera incessu patuit dea! By her presence ye shall judge her, quoth the prior to himself, and hid his eyes.
There was a hush over all the group in the chamber, during which you could have heard far off the nasal discords of the brethren in choir droning through an office.
spoke. The prior's lips moved at his prayers; Fra Corinto looked frowningly before him; La Testolina was fidgety to speak, but dared not; Vanna, her long form like a ripple of moonlight in the dusk, cooed under her voice to the baby; he, unheeding cause of so much strife in high places, held out his pair of puckered hands and crowed to the company. So with their thoughts: the prior thought he had seen the Holy Virgin; Fra Corinto thought the prior an old fool; La Testolina hoped his reverence had not the colic; and and Vanna thought of nothing at all.
Fra Corinto it was (looking not for Madonna in a baggage), who, by discreetly coughing, brought his master back to his senses. The prior cleared his throat once or twice, looked at the young woman, and felt quite himself. Ridiculous what tricks a flicker of sunlight will play
on the wisest of men!
"Monna Vanna," said he, "I have not brought you here to judge between you and my brother Battista (now at discipline in his cell). The flesh, which he should have tamed, has raised, it appears, a bruised head for one last spite. My brother was bitten, and my brother fell into sin. Whether, as of old, the tempter was the woman, it is sure that, as of old, the eater was a man. I will not condemn you unheard, lest I incur reproach in my turn. But our order is in peril; the enemy is abroad, with Envy, Hatred, and Malice barking on their leashes. What can the poor sheep do but
scatter before the wolves? Fra Battista, his penance duly done, must leave Verona; and you, my sister, must do penance, that God be not mocked, nor the Veronese upraised to mock Him."
Of this solemn appeal, Vanna, to all seeming, understood not one word. True, she blushed a little, but that was because a prior was talking to her: her honest grey eyes were quite untroubled, her smile as tender as ever. She spoke as one deprecating temerity-that she should speak at all to so great a man-and by no means any judgment.
"I am only a poor girl, reverend prior," said she, "most ignorant and thickwitted. Pray, what have I and my baby to do with these high matters of Fra Battista's error?"
The prior grew angry, "Tush, my woman," he grunted, "I beg you to drop the artless. It is useless here. Let me look at the youngster."
Yes, yes, mistress, let us see the child," said Fra Corinto, who croaked like a nightingale in June.
Vanna moved forward on a light foot. "Willingly, reverend fathers," said she. "He is a fine child, they all say, and reputed the image of his father." A sublime utterance, full of humoursome matter, if it had been a time for humours.
But it was not. La Testolina could not contain her virtuous indignation-for who is so transcendently righteous as your rascal for once in the right?
"Hey, woman!" she cried
shrilly, "what grossness is this? Do you think the whole city don't know about you?"
Vanna turned quivering. "And what is it that the whole city knows but does not say, if you please?"
The prior raised his hands. Like Pilate, he would have washed off the business if he could. He looked at the two women. Eh, by the Lord! there would be a scene. But the whole thing was too impudent a fraud: there must be an end of it. He caught Fra Corinto's eye and raised his brows. Fra Corinto was his jackal-here was his cue. He went swiftly to the door, set it open, came back and caught Vanna roughly by the shoulder. He turned her shocked face to the open door, and his dry voice grated horribly upon her ears. "Out with drab!" was you, what he said, and Vanna reeled. For a full minute she gaped at him for a meaning; his face taught the force of his words only too well. She sobbed, threw up her high head, bent it, like Jesus, for the cross, and fled.
The old porter leered by his open gates. "He! he! They are all outside," he chuckled "Magpies and Dusty-hoods, Parvuses, Minors, Minims, Benets, and Austins, every cowl in Verona! Come along, my handsome girl, you must move briskish this day!" She heard the She heard the hoarse muttering of the men, and, a worse poison for good ears, the shrill venom of the women. Out of the gates she blindly went, and all the pack opened their music upon her. Stones flew, but words flew
faster and stuck more deep. The mob, as she blundered through the streets, shuffling, gasping, stumbling at her caught gown, dry-eyed, open-mouthed, panting her terror, her bewilderment, her shame and amaze—the mob, I say, dizzied about her like a cloud of wasps; yet they had in them what wasps have not-voices primed by hatred to bay her mad. There was no longer any doubt for her: the pittanciar's word (which had not been "drab") was tossed from pavement to pavement, from balcony to balcony, out at every open door, shot like slops from every leaning casement, and hissed in her ears as it flew. It was a mad race. The Franciscans tucked up their frocks and discarded stones, that they might run and shout the more freely. The Dominicans soon tired: their end was served. The cloistered orders were out of condition; the secular clergy came to weary of what was, after all, but a matter for the mendicants. The common people, however, had the game well in hand. They headed her off the narrow streets, where safety might have been, and kept her to the Lung' Adige. Round the great S the river makes she battled her blind way, trying for nothing, with wits for nothing, without hope, or understanding, or thought. She ran, a hunted woman, straight before her, and at last shook off the last of her pursuers by San Zeno. Stumbling headlong into a little pine-wood beyond the gates, she fell, swooned, and forgot.
It was near dark when she
opened her loaded eyes-that is, there was no moon, but a great concourse of stars, which kept the night as a long time of dusk. The baby was awake, too, groping for food and whimpering a little. She sat up to supply him: though in that act her brain swam, it is probable the duty saved her. Fearing to faint again, she dared not
V. THE MIRACLE OF THE PEACH-TREE.
Directly you were outside the Porta San Zeno the peach-trees began-acre by acre of bent trunks, whose long branches, tied at the top, took shapes of blown candle- flames: beyond these was an open waste of bents and juniper scrub, which afforded certain eatage for goats.
allow herself to think-for children must be fed though their mothers are stoned from the gates. Vanna nursed him till he dropped asleep, and sat on with her thoughts and troubles. Happily for her, he had turned these to other roads than the Lung' Adige. She knew that if he was to be fed again she must feed also.
It was a very still night, of wonderful star-shine, but without a moon. The stars were so thickly spread, so clear and hot, that there was light enough for the lads to see each other's faces, the rough shapes of each other. It was light enough to notice how the square belfry of San Zeno cut a wedge of black into the spangled blue vault. Sheer through the Milky Way
it ploughed a broad furrow, which ended in a ragged edge. You would never have seen that if it had not been a clear night.
Still also it was. You heard the cropping of the goats, the jaws' champ when they chewed the crisp leaves; the flicker of the bats' wings. In the marsh, Here three herd-boys, Luca, half a mile away, the chorus Biagio, and Astorre, simple of frogs, when it swelled up, brown-skinned souls, watched drowned all nearer noise; but their flocks all the summer when it broke off suddenly, those night, sleeping, waking to play others resumed their hold upon pranks with each other, whining the stillness. It was a breathendless doggerel, praying at every less night of suspense. Anyscare, and swearing at every thing might happen on such reassurance. Simple puppyish a night. folk though they were, Madonna of the Peach-tree chose them to witness her epiphany.
Luca, Biagio, and Astorre, under the spell of this marvellous night, lay on their stomachs alert for alarms. A heavywheeling white owl had come by with a swish, and Biagio had called aloud to Madonna in his agony. Astorre had crossed himself over and over again: this was the Angel of Death cruising abroad on the hunt for goats or goat-herds ; but "No, no!" cried Luca, eldest of the three, "the wings are too short, friends. That is a fluffy
word, lifted in his mother's arms and turned openhanded towards them. Luca, Biagio, and Astorre, goat-herds all and honest lads, fell on their faces with one accord; with one voice they cried, "Madonna, Madonna, Madonna! pray for us sinners!"
new soul just let loose. She sacred knows not the way, you see. Let us pray for her. There are devils abroad on such close nights as this." Pray they did, with a will, "Ave Maria,' "O Maris stella," and half the Paternoster, when Biagio burst into a guffaw, and gave Luca a push which sent Astorre down. "Why, 'tis only a screech-owl, you fools!" he cried, though the sound of his own voice made him falter; teaser," he went on in a much lower voice. "Who's afraid?'
66 an old mouse
A black-and-white cat making a pounce had sent hearts to mouths after this: though they found her out before they had got to "Dominus tecum," she left them all in a quiver. It had been a cat, but it might have been the devil. Then, before the bristles had folded down on their backs, they rose up again, and the hair of their heads became rigid as quills. Over the brow of a little hill, through the peach-trees (which bowed their spiry heads to her as she walked), came quietly a tall white Lady in a dark cloak. Hey! powers of earth and air, but this was not to be doubted! Evenly forward she came, without a footfall, without a rustle or a crackling twig, without so much as kneeing her skirt -stood before them so nearly that they saw the pale oval of her face, and said in a voice like a muffled bell, "I am hungry, my friends; have you any meat?" She had a face like the moon, and great round eyes; within her cloak, on the bosom of her white dress, she held a manchild. He, they passed their
But again the Lady spoke in her gentle tones. "I am very hungry, and my child is hungry. Have you nothing to give me? So then Luca kicked the prone Biagio, and Biagio's heel nicked Astorre on the shin. But it was Luca, as became the eldest, who got up first, all the same; and as soon as he was on his feet the others followed him. Luca took his cap off, Biagio saw the act and followed it. Astorre, who dared not lift his eyes, and was so busy making crosses on himself that he had no hands to spare, kept his on till Luca nudged Biagio, and Biagio cuffed him soundly, saying, "Uncover, cow-face.'
Then Luca on his knees made an offering of cheese and black bread to the Lady. They saw the gleam of her white hand as she stretched it out to take the victual. That hand shone like agate in the dark. They saw her eat, sitting very straight and noble upon a tussock of bents. Astorre whispered to Biagio, Biagio consulted with Luca for a few anxious moments, and communicated again with Astorre. Astorre jumped up and scuttled away into the dark.
Presently he came back, bearing something in his two hands. The three shock-heads inspected his burden; there was much whispering, some conten