To the Indies
|To the Indies (1864)
by , translated by Ellen Watson
|Translated in 1899|
"Our husbands, our children,
To the Indies still roam,
In search of the fortune
Lying hidden at home."
"Say, ma, this blouse is badly made, though!"
"Oh, you ungrateful rascal! Why, it fits you like your skin!"
"Nonsense, ma, I tell you it's too tight all over, and when I try to take off my hat the flaps work up round my neck!"
"Off with you, you impertinent little scamp, and don't stay here, bothering me!"
"Well, ma, you may as well give up fine sewing, anyway, and that good-for-nothing sister of mine, too! Just look at her now! She holds her needle as if it were a crowbar! My eye, look at what a shirt she's making! Now just try and make those stitches finer, can't you?"
"Oh, you rogue! Since when have you come to be a judge of fine sewing, and a howling swell yourself? And here I've been slaving for you night and day for more than a month! Mamma, I won't sew another stitch for him!"
And the unappreciated seamstress, a robust young girl, as brown as a chestnut, threw on the floor the shirt she had been sewing, and turned her back resolutely on the critical little dandy of thirteen, swift as a squirrel and thin as a rail.
His mother, some forty years of age, although the wrinkles in her face and the stoop of her shoulders give her the look of a woman of sixty, after struggling to make her thread fine enough to go through the eye of the needle, which is almost lost in her callous fingers, soothes the susceptible little sewer, goes up to the boy, makes him turn round three times, gives a vigorous pulling down to the garment he has criticised, and after gazing at her work for a moment in silence, she sits down again, exclaiming in a tone of deepest conviction, "Well, I'd like to see the tailor who could make you a better fit!"
But before proceeding with our story, and that our readers may better understand the situation, we will pause here to explain matters.
That our characters have their home in the mountains should be evident from the style of the above dialogue, and in case that has not made it sufficiently clear, I may state just here that such is the case. The reader may locate the scene of the story in that part of this province which best suits him, but the scene I am about to describe is found oftenest in the eastern part. [I. e., about Santander.]
The stage setting in this case is the wide porch with red-tiled roof of a poor villager's cottage. The front of this cottage, like most of its kind, has in its center the main door, to the left the door of the sitting-room, to the right the kitchen window.
The two women are sewing, seated in the doorway. The second door stands partly open, as the good Uncle Nardo, the head of the family, husband and father respectively of the characters in our dialogue, has just gone in to settle up his accounts. As for the window, although this is an unnecessary detail, I will state on the word of a veracious historian, that it was closed; for its real use, more than to let light into the kitchen, is to let out the smoke when there is a fire in the fireplace, which just now is as cold as the mush that has been cooking there in the morning,—their food for the day. And we will add that it is now afternoon, stating also, and this is no idle detail as it may seem at a first glance, that we are in the month of September.
And now we have only to relate further that the little fellow who made such weighty charges against his mother and sister, came up to the porch, attired in a complete suit of gray nankeen, his neck tightly swathed in the intricate and tumultuous folds of an enormous cravat of red and white checked cotton. His small and intelligent face was almost hidden under the wide brim of his straw hat, adorned with a green band, and on his feet, to complete the picture, were clumsy, heavy shoes. The dust that covered them, the lad's flushed face, and the stout stick he carried, showed clearly that he had just come from a long walk. As for his grounds for complaint concerning the maternal shears and his sister's needle, we cannot deny that they appear well founded, after close examination of his clothing. At the same time it is evident that the poor women had never seen anything better in their way, and that the disdainful little fellow had never before rejoiced in such fine feathers as those which now embarrassed him. We can also affirm that, in spite of his opening speech, there is a certain gleam of pleasure, a smile on his face, which would seem to denote an inner satisfaction; his journey must have had a satisfactory ending.
But to understand this and other things which we propose to relate, let us take up our story where we left it before making this digression.
While his mother was saying the words we have recorded on having examined her son's suit, the boy seated himself on a bench between the two doors, and wiping the dust from his shoes with his pocket handkerchief, answered with some spirit: "You say this because you have nothing to compare it with, but if you should see me side by side with Don Damian, as I have just seen myself!... My, what clothes! his tailoress knows what's what! And such a cut! It's just glorious! Not such misfits as these, plague take 'em!"
"But you little imp of ingratitude, how do you expect to compare that fine cloth with your nankeen at fifteen cents a yard?"
"Who's talking about nankeen or the price of the cloth? I tell you it's all in the knowing how to cut it! If you'd only let a tailor at Santander make 'em, as I wanted you to,... the vest is just the same way, too, and the trousers—on one side they're an acre too wide, and on the other, I can't turn round in 'em! And then these shoes! I don't know why it is, but the more I grease 'em the worse they are! Say, you ought to have seen Don Damian's! My eye, but they shine like the sun at midday!"
"But my dear boy, don't you know that Don Damian is a very rich man?"
"But you will be able, too, to wear fine clothes some day,... isn't it so, mamma?"
"Come, come, you are already rejoicing in the thought of the fine clothes I am to give you! If you wear no others!"...
"I don't need them, you may make sure of that! Poor I was born, and whoever loves me must take me as I am, in a woolen gown, and digging in the dirt!"
"Be still, you little goose! I just said it to tease you! You just wait and see if I don't dress you up like a real lady, one of these days! Won't I, ma?"
While her children were fighting it out on this line, tears came to the good woman's eyes, a phenomenon which Uncle Nardo had observed of late under like circumstances, with no little surprise. Having learned by experience that if she did not control her emotion in time, she would not be able to conceal it, she changed the drift of the conversation by asking the boy, "Did Don Damian give you a letter?"
The boy, who, moreover, seemed to have been expecting some such question, raised his right hand first to an inner coatpocket, and then to one in his vest. He hid a coin in his fingers, and smiling triumphantly, exclaimed, with a voice that rose higher as he went on: "Here is the letter—and here is something more! Can you see it? Do you really see it? And what do you think it is? My eye, you'll never guess, never in the world I It's a... it's an eight-dollar piece! that's what it is!"
"Eight dollars!" This last was from Uncle Nardo, who now showed his head at the door of the inner room. "Eight dollars," he exclaimed, and his whole length came into view. "Eight dollars!" he cried finally, joining at a bound the family group, who stood admiring the gold coin, which Andrew,—for it is quite time we should tell the boy's name,—was showing off as if it were some holy relic of a saint.
"Eight dollars it is!" he insisted, dancing round as if mad. "An eight-dollar piece, and brighter than the sun! See it! Don Damian gave it to me for my very own! Three cheers for Don Damian, say I!"
After the coin had passed from hand to hand through the whole group, and every one had looked at it again and again and rung it on the stones, Andrew took possession of it again, and insisting on every one's listening, he unfolded the letter, also from Don Damian, and read aloud, quite fluently, but without much regard for grammatical construction, as follows:—
Señor don Frutos Mascabado y Caracolillo, Havana.
My dear friend and former companion: The bearer of this letter will be, by God's grace, the youthful Andrés de la Peña, leaving Santander shortly by the good ship Panchita, bound for Havana, in which city he is planning to try his luck. I take the liberty of begging you to aid him in every possible way, endeavoring to get for him, to begin with, some position suited to his capabilities. Andrew is a bright boy, well-behaved, and writes a good hand; he knows his arithmetic as far as Partnerships inclusive.
Counting on your good friendship, I venture to thank you in advance for what you may be able to do for the boy; this will stand henceforth as one of the valued services among the many I am already indebted to you for.
Always your most affectionate friend and devoted servant,
(I kiss your hand.) Q. S. M. B.
Damián de la Fuente.
After the reading of this letter it seems to us only proper that we should explain to our readers the true significance of Andrew's suit, and the unusual excitement concerning his outfit.
Boys, as a general rule, after they have dropped their playthings, are seized with a desire, stronger than all other ambitions, to outdo all others in manly strength and to be taller than any one else. But our mountain boys of Santander, by an especial dispensation of nature, have the one longing to be independent, with the title of Don, and a lot of money, and to their way of thinking the only way to acquire this is to go to "The Indies." The dangers of the sea, the ravages of a hot climate, the disappointments of an illusory fortune, the forlornness, the loneliness of life in a land so far from home, nothing frightens them; on the contrary, all these obstacles seem to excite in them more and more the desire of conquering them. For is it not a fact that in America the smallest coin in general use is of silver? Now for a mountain-bred boy this one fact is enough to start him off for this happy land; his life which he risks in the undertaking seems to him of little account, and he would as fearlessly venture a hundred more, were a hundred more at his disposal! Does any one doubt this? Offer a free passage from Santander to Cuba, or with a promise to pay at the end of a year, and you will see how many will apply for it. And they are not dismayed if the passage is not first-class; a true boy from the mountains would cross the ocean on the top of the mainmast if need were.
Just tell him, "We are off for the Indies," and he will embark in a lemon rind with the same perfect faith as in a three-decker. A West Indian of this stamp will pass the best years of his youth meeting with one disappointment after another, and still will not despair. No work is so difficult as to frighten him, no opposition can lessen his faith. Fortune is there, smiling behind his bad luck, as real to his vision and his touch as in his boyhood, when, dreaming of her rich gifts, he swung to and fro in the high branches of the walnut tree which shaded the hut where he was born. And from this we may safely infer that the honor, the constancy, the industry, of the mountaineers are as great as their ambition, and no one can in justice deny this noble race a quality which does it so much honor.
So our little Andrew, a true mountain boy, as soon as he could speak told his mother that some day he would go to Cuba. As he grew older this thought was the subject of all his dreams, and he so insisted on this plan that finally his family began to consider it seriously.
So one day Uncle Nardo and his wife went to consult with Don Damian, a very wealthy West Indian of their neighborhood, whose name is already familiar to us. Don Damian had certainly made a large fortune, and this it was that all the people of that region had constantly before their eyes, and that excited in all the youths this desire to emigrate. But what very few of them realized was, that Don Damian had grown rich at the cost of twenty years of incessant labor; that in all that time he had not ceased for a single day nor for a single hour to fulfill the trying duties of an honorable man, in spite of all the difficult circumstances of the life there. Moreover, Don Damian had gone to America very well recommended and with an education considerably superior to that which most of these poor mountaineers are able to obtain in these unkindly regions. All these circumstances, which really formed the foundation of Don Damian's fortune, he carefully explained to all who came to him to beg for letters of recommendation in Havana, and to consult him concerning the advisability of going forth to seek their fortunes. When such considerations as these were not sufficient to disenchant the deluded youths, he gave the desired letter, and sometimes his signature promising to pay the passage from Santander to Havana.
Andrew's parents listened attentively to all the most prudent considerations and the wisest counsel the kindly West Indian had to offer when they went to consult him. To tell the truth, Uncle Nardo's wife did not need so many nor such good reasons for opposing her son's schemes. She saw, with a mother's loving eyes, beyond the seas, the storms and clouds that obscured the smiling illusions which dazzled her little boy's youthful vision. But Uncle Nardo, less apprehensive than herself and with greater confidence in the land of their desire, blindly upheld Andrew; so father and son together, if they did not convince, still prevailed over the unhappy mother, who, indeed, had the greatest respect for such high-minded courage, and never dreamed of opposing what might be the will of God. The village priest had told her more than once that God spoke at times through the lips of children, and if Andrew's plan were heaven-inspired, she made up her mind to forward it in so far as this should seem to be her duty.
So as Andrew's strong will and his father's good faith outweighed Don Damian's most prudent considerations, the latter promised his protection, and from that day the little household we have learned to know did nothing but prepare as quickly as possible for the voyage.
The preparations were, indeed, of the simplest; they had to procure a passport, and make ready the outfit. This consisted of three linen shirts, one complete suit of nankeen, for Sunday best, a second suit of the same for everyday wear, a mattress and a blanket, a pine-wood chest of bright ochre color to hold the clothes Andrew would not need during the voyage. Don Damian loaned the passage money until Andrew should be able to earn it.
The price of their only cow, sold hastily and foolishly, was just enough to pay for the outfit of our future West Indian, and the little reserve fund he was to take with him, a fund that was enlarged by a half-dollar the priest gave him when he came to confess, and thirty cents from the schoolmaster who had lately been giving him lessons in arithmetic and writing by himself, and the famous eight-dollar piece. Don Damian's kindly loan was really all that kept this poor family from ruining itself in order to send Andrew off. Otherwise they would gladly have sold their bed and the roof itself. Examples of this are, alas, only too frequent in La Montana.
The day which we have chosen for the opening of our story was the last which Andrew was to spend under his paternal roof. He has spent it in making his farewells, and we have had the pleasure of seeing what came of his good-bye to Don Damian. The day, between ourselves be it said, had cost his poor mother many tears, though carefully enough she hid them from the family; she could not resign herself calmly to seeing this cherished son of her heart thrown so early on the mercy of fate, and so far from her protecting arms.
Still, the hours were flying by, and she must make up her mind. When Andrew had finished his letter, his one real help in a foreign land, under cover of some nattering remarks concerning it the poor woman, who was choking with tears, told her son to go into the house, so that his sister might wash the things he had on, and lay them away, while she took the last stitches in his shirt. Andrew obeyed her, humming a familiar air, and leaping over the threshold of the door. His mother, watching his thoughtless gayety at such a supreme moment, fixed her sad gaze on him as he went through the narrow passage, laid by her work indifferently, and two streams of tears poured over her brown cheeks.
"Poor little son of my soul," she murmured, with a tremulous, hushed voice.
Uncle Nardo, more optimistic, not to say less loving, than his wife, failing to understand this anguish and heartache, did his best to win her over to his point of view.
"I don't know, Nisca," he said, when they were alone, "what fancy has seized you these days, that you do nothing but moan and groan. I'm sure I'm not sending the boy away from home, for we both of us are sure it's the best thing we can do. And I hope to goodness you do not really mean to oppose his going."
"Well, and what is left for me to do? I'm not opposing it to-day, though the hour is so near when we must say good-bye. My poor dear boy! They say he may grow rich, and we are so poor! There is little enough to make a living off, on this poor bit of land the Lord has given us! Aye, aye, if only He will take him into His keeping!"
"But why should you worry about that, foolish woman! Isn't Don Damian there?"
"Oh, you're always holding Don Damian up to me!"
"And quite right I am about it! What better example could you find? A gentleman who came back to the place loaded with money-bags,—who has made ladies and gentlemen of all his relations,—who no sooner learns his neighbor's need than he goes to help him,—who single-handed bears almost all the taxes of the village, and who puts an end to all lawsuits, that Justice may not absorb the rights of the one who wins nor the property of the other side, and in return for all this bounty asks only the blessing of honest men. What greater satisfaction could one ask than to see our son some day as highly esteemed as Don Damian?"
"Aye, Nardo, but in the first place Don Damian came of a most honorable family..."
"Well, what if he did? Our Andrew needn't be ashamed of his people."
"And then God aided him to make his way."
"And why should He not aid our Andrew?"
"Don Damian was a gentleman from the beginning, and when he went from here he had a good education and was used to good society, and then he inherited his broadcloth, which is a great help in getting beyond the mud walls of our village!"
"Bah! Nisca, you shouldn't believe all you hear! Aren't we all of us sons of Adam, with five fingers on each hand?"
"It would be wiser, Nardo, if instead of thinking only of such examples as this good man, when it comes to sending our boys from home, we should look at cases that haven't turned out so well! What tears would be spared, if we only did! Without going farther, there's our neighbor who has been inconsolable for a month, weeping for her dear son who died in a hospital a short time after reaching Havana."
"Yes, Nisca, but that boy..."
"Was just as strong and healthy as Andrew, and like him he was young, and with good recommendations. So was Uncle Pedro's son, and he died poor and forsaken in those far-off lands. Then there was the mayor's nephew; he had a good start, but keeping bad company led to his dying in prison; and it seems as if God had a hand in that, for they say if he had got out of prison it would only have been to go to a worse fate. His cousin Antony struggled against his ill-luck for twenty years, and now he's a poor sailor, seeking his bread on God's wide ocean, to keep from starving to death. And right here at your door there's Pedro Gomez, waiting for the fading away of the little strength he brought with him from Cuba, after fifteen years of fortune-hunting there, that God may take him to his long rest by His side. For what is he now but a poor invalid, of no use to his family nor to the village, nor, worst of all, to himself; and now he curses the hour he left his home..."
"Go on, go on! tell every misadventure and every sorry tale you can think of! Why don't you mention Manco's boy, and the constable's son, who, they say, keep their carriage in Havana, and are so rich they don't know how much they're worth?"
"Bad luck befall them, Nardo! Aren't they letting their families here die of poverty, their own people who ruined themselves to fit them out? And do they ever so much as remember the land where they were born? Much as I love our poor boy who is going to this new world, rather than see him some day without religion, forgetful of his family and his native soil,—and may God forgive me if I offend Him in saying this,—I would sooner hear of his death!"
"Come, come, Nisca! To-day you have surely a gift at funeral orations and prayers for the dead! Still, you can't persuade me to look on the gloomy side of it all."
"Lucky for you, Nardo, that you don't see it yourself."
"Now, Nisca, don't be so foolish, just because I don't look at these things as you do. Just because our village has been so unfortunate in the men who have left here for Cuba..."
"Yes, think how it must be elsewhere, when in just this little corner alone there has been so much grief! Aye, Nardo, though I can't touch it with these hands, nor see it with these eyes, it doesn't take Don Damian's advice, with all the experience he has had, to make me weep at the thought of sending this poor little fellow alone out into the wide world."
Andrew's coming in cut short this conversation. He had on his traveling suit, new to be sure, but of a humbler make than the one his sister had packed away for him. At the sight of her boy, Aunt Nisca hastily dried her eyes, and carefully folded on her knees the shirt she had finished.
All that evening was spent in putting Andrew's outfit in order, and that night she told her beads more devoutly than ever, praying to the Virgin for all she desired, with the deep, consoling faith of a Christian heart, an aid to the traveler who was setting forth, and for those who remained resignation and life until they should see him again.
And now, if the gentle reader consents, as no doubt he will consent, for it costs neither money nor anything else of value, we will change the scene of our story, and find ourselves on the magnificent Mole of Santander.
As usual a crowd of carts, bales of merchandise, scales for weighing, brokers, clerks, merchants, sailors, fishermen, strolling visitors full of curiosity, all in the most confused and wild disorder, made it impassable from the Ribera to the Cafe Suisse. Let us stop a moment at this last point, as being the most free of all. By the door are passing three people whom we know well, and they continue to the end of the Mole, not stopping for a moment to look in at the windows of the cafe, to stare at the mirrors and divans. They are Andrew, with his father and mother. Andrew walks between them with his hands in the pockets of his full trousers, the lapels of his coat pulled up to his shoulders, and his wide, mushroom-like hat well jammed on to his head. Uncle Nardo is at his right, in his new suit of gray, and his wife on the other side, with her white muslin kerchief over her hair, her mulberry-colored Sunday gown, and, tucked under her arm, a big umbrella in its striped cotton cover. The three are walking along without saying a word,—Uncle Nardo with the greatest possible indifference, his wife, as usual, in the depths of sorrow, looking through her tears at the fateful ship which waits for her boy, rocking out there on the waves, a mile from the Mole. As for Andrew, to judge by his determined air and his disdainful smile, we may rest assured he is cherishing a plan for building up on his own hook, when he should come back from America, a suburb as elegant and solid as the one through which they are passing.
They had come from their village three days ago, and when they had looked after all the papers and other affairs that every passenger has to attend to, they devoted themselves to giving Andrew a good time and taking him to all the amusements within their means. He had at his disposal two days and about twenty dollars, so at the moment of our meeting him again his every desire was satisfied. That is to say, he had absorbed, glass after glass, about two gallons of lemonade, "cold as the mountain snows"; he had eaten, six at a time, more than a hundred meringues, had treated every one from his own village and all the acquaintances he had met by the way, had bought a concertina in a German shop, and had attended High Mass in the cathedral. Sum total of expenses, with board and lodging for three persons at their little inn, five napoleons. So, as he said, nothing was left for him to see, when they told him it was time to go on board, because the frigate was ready to sail.
This news, though quite expected, was the last drop in his mother's cup, and even startled Uncle Nardo for a moment out of his accustomed apathy.
Let us follow them now along the Mole. At the foot of the last slope they embark in a small boat which then heads for the frigate; until now Andrew has only looked at her from a distance, though he had never lost sight of her for a day since his arrival at Santander, so he had not yet really formed an idea of what she might be like.
As the three neared the vessel, its gigantic size gradually dawned upon them. The black hull seemed to surge from out the waters, and Aunt Nisca, though never in the habit of being deceived by illusions, firmly believed that such was the case. And she went even further than this: for her, this immense hull had a face, a satanic, terrible face, which fixed its awful eyes upon her, with a frightful expression that froze the blood in her veins. The cries from within and the countless faces that lined her sides, watching the arrival of the boat, seemed to her the diabolical and Proteus-like soul of that huge body, within whose hollow depths was soon to disappear the son of her heart. Uncle Nardo's dark face had turned livid.
Andrew, on the contrary, grew more and more enthusiastic as he approached the vessel. The vast size of her hull, the towering masts, the labyrinths of rigging, all fascinated him and even inspired him with pride. What was the poor hut in his village compared with this floating palace he was to live in for six weeks?
As for Uncle Nardo, to do him justice, as soon as he could appreciate the actual size of the ship, until they reached her side his one thought was to calculate the possibility of her sinking, seeing how heavy and hard she was, while the element which bore her up was so very soft and yielding! This question he discussed more than once, on his return to the village.
Still greater wonders awaited our friends when they arrived on board. Piles of ropes, stores of provisions, an ox that had just been skinned, enormous pens filled with cows, pigs, and sheep, and smaller ones filled with fowl; groups of sailors, here hoisting a yard, there lowering heavy weights into the hold; and finally, skipping in and out among all these obstacles, over a hundred lads of about the stamp of our future West Indian. The confusion and racket was something terrific; Uncle Nardo was seasick and his wife sobbed aloud, while Andrew looked on it all, still undaunted.
In this crowd of children some were crying, some were thinking sad thoughts, leaning on the railing, others watched with wonder all that was going on around them. One and all, like Andrew, were going to America to seek their fortunes, and all were going practically at the mercy of chance, like himself. And to tell the exact truth, many of them had not even a letter, such as Don Damian had written for Andrew. Of all those who are setting forth with our hero, perhaps not one will find what he goes in search of; all perhaps are gazing for the last time on the land of their birth.
Now Aunt Nisca has found the berth her son is to occupy during the voyage. Above the freight, stowed away in the hold, broad benches of pine boards have been built in; and between these and the deck, a space much less than a man's height, are laid in line as many mattresses as there are passengers. One of these belongs to Andrew, and this part of the ship is known as the cockpit. The poor mother shuddered to see what a wretched place her boy was to sleep in, so unhealthy and close. And what if he should be sick?
She ran, nay, flew, in search of the captain. She would like to fee him and provide some extra comfort for her poor innocent boy. She searches her own pockets and her husband's too, but can only scrape together fifty cents. And the captain is such a fine gentleman! How would she ever have the face to offer him fifty cents? But she notices, too, that he has a very noble face, and makes up her mind to speak to him. So between sobs and tears she says: "Oh, Captain, my son, who is going to Havana, is that handsome, smart-looking boy, who is watching us. Believe me, he is not going first-class, because not even by selling the shirt off our backs could we have got money enough together, with some left over for the poor boy, to provide for what may happen to him away from home. Surely, sir, I swear to you I am only telling you the truth! But I did not know the place he was to sleep in was so narrow. I never dreamed of such a hole! You see, sir, we are poor folks, but if they would look out for Andrew a bit on the voyage,—not that I haven't perfect confidence in you... God knows you're an honest man, and one needs only to look at you to... I was going to say that... son of my soul, I don't even know what to do or to say to make matters better." Tears choked the poor woman, and she was half crazy with grief.
The captain, taking it all at its true value, promised the unhappy woman a first-class passage for her son when they should leave port, and tried to console her with kindly though brief words. He had always followed these tactics with all passengers sent out under his care, for we ought to say that all the fond mothers had begged for their sons just what Aunt Nisca had for Andrew. And we must admit that this was an excellent way of quieting them all, as it was impossible to comply with all their demands.
Aunt Nisca returned with renewed courage to where her son was standing, telling him how kind the captain had been, and calling down many blessings upon his head. Then folding him close in her arms, she besought him once more to pray devoutly to the scapulary with the image of our Lady of Carmen which he wore on his breast; to be good and obedient, to shun evil company, to remember always his poor home and his native land,—in short, all that a loving mother must impress upon a beloved son, at the supreme moment of a long, perhaps an eternal farewell. Then the rattling vibration of the windlass is heard, they begin to weigh anchor, and the time to part has come.
The unhappy mother feels that even her voice fails her for the last "adios!" Andrew realizes for the first time what it is to lose sight of his home and his native land, to go forth, little and alone, through the desert places of the earth, and weeps for the first time, perhaps regretting his undertaking. Uncle Nardo looks toward the Mole, and avoids speaking, that they may not see the tears that at last have come to his eyes, and lest his voice betray the pain in his heart. Wishing to cut short the scene, that he may sadden his son the less, he presses him silently to his heart, then turns brusquely to his wife and enters the boat with her, imposing upon himself the hard penance of never so much as looking at the frigate until they reach the Mole.
When they land there, Aunt Nisca seats herself in the first doorway they reach. With her elbows on her knees, her head in her hands, her eyes fixed on the ship, and her face wet with tears, she waits there motionless, like a statue of grief, till the black hulk shall disappear. Uncle Nardo respects her grief, stands by her side quietly, and then dares not take her away from the spot.
A half-hour passes thus.
The frigate spreads her white sails to the wind, the prow dips deep in the sea, as if to make a gallant farewell greeting to the port, and, cutting swiftly through the waves, soon disappears behind Saint Martin.
As the ship is lost to view the poor peasant woman did not fall fainting on the paving-stones of the Mole, for God has given these poor souls a force and a faith as great as are their misfortunes.
That same afternoon, when the sun was setting, Uncle Nardo and his wife crossed the wide plain on the way to their village. Sadly they walked, and crestfallen, one behind the other. They were both thinking of Andrew, but Aunt Nisca, with the livelier imagination, thought over the whole extent of her sorrows, and found ample reason for the full bitterness of grief she was enduring. So she could not refrain from harshly apostrophizing the soil she trod on, hard and rugged, whose evident sterility drove away her sons, to seek in a distant land what the mother country could not give them. An unjust accusation, certainly, and one constantly in the mouth of so many ignorant people that it keeps up in this province a fever of emigration which is depopulating it.
But before certain reflections, which are more appropriate to a newspaper correspondent than to a painter of manners and customs, escape from my pen, let us return to our characters, if only to say good-bye to them.
But it is too late! They have crossed the plain, and have disappeared in a long narrow lane, formed by two leafy hedges, a green and picturesque shade, whose walls the feeble rays of the setting sun cannot penetrate. Nor is a soul to be seen in the level field. Nothing disturbs the silence of the solitude but the voice of a woman, who, from the depths of the lane, is singing in a shrill, thin voice:—
"Our men and our children
To the Indies still roam,
In search of the fortune
Lying hidden at home."
This woman must have met Aunt Nisca and her husband on her way to the fountain. Perhaps seeing them walking home thus silently and sadly, she had remembered this verse, which, moreover, forms a fitting close to this scene in provincial life, as it is precisely the whole story told in a score of words.
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