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C.D. Warner, et al., comp.  The Library of the World’s Best Literature.
An Anthology in Thirty Volumes.  1917.
 
The Fisherman’s Daughter
By Alphonse de Lamartine (1790–1869)
 
From ‘Graziella’: Translation of James B. Runnion

THE PROW of the boat in striking against the rock gave a dry and hollow sound, like the crash of a board that falls accidentally and breaks. We jumped into the water; we fastened the boat as well as we could with the rope that was left, and then followed the old man and the child, who took the lead.  1
  We climbed a sort of narrow stairway that led up the side of the cliff,—a succession of uneven steps, slippery with the spray from the sea, which had been dug out with a chisel. The ascent up this steep stairway had been greatly facilitated by some artificial steps, made by long poles, the points of which had been forced into the apertures of the rock; and these frail supports were covered by planks torn from old boats, or by heaps of branches from the chestnut-trees, still ornamented with their dead leaves.  2
  After having ascended slowly four or five hundred steps in this way, we found ourselves in a kind of inclosure, suspended on high, and surrounded by a parapet of stones. At the end of this court-yard there were two gloomy archways that seemed to lead into a cave. Above these great arches were two arcades, low and rounded, with a terrace for a roof, the edges of which were decorated with flower-pots of rosemary. Under the arcades a rustic walk could be seen, in which hanging masses of maïs glistened in the light of the moon like golden ornaments.  3
  A door made of planks, rudely dovetailed, opened upon this walk. At the right an inclined plane of ground, upon which a little house was situated, gradually came up to the same level. A great fig-tree and some tortuous vine stalks were bending over the angle of the house, confusing their leaves and fruits at the entrance of the walk, festooned and creeping over the wall that supported the arcades above. Their branches had formed bars to the two low windows that looked out upon this little garden walk; and if there had been no window, the low, square, and solid house might have been mistaken for one of the light-gray rocks, peculiar to the coast, or for one of those blocks of petrified lava (entwined in the branches of the chestnut, the ivy, and the vine) out of which the grape cultivators of Castellamare and Sorrento hew caves, close them with a door, and there preserve the wine by the side of the stock that first bore it.  4
  Out of breath from the long and steep ascent we had made, and from the weight of the oars which we carried on our shoulders, the old man, my companion, and I stopped in this courtyard for a moment in order to rest. But the boy, tossing his oar upon a pile of brushwood, ran lightly up the stairway; and with his torch still lighted and in his hand, began knocking at one of the windows and calling in glee for his grandmother and sister.  5
  “Mother! Sister! Madre! Sorrellina! Gaetano! Graziella! Graziella!” he shouted. “Wake up; open the door: it’s father; it’s me; and we have strangers with us.”  6
  We soon heard a voice, not more than half awake, yet clear and soft, utter some exclamations of surprise from within the house. Then the window was partly opened, pushed up by an arm naked and white, that reached out from a flowing sleeve; and we saw by the light of the torch which the boy, balancing himself on tiptoe, raised toward the window, the lovely face of a young girl appear between the shutters which were thrown widely open.  7
  Awakened from a sound sleep by the unexpected sound of her brother’s voice, Graziella did not think, nor had she time, to arrange her dress. She had hurried to the window in bare feet and just as she had arisen from the bed. Her long black hair, half of which fell down over one of her cheeks, the other half curled around her neck, was swept from one side of her shoulder to the other by the wind; which still blew harshly, and kept hitting the shutter and lashing her face like the wing of a raven driven by the storm.  8
  The young girl rubbed her eyes with the back of her hands, raising her elbows and expanding her shoulders, with the first natural gesture of a child on awakening, that wishes to drive away sleep. Her night-robe, fastened lightly around her neck, revealed only the outlines of a high and delicate waist, the youthful rounding of which was scarcely perceptible under the covering. Her eyes, large and oval in form, were of that undecided color between deep black and the blue of the sea, which tones down the natural radiance by a certain softness of expression, and unites in the woman’s eye the gentleness of her soul and the force of her passion in about equal proportions: a celestial color which the eyes of the Asiatic and Italian women borrow from the brilliant light of their fiery days, and from the serene blue of their heaven, their sea, and their night. Her cheeks were full, round, plump, of a natural pale complexion, but a little browned by the climate; not of the unnatural pallor of the North, but of that pure whiteness of the South, which resembles the color of marble exposed for centuries to the air and sea. Her mouth, the lips of which were half opened and very full, and heavier than those of our women, had the characteristic lines of frankness and goodness. Her teeth, small but shining, sparkled in the fluttering light of the torch like shells of pearl glistening at the bottom of a wave under the rays of the sun.  9
  While she was talking to her little brother, half of her words were carried to us by the wind; and though somewhat sharply accentuated, they sounded like sweet music to our ears. Her features, as changeable as the flittering torch that lighted them up, rapidly passed from surprise to alarm, from alarm to joy, from sympathy to laughter. Then she saw us standing behind the trunk of the great fig-tree, and retired in confusion from the window. Her hand abandoned the shutter, which now began to beat freely against the wall. She only took the time to awaken her grandmother and half dress herself when she came to open the door for us under the arcades, and tenderly kissed her grandfather and her brother.  10
  The old grandmother soon made her appearance, holding in her hand a lamp of red earthenware, which cast its light upon her thin pale face, and her hair as white as the skeins of wool which were tossed over the table at the side of the spinning-wheel. She kissed her husband’s hand, and kissed the boy on the forehead. The recital of what had occurred, which has taken up so many of these pages, required only a few words and gestures between the different members of this poor family. We did not hear the whole of it: we stood apart from them that we might not stop the natural outpourings of their hearts. They were poor; we were strangers: and we owed them a certain respect. The only way we had of showing it was by taking the place nearest the door and keeping perfectly still.  11
  Graziella looked at us in surprise from time to time, as if she were in a dream. When the father had finished his story, the grandmother fell on her knees by the fireside. Graziella, stepping up to the terrace above, brought in a branch of rosemary, and some orange-blossoms like large white stars. She took a chair, arranged her flowers into a bouquet, fastening them with the long pins that she drew from her hair, and placed them before a little plaster image of the Virgin, which stood above the door, and before which a lamp was burning. We understood that this was an offering of thanks to her divine protectress for having saved her brother and her grandfather; and we shared her expression of gratitude.  12
 
  THE INSIDE of the house was bare, and in almost every way as like to the outside as both inside and outside were like the immense rocks that surrounded it. The walls were entirely without plaster, and covered only with a thin coat of whitewash. Lizards, aroused by the light, shone in the crevices of the rocks, and crept under the fern leaves that served as the children’s bed. Nests of swallows, whose little black heads peeped out, and whose restless eyes twinkled in surprise, hung down from the beams, still covered with bark, which formed the roof. Graziella and her grandmother slept in the second room on a curious bedstead, covered with a piece of coarse linen. A few baskets of fruits and a mule’s pack-saddle lay on the shelf.  13
  The fisherman turned toward us with a look of shame, as he indicated by a sweep of his arm the poverty of his home; then he led us up to the terrace, the place of honor both in the Orient and in the south of Italy. With the assistance of Graziella and the child Beppo, he made us a sort of shed, by placing one end of our oars upon the wall surrounding the terrace and the other end upon the ground, then covering these with a dozen or more branches from a horse-chestnut tree, recently cut on the side of the mountain. Under this shelter he spread a lot of fern leaves; he then brought us two pieces of bread, some fresh water and figs, and wished that we might sleep well.  14
  The physical fatigue and the emotions of the day threw us into a sudden and deep sleep. When we awoke, the swallows were chirping around our bed and picking from the ground the crumbs of our supper; and the sun, already high in the heaven, heated the fagots of leaves over our heads as if they had been in a furnace.  15
  We lay a long time stretched upon our fern leaves, lost in that peculiar state of half-sleep in which the mental faculties perceive and think before the senses give one the courage to get up or move. We exchanged a few inarticulate words, which were interrupted by long pauses and were lost in our dreams. The experiences of the previous day,—the boat rolling under our feet, the angry sea, the unapproachable rocks of the coast, the face of Graziella looking out between the two shutters and in the light of the torch,—all these visions flitted before us confusedly, and without connection or appreciation.  16
  We were attracted from this drowsiness by the sobs and complaints of the old grandmother, who was talking to her husband inside of the house. The chimney, which ran through the terrace, brought us the sound of the voices, so that we could hear some words of the conversation. The poor woman was lamenting the loss of her jars, of the anchor, of the ropes that were almost new, and above all, of the beautiful sails woven by her own hands from her own hemp,—all of which we had been cruel enough to throw into the sea to save our own lives.  17
  “What business had you,” she asked of the old man, who was frightened into silence, “to take these two strangers, these two Frenchmen, with you? Don’t you know that they are pagans (pagani), and that they always bring misfortune with their wickedness? The saints have punished you for it. They have stripped us of our riches, and you may still thank them that they have not taken away our souls.”  18
  The poor man did not know what to say. But Graziella, with the authority and impatience of a spoiled child, to whom the grandmother always gives way, protested against these reproaches as unjust, and taking the part of the old man, said to her grandmother:—  19
  “Who tells you that these strangers are pagans? Are pagans ever so compassionate for the trials of poor people as these gentlemen have shown themselves? Do pagans make the sign of the cross like ourselves before the statues of the saints? Now let me tell you that yesterday evening, when you had fallen on your knees to return thanks to God, and when I had adorned the image of the Madonna with flowers, I saw them bow their heads as if they were praying, make the sign of the cross upon their breasts, and I even saw a tear glisten in the eye of the younger and fall upon his hand.”  20
  “A tear, indeed!” the old woman sharply exclaimed. “It was nothing but a drop of sea-water that fell from his hair.”  21
  “I tell you it was a tear,” said Graziella angrily. “The wind that was blowing so fiercely had plenty of time to dry his hair from the time he left the beach until he had climbed to the top of the cliff. But the wind cannot dry the heart, and I tell you again that there was water in his eye.”  22
  We understood that we had an all-powerful friend in that house, for the grandmother did not answer, nor did she complain any more.  23
 
 
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