Stories by Foreign Authors: German — Volume 1

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From “Tales from the German of Paul Heyse”



The day had scarcely dawned. Over Vesuvius hung one broad gray stripe
of mist, stretching across as far as Naples, and darkening all the
small towns along the coast. The sea lay calm. Along the shore of the
narrow creek that lies beneath the Sorrento cliffs, fishermen and their
wives were at work already, some with giant cables drawing their boats
to land, with the nets that had been cast the night before, while
others were rigging their craft, trimming the sails, or fetching out
oars and masts from the great grated vaults that have been built deep
into the rocks for shelter to the tackle overnight. Nowhere an idle
hand; even the very aged, who had long given up going to sea, fell into
the long chain of those who were hauling in the nets. Here and there,
on some flat housetop, an old woman stood and spun, or busied herself
about her grandchildren, whom their mother had left to help her husband.

“Do you see, Rachela? yonder is our padre curato,” said one to a little
thing of ten, who brandished a small spindle by her side; “Antonio is
to row him over to Capri. Madre Santissima! but the reverend signore’s
eyes are dull with sleep!” and she waved her hand to a
benevolent-looking little priest, who was settling himself in the boat,
and spreading out upon the bench his carefully tucked-up skirts.

The men upon the quay had dropped their work to see their pastor off,
who bowed and nodded kindly, right and left.

“What for must he go to Capri, granny?” asked the child. “Have the
people there no priest of their own, that they must borrow ours?”

“Silly thing!” returned the granny. “Priests they have in plenty—and
the most beautiful of churches, and a hermit too, which is more than we
have. But there lives a great signora, who once lived here; she was so
very ill! Many’s the time our padre had to go and take the Most Holy to
her, when they thought she could not live the night. But with the
Blessed Virgin’s help she got strong and well, and was able to bathe
every day in the sea. When she went away, she left a fine heap of
ducats behind her for our church, and for the poor; and she would not
go, they say, until our padre promised to go and see her over there,
that she might confess to him as before. It is quite wonderful, the
store she lays by him! Indeed, and we have cause to bless ourselves for
having a curato who has gifts enough for an archbishop, and is in such
request with all the great folks. The Madonna be with him!” she cried,
and waved her hand again, as the boat was about to put from shore.

“Are we to have fair weather, my son?” inquired the little priest, with
an anxious look toward Naples.

“The sun is not yet up,” the young man answered; “when he comes, he
will easily do for that small trifle of mist.”

“Off with you, then! that we may arrive before the heat.”

Antonio was just reaching for his long oar to shove away the boat, when
suddenly he paused, and fixed his eyes upon the summit of the steep
path that leads down from Sorrento to the water. A tall and slender
girlish figure had become visible upon the heights, and was now hastily
stepping down the stones, waving her handkerchief She had a small
bundle under her arm, and her dress was mean and poor. Yet she had a
distinguished if somewhat savage way of throwing back her head, and the
dark tress wreathed around it was like a diadem.

“What have we to wait for?” inquired the curato.

“There is some one coming who wants to go to Capri—with your
permission, padre. We shall not go a whit the slower. It is a slight
young thing, but just eighteen.”

At that moment the young girl appeared from behind the wall that bounds
the winding path.

“Laurella!” cried the priest; “and what has she to do in Capri?”

Antonio shrugged his shoulders. She came up with hasty steps, her eyes
fixed straight before her.

“Ha! l’Arrabiata! good-morning!” shouted one or two of the young
boatmen. But for the curato’s presence, they might have added more; the
look of mute defiance with which the young girl received their welcome
appeared to tempt the more mischievous among them.

“Good-day, Laurella!” now said the priest; “how are you? Are you coming
with us to Capri?”

“If I may, padre.”

“Ask Antonio there; the boat is his. Every man is master of his own, I
say, as God is master of us all.”

“There is half a carlino, if I may go for that?” said Laurella, without
looking at the young boatman.

“You need it more than I,” he muttered, and pushed aside some
orange-baskets to make room: he was to sell the oranges in Capri, which
little isle of rocks has never been able to grow enough for all its

“I do not choose to go for nothing,” said the girl, with a slight frown
of her dark eyebrows.

“Come, child,” said the priest; “he is a good lad, and had rather not
enrich himself with that little morsel of your poverty. Come now, and
step in,” and he stretched out his hand to help her, “and sit you down
by me. See, now, he has spread his jacket for you, that you may sit the
softer. Young folks are all alike; for one little maiden of eighteen
they will do more than for ten of us reverend fathers. Nay, no excuse,
Tonino. It is the Lord’s own doing, that like and like should hold

Meantime Laurella had stepped in, and seated herself beside the padre,
first putting away Antonio’s jacket without a word. The young fellow
let it lie, and, muttering between his teeth, he gave one vigorous push
against the pier, and the little boat flew out into the open bay.

“What are you carrying there in that little bundle?” inquired the
padre, as they were floating on over a calm sea, now just beginning to
be lighted up with the earliest rays of the rising sun. “Silk, thread,
and a loaf, padre. The silk is to be sold at Anacapri, to a woman who
makes ribbons, and the thread to another.”

“Spun by yourself?”

“Yes, sir.”

“You once learned to weave ribbons yourself, if I remember right?”

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