“At this time of which I speak, the soldiers were chasing and hunting the banditti very hard, and they had been compelled to hide for their lives up among the mountains. There they would have died, had it not been for the peasants, who supplied them with food. Small parties of the bandits would come out for it. There were two very powerful men of the banditti, who were skirmishing about in this way, not far from the Madre Ilkana’s, when they saw two soldiers, in advance of their company, approaching them. The banditti were not afraid for themselves, but they wanted to get back to their friends with the bread and meat, so instead of fighting, they fled to the Madre. She took them in, and bade them be sure they were safe with her. But the soldiers had caught sight of them, and they stopped at every house and enquired and searched for them; and so, soon they came to the Madre Ilkana’s. They charged her in the name of the government to give up the banditti in her house. The Madre kept on with her knitting, and told them there were only her two sons in the house, and mothers never gave up their sons to any one.
“‘Ha!’ laughed one of the soldiers,’ mothers must give up their children to King Death, and it is He who wants your bad boys.’ Upon which, the Madre arose and cursed them. Curses are common with us, Signorina, but not La Madre’s curses. She talked of their mothers to them, and of their sons, and of the Holy Virgin and child, and she cursed them in the name of all these, if they dared steal her children from her. They should take them over her old dead body, she swore, though her knitting-needles and her eyes were her only weapons, and then she turned her eyes full upon them, with the evil spirit leering and laughing out of them, and the soldiers, one of whom was an officer, fell on their knees and shook like leaves, and prayed her to forgive them; saying that they were sure her boys were good sons, and no banditti. And while they knelt crouching there, La Madre knocked on the floor and in rushed the banditti, armed with great knives. They caught and bound the two soldiers, and took away their weapons, and jumped on their horses, and fled.
“La Madre took her knitting again, and sat down quietly by the side of the bound men, until a half hour later some twelve more soldiers cantered up. As they rode by, all the people came to their doorways, and the soldiers stopped and asked if they had seen two horsemen. Then La Madre gathered up her knitting and went quietly out into the crowd. She made a low bow to the man with the biggest feather in his cap, and she told him her story. ‘I have two sons,’ she said, ‘whom I love so well.’ Then she told how the soldiers mistook her sons for banditti, and tried to take them from her in her own house. ’Though I am old, I have a good life among my friends and neighbors here, and I fought a while in my own mind before I said to my sons: Go, my boys, your mother will die for you. But I did it. I bade them bind the soldiers and steal away. Then I sat guarding the men till you came. You will find them safe in my little house there. Now, take me to prison—kill me, but look in my eyes first, and then, whoever lays a hand on me, take La Madre Ilkana’s curse.’