meaning literally—“How beautiful a thing to die, suddenly slain at the door of one’s beloved!”
There was no sense in the thing, I thought half angrily—it was a stupid sentiment altogether. Yet I could not help smiling at the ragged, barefooted rascal who sung it: he seemed to feel such a gratification in repeating it, and he rolled his black eyes with lovelorn intensity, and breathed forth sighs that sounded through his music with quite a touching earnestness. Of course he was only following the manner of all Neapolitans, namely, acting his song; they all do it, and cannot help themselves. But this boy had a peculiarly roguish way of pausing and crying forth a plaintive “Ah!” before he added “Che bella cosa,” etc., which gave point and piquancy to his absurd ditty. He was evidently brimful of mischief— his expression betokened it; no doubt he was one of the most thorough little scamps that ever played at “morra,” but there was a charm about his handsome dirty face and unkempt hair, and I watched him amusedly, glad to be distracted for a few minutes from the tired inner workings of my own unhappy thoughts. In time to come, so I mused, this very boy might learn to set his song about the “beloved” to a sterner key, and might find it meet, not to be slain himself, but to slay her! Such a thing—in Naples—was more than probable. By and by the dance ceased, and I recognized in one of the breathless, laughing sailors my old acquaintance Andrea Luziani, with whom I had sailed to Palermo. The sight of him relieved me from a difficulty which had puzzled me for some days, and as soon as the little groups of men and women had partially dispersed, I walked up to him and touched him on the shoulder. He started, looked round surprised, and did not appear to recognize me. I remembered that when he had seen me I had not grown a beard, neither had I worn dark spectacles. I recalled my name to him; his face cleared and he smiled.
“Ah! buon giorno, eccellenza!” he cried. “A thousand pardons that I did not at first know you! Often have I thought of you! often have I heard your name—ah! what a name! Rich, great, generous!—ah! what a glad life! And on the point of marrying—ah, Dio! love makes all the troubles go—so!” and taking his cigar from his mouth, he puffed a ring of pale smoke into the air and laughed gayly. Then suddenly lifting his cap from his clustering black hair, he added, “All joy be with you, eccellenza!”
I smiled and thanked him. I noticed he looked at me curiously.
“You think I have changed in appearance, my friend?” I said.
The Sicilian looked embarrassed.
“Ebbene! we must all change,” he answered, lightly, evading my glance. “The days pass on—each day takes a little bit of youth away with it. One grows old without knowing it!”
“I see,” I observed. “You think I have aged somewhat since you saw me?”