The poetical temperament of the Sicilian was caught and fired by my words. He at once forgot the splendid appurtenances of wealth and the costly luxuries that surrounded him; he advanced without embarrassment, and seated himself on a velvet and gold chair with as much ease as though it were a coil of rough rope on board the “Laura.”
“You say truly, eccellenza,” he said, with a gleam of his white teeth through his jet-black mustache, while his warm southern eyes flashed fire, “there is nothing sweeter than the life of the marinaro. And truly there are many who say to me, ’Ah, ah! Andrea! buon amico, the time comes when you will wed, and the home where the wife and children sit will seem a better thing to you than the caprice of the wind and waves.’ But I—see you!—I know otherwise. The woman I wed must love the sea; she must have the fearless eyes that can look God’s storms in the face—her tender words must ring out all the more clearly for the sound of the bubbling waves leaping against the ‘Laura’ when the wind is high! And as for our children,” he paused and laughed, “per la Santissima Madonna! if the salt and iron of the ocean be not in their blood, they will be no children of mine!”
I smiled at his enthusiasm, and pouring out some choice Montepulciano, bade him taste it. He did so with a keen appreciation of its flavor, such as many a so-called connoisseur of wines does not possess.
“To your health, eccellenza!” he said, “and may you long enjoy your life!”
I thanked him; but in my heart I was far from echoing the kindly wish.
“And are you going to fulfill the prophecy of your friends, Andrea?” I asked. “Are you about to marry?”
He set down his glass only partly emptied, and smiled with an air of mystery.
“Ebbene! chi sa!” he replied, with a gay little shrug of his shoulders, yet with a sudden tenderness in his keen eyes that did not escape me. “There is a maiden—my mother loves her well—she is little and fair as Carmelo Neri’s Teresa—so high,” and he laid his brown hand lightly on his breast, “her head touches just here,” and he laughed. “She looks as frail as a lily, but she is hardy as a sea-gull, and no one loves the wild waves more than she. Perhaps, in the month of the Madonna, when the white lilies bloom—perhaps!—one can never tell—the old song may be sung for us—
“Chi sa fervente amar
Solo e felice!”
And humming the tune of the well-known love-ditty under his breath, he raised his glass of wine to his lips and drained it off with a relish, while his honest face beamed with gayety and pleasure. Always the same story, I thought, moodily. Love, the tempter—Love, the destroyer—Love, the curse! Was there no escape possible from this bewildering snare that thus caught and slew the souls of men?
He soon roused himself from his pleasant reverie, and drawing his chair closer to mine, assumed an air of mystery.