( Originally Published 1916 )
" Ecco la Verde ! " remarked the Sindaco of Montagneta to Don Piddu, the chemist, as Miss Fanny Green, tall, angular, and fifty if she was a day, walked by and took her way down the Corso, nodding, and smiling out of her long pale face to the Sicilians who stood at their shop doors, or enjoyed the air of evening seated on chairs set out upon the pavement.
"She is a good creature," he added. " Thin as a bit of macaroni, but with a beautiful heart. Ma-donna ! "
He cleared his throat thunderously and spat upon the floor, then drew his shawl more closely over his shoulders.
The chemist, a dark man with a long nose, stared after Miss Fanny.
" E una grande millionaria ! " he remarked respectfully.
And his eyes became mysterious, as if they peeped into Aladdin's cave.
" Si, si ! " returned the Sindaco. " They say her property in England is magnificent a castle, a true castle. All is ready for her ; the beds made, the fires lighted, the kettle boiling for tea. But she will never go back."
" No," murmured Don Piddu. " La Verde will never go back. She is too fond of Montagneta."
When Miss Fanny Green was well over forty something happened in her life. A distant relative had the grace to seek a better world unexpectedly, and to leave Miss Fanny so she was called in the Kentish village where she had lived till that moment on two hundred a year a fortune bringing in two hundred a month. She was alone in the world ; she had never travelled abroad ; but she had always been fond of languages and a voracious reader of books of adventure.
" If I should ever travel ! " she had sometimes thought, as she sat alone in her neat cottage the " true castle " of the Sindaco which looked out on the village green.
And she had dreamed till the pollarded elms by the roadside turned into palm trees, till the pond covered with duckweed became a mirage-lake trembling on an enchanted horizon, and the path between the blackberry bushes beyond it a way leading into some tropical paradise.
In truth Miss Fanny was a dreamer beset with the dreamer's longing for happiness, and when, at well over forty, she found herself almost rich, her dreams caught her by the hand, and cried to her with elfin voices, " Away ! Away ! " She blushed. For a moment she was bewildered and felt almost guilty and sought to resist. But something independent whispered to her, " Why not ? "
" La Verde "
And so it came about that one morning the village people found Yew Cottage shuttered and locked.
" Wherever's Miss Fanny ? " they asked.
And from the post office came the tremendous answer :
" Miss Fanny's took it in her head to go off to Italy."
" Italy ! Whatever should Miss Fanny do in Italy at her age ? "
But the only reply to this inquiry was the equivalent in English of " Chi lo sa ? "
Something led Miss Fanny on farther even than Italy, though in Italy she first heard the beating of the divine wings. When at evening she listened to the songs of the boatmen under the garden wall of Villa D'Este, when the chiming of the Venice bells trembled to her over the golden waters of the laguna morta, when she watched from the Pincio the dying light upon Monte Mario, and saw Capri, like a siren, rising out of the mists of. dawn, she knew that the world of her dreams was but the vision of a reality. And the South enticed her. For as she went South she felt as if she were drawing nearer and nearer to the home of the Golden Sprite. She crossed over the sea into Sicily ; she arrived in Montagneta, and she said to herself :
" It is here."
She came to Montagneta to stay for a week. Now she had lived there for years. She was an institution in the lovely hill village which looked upon Etna and the sea. No longer Miss Fanny, she had become " La Verde."
This title had come to her from Pancrazio, the waiter at the hotel where she had stayed before she took a house.
Pancrazio had inquired her name.
" Miss Fanny Green."
Meesi Grinni ? "
Green Verde," she had explained. " Green
One day, after Miss Fanny had lived in Montagneta rather more than five years, a tragedy occurred. Don Marco, the doctor, a stout young man just over thirty, who wore an immense moustache, and swaggered from the hips in walking, abruptly proposed to her.
She was greatly taken aback, was indeed almost frightened by this quite new experience. No man had ever said he loved her before, and Don Marco behaved like a volcano. Without even a preliminary grumble of warning he suddenly let loose a lava-stream of burning words, and his protestations rose, like flame and smoke, to the heavens.
Miss Fanny refused him. She wasn't a fool, and she looked upon Don Marco as almost a boy, in spite of the enormous moustache. She refused is the English for Verde."
" La Signorina Verde ? " "Si"
And from that moment Miss Fanny had had a new name.
" La Verde " him very quietly, and reasonably, and kindly, thanking him for the compliment he had paid her, and hoping that he would not deprive her of his ministrations when she had a slight cold, or was afflicted with a sick headache.
But when he was gone she retired to her bedroom from the eager solicitude of her devoted Sicilian servants (who of course knew all that had happened), and she cried a little. Not that she wanted to marry Don Marco ! But he had found such eloquence in the heat of his desire ; his large eyes had emitted such yellow gleams ; such sonorous tones had rolled out of his ample throat ! He had been like Caruso and a fiery furnace fused together.
And it was the very first time !
Any woman would have been shaken.
Miss Fanny sought for the bottle of eau de Cologne.
That night in the Piazza it was known " La Verde non vuole marito."
Years slipped by. Miss Fanny still lived at Montagneta. She never visited England, for she had yielded her heart to the land of her adoption, to the land which had given her the truth of some of her dreams. In the great heats of summer she went high up into the mountains, to Castro Giovanni, where Persephone wandered and was carried away, and where one may see children with silver-coloured eyes. All the rest of each year she passed at Montagneta. She still looked unmistakably English, but she had learnt to speak Sicilian as well as Italian ; she ate Sicilian dishes and she loved Sicilian ways. At the neighbouring village fairs she was generally to be seen mounted upon her donkey, Napoleone. She laid money upon the painted wooden lap of San Giorgio when he held court at Castel Mola ; on mild and balmy evenings peasant boys often danced the tarantella upon her terrace ; two or three times a year the village " musics "—there were two of them and the rivalry between them was bitter serenaded her and received handsome contributions to their funds ; in Carnival time she " assisted " at the Veglioni in a box ; on Christmas Eve she threw flowers to " the Bambino " as He went by in procession, laid a brand upon the bonfire which was lighted in His honour, and heard the Pastorale at midnight in the Duomo.
" La Verde è una vera Siciliana ! " said the people of Montagneta.
And many of them really cared for her, because she loved them as they were, and did not wish to change them. For the people of Sicily are quick to read the characters and the hearts of those who come among them, and they give affection only in return for affection 1 The thin Englishwoman like a bit of macaroni had found the way to their hearts. She respected their ways, and did not wish to impose hers upon them.
" È veramente una donna distinta, una donna per bene " was said of her by all in Montagneta.
Even Don Marco, long since married to a dark little lady with a nice little dot from Catania even
Don Marco subscribed to the general opinion. He had asked " La Verde " to stand godmother to his first child, and she had, almost eagerly, consented. Although she had never regretted having refused the volcanic doctor, she still felt grateful to him for having clamoured to her to be his wife. She still remembered some of the florid adjectives he had lavished upon her attractions and her virtues. She still occasionally thought of the episode of the eau de Cologne.
You see she had not had many tumultuous episodes in her life, even though now she dwelt within sight of the slopes of Etna.
One day a terror rushed into Miss Fanny's life. England declared war upon Germany. If Italy should join in with the Central Powers ! Miss Fanny turned faint at the thought. Suddenly she realised exactly what Sicily and the Sicilians had been meaning to her through many years. They had been meaning happiness. If she should become by force of circumstances technically their enemy ! If she should have to give them up !
All Montagneta came to assure her that every Italian and Sicilian detested Austria. The Sindaco himself appeared in her drawing-room wrapped in his shawl, and said impressively to " La Verde:"
" I have come to reassure you, Signorina. This is what our country thinks of Austria and of Germany."
He arose with dignity, went to the window and tried to open it, but failed. Solemnly beckoning to Miss Fanny, he procured her perplexed assistance. The window at length gave way upon Etna and the Ionian sea.
" Observe what my country thinks of your enemies, distinguished Signorina," he said sonorously.
And he expectorated with massive force in the direction of Northern Africa.
Nevertheless Miss Fanny continued in her terror. She felt that if Italy were ever to fight against England it would be the death of her. She lost flesh, and became more like a bit of macaroni than ever, while Bülow in Rome intrigued and Giolitti pulled numberless wires. Her looks went from bad to worse ; at night she could not sleep ; her appetite failed.
And then at last a poet came to Rome and spoke to Italy. He spoke to " the people," and the people heard. He spoke to the soul of the people, for he knew that Italy had a soul, and the soul of the people answered. He summoned Italy to hard-ship, to suffering, to blood, to tears, to bereavements, and to sacrifices, in the cause of the liberty of nations, in the cause of humanity against bestiality.
And Italy answered as by fire.
On the day when Italy marched towards the frontiers, in the evening many Sicilians of Montagneta made their way to the house of " La Verde." Upon the terrace a long table was set out with bottles of wine and many glasses. Miss Fanny wore a handsome dress of blue silk, with the Italian colours pinned in the front by the side of a small Union Jack. Her usually pale face was flushed, but all her English self-consciousness had dropped from her. She was feeling too intensely to be self-conscious. And when the glasses were filled, to the delighted astonishment of her excited and enthusiastic neighbours, she struck one bony hand on the table for silence, and, having obtained it, she told them what she thought of them and of their country.
She told them that to her Italy which included Sicily stood for the land of happiness, and of dreams come as true as dreams ever come in this world. She expressed, and almost with eloquence, what thousands of English men and women think about Italy and the people whom Garibaldi once led to victory. And she ended by saying that Italy called to the English not merely because it was a land of sunshine, of song, of art and of beauty, but because it was the land of " The Thousand," the land with a soul of fire.
That night, when the little gathering dispersed, and made its way home in the darkness, the Sindaco announced emphatically,
" La Verde è un grand' oratore ! "
And from all sides eager Sicilian voices rose up in the night,
" Davvero ! La Verde è un grand' oratore ! "