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首页 » 英文短篇小说 » Babylon » CHAPTER XXXVI. CECCA SHOWS HER HAND.
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Have you brought me the medicine, Beppo?'

'The what, Signora Cecca? Oh, the medicine? I don't call it medicine: I call it ————'

Cecca clapped her hand angrily upon his lips. 'Fool,' she said, 'what are you babbling about? Give me the bottle and say no more about it. That's a good friend indeed. I owe you a thank-you for this, truly.'

'But, Cecca, what do you want it for? You must swear to me solemnly what you want it for. The police, you know——'

Cecca laughed merrily—a joyous laugh, with no sorcery in it. One would have said, the guileless merriment of a little simple country maiden. 'The police, indeed,' she cried, softly but gaily. 'What have the police got to do with it, I wonder? I want to poison a cat, a monster of a cat, that wails and screams every night outside my window; and you must go and wrap the thing up in as much mystery as if—— Well, there! it's lucky nobody at Rome can understand good sound Calabrian even if they overhear it, or you'd go and make the folks suspicious with your silly talking—and so loud, too.'

Giuseppe looked at her, and muttered slowly something inarticulate. Then he looked again in a stealthy, frightened fashion; and at last he made up his mind to speak out boldly.

'Cecca! stop! I know what you want that little phial for.'

Cecca turned and smiled at him saucily. 'Oh, you know!' she said in a light ironical tone. 'You know, do you? Then, body of God, it's no use my telling you, so that's all about it.'

'Cecca,' the young man said again, snatching at the tiny bottle, which she still held gingerly between her finger and thumb, as if toying with it and fondling it, 'I've been watching you round at the Englishman's studio, and I've found out what you want the—the medicine for.'

Cecca's forehead puckered up quickly into a scowling frown (as when she sat for Clytemnestra), and she answered angrily, 'You've been playing the spy, then, have you really? I thank you, Signor Giuseppe, I thank you.'

'Listen, Cecca. I have been watching the Englishman's studio. There comes an English lady there, a beautiful tall lady, with a military father—a lady like this:' and Giuseppe put on in a moment a ludicrous caricature of Gwen's gait and carriage and manner. 'You have seen her, and you are jealous of her.'

Quick as lightning, Cecca saw her opportunity, and caught at it instinctively with Italian cunning. Giuseppe was right in principle, there was no denying it; but he had mistaken between Gwen and Minna. He had got upon the wrong tack, and she would not undeceive him. Keeping her forehead still dexterously bent to the same terrible scowl as before, and never for a second betraying her malicious internal smile of triumph, she answered, as if angry at being detected, 'Jealous! and of her! Signor Giuseppe, you are joking.'

'I am not joking, Cecca. I can see you are jealous this very moment. You love the Englishman. What is the good of loving him? He will not marry you, and you will not marry him: you would do much better to take, after all, to poor old Beppo. But you're jealous of the tall lady, because you think the Englishman's in love with her. What does it matter to you or me whether he is or whether he isn't? And it is for her that you want the medicine.'

Cecca drew a long breath and pretended to be completely baffled. 'Give me the bottle,' she cried; 'give me the bottle, Beppo.'

Giuseppe held it triumphantly at arm's length above his head.

'Not till you swear to me, Cecca, that you don't want to use it against the tall lady.' Cecca wrung her hands in mock despair. 'You won't give it to me, Beppo? You won't give it to me? What do you want me to swear it by? The holy water—the rosary—the medal of the holy father?'

Giuseppe smiled a smile of contemptuous superciliousness.

'Holy water!—rosary!—Pope!' he cried, 'Much you care for them indeed, Signora. No, no; you must swear by something that will bind you firmly. You must swear on your own little pocket image of Madonna della Guardia of Monteleone.'

Cecca pouted. (To the daughter of ten generations of Calabrian brigands a detail like a little poisoning case was merely a matter for careless pouting and feminine vagaries.)

'You will compel me?' she asked hesitatingly.

Giuseppe nodded.

'Or else I don't give you the bottle,' he murmured.

Cecca drew the little silver image with well-simulated reluctance from inside her plaited bodice. 'What am I to swear?' she asked petulantly.

'Say the words after me,' Beppo insisted. 'I swear by the mother of God, Madonna della Guardia of Monteleone, and all holy saints, that I will not touch or hurt or harm the tall English lady with the military father. And if I do may the Madonna forget me.'

Cecca repeated the words after him, severally and distinctly. It was very necessary that she should be quite precise, lest the Madonna should by inadvertence make any mistake about the particular person. If she didn't make it quite clear at first that the oath only regarded Gwen, the Madonna might possibly be very angry with her for poisoning Minna, and that of course would be extremely awkward. It's a particularly unpleasant thing for any one to incur the displeasure of such a powerful lady as Madonna della Guardia at Monteleone.

'You may have the bottle now if you like,' Beppo said, handing it back to her carelessly.

Cecca pouted once more. 'What's the use of it now?' she asked languidly. 'Except, of course, to poison the cat with!'

Beppo laughed. To the simple unsophisticated Calabrian mind the whole episode only figured itself as a little bit of Cecca's pardonable feminine jealousy. Women will be women, and if they see a rival, of course, they'll naturally try to poison her. To say the truth, Beppo thought the fancy pretty and piquant on Cecca's part rather than otherwise. The fear of the Roman police was to him the only serious impediment.

'I may come and see you again next Sunday, Cecca?' he asked as he took up his bundle to leave the room. 'You owe me a little courtesy for this.'

Cecca smiled and nodded in a very gay humour. There was no need for deception now she had got the precious bottle securely put away in the innermost pocket of her model's kirtle. 'Yes,' she answered benignly. 'you may come on Sunday. You have deserved well of me.'

But as soon as Beppo had left the room Signora Cecca flung herself down upon the horsehair mattress in the corner (regardless of her back hair), and rolled over and over in her wild delight, and threw her arms about, as if she were posing for the Pythoness, and laughed aloud in her effusive southern joy and satisfaction. 'Ha! ha!' she cried to herself gaily, 'he thought it was that one! He thought it was that one, did he? He's got mighty particular since he came to Rome, Beppo has—afraid of the police, the coward; and he won't have anything to do even with poisoning a poor heretic of an Englishwoman. Madonna della Guardia, I have no such scruples for my part! But he mistook the one: he thought I was angry with the tall handsome one. No, no, she may do as she likes for all I care for her. It's the ugly little governess with the watery eyes that my Englishman's in love with. What he can see to admire in her I can't imagine—a thing with no figure—but he's in love with her, and she shall pay for it, the caitiff creature; she shall pay for it, I promise her. Here's the bottle, dear little bottle! How bright and clear it dances! Cecca Bianchelli, you shall have your revenge yet. Madonna della Guardia, good little Madonna, sweet little Madonna, you shall have your candles. Don't be angry with me, I pray you, Madonna mia, I shall not break my oath; it's the other one, the little governess, dear Madonna! She's only a heretic—an Englishwoman—a heretic; an affair of love, what would you have, Madonna? You shall get your candles, see if you don't, and your masses too, your two nice little masses, in your own pretty sweet little chapel on the high hill at Monteleone!'


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