EVANDER was nearly home. He had ridden in to Terracina to buy a bag of flour and his little donkey was lagging wearily in the warm after-noon sunshine. The trip from Monte Circeo’s base to the city and back was more than twenty miles and the morning ride had been doubly hard because of a pouring rain and the mud it caused, but Evander’s last backward look before Terracina was out of sight had found a bright rainbow arching over Monte Sant’ Angelo; the sandy road through the Pomptine marshes had dried quickly; the trailing white blossoms of the thorn hedges and the dashes of yellow broom by the roadside were all the brighter for their wetting; and Monte Circeo towered up clear and grand against a sunset as bright as the oranges in the grove just ahead. Evander shouted to urge his donkey around the turn in the road. Anna heard his voice and was standing in the door of the capanna, their straw-hut, when he first caught sight of it. A slow smile broke over Evander’s face. Once more as he rode on, his eyes ran over every detail of their home and he was proud of the work of his hands. He himself alone had laid the ring of foundation-stones for the hut. A neighbor had helped him erect the framework of young tree-trunks which he had felled and drawn from the wood near. Then on the frame he had placed the straw in many layers and fastened it, leaving that little chimney-hole towards the top for the smoke. The wooden door he had hammered together and fitted carefully in a wooden frame with a strong bar across the inside before he had brought Anna to live with him. It was she, however, who had insisted on having that little cross of twigs on the top for another sort of protection. “Lightning falls and straw burns,” she had said. “The cross will help us more than the old cow’s horns that you have put up.” Who knows? All had certainly gone well with them.
It had been good fortune first that he had secured the spot for his capanna where the brook ran clear in front of the door so that Anna could do the washing without carrying the clothes far. The orange tree that he had planted by the door was bright with golden fruit. The prickly pear at the side was half as tall as the hut, and Anna’s vines on the back every morning opened the white flowers that she loved. Together they had built the second capanna, a rough, oblong shelter for the donkey in time of storm, and now that they had a pig, he too had his little thatched pen where they could se-cure him at nightfall. They had just finished another small but with a furnace of stones in it so that Anna would not need to cook in the Neighbor’s any longer. So he had gone to Terracina to buy a new bag of flour to celebrate the completion of their stone oven. To-morrow there would be fresh bread. Perhaps, in time, they could make another large capanna for a dining-room. One of the older men in their village had built one. But what was Anna calling to him?
“There have been strangers here.”
“Why did they come ?” he asked, as he got down from his donkey.
“They were going to climb Monte Circeo and the rain came upon them.”
“Did you ask them into the hut?” questioned Evan-der anxiously.
“I invited them in by the fire, but,” Anna confessed, ” I was afraid at first, so I raised my new umbrella and ran out to hunt the pig and drive him into his pen out of the storm.”
“Did you not go back into the hut and keep the fire burning?” Again Evander queried. He was inside now and saw that there was a bright fire in the circular stone-hearth in the center of the room. A pot full of savory soup was steaming over it.
“Yes, my husband, I returned and kept putting on more sticks from the dry branches under our beds. The strangers stayed dry and warm until the rain stopped and the sun came back.”
“How many were the strangers, Anna? And who were they?”
Evander had seated himself on the stone threshold and Anna handed him a great bowl of soup and a piece of bread before she went on with her story.
“There were only two, man and woman, and they were from across the ocean, from the United States, not our people. She was a signorina, for she had no ring. The man did not look at me; he saw only the American woman, but she looked everywhere. I saw her eyes on the fire and the pot and the chimney-hole, on our two beds by the walls, on the washing on the line, on the knives and forks stuck in the straw, on my new pan hanging on a nail inside the door, on my copper tub hanging on the tree outside.”
“Did they say nothing?” asked Evander. “Or could they not talk our language ?”
“The man could not, but the woman could understand me and could talk to me but at first she only looked at me. Then she asked : ‘ Who lives with you here?’ I told her : ‘ My husband, Evander. He has gone to Terracina on the donkey to buy flour because we have finished our new stone-oven and tomorrow I can bake bread in it.’ Then she said to me very softly : ‘Are you happy?’ ‘l am very content, Signorina,’ I told her. ‘I have my husband and this hut and the orange-tree and the stone-oven and my new umbrella. Did you see the blue stripes in its border?’ She smiled, but not for long. She was always sober, the signorina, and the man kept watching her. Then she asked me : ‘Is there nothing more that you want?’ I thought a long time. Then I said : ‘Maria, our Neighbor’s wife, has a sewing-machine.’ She asked if Maria used it often and I told her, ‘Yes. Maria makes nice clothes for her little girls. She has two already.’ Then her face was very bright suddenly and she whispered to me: ‘I love children,’ but she said nothing more, for the sun had come out and they started off to the mountain. They both shook hands with me and the Signorina said that I had warmed both her body and her heart, and she hoped I would always be happy.”
“You have done well,” commented Evander laconically. “And now I must feed the donkey and we will go to bed, for it is getting dark and cold.”
About two months later, one night when Evander came back from work in the fields, he saw Anna way ing her head-kerchief from the door, and her sun-burned face was crimson with excitement as she greeted him.
“Evander, Evander, the strangers have been here again and have brought us a present.”
“What strangers do you mean? What have they brought?”
“Only listen ! They came in a wagon, the American signor and signorina of the storm. The driver carried a great package across our little bridge over the brook and put it down in front of the door. While he untied it, the lady said to me : ‘ We have come to thank you again. When I saw how happy you were here in the capanna, I went up on top of Monte Circeo and told this man I would marry him. We are married now and this is a wedding-present that we have brought you.’ Look Evander ! It is a Sewing Machine.”
As Evander dropped on his knees in amazement before the shining little hand machine on the earth floor, Anna cried ecstatically: “Maria will teach me to use it and I can make pretty little dresses before the baby comes.”