THE METAL PIG 181
into the courtyard. A second ruinous brick staircase here led upwards. Two Russian sailors were running briskly down, and almost overturned the poor boy : they were going home from their nightly carouse. A strongly-built woman, no longer young, with coarse black hair, followed them.
* What do you bring home 1 ' she asked the boy.
* Don't be angry,' he pleaded. ' I received nothing— nothing at all.' And he seized the mother's dress, and would have kissed it.
They went into the little room. I will not describe it, but only say that there stood in it an earthen pot with handles, made for holding fire, and called a marito. This pot she took in her arms, warmed her fingers, and pushed the boy with her elbow.
' Certainly you must have brought some money ? ' said she.
The boy wept, and she struck him with her foot, so that he cried aloud.
' Will you be silent, or I'll break your screaming head ! '
And she brandished the fire-pot which she held in her hand. The boy crouched down to the earth with a scream of terror. Then a neighbour stepped in, also with a marito in her arms.
1 Felicita,' she said, ' what are you doing to the child ? '
' The child is mine,' retorted Felicita. ' I can murder him if I like, and you too, Giannina.'
And she swung her fire-pot. The other lifted up hers in self-defence, and the two pots clashed together with such fury that fragments, fire, and ashes flew about the room ; but at the same moment the boy rushed out at the door, sped across the courtyard, and fled from the house. The poor child ran till he was quite out of breath. He stopped by the church, whose great doors had opened to him the previous night, and went in. Everything was radiant. The boy knelt down at the first grave on the right hand, the grave of Michael Angelo, and soon he sobbed aloud. People came and went, and Mass was said; but no one noticed the boy, only an elderly citizen stood still, looked at him, and then went away like the rest.
Hunger and thirst tormented the child ; he was quite