The House by the Medlar-Tree, by Giovanni Verga

xiv.

‘NTONI MALAVOGLIA did meet Don Michele, and “gave him his change,” and a very ugly business it was. It was by night, when it rained in torrents, and so dark that even a cat could have seen nothing at the turn on the down which leads to the Rotolo, whence those boats put out so quietly, making believe to be fishing for cod at midnight, and where ‘Ntoni and Rocco Spatu, and Cinghialenta and other good-for-nothing fellows well known to the coast-guard, used to hang about with pipes in their mouths the guards knew those pipes well, and could distinguish them perfectly one from an-other as they moved about among the rocks where they lay hidden with their guns in their hands.

“Cousin Mena,” said Don Michele, passing once more down the black street “ Cousin Mena, tell your brother not to go to the Rotolo of nights with Cinghialenta and Rocco Spatu.”

But ‘Ntoni would not listen, for “ the empty stom-ach has no ears “; and he no longer feared Don Michele since he had rolled over with him hand to hand on the floor of the tavern, and he had sworn, too, to “give him the rest of it,” and he would give him the rest of it whenever he met him; and he wasn’t going to pass for a coward in the eyes of Santuzza and the rest who had been present when he threatened him. “ I said I’d give him the rest when I met him next, and so I will; and if he chooses to meet me at the Rotolo, I’ll meet him at the Ro-tolo!” he repeated to his companions, who had also brought with them the son of La Locca. They had passed the evening at the tavern drinking and roaring, for a tavern is like a free port, and no one can be sent out of it as long as they have money to pay their score and to rattle in their pockets. Don Michele had gone by on his rounds, but Rocco Spatu, who knew the law, said, spitting and leaning against the wall the better to balance himself, that as long as the lamp at the door was lighted they could not turn them out. “We have a right to stay so long!” he repeated. ‘Ntoni Malavoglia also enjoyed keeping Santuzza from going to bed, as she sat behind her glasses yawning and dozing. In the mean time Uncle Santoro, feeling his way about with his hands, had put the lamp out and shut the door.

“Now be off!” said Santuzza, “ I don’t choose to be fined, for your sake, for keeping my door open at this hour.”

“Who’ll fine you? That spy Don Michele? Let him come here, and I’ll pay him his fine! Tell him he’ll find ‘Ntoni Malavoglia here, by Our Lady’s blood.”

Meanwhile the Santuzza had taken him by the shoulders and put him out of the door: “ Go and tell him yourself, and get into scrapes somewhere else. I don’t mean to get into trouble with the police for love of your bright eyes.”

‘Ntoni, finding himself in the street in this unceremonious fashion, pulled out a long knife, and swore that he would stab both Santuzza and Don Michele. Cinghialenta was the only one who had his senses, and he pulled him by the coat, saying: “Leave them alone now! Have you forgotten what we have to do to-night?”

La Locca’s son felt greatly inclined to cry.

“He’s drunk,” observed Spatu, standing under the rain-pipe. “ Bring him here under the pipe; it will do him good.”

‘Ntoni, quieted a little by the drenching he got from the rain-pipe, let himself be drawn along by Cinghialenta, scolding all the while, swearing that as sure as he met Don Michele he’d give him what he had promised him. All of a sudden he found himself face to face with Don Michele who was also prowling in the vicinity, with his pistols at his belt and his trousers thrust into his boots. ‘Ntoni became quite calm all of a sudden, and they all stole off silently in the direction of Vanni Pizzuti’s shop. When they reached the door, now that Don Michele was no longer near them, ‘Ntoni insisted that they should stop and listen to what he had to say.

“Did you see where Don Michele was going? and Santuzza said she was sleepy!”

“Leave Don Michele alone, can’t you?” said Cin-ghialenta; “that way he won’t interfere with us.”

“You’re all a lot of cowards,” said ‘Ntoni. “You’re afraid of Don Michele.”

“To-night you’re drunk,” said Cinghialenta, “but I’ll show you whether I’m afraid of Don Michele. Now that I’ve told my uncle, I don’t mean to have anybody coming bothering after me, finding out how I earn my bread.”

Then they began to talk under their breath, drawn up against the wall, while the noise of the rain drowned their voices. Suddenly the clock struck, and they all stood silent, counting the strokes.

“Let’s go into Cousin Pizzuti’s,” said Cinghia-lenta. “ He can keep his door open as late as he likes, and doesn’t need to have a light.”

“It’s dark, I can’t see,” said La Locca’s son.

“We ought to take something to drink,” said Roc-co Spatu,” or we shall break our noses on the rocks.”

Cinghialenta growled: “As if we were just out for our pleasure! Now you’ll be wanting Master Vanni to give you a lemonade.”

“I have no need of lemonade,” said ‘Ntoni. “You’ll see when I get to work if I can’t manage as well as any of you.”

Cousin Pizzuti didn’t want to open the door at that hour, and replied that he had gone to bed; but as they wouldn’t leave off knocking, and threatened to wake up the whole place and bring the guards into the affair, he consented to get up, and opened the door, in his drawers.

“Are you mad, to knock in that way?” he exclaimed. “ I saw Don Michele pass just now.”

“Yes; we saw him too.”

“Do you know where he came from?” asked Pizzuti, looking sharply at him.

‘Ntoni shrugged his shoulders; and Vanni, as he stood out of the way to let them pass, winked to Rocco and Cinghialenta. “ He’s been at the Mala-voglia’s,” he whispered. “ I saw him come out.”

“Much good may it do him!” answered Cinghia-lenta; “ but ‘Ntoni ought to tell his sister to keep him when we have anything to do.”

“What do you want of me?” said ‘Ntoni, thickly.

“Nothing to-night. Never mind. To-night we can do nothing.”

“If we can do nothing to-night, why did you bring me away from the tavern?” said Rocco Spatu. “I’m wet through.”

“It was something else that we were speaking of;” and Vanni continued: “Yes, the man has come from town, and he says the goods are there, but it will be no joke trying to land them in such weather as this.”

“So much the better; no one will be looking out for us.”

“Yes, but the guards have sharp ears, and mind you, it seems to me that I heard some one prowling about just now, and trying to look into the shop.”

A moment’s silence ensued, and Vanni, to put an end to it, brought out three glasses and filled them with bitters.

“I don’t care about the guard!” cried Rocco Spatu, after he had drunk. “ So much the worse for them if they meddle in my business. I’ve got a little knife here that is better than all their pis-tols, and makes no noise, either.”

“We. earn our bread the best way we can,” said Cinghialenta, “ and don’t want to do anybody harm. Isn’t one to get one’s goods on shore where one likes?”

“They go swaggering about, a lot of thieves, making us pay double for every handkerchief that we want to land, and nobody shoots them,” added ‘Ntoni Malavoglia. “ Do you know what Don Giammaria said? That to rob thieves was not stealing. And the worst of thieves are those fel-lows in uniform, who eat us up alive.”

“I’ll mash them into pulp!” concluded Rocco Spatu, with his eyes shining like a cat’s.

But this conversation did not please La Locca’s son at all, and he set his glass clown again without drinking, white as a corpse.

“Are you drunk already?” asked Cinghialenta.

“No,” he replied, “ I did not drink.”

“Come into the open air; it will do us all good. Good-night.”

“One moment,” cried Pizzuti, with the door in his hand. “I don’t mean for the money for the bitters; that I have given you freely, because you are my friends; but listen, between ourselves, eh? If you are successful, mind, I am here, and my house. You know I’ve a room at the back, big enough to hold a ship-load of goods, and nobody likely to think of it, for Don Michele and his guards are hand-and-glove with me. I don’t trust Cousin Goosefoot; the last time he threw me over, and put everything into Don Silvestro’s house. Don Silvestro is never contented with a reasonable profit, but asks an awful price, on the ground that he risks his place; but I have no such motive, and

I ask no more than is reasonable. And I never refused Goosefoot his percentage, either, and give him his drinks free, and shave him for nothing. But, the devil take him! if he plays me such a trick again I’ll show him that I am not to be fooled in that way. I’ll go to Don Michele and blow the whole business.”

“How it rains!” said Spatu. “ Isn’t it going to leave off to-night?”

“With this weather there’ll be no one at the Ro-tolo,” said La Locca’s son. “ Wouldn’t it be better to go home?”

‘Ntoni, Rocco, and Cinghialenta, who stood on the door-step listening in silence to the rain, which hissed like fish in the frying-pan, stopped a moment, looking into the darkness.

“Be still, you fool!” cried Cinghialenta, and Vanni Pizzuti closed the door softly, after adding, in an undertone:

“Listen. If anything happens, you did not see me this evening. The bitters I gave you out of good-will, but you haven’t been in my house. Don’t betray me; I am alone in the world.”

The others went off surlily, close to the wall, in the rain. “ And that one, too!” muttered Cinghia-lenta. “And he’s to get off because he has no-body in the world, and abuses Goosefoot. At least Goosefoot has a wife. And I have a wife, too. But the balls are good enough for me.”

Just then they passed, very softly, before Cousin

Anna’s closed door, and Rocco Spatu murmured that he had his mother, too, who was at that moment fast asleep, luckily for her. “Whoever can stay between the sheets in this weather isn’t likely to be about, certainly,” concluded Cousin Cinghia-lenta.

‘Ntoni signed to them to be quiet, and to turn down by the alley, so as not to pass before his own door, where Mena or his grandfather might be watching for him, and might hear them.

Mena was, in truth, watching for her brother behind the door, with her rosary in her hand; and Lia, too, without saying why she was there, but pale as the dead. And better would it have been for them all if ‘Ntoni had passed by the black street, instead of going round by the alley. Don Michele had really been there a little after sunset, and had knocked at the door.

“Who comes at this hour?” said Lia, who was hemming on the sly a certain silk kerchief which Don Michele had at last succeeded in inducing her to accept.

“It is I, Don Michele. Open the door; I must speak to you; it is most important.”

“I can’t open the door. They are all in bed but my sister, who is watching for my brother ‘Ntoni.”

“If your sister does hear you open the door it is no matter. It is precisely of ‘Ntoni I wish to speak, and it is most important. I don’t want your brother to go to the galleys. But open the door; if they see me here I shall lose my place.”

“O blessed Virgin!” cried the girl. “ O blessed Virgin Mary!”

“Lock him into the house to-night when he comes back. But don’t tell him I told you to. Tell him he must not go out. He must not!”

“O Virgin Mary! O blessed Mary!” repeated Lia, with folded hands.

“He is at the tavern now, but he must pass this way. Wait for him at the door, or it will be the worse for him.”

Lia wept silently, lest her sister should hear her, with her face hidden in her hands, and Don Michele watched her, with his pistols in his belt, and his trousers thrust into his boots.

“There is no one who weeps for me or watches for me this night, Cousin Lia, but I, too, am in dan-ger, like your brother; and if any misfortune should happen to me, think how I came to-night to warn you, and how I have risked my bread for you more than once.””

Then Lia lifted up her face, and looked at Don Michele with her large tearful eyes. “ God reward you for your charity, Don Michele!”

“I haven’t done it for reward, Cousin Lia; I have done it for you, and for the love I bear to you.”

“Now go, for they are all asleep. Go, for the love of God, Don Michele!”

And Don Michele went, and she stayed by the door, weeping and praying that God would send her brother that way. But the Lord did not send him that way. All four of them ‘Ntoni, Cinghia-lenta, Rocco Spatu, and the son of La Locca went softly along the wall of the alley; and when they came out upon the down they took off their shoes and carried them in their hands, and stood still to listen.

“I hear nothing,” said Cinghialenta.

The rain continued to fall, and from the top of the cliff nothing could be heard save the moaning of the sea below.

“One can’t even see to swear,” said Rocco Spatu. “How will they manage to climb the cliff in this darkness?”

“They all know the coast, foot by foot, with their eyes shut. They are old hands,” replied Cin-ghialenta.

“But I hear nothing,” observed ‘Ntoni.

“It’s a fact, we can hear nothing,” said Cinghia-lenta, “but they must have been there below for some time.”

“Then we had better go home,” said the son of La Locca.

“Since you’ve eaten and drunk, you think of nothing but getting home again, but if you don’t be quiet I’ll kick you into the sea,” said Cinghia-lenta to him.

“The fact is,” said Rocco, “ that I find it a bore to spend the night here doing nothing. Now we will try if they are here or not.” And he began to hoot like an owl.

“If Don Michele’s guard hears that they will be down on us directly, for on these wet nights the owls don’t fly.”

“Then we had better go,” whined La Locca’s son, but nobody answered him.

All four looked in each other’s faces though they could see nothing, and thought of what Padron ‘Ntoni’s ‘Ntoni had just said.

“What shall we do?” asked La Locca’s son.

“Let’s go down to the road; if they are not there we may be sure they have not come,” sug-gested Cinghialenta.

‘Ntoni, while they were climbing down, said, “Goosefoot is capable of selling the lot of us for a glass of wine.”

“Now you haven’t the glass before you, you’re afraid,” said Cinghialenta.

“Come on! the devil take you! I’ll show wheth-er I’m afraid.”

While they were feeling their way cautiously down, very slowly, for fear of breaking their necks in the dark, Spatu observed:

“At this moment Vanni Pizzuti is safe in bed, and he complained of Goosefoot for getting his percentage for nothing.”

“Well,” said Cinghialenta, “if you don’t want to risk your lives, stay at home and go to bed.”

‘Ntoni, reaching down with his hands to feel where he should set his foot, could not help thinking that Master Cinghialenta would have done bet-ter not to say that, because it brought to each the image of his house, and his bed, and Mena dozing behind the door. That big tipsy brute, Rocco Spatu, said at last, “ Our lives are not worth a copper.”

“Who goes there?” they heard some one call out, all at once, behind the wall of the high-road. “Stop! stop! all of you!”

“Treachery! treachery!” they began to cry out, rushing off over the cliffs without heeding where they went.

But ‘Ntoni, who had already climbed over the wall, found himself face to face with Don Michele, who had his pistol in his hand.

“Blood of Our Lady!” cried Malavoglia, pulling out his knife. “ I’ll show you whether I’m afraid of your pistol!”

Don Michele’s pistol went off in the air, but he himself fell like a bull, stabbed in the chest. ‘Ntoni tried to escape, leaping from rock to rock like a goat, but the guards caught up with him, while the balls rattled about like hail, and threw him on the ground.

“Now what will become of my mother?” whined La Locca’s son, while they tied him up like a trussed chicken.

“Don’t pull so tight!” shouted ‘Ntoni. “Don’t you see I can’t move?”

“Go on, go on, Malavoglia; your hash is settled once for all,” they answered, driving him before them with the butts of their muskets.

While they led him up to the barracks tied up like Our Lord himself, and worse, and carried Don Michele too, on their shoulders, he looked here and there for Rocco Spatu and Cinghialenta. “ They have got off!” he said to himself. “ They have nothing more to dread, but are as safe as Vanni Pizzuti and Goosefoot are, between their sheets. Only at my house no one will sleep, now they have heard the shots.”

In fact, those poor things did not sleep, but stood at the door and watched in the rain, as if their hearts had told them what had happened; while the neighbors, hearing the shots, turned sleepily over in their beds and muttered, yawning, “We shall know tomorrow what has happened.”

Very late when the day was breaking, a crowd gathered in front of Vanni PizzutTs shop, where the light was burning and there was a great chattering.

“They have caught the smuggled goods and the smugglers too,” recounted Pizzuti, “ and Don Mi-chele has been stabbed.”

People looked at the Malavoglia’ s door, and pointed with their fingers. At last came their cousin Anna, with her hair loose, white as a sheet, and knew not what to say. Padron ‘Ntoni, as if he knew what was coming, asked, “ ‘Ntoni, where’s ‘Ntoni?”

“He’s been — caught smuggling; he was arrested last night with La Locca’s son,” replied poor Cous-in Anna, who had fairly lost her head. “And they have killed Don Michele.”

“Holy Mother!” cried the old man, with his hands to his head; and Lia, too, was tearing her hair. Paclron ‘Ntoni, holding his head with both hands, went on repeating, “Ah, Mother! Ah, Moth-er, Mother!”

Later on Goosefoot came, with a face full of trouble, smiting his forehead. “ Oh, Padron ‘Ntoni, have you heard? What a misfortune! I felt like a wet rag when I heard it.”

Cousin Grace, his wife, really cried, poor woman, for her heart ached to see how misfortunes rained upon those poor Malavoglia.

“What are you doing here?” asked her husband, under his breath, drawing her away from the win-dow. “ It is no business of yours. Now it isn’t safe to come to this house; one might get mixed up in some scrape with the police.”

For which reason nobody came near the Mala-voglia’s door. Only Nunziata, as soon as she heard of their trouble, had confided the little ones to their eldest brother, and her house door to her next neighbor, and went off to her friend Mena to weep with her; but then she was still such a child! The others stood afar off in the street staring, or went to the barracks, crowding like flies, to see how Pa-dron ‘Ntoni’s ‘Ntoni looked behind the grating, after having stabbed Don Michele; or else they filled Pizzuti’s shop, where he sold bitters, and was always shaving somebody, while he told the whole story of the night before, word for word.

“The fools!” cried the druggist, “ the fools, to let themselves be taken.”

“It will be an ugly business for them,” added Don Silvestro; “the razor itself couldn’t save them from the galleys.”

And Don Giammaria went up close to him and said under his nose:

“Everybody that ought to be at the galleys doesn’t go there!”

“By no means everybody,” answered Don Sil-vestro, turning reel with fury.

“Nowadays,” said Padron Cipolla, yellow with bile, “ the real thieves rob one of one’s goods at noonday and in the middle of the piazza. They thrust themselves into one’s house by force, but they break open neither doors nor windows.”

“Just as ‘Ntoni Malavoglia wanted to do in my house,” added La Zuppidda, sitting down on the wall with her distaff to spin hemp.

“What I always said to you, peace of the an-gels!” said her husband.

“You hold your tongue, you know nothing about it! Just think what a day this would have been for my daughter Barbara if I hadn’t looked out for her!”

Her daughter Barbara stood at the window to see how Padron ‘Ntoni’s ‘Ntoni looked in the mid-dle of the police when they carried him to town.

“He’ll never get out,” they all said. “ Do you know what there is written on the prison at Paler-mo? ‘ Do what you will, here you’ll come at last,’ and “As you make your bed, you must lie down.’ Poor devils!”

“Good people don’t get into such scrapes,” screamed Vespa. “ Evil comes to those who go to seek it. Look at the people who take to that trade always some scamp like La Locca’s son or Mala-voglia, who won’t do any honest work.” And they all said yes, that if any one had such a son as that it was better that the house should fall on him. Only La Locca went in search of her son, and stood screaming in front of the barracks of the guards, saying that she would have him, and not listening to reason; and when she went off to plague her brother Dumb-bell, and planted herself on the steps of his house, for hours at a time, with her white hair streaming in the wind, Uncle Crucifix only an-swered her: “ I have the galleys at home here! I wish I were in your son’s place! What do you come to me for? And he didn’t give you bread to eat either.”

“La Locca will gain by it,” said Don Silvestro; “now that she has no one to work for her, they will take her in at the poor-house, and she will be well fed every day in the week. If not, she will be left to the charity of the commune.”

And as they wound up by saying, “ Who sows the wind will reap the whirlwind,” Padron Fortunate added: “And it is a good thing for Padron ”Ntoni too. Do you think that good-for-nothing grandson of his did not cost him a lot of money? I know what it is to have a son like that. Now the King must maintain him.”

But Padron ‘Ntoni, instead of thinking of saving those soldi, now that his grandson was no longer likely to spend them for him, kept on flinging them after him, with lawyers and notaries and the rest of it those soldi which had cost so much labor, and had been destined for the house by the medlar-tree.

“Now we do not need the house nor anything else,” said he, with a face as pale as ‘Ntoni’s own when they had taken him away to town, with his hands tied, and under his arm the little bundle of shirts which Mena had brought to him with so many tears at night when no one saw her. The whole town went to see him go in the middle of the police. His grandfather had gone off to the advo-cate the one who talked so much for since he had seen Don Michele, also, pass by in the car-riage on his way to the hospital, as yellow as a guinea, and with his uniform unbuttoned, he was frightened, poor old man, and did not stop to find fault with the lawyer’s chatter as long as he would promise to untie his grandson’s hands and let him come home again; for it seemed to him that after this earthquake ‘Ntoni would come home again, and stay with them always, as he had done when he was a child.

Don Silvestro had done him the kindness to go with him to the lawyer, because, he said, that when such a misfortune as had happened to the Malavoglia happened to any Christian, one should aid one’s neighbor with hands, and feet too, even if it were a wretch fit only for the galleys, and do one’s best to take him out of the hands of jus-tice, for that was why we were Christians, that we should help our neighbors when they need it. The advocate, when he had heard the story, and it had been explained to him by Don Silvestro, said that it was a very good case, “ a case for the galleys cer-tainly “ and he rubbed his hands “ if they hadn’t come to him.”

Padron ‘Ntoni turned as white as a sheet when he heard of the galleys, but the advocate clapped him on the shoulder and told him not to be fright-ened, that he was no lawyer if he couldn’t get him off with four or five years’ imprisonment.

“What did the advocate say?” asked Mena. as she saw her grandfather return with that pale face, and began to cry before she could hear the answer.

The old man walked up and down the house like a madman, saying, “Ah, why did we not all die first?” Lia, white as her smock, looked from one to the other with wide dry eyes, unable to speak a word.

A little while after came the summonses as wit-nesses to Barbara Zuppidda and Grazia Goosefoot and Don Franco, the druggist, and all those who were wont to stand chattering in his shop and in that of Vanni Pizzuti, the barber; so that the whole place was upset by them, and the people crowded the piazza, with the stamped papers in their hands, and swore that they knew nothing about it, as true as God was in heaven, because they did not want to get mixed up with the tribunals. Cursed be ‘Ntoni and all the Malavoglia, who pulled them by the hair into their scrapes. The Zuppidda screamed as if she had been possessed. “ I know nothing about it; at the Ave Maria I shut myself into my house, and I am not like those who go wandering about after such work as we know of, or who stand at the doors to talk with spies.”

“Beware of the Government,” added Don Franco. “They know that I am a republican, and they would be very glad to get a chance to sweep me off the face of the earth.”

Everybody beat their brains to find out what the Zuppidda and Cousin Grace and the rest of them could have to say as witnesses on the trial, for they had seen nothing, and had only heard the shots when they were in bed, between sleeping and waking. But Don Silvestro rubbed his hands like the lawyer, and said that he knew because he had pointed them out to the lawyer, and that it was much better for the lawyer that he had. Every time that the lawyer went to talk with ‘Ntoni Mala-voglia Don Silvestro went with him to the prison if he had nothing else to do; and nobody went at that time to the Council, and the olives were gath-ered. Padron ‘Ntoni had also tried to go two or three times, but whenever he got in front of those barred windows and the soldiers who were on guard before them, he turned sick and faint, and stayed waiting for them outside, sitting on the pavement among the people who sold chestnuts and Indian figs; it did not seem possible to him that his ‘Ntoni could really be there behind those grated windows, with the soldiers guarding him. The lawyer came back from talking with ‘Ntoni, fresh as a rose, rub-bing his hands, and saying that his grandson was quite well, indeed that he was growing fat. Then it seemed to the poor old man that his grandson was with the soldiers.

“Why don’t they let him go?” he asked over and over again, like a parrot or like a child, and kept on asking, too, if his hands were always tied.

“Leave him where he is,” said Doctor Scipione. “In these cases it is better to let some time pass first. Meanwhile he wants for nothing, as I told you, and is growing quite fat. Things are going very well. Don Michele has nearly recovered from his wound, and that also is a very good thing for us. Go back to your boat, I tell you; this is my affair.”

“But I can’t go back to the boat, now ‘Ntoni is in prison I can’t go back! Everybody looks at me when I pass, and besides, my head isn’t right, with ‘Ntoni in prison.”

And he went on repeating the same thing, while the money ran away like water, and all his people stayed in the house as if they were hiding, and never opened the door.

At last the day of trial arrived, and those who had been summoned as witnesses had to go on their own feet if they did not wish to be carried by force by the carbineers. Even Don Franco went, and changed his ugly hat, to appear before the majesty of justice to better advantage, but he was as pale as ‘Ntoni Malavoglia himself, who stood inside the bars like a wild beast, with the carbineers on each side of him. Don Franco had never before had anything to do with the law, and he trem-bled all over at the idea of going into the midst of all those judges and spies and policemen, who would catch a man and put him in there behind the bars like ‘Ntoni Malavoglia before he could wink.

The whole village had gone out to see what kind of a figure Padron ‘Ntoni’s ‘Ntoni would make behind the bars in the middle of the carbineers, yel-low as a tallow-candle, not daring to look up for fear of seeing all those eyes of friends and acquaintances fixed upon him, turning his cap over and over in his hands while the president, in his long black robe and with napkin under his chin, went on reading a long list of the iniquities which he had committed from the paper where they were written down in black and white. Don Michele was there too, also looking yellow and ill, sitting in a chair opposite to the “Jews” (as they would call the jury), who kept on yawning and fanning them-selves with their handkerchiefs. Meanwhile the advocate kept on chatting with his next neighbor as if the affair were no concern of his.

“This time,” murmured the Zuppidda in the ear of the person next her, listening to all those awful things that ‘Ntoni had done, “he certainly won’t get off the galleys.”

Santuzza was there too, to say where ‘Ntoni had been, and how he had passed that evening.

“Now I wonder what they’ll ask Santuzza,” mur-mured the Zuppidda. “ I can’t think how she’ll an-swer so as not to bring out all her own villanies.”

“But what is it they want of us?” asked Cousin Grazia.

“They want to know if it is true that Don Mi-chele had an understanding with Lia, and if ‘Ntoni did not stab him because of that; the advocate told me.”

“Confound you!” whispered the druggist, furi-ously, “do you all want to go to the galleys? Don’t you know that before the law you must always say no, and that we know nothing at all?”

Cousin Venera wrapped herself in her mantle, but went on muttering: “It is the truth. I saw them with my own eyes, and all the town knows it.”

That morning at the Malavoglia’s house there had been a terrible scene when the grandfather, seeing the whole place go off to see ‘Ntoni tried, started to go after them.

Lia, with tumbled hair, wild eyes, and her chin trembling like a baby’s, wanted to go too, and went about the house looking for her mantle without speaking, but with pale face and trembling hands.

Mena caught her by those hands, saying, pale as death herself, “ No! you must not go you must not go!” and nothing else. The grandfather added that they must stay at home and pray to the Ma-donna; and they wept so that they were heard all the length of the black street. The poor old man had hardly reached the town when, hidden at a cor-ner, he saw his grandson pass among the carbi-neers, and with trembling limbs went to sit on the steps of the court-house, where every one passed him going up and down on his business. Then it came over him that all those people were going to hear his grandson condemned, and it seemed to him as if he were leaving him alone in the piazza surrounded by enemies, or out at sea in a hurricane, and so he, too, amid the crowd, went up the stairs, and strove, by rising on his tiptoes, to see through the grating and past the shining bayonets of the carbineers. ‘Ntoni, however, he could not see, sur-rounded as he was by such a crowd of people; and more than ever it seemed to the poor old man that his grandson was one of the soldiers.

Meanwhile the advocate talked and talked and talked, until it seemed that his flood of words ran like the pulley of a well, up and down, up and down, without ceasing. No, he said; no, it was not true that ‘Ntoni Malavoglia had been guilty of all those crimes. The president had gone about raking up all sorts of stories that was his business, and he had nothing to do but to get poor helpless fellows into scrapes. But, after all, what did the president know about it? Had he been there, that rainy night, in the pitch darkness, to see what ‘Ntoni Malavoglia was about? “ In the poor man’s house he alone is in the wrong, and the gallows is for the unlucky.” The president went on looking at him calmly with his eye-glasses, leaning his elbows on his papers. Doctor Scipione went on asking where were the goods, who had seen the goods that was what he wanted to know; and since how long had honest men been forbidden to walk about at whatever hour they liked, especially when they had a little too much wine in their heads to get rid of.

Padron ‘Ntoni nodded his head at this, or said, “Yes, yes,” with tears in his eyes, and would have liked to hug the advocate, who had called ‘Ntoni a blockhead. Suddenly he lifted his head. That was good; what the lawyer had just said was worth of itself fifty francs. He said that since they wanted to drive them to the wall, and to prove plain as two and two make four that they had caught ‘Ntoni Malavoglia in the act, with the knife in his hand, and had brought Don Michele there before them with his stupid face, well, then, “ How are you to prove that it was ‘Ntoni Malavoglia who stabbed him? Who knows that it was he? Who can tell that Don Michele didn’t stab himself on purpose to send ‘Ntoni Malavoglia to the galleys? Do you really want to know the truth? Smug-gled goods had nothing to do with it. Between ‘Ntoni Malavoglia and Don Michele there was an old quarrel a quarrel about a woman. “ And Padron ‘Ntoni nodded again in assent, for didn’t everybody know, and wasn’t he ready to swear before the crucifix, too, that Don Michele was furious with jealousy of ‘Ntoni since Santuzza had taken a fancy to him, and. then meeting Don Michele by night, and after the boy had been drinking, too? One knows how it is when one’s eyes are clouded with drink. The advocate continued .-

“You may ask the Zuppidda, and Dame Grazia, and a dozen more witnesses, if it is not true that Don Michele had an understanding with Lia, ‘Ntoni Malavoglia’ s sister, and he was always prowling about the black street in the evening after the girl. They saw him there the very night on which he was stabbed.”

Padron ‘Ntoni heard no more, for his ears began to ring, and at that moment he caught sight of ‘Ntoni, who had sprung up behind the bars, tearing his cap like a madman, and shaking his head vio-lently, with flashing eyes, and trying to make himself heard. The by-standers took the old man out, supposing that he had had a stroke, and the guards laid him on a bench in the witnesses’ room and threw water in his face. Later, while they were taking him down-stairs tottering and clinging to their arms, the crowd came pouring out like a torrent, and they were heard to say, “They have condemned him to five years in irons.” At that moment ‘Ntoni came out himself, deadly pale, hand-cuffed, in the midst of the carbineers.

Cousin Grazia went off home, running, and reached there sooner than the others, panting with speed, for ill news always comes on wings. Hardly had she caught sight of Lia, who stood waiting at the door like a soul in purgatory, than she caught her by both hands, exclaiming: “ Wretched girl! what have you done? They have told the judge that you had an understanding with Don Michel e, and your grandfather had a stroke when he heard it.”

Lia answered not a word any more than if she had not heard or did not care. She only stared with wide eyes and open mouth. At last she sank slowly down upon a chair, as if she had lost the use of her limbs. So she remained for many minutes without motion or speech, while Cousin Grazia threw water in her face until she began to stammer, “I can’t stay here! I must go I must go away!”

Her sister followed her about the room, weeping and trying to catch her by the hands, while she went on saying to the cupboard and to the chairs, like a mad creature, “ I must go!”

In the evening, when her grandfather was brought home on a cart, and Mena, careless now whether she were seen or not, went out to meet him, Lia went first into the court and then into the street, and then went away altogether, and nobody ever saw her any more.

http://ebooks.adelaide.edu.au/v/verga/giovanni/house-by-the-medlar-tree/chapter14.html

Last updated Tuesday, March 4, 2014 at 18:24