The House by the Medlar-Tree, by Giovanni Verga

ix.

NEITHER the Malavoglia nor any one else in the town had any idea what Goosefoot and Uncle Cru-cifix were hatching together. On Easter Day Pa-clron ‘Ntoni took out the hundred lire which were amassed in the bureau drawer, and put on his Sun-day jacket to carry them to Uncle Crucifix.

“What, is it all here?” said he.

“It can’t yet be all, Uncle Crucifix; you know how much it costs us to get together a hundred lire. But ‘better half a loaf than no bread,’ and ‘paying on account is no bad pay.’ Now the summer is coming, and with God’s help we’ll pay off the whole.”

“Why do you bring it to me? You know I have nothing more to do with it; it is Cousin Goosefoot’s affair.”

“It is all the same; it seems always to me as if I owed it to you, whenever I see you. Cousin Tino won’t say no, if you ask him to wait until the Ma-donna delFOgnino.”

“This won’t even pay the expenses,” said old Dumb-bell, passing the money through his fingers. “Go to him yourself and ask him if he’ll wait for you; I have nothing more to do with it.”

Goosefoot began to swear, and to fling his cap on the ground after his usual fashion, vowing that he had not bread to eat, and that he could not wait even until Ascension-tide.

“Listen, Cousin Tino!” said Padron ‘Ntoni, with clasped hands, as if he were praying to our Lord God, “ if you don’t give me at least until Saint Gio-vanni, now that I have to marry my granddaughter, it would be better that you should stab me with a knife and be done with it.”

“By the holy devil!” cried Uncle Tino, “ you make me do more than I can manage. Cursed be the day and the hour in which I mixed myself up in this confounded business.” And he went off, tearing at his old cap.

Padron ‘Ntoni went home, still pale from the encounter, and said to his daughter-inlaw, “ I’ve got off this time, but I had to beg him as if I had been praying to God,” and the poor old fellow still trem-bled. But he was glad that nothing had come to Padron Cipolla’s ears, and that the marriage was not likely to be broken off.

On the evening of the Ascension, while the boys were still dancing around the post with the bonfire, the gossips were collected around the Malavoglia’s balcony, and Cousin Venera Zuppidda was with them to listen to what was said, and to give her opinion like the rest. Now, as Padron ‘Ntoni was marrying his granddaughter, and the Provvidenza was on her legs once more, everybody was ready to put a good face on it with the Malavoglia for nobody knew anything of what Goosefoot had in his head to do, not even Cousin Grace, his wife, who went on talking with Cousin Maruzza just as if her husband had nothing on his mind. ‘Ntoni went every evening to have a chat with Barbara, and had confided to her that his grandfather had said, “First we must marry Mena.” “ And I come next,” concluded ‘Ntoni. After this Barbara had given to Mena the pot of basil, all adorned with carnations, and tied up with a fine red ribbon, which was the sign of particular friendship between girls; and ev-erybody made a great deal of Sant’Agata even her. mother had taken off her black kerchief, because it is unlucky to wear mourning in the house where there is a bride, and had written to Luca to give him notice that Mena was going to be married. She alone, poor girl, seemed anything but gay, and everything looked black to her, though the fields were covered with stars of silver and of gold, and the girls wove garlands for Ascension, and she herself went up and down the stairs helping her moth-er to hang the garlands over the door and the win-dows.

While all the doors were hung with flowers, only that of Cousin Alfio, black and twisted awry, was always shut, and no one came to hang the flowers there for the Ascension.

“That coquette Sant’Agata,” Vespa went about saying in her furious way, “she’s managed at last to send that poor Alfio Mosca out of the place.” Meanwhile they had made a new gown for Sant’- Agata, and were only waiting until Saint John’s Day to take the silver dagger out of her braids of hair, and part it over her forehead, before she went to church, so that every one who saw her pass said, “Lucky girl!”

Padron Cipolla at this time sat for whole evenings together with Padron ‘Ntoni, on the church steps, talking of the wondrous doings of the Prov-videnza. Brasi was always hanging about the street near the Malavoglia, with his new clothes on; and soon after it was known all over the place that on that Sunday coming Cousin Grace Goosefoot was going herself to part the girl’s hair, and to take out the silver dagger from her braids because Brasi Cipolla had lost his mother and the Malavoglia had asked Cousin Grace on purpose to please her husband, and they had asked also Uncle Crucifix and all the neighborhood, and all their relations and friends without exception.

Cousin Venera la Zuppidda made no end of a row because she hadn’t been asked to dress the bride’s hair she, who was going to be a connection of the Malavoglia and her girl had a sweet-basil friendship with Mena, so much so that she had made up a new jacket for Barbara in a hurry, not expecting such an affront. ‘Ntoni prayed and beg-ged in vain that they would not take it up like that, but pass it over. Cousin Venera, with her hair ready dressed, but with her hands covered with flour, for she had begun to make the bread, so that she didn’t mean to go to the party at the Mala-voglia, replied:

“You wanted Goosefoot’s wife, keep her! Or her or me; we can’t stay together. The Mala-voglia know very well that they have chosen Mad-am Grace only because of the money they owe her husband. Now they are hand and glove with old Tino since Padron Cipolla made him make it up with Padron ‘Ntoni’s ‘Ntoni after that affair of the fight. They would lick his boots because they owe him that money on the house,” she went on scolding. “They owe my husband fifty lire too, for the Prov-videnza. To-morrow I mean to make them pay it.”

“Do let them alone, mother,” supplicated Bar-bara. But she was in the pouts too, because she couldn’t wear her new jacket, and she was almost sorry she had spent the money for the basil-plant for Mena; and ‘Ntoni, who had come to take her home with him, had to go off alone, quite chap-fallen, looking as if his new coat were too big for him. Mother and daughter stood looking out of the court, where they were putting the bread in the oven, listening to the noise going on at the house by the medlar, for the talking and laughing could be heard quite plainly where they were, putting them in a greater rage than ever.

The house was full of people, just as it had been at the time of Bastianazzo’s death, and Mena, with-out her dagger, and with her hair parted in the middle, looked quite differently; so that the gos-sips all crowded around her and made such a chat-tering that you couldn’t have heard a cannonade. Goosefoot went on talking nonsense to the women, and made them laugh as if he had been tickling them; while all the time the lawyer was getting ready the papers, although Uncle Crucifix had said that there was time enough yet to send the sum-mons. Even Padron Cipolla permitted himself a joke or two, at which no one laughed but his son Brasi; and everybody spoke at once; while the boys struggled on the floor for beans and chestnuts. Even La Longa, poor woman, had forgotten her troubles for the moment, so pleased was she; and

Padron ‘Ntoni sat on the low wall, nodding his head in assent to everybody and smiling to himself.

“Take care that this time you don’t give your drink to your trousers, which are not thirsty,” said Padron Cipolla to his son.

“The party is given for Cousin Mena,” said Nunziata, “ but she doesn’t seem to enjoy it as the others do.”

At which Cousin Anna made as if she had drop-ped the flask which she had in her hand, in which there was still nearly a half-pint of wine, and called out: “ Here’s luck, here’s luck! ‘Where there are shards there is feasting,’ and ‘Spilled wine is of good omen.’”

“A little more and I should have had it on my new trousers this time too,” growled Brasi, who, since his misfortune to his new clothes, had become very cautious.

Goosefoot sat astride of the wall, with the glass between his legs (it seemed to him as if he were already the master, because of that summons he meant to send), and called out, “To-day there’s nobody at the tavern, not even Rocco Spatu; today all the fun’s here, the same as if we were at Santuzza’s.”

From the wall where he sat Goosefoot could see a group of people who stood talking together by

f the fountain, with faces as serious as if the world were coming to an end. At the druggist’s shop

there were the usual idlers with the journal, talking and shaking their fists in each other’s faces, as if they were coming to blows the next minute; while Don Giammaria laughed, and took snuff with a sat-isfaction visible even at that distance.

“Why didn’t Don Silvestro and the vicar come?” asked Goosefoot.

“I told them to, but they appear to have some-thing particular to do,” answered Padron ‘Ntoni.

“They’re over there at the shop, and there’s a fuss as if the man with the numbers of the lottery had come. What the deuce can have happened?”

An old woman rushed across the piazza, screaming and tearing her hair as if at some dreadful news; and before Pizzuti’s shop there was a crowd as thick as if an ass had tumbled under his load there; and even the children stood outside listening, open-mouthed, not daring to go nearer.

“For my part I shall go and see what it is,” said Goosefoot, coming slowly down off the wall.

In the group, instead of a fallen ass, there were two soldiers of the marine corps, with sacks on their shoulders and their heads bound up, going home on leave, who had stopped on their way at the barber’s to get a glass of bitters. They were telling how there had been a great battle at sea, and how ships as big as all Aci Trezza, full as they could hold of soldiers, had gone down just as they were; so that their tales sounded like those of the men who go about recounting the adventures of Orlando and the Paladins of France on the marina at Catania, and the people stood as thick as flies in the sun to listen to them.

“Maruzza la Longa’s son was also on board the Re d” Italia” observed Don Silvestro, who had also drawn near to listen with the rest.

“Now I’ll go and tell that to my wife,” cried Master Cola Zuppiddu, “ then she’ll be sure to go to Cousin Maruzza. I don’t like coolnesses between friends and neighbors.”

But meanwhile the poor Longa knew nothing about it, and was laughing and amusing herself among her relations and friends.

The soldier seemed never tired of talking, and gesticulated with his arms like a preacher.

“Yes, there were Sicilians there were men from every place you can think of. But, mind you, when the calls pipe to the batteries, one minds neither north nor south, and the guns all talk the same language. Brave fellows all, and with strong hearts under their shirts. I can tell you, when one has seen what I have seen with these eyes, how those boys stood up to their duty, by Our Lady! one feels that one has a right to cock one’s hat.”

The youth’s eyes were wet, but he said it was only because the bitters were so strong.

“It seems to me those fellows are all mad,” said Padron Cipolla, blowing his nose with great delib-eration. “ Would you go and get yourself killed just because the King said to you, ‘Go and be killed for my sake?’ ”

All the evening there was talking and laughing and drinking in the Malavoglia’s court in the bright moonlight, and when nearly everybody was tired, and they sat chewing roasted beans, with their backs against the wall, some of them singing softly among themselves, they began talking about the story that the two soldiers on leave had been telling. Padron Fortunato had gone away early, taking with him his son in his new clothes. “ Those poor Malavoglia,” said he, meeting Dumb-bell in the piazza; “ God have mercy on them! It seems as if they were bewitched. They have nothing but ill luck.”

Uncle Crucifix scratched his head in silence. It was no affair of his any more. Goosefoot had taken charge of it, but he was sorry for them really he was, in earnest.

The day after the rumor began to spread that there had been a great battle at sea, over towards Trieste, between our ships and those of the enemy. Nobody knew how many there were, and many people had been killed. Some told the story in one way, some in another in pieces, as it were, and broken phrases. The neighbors came with hands under their aprons to ask Cousin Maruzza whether that were not where Luca was, and looked sadly at her as they did so. The poor woman began to stand at the door as they do when a misfortune happens, turning her head this way and that, or looking down the road towards the turn, as if she expected her father-inlaw and the boys back from the sea before the usual time. Then the neighbors would ask her if she had had a letter from Luca lately, or how long it had been since he had written. In truth she had not thought about the letter, but now she could not sleep nor close her eyes the whole night, thinking always of the sea over tow-ards Trieste, where that dreadful thing had hap-pened; and she saw her son always before her, pale, immovable, with sad, shining eyes, and it seemed as if he nodded his head at her as he had clone when he left her to go for a soldier. And thinking of him, she felt as if she had a burning thirst herself, and a burning heat inside that was past description. Among all the stories that were always going in the village she remembered one of some sailors that had been picked up after many hours, just in time to save them from being devoured by the sharks, and how in the midst of all that water they were dying of thirst. And as she thought of how they were dying of thirst in the midst of all that water, she could not help getting up to drink out of the pitcher, and lay in the dark with wide-open eyes, seeing always that mournful vision.

As days went on, however, there was no more talk of what had happened, but as La Longa had no letter, she began to be unable either to work or to stay still; and she was always wandering from house to house as if so she hoped to hear of some-thing to ease her mind. “ Did you ever see any-thing so like a cat who has lost her kitten?” asked the neighbors of each other. And Padron ‘Ntoni did not go to sea, and followed his daughter-inlaw about as if he had been a dog. Some one said to him, “ Go to Catania, that is a big place; they’ll be able to tell you something there.”

In that big place the poor old man felt more lost than he ever did out at sea by night when he didn’t know which way to point his rudder. At last some one was charitable enough to tell him to go to the captain of the port, who would be certain to know all about it. There, after sending them from Pilate to Herod and back again, he began to turn over certain big books and run down the lists of the dead with his finger. When lie came to one name, La Longa, who had scarcely heard what went on, so loudly did her ears ring, and was listening as white as the sheet of paper, slipped silently down on the floor as if she had been dead.

“It was more than forty days ago,” said the clerk, shutting up the list. “ It was at Lissa. Had not you heard of it yet?”

They brought La Longa home in a cart, and she was ill for several days. Henceforward she was given to a great devotion to the Mother of Sorrows, who is on the altar of the little chapel; and it seemed to her as if the long corpse stretched on the mother’s knees, with blue ribs and bleeding side, was her Luca’s own portrait, and in her own heart she felt the points of the Madonna’s seven sharp swords. Every evening the devotees, when they came to church for the benediction, and Don Cirino, when he went about shaking his keys before shutting up for the night, found her there in the same place, with her face bent down upon her knees, and they called her, too, the Mother of Sor-rows.

“She is right,” they said in the village. “ Luca would have been back before long, and there would have been the thirty sous a day more to the good for the family. ‘ To the sinking ship all winds blow contrary.’ ”

“Have you seen Padron ‘Ntoni?” added Goose-foot. “Since his grandson’s death he looks just like an old owl. The house by the medlar is full of cracks and leaks, and every one who wants to save his money had better look out for himself.”

La Ztippidda was always as cross as a fury, and went on muttering that now the whole family would be left on ‘Ntoni’s hands. This time any girl might think twice about marrying him.

“When Mena is married,” replied ‘Ntoni, “grand-papa will let us have the room up-stairs.”

“I’m not accustomed to live in a room up-stairs, like the pigeons,” snapped out Barbara, so savagely that her own father said to ‘Ntoni, looking about as he walked with him up the lane, “ Barbara is growing just like her mother; if you don’t get the better of her now, you’ll lead just such a life as I do.”

The end was that Goosefoot swore his usual oath by the big holy devil that this time he would be paid. Midsummer was come, and the Malavo-glia were once more talking of paying on account because they had not got together the whole sum, and hoped to pick it up at the olive harvest. He had taken those pence out of his own mouth, and hadn’t bread to eat before God he hadn’t. He couldn’t live upon air until the olive harvest.

“I’m sorry, Padron ‘Ntoni,” he said, “but what will you have? I must think of my own interest first. Even Saint Joseph shaved himself first, and then the rest.” “ It will soon be a year that it has been going on,” added Uncle Crucifix, when he was growling with Uncle Tino alone, “and not one centime of interest have I touched. Those two hundred lire will hardly cover the expenses. You’ll see that at the time of olives they’ll put you off till Christmas, and then till Easter again. That’s the way people are ruined. But I have made my money by the sweat of my brow. Now one of them is in Paradise, the other wants to marry La Zuppidda; they’ll never be able to get on with that patched-up old boat, and they are trying to marry the girl. They never think of anything but mar-rying, those people; they have a madness for it, like my niece Vespa. Now, when Mena is married you’ll see that Mosca’ll come back and carry her off, with her field.”

He wound up by scolding about the lawyer, who took such a time about the papers before he sent in the summons.

“Padron ‘Ntoni will have been there to tell him to wait,” suggested Goosefoot. “With an ounce of pitch one can buy ten such lawyers as that.”

This time he had quarrelled seriously with the Malavoglia, because La Zuppidda had taken his wife’s clothes out of the bottom of the tank and had put hers in their place. Such a mean thing as that he could not bear; La Zuppidda wouldn’t have thought of it if she hadn’t got that pumpkin-head of a ‘Ntoni Malavoglia behind her, a bully that he was. A good-for-nothing lot they were, the Malavoglia, and he didn’t want to see any more of them, swearing and blaspheming as his wont was.

The stamped paper began to rain in on them, and Goosefoot declared that the lawyer couldn’t have been content with the bribe Padron ‘Ntoni had given him to let them alone, and that proved what a miser he was; and how much he was to be trusted when he promised to pay what he owed people. Padron ‘Ntoni went back to the town-clerk and to the lawyer Scipione, but he laughed in his face and told him that he was a fool for his pains; that he should never have let his daughter-inlaw give in to it, and as he had made his bed so he must lie down.

“Woe to the fallen man who asks for help!” “Listen to me,” suggested Don Silvestro. “You’d better let them have the house; if not, they’ll take the Provvidenza and everything else, even to the hair off your head; and you lose all your time, besides, running backward and forward to the lawyer.”

“If you give up the house quietly,” said Goose-foot to the old man, “we’ll leave you the Provvi-denza^ and you’ll be able to earn your bread and will remain master of your ship, and not be troubled with any more stamped paper.”

After all, Cousin Tino wasn’t such a bad fellow. He went on talking to Padron ‘Ntoni as if it hadn’t been his affair at all, passing his arm over his shoulder and saying to him, “ Pardon me, brother, I am more sorry than you are; it goes to my heart to turn you out of your house, but what can I do? I’m only a poor devil; I’m not rich, like Uncle Crucifix. If those five hundred lire hadn’t come actually out of my very mouth, I would never have troubled you about them upon my word I wouldn’t.”

The poor old man hadn’t the courage to tell his daughter-inlaw that she must go “ quietly “ out of the house by the medlar-tree. After so many years that they had been there, it was like going into banishment, or like those who had gone away meaning to come back, and had come back no more. And there was Luca’s bed there, and the nail where Bastianazzo’s pea-jacket used to hang. But at last the time came that they had to move, with all those poor sticks of. furniture, and take them out of their old places, where each left a mark on the wall where it had stood, and the house with-out them looked strange and unlike itself. They carried their things out by night into the sexton’s cottage, which they had hired, as if everybody in the place didn’t know that now the house belonged no more to them but to Goosefoot, and that they had to move away from it. But at all events no one saw them carrying their things from one house to the other. Every time the old man pulled out a nail, or moved a cupboard from the corner where it was used to stand, he shook his poor old head. Then the others, when all was done, sat down upon a heap of straw in the middle of the room to rest, and looked about here and there to see if anything had been forgotten. But the grandfather could not stay inside, and went out into the court in the open air. But there, too, was the scattered straw and broken crockery and coils of old rope, and in a corner the medlar-tree and the vine hanging in clusters over the door. “ Come, boys, let’s go. Sooner or later we must,” and never moved.

Maruzza looked at the door of the court out of which Luca and Bastianazzo had gone for the last time, and the lane where she had watched her boy go off through the rain, with his trousers turned up, and then thought how the oil — skin cape had hidden him from her view. Cousin Alfio Mosca’s window, too, was shut close, and the vine hung over the way, so that every one who passed by plucked off its grapes.

Each one had something in the house which it was specially hard to leave, and the old man, in passing out, laid his head softly, in the dark, on the old door, which Uncle Crucifix had said was in need of a good piece of wood and a handful of nails.

Uncle Crucifix had come to look over the house, and Goosefoot with him, and they talked loud in the empty rooms, where the voices rang as if they had been in a church.

Cousin Tino hadn’t been able to live all that time upon air, and had sold everything to old Dumb-bell to get back his money.

“What can I do, Cousin Malavoglia?” he said, passing his arm over his shoulder. “ You know Tin only a poor devil, and can’t spare five hundred lire. If you had been rich I’d have sold the house to you.”

But Padron ‘Ntoni couldn’t bear to go about the house like that, with Goosefoot’s arm on his shoul-der. Now Uncle Crucifix was come with the car-penter and the mason and a lot of people, who ran about the place as if they had been in the public square, and said, “ Here must go bricks, here a new beam, here the floor must all be done over,” as if they had been the masters. And they talked, too, of whitewashing it all over, and making it look quite a different thing.

Uncle Crucifix went about kicking the straw and the broken rubbish out of the way, and picking up off the floor a bit of an old hat that had belonged to Bastianazzo, he flung it out of the window into the garden, saying it was good for manure. The medlar-tree rustled softly meanwhile, and the gar-lands of daisies, now withered, that had been put up at Whitsuntide, still hung over the windows and the door.

From this time the Malavoglia never showed themselves in the street or at church, and went all the way to Aci Castello to the mass, and no one spoke to them any more, not even Padron Cipolla, who went about saying: “ Padron ‘Ntoni had no right to play me such a trick as that. That was real cheating to let his daughter-inlaw give up her rights for the sake of the debt for the lupins.”

“Just what my wife says,” added Master Zup-piddu. “ She says even the dogs in the street wouldn’t have any of the Malavoglia now.”

All the same, that young heathen Brasi howled and swore that he wanted Mena; she had been promised him, and he would have her, and he stamped and stormed like a baby before a toy-shop at a fair.

“Do you think I stole my property, you lazy hound, that you .want to fling it away with a lot of beggars?” shouted his father.

They even took back Brasi’s new clothes, and he worked out his ill-temper by chasing lizards on the down, or sitting astride of the wall by the washing-tank, swearing that he wouldn’t do a hand’s turn no, that he wouldn’t, not if they killed him for it, now that they wouldn’t give him his wife, and they had taken back even his wedding-clothes. Fortunately, Mena couldn’t see him looking as he did now, for the Malavoglia always kept the door shut down there at the sexton’s cottage, which they had hired, in the black street near the Zuppiddi; and if Brasi chanced to see any of them, if it were ever so far off, he ran to hide himself behind a wall or among the prickly-pears.

Mena was quite tranquil, however there was so much to do in the new house, where they had to find places for all the old things, and where there was no longer the medlar-tree; nor could one see Cousin Anna’s door, or Nunziata’s. Her mother watched over her like a brooding bird while they sat working together, and her voice was like a ca-ress when she said to her, “Give me the scis-sors,” or, “Hold this skein for me”; so that the child felt it in her inmost heart, now that every one turned away from them; but the girl sang like a lark, for she was but eighteen, and at that age, if the sun do but shine, everything seems bright and the singing of the birds is in one’s heart. Besides, she had never really cared for “that person,” she said to her mother in a whisper as they bent together over the loom. Her mother had been the only one who had really understood her, and had had a kind word for her in that hard time. At least if Cousin Alfio had been there he would not have turned his back upon them.

So goes the world. Every one must look out for himself, and so said Cousin Venera to Padron ‘Ntoni’s ‘Ntoni “ Every one must see to his own beard first, and then to the others. Your grandfa-ther gives you nothing; what claim has he on you? If you marry, that means that you must set up house for yourself, and what you earn must be for your own house and your own family. ‘ Many hands are a blessing, but not all in one dish.’ ”

“That would be a fine thing to do, to be sure,” answered ‘Ntoni. “ Now that my relations are on the street, am I to throw them over? How is my grandfather to manage the Provvidenza and to feed them all without me?”

“Then get out of it the best way you can!” exclaimed La Zuppidda, turning away from him to hunt over the drawers, or in the kitchen, upsetting everything here and there, making believe to be ever so busy, not to have to look him in the face. “I didn’t steal my daughter. You can go on by yourselves, because you are young and strong and can work, and have your trade at your finger-ends all the more now that there are so few young men, with this devil of a conscription sweeping off all the village every year; but if I’m to give you the dowry to spend it on your own people, that’s another affair. I mean to give my daughter to one husband, not to five or six, and I don’t mean she shall have two families on her shoulders.”

Barbara, in the other room, feigned not to hear, and went on plying her shuttle briskly all the time. But if ‘Ntoni appeared at the door, she cast down her eyes and wouldn’t look at him. The poor fel-low turned yellow and green and all sorts of colors, for she had caught him, like a limed sparrow, with those great black eyes of hers, and then she said to him after her mother was gone, “ I’m sure you don’t love me as much as you do your own people!”’ and began to cry, with her apron over her head.

“I swear,” exclaimed ‘Ntoni, “ I wish I could go back to soldiering again!” and tore his hair and thumped himself in the head, but couldn’t come to any decision one way or the other, like the pump-kin-head that he was.

“Then,” cried the Zuppidda, “ come, come! each to his own home!” And her husband went on repeating:

“Didn’t I tell you I didn’t choose to have a fuss?”

“You be off to your work!” replied she. “ You know nothing about it.”

‘Ntoni, every time he went to the Zuppiddi, found them in an ill-humor, and Cousin Venera went on throwing in his face that time that his people had asked Goosefoot’s wife to dress Mena’s hair and a fine hair — dressing they’d made of it! licking Cousin Tino’s boots because of that twopenny business of the house, and he’d taken the house all the same.

“Then, Cousin Venera, if you speak in this way, I suppose you mean, ‘ I don’t want you in my house any longer.’ ”

‘Ntoni meant to play the man, and did not show himself again for two or three days. But little Lia, who knew nothing of all this chatter, still continued to go to play in the court at Cousin Venera’s, as they had taught her to do in the days when Bar-bara used to give her chestnuts and Indian figs for love of her brother ‘Ntoni, only now they gave her nothing. And La Zuppidda said to her: “ Have you come here to look for your brother? Does your mother think we want to steal your precious brother?”

Things came to such a pass that La Longa and La Venera did not speak, and turned their backs upon each other if they met at church.

‘Ntoni, bewitched by Barbara’s eyes, went back to stand before the windows, trying to make peace, so that Cousin Venera threatened to fling water over him one time or another; and even her daugh-ter shrugged her shoulders at him, now that the Malavoglia had neither king nor kingdom.

And she said it to his face, too, to be rid of him, for he stood like a dog always in front of the win-dow, and might stand in the way of a better match, too, if any one were to come that way for her.

“Now then, Cousin ‘Ntoni, ‘ the fish of the sea are destined for those who shall eat them ‘; let’s make up our minds to say good-bye, and have it over.”

“You may say good-bye to it all, Cousin Barbara, but I can’t. Love isn’t over so easily as that with me.”

“Try. I guess you can manage it. There’s nothing like trying. I wish you all the good in the world, but leave me to look after my own affairs, for I am already twenty-two.”

“I knew it would come to this when they took our house, and everybody turned their backs on us.”

“Listen, Cousin ‘Ntoni. My mother may come at any minute, and it won’t do for her to find you here.”

“Yes, yes, I know; now that they’ve taken our house, it isn’t fair.” Poor ‘Ntoni’s heart was full; he couldn’t bear to part from her like that. But she had to go to the fountain to fill her pitcher, and she said adieu to him, walking off quickly, swaying lightly as she went; for though they were called hobblers because her great-grandfather had broken his leg in a collision of wagons at the fair of Trecastagni, Barbara had both her legs, and very good ones too.

“Adieu, Cousin Barbara,” said the poor fellow; and so he put a stone over all that had been, and went back to his oar like a galley-slave and gal-ley-slave’s work it was from Monday morning till

Saturday night and he was tired of wearing out his soul for nothing, for when one has nothing, what good can come of driving away from morning till night, with never a dog to be friends with one either, and for that he had had enough of such a life. He preferred rather to do nothing at all, and stay in bed, as if he were sick, as they did on board ship when the service was too hard, for the grandpapa wouldn’t come to pull him and thump him like the ship’s doctor.

“What’s the matter?” he asked.

“Nothing. Only I’m a poor miserable devil.”

“And what can be done for you, if you are a poor miserable devil? We must go on as we come into the world.”

He let himself be loaded down with tackle, like a beast of burden, and the whole day long never opened his mouth except to growl and to swear.

On Sunday ‘Ntoni went hanging about the tav-ern, where people did nothing but laugh and amuse themselves; or else he sat for whole hours on the church steps, with his chin in his hands, watching the people passing by, and pondering over this hard life, where there was nothing to be got by doing anything.

At least on Sunday there was something that cost nothing the sun, the standing idle with hands in one’s pockets; and then he grew tired even of thinking of his hard fate, and longing to bask again in the strange places he had seen when he was a soldier, and with the memory of which he amused himself on working-days. He only cared to lie like a lizard basking in the sun. And when the carters passed, sitting on their shafts, he muttered, “They have an easy time of it, driving about like that all day long “; and when some poor little old wom-an came from the town, bent down under her heavy burden like a tired donkey, lamenting as she went, as is the manner of the old, he said to her, by way of consolation:

“I would be willing to take your work, my sister; after all, it is like going out for a walk.”

Padron ‘Ntoni would go off to old Crucifix, saying to him over and over again, at least a hundred times: “ You know, Uncle Crucifix, if we can manage to put the money together for the house you must sell it to us and to nobody else, for it has always belonged to the Malavoglia, and ‘his own nest every bird likes best,’ and I long to die in my own bed. ‘ Blest is he who dies in the bed where he was born.’ ”

Uncle Crucifix muttered something which sounded like “Yes,” not to compromise himself, and then would go off and put a new tile or a patch of lime on the wall of the court, to make an excuse for raising the price of the house.

Uncle Crucifix would reassure him in this way: “Never fear, never fear; the house won’t run away, you know. Only keep an eye upon it. Every one should keep an eye upon whatever he sets store by.” And once he went on, “Isn’t your Mena going to be married?”

“She shall be married when it shall please God,” replied Padron ‘Ntoni. “ For my part, I should be glad if it were to be tomorrow.”

“If I were you I would give her to Alfio Mosca; he’s a nice young fellow, honest and hard-working, always looking out for a wife everywhere he goes; it is the only fault he has. Now they say he’s coming back to the place. He’s cut out for your grand-daughter.”

“But they said he wanted to marry your niece Vespa.”

“You too! You too!” Dumb-bell began to scream, in his cracked voice. “Who says so? That’s all idle chatter. He wants to get hold of her ground, that’s what he wants! A pretty thing that would be! How would you like me to sell your house to somebody else?”

And Goosefoot, who was always hanging about the piazza, ready to put in his oar whenever he saw two people talking together, broke in with, “ Vespa has Brasi Cipolla in her head just now, since his marriage with Sant’Agata is broken off. I saw them with my own eyes walking down the path by the stream together.”

“A nice lot, eh?” screamed Uncle Crucifix, quite forgetting his deafness. “ That witch is the devil himself. We must tell Padron Fortunato about it, that we must. Are we honest men, or are we not?

If Padron Fortunato doesn’t look out, that witch of a niece of mine will carry off his son before his eyes, poor old fellow.”

And off he ran up the street like a madman. In less than ten minutes Uncle Crucifix had turned the place topsy-turvy, wanting to call Don Michele and his guest to look up his niece; for, after all, she was his niece, and belonged to him, and wasn’t Don Michele paid to look after what belonged to honest men? Everybody laughed to see Padron Cipolla running hither and thither, panting like a dog with his tongue out, after his great lout of a son, and said it was no more than he deserved that his son should be snapped up by the Wasp when he thought Victor Emmanuel’s daughter hardly good enough for him, and had broken off with the Malavoglia without even saying “by your leave.”

Mena had not put on mourning, however, when her marriage went off; on the contrary, she began once more to sing at her loom, and while she was helping to salt down the anchovies in the fine sum-mer evenings, for Saint Francis had sent that year such a provision as never was a passage of ancho-vies such as no one could remember in any past year, enough to enrich the whole place; the barks came in loaded, with the men on board singing and shouting and waving their caps above their heads in sign of success to the women and children who waited for them on the shore.

The buyers came from the city in crowds, on foot, on horseback, and in carts and wagons, and Goosefoot hadn’t even time to scratch his head. Towards sunset there was a crowd like a fair, and cries and jostling and pushing so as no one ever saw the like. In the Malavoglia’s court the lights were burning until midnight, as if there were a festa there. The girls sang, and the neighbors came to help their cousin Anna’s daughters and Nunziata, because every one could earn something, and along the wall were four ranges of barrels all ready prepared, with stones on the top of them.

“I wish the Zuppidda were here now!” exclaimed ‘Ntoni, sitting on the stones to make weight, and folding his arms; “ then she would see that we can manage for ourselves as good as anybody, and snap our fingers at Don Michele and Don Silvestro.”

The buyers ran after Padron ‘Ntoni with money down in their hands. Goosefoot pulled him by the sleeve, saying, “ Now’s your time; make your profit while you can.”

But Padron ‘Ntoni would only answer: “Wait till All Saints, that’s the time to sell anchovies. No, I won’t take earnest — money. I don’t mean to be tied; I know how things will go.” And he thumped on the barrels with his fist, saying to his grand-children: “ Here is your house and Mena’s dowry; and the old house is ready to take you to its arms. Saint Francis has been merciful. I shall close my eyes in peace.”

At the same time they had made all their provision for the winter grain, beans, oil and had given earnest to Don Filippo for a little wine for Sun-days. Now they were tranquil once more. Father and daughter-inlaw began once more to count the money in the stocking, and the barrels ranged against the wall of the court, and made their calcu-lations as to what more was needed for the house. Maruzza knew the money, coin from coin, and said, “This from the oranges and eggs; this from Ales-sio for work at the railroad; this Mena earned at the loom;” and she said, too, “Each has something here from his own work.”

“Did I not tell you,” said Padron ‘Ntoni, “that to pull a good oar all the five fingers must help each other? Now there is but little more needed.” And then he would go off into a corner with La Longa, and they would have a great confabulation, looking from time to time at Sant’Agata, who deserved, poor child, that they should talk of her, because she had neither word nor will of her own, and attended to her work, singing softly under her breath like a bird on its nest before the break of morning; and only when she heard the carts pass on the high-road in the evening she thought of Cousin Alfio Mosca’s cart, that was wandering about the wide world, she knew not where; and then she stopped singing.

In the whole place nothing was seen but men carrying nets and women sitting in their doors pounding salt and broken bricks together; and before every door was a row of tiny barrels, so that it was a real pleasure to a Christian to snuff the precious odor as he passed, and for a mile away the breath of the gifts of the blessed Saint Francis floated on the breeze; there was nothing talked of but anchovies and brine, even in the drug — store, where all the affairs of all the world were discussed. Don Franco wanted to teach them a new way of salting down, a receipt which he had found in a book. They turned their backs on him, and left him storming like a madman. Since the world was a world, anchovies had always been cured with salt and pounded bricks.

“The usual cry! My grandfather used to do it,” the druggist went on shouting at them. “You want nothing but tails to be complete asses! What is to be done with such a lot as this? And they are quite contented, too, with Master Croce Giufa (which means oaf), because he has always been syndic; they would be capable of saying that they didn’t want a republic because they had never seen one.” This speech he repeated to Don Silvestro on a certain occasion when they had a conversation without witnesses. That is to say, Don Franco talked, and Don Silvestro listened in silence. He afterwards learned that Don Silvestro had broken with Betta, the syndic’s daughter, because she insisted on being syndic herself; and her father let her wear the breeches, so that he said white today and black tomorrow.

http://ebooks.adelaide.edu.au/v/verga/giovanni/house-by-the-medlar-tree/chapter9.html

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