The House by the Medlar-Tree, by Giovanni Verga


PADRON ‘NTONI, when his grandson came home to him drunk in the evening, did his best to get him off to bed without letting him be seen by the others, because such a thing had never been known among the Malavoglia, and old as he was, it brought the tears to his eyes. When he got up by night to call Alessio to go out to sea, he let the other one sleep; for that matter, he wouldn’t have been of any use if he had gone. At first ‘Ntoni was ashamed of himself, and went down to the landing to meet them with bent head. But little by little he grew hard-ened, and said to himself, “ So I shall have another Sunday tomorrow, too!”

The poor old man did everything he could think of to touch his heart, and even went so far as to take a shirt of his to Don Giammaria to be exor-cised, which cost him thirty centimes.

“See,” he said to ‘Ntoni, “such things were never known among the Malavoglia! If you take the downward road, like Rocco Spatu, your brother and your sister will go after you. ‘ One black sheep spoils the flock.’ And those few pence which we have put together with such pains will all go again ‘ for one fisherman the boat was lost ‘ and what shall we do then?”

‘Ntoni stood with his head down, or growled something between his teeth; but the next day it was the same thing over again; and once he said:

“At least if I lose my head, I forget my misery.”

“What do you mean by misery? You are young, you are healthy, you understand your business; what do you want more? I am old, your brother is but a boy, but we have pulled ourselves out of the ditch. Now, if you would help us we might become once more what we were in other days; not happy as we were then, for the dead cannot return to us, but without other troubles; and we should be together, Mike the fingers of a hand/ and should have bread to eat. If I close my eyes once for all, what is to become of you? See, now I tremble every time we put out to sea, lest I should never come back. And I am old!”

When his grandfather succeeded in touching his heart ‘Ntoni would begin to cry. His brother and sisters, who knew all, would run away and shut themselves up, almost as if he were a stranger, or as if they were afraid of him; and his grandfather, with his rosary in his hand, muttered, “ O blessed soul of Bastianazzo! O soul of my daughter-inlaw Maruzza! pray that a miracle may be worked for us.” When Mena saw him coming, with pale face and shining eyes, she met him, saying, “ Come this way; grandfather is in there!” and brought him in through the little door of the kitchen; then sat down and cried quietly by the hearth; so that at last one evening ‘Ntoni said, “ I won’t go to the tavern again, no, not if they kill me!” and went back to his work with all his former good-will; nay, he even got up earlier than the rest, and went down to the beach to wait for them while it wanted still two hours to day; the Three Kings were shining over the church-tower, and the crickets could be heard trilling in the vine-yards as if they had been close by. The grand-papa could not contain himself for joy; he went on all the time talking to him, to show how pleased he was, and said to himself, “ It is the blessed souls of his father and his mother that have worked this miracle.”

The miracle lasted all the week, and when Sun-day came ‘Ntoni wouldn’t even go into the piazza, lest he should see the tavern even from a distance, or meet his friends, who might call him. But he dislocated his jaws yawning all that long day, when there was nothing to be done. He wasn’t a child, to go about among the bushes on the down, singing, like Nunziata and his brother Alessio; or a girl, to sweep the house, like Mena; nor was he an old man, to spend the day mending broken barrels or baskets, like his grandfather. He sat by the door in the little street, where not even a hen passed by the door, and listened to the voices and the laugh-ter at the tavern. He went to bed early to pass the time, and got up on Monday morning sulky as ever. His grandfather said to him, “ It would be better for you if Sunday never came, for the day after you are just as if you were sick.” That was what would be best for him that there should not even be Sunday to rest in; and his heart sank to think that every day should be like Monday. So that when he came back from the fishing in the evening, he would not even go to bed, but went about here and there bemoaning his hard fate, and ended by going back to the tavern. At first when he used to come home uncertain of his footing, he slipped in quietly, and stammered excuses, or went silently to bed; but now he was noisy, and disputed with his sister, who met him at the door with a pale face and red eyes, and told him to come in by the back way, for that grandfather was there.

“I don’t care,” he replied. The next clay lie got up looking wretchedly ill, and in a very bad humor, and took to scolding and swearing all day long.

Once there was a very sad scene. His grand-father, not knowing what to do to touch his heart, drew him into the corner of the little room, with the doors shut that the neighbors might not hear, and said to him, crying like a child, the poor old man! “Oh, ‘Ntoni, don’t you remember that here your mother died? Why should you disgrace your mother, turning out as badly as Rocco Spatu? Don’t you see how poor Cousin Anna works all the time for that big drunkard of a son of hers, and how she weeps at times because she has not bread to give to her other children, and has no longer the heart to laugh? i Who goes with wolves turns wolf/ and ‘who goes with cripples one year goes lame the next.’ Don’t you remember that night of the cholera that we were all gathered around that bed, and she confided the children to your care?”

‘Ntoni cried like a weaned calf, and said he wished he could die, too; but afterwards he went back slowly, indeed, and as if unwillingly, but still he did go back to the tavern, and at night, instead of coming home, he wandered about the streets, and leaned against the walls, half dead with fatigue, with Rocco Spatu and Cinghialenta; or he sang and shouted with them, to drive away his melancholy.

At last poor old Padron ‘Ntoni got so that he was ashamed to show himself in the street. His grandson, instead, to get rid of his sermons, came home looking so black that nobody felt inclined to speak to him. As if he didn’t preach plenty of sermons to himself; but it was all the fault of his fate that he had been born in such a state of life. And he went off to the druggist, or to whoever else would listen to him, to exhaust himself in speeches about the injustice of everything that there was in this world; that if a poor fellow went to Santuzza’s to drink and forget his troubles, he was called a drunkard; while those who drank their own wine at home had no troubles, nor any one to reprove them or hunt them off to work, but were rich enough for two, and did not need to work, while we were all the sons of God, and everybody ought to share and share alike.

“That fellow has talent,” said the druggist to Don Silvestro or Padron Cipolla or to anybody else whom he could find. “ He sees things in the lump, but an idea he has. It isn’t his fault if he doesn’t express himself properly, but that of the Government, that leaves him in ignorance.” For his instruction he lent him the Secolo (\htAge) and the Gazette of Catania.

But ‘Ntoni very soon got tired of reading; first, because it was troublesome, and because while he was a soldier they had made him learn to read by force; but now he was at liberty to do as he liked, and, besides, he had forgotten a good deal of it, and how the words came one after another in printing. And all that talk in print didn’t put a penny in his pocket. What did it matter to him? Don Franco explained to him how it mattered to him; and when Don Michele passed across the pi-azza he shook his head at him, winking, and pointed out to him how he came after Donna Rosolina as well as others, for Donna Rosolina had money, and gave it to people to get herself married.

“First we must clear away all these fellows in uniform. We must make a revolution, that’s what we must do.”

“And what will you give me to make the revolution?”

Don Franco shrugged his shoulders, and went back to his mortar, for talking to such people as that was just beating water with a pestle, neither more nor less, he said.

But Goosefoot said, as soon as ‘Ntoni’s back was turned, “ He ought to get rid of Don Michele, for another reason he’s after his sister; but ‘Ntoni is worse than a pig now that Santuzza has taken to keeping him.” Goosefoot felt Don Michele to be a weight on his mind since that active official had taken to looking askance at Rocco Spatu and Cing-hialenta and himself whenever he saw them to-gether; for that he wanted to get rid of him.

Those poor Malavoglia had come to such a pass that they were the talk of the place, on account of their brother. Now, everybody knew that Don Michele often walked up and down the black street to spite the Zuppidda, who was always mounting guard over her girl, with her distaff in her hand. And Don Michele, not to lose time, had taken to looking at Lia, who had now become a very pretty girl and had no one to look after her except her sister, who would say to her, “ Come, Lia, let us go in; it is not nice for us to stand at the door now we are orphans.”

But Lia was vain, worse than her brother ‘Ntoni, and she liked to stand at the door, that people might see her pretty flowered kerchief, and have people say to her, “ How pretty you look in that kerchief, Cousin Lia!” while Don Michele devoured her with his eyes Poor Mena, while she stood at the door waiting for her drunken brother to come home, felt so humbled and abased that she wanted the energy to order her sister to come in because Don Michele passed by, and Lia said:

“Are you afraid he will eat me? Nobody wants any of us now that we have got nothing left. Look at my brother, even the dogs will have nothing to say to him!”

If ‘Ntoni had a spark of courage, said Goosefoot, he would get rid of that Don Michele. But ‘Ntoni had another reason for wishing to get rid of Don Michele. Santuzza, after having quarrelled with Don Michele, had taken a fancy to ‘Ntoni Mala-voglia for that fashion he had of wearing his cap, and of swaggering a little when he walked, that he had learned when he was a soldier, and used to hide for him behind the counter the remains of the customers’ dinners, and to fill his glass as well now and then on the sly. In this way she kept him about the tavern, as fat and as sleek as the butch-er’s dog. ‘Ntoni meantime discharged himself, to a certain extent, of his obligation to her by taking her part, sometimes even to the extent of thumps, with those unpleasant people who chose to find fault with their bills, and to scold and swear about the place for ever so long before they would consent to pay them. With those who were friends with the hostess, on the contrary, he was chatty and pleasant, and kept an eye on the counter, too, while Santuzza went to confession; so that every one there liked him and treated him as if he were at home. All but Uncle Santoro, who looked askance at him, and muttered, between one Ave Maria and another, against him, and how he lived upon his girl like a canon, without lifting a finger; Santuzza replying that she was the mistress, and if it were her pleasure to keep ‘Ntoni Malavoglia for herself as fat as a canon, she should do it; she had no need of anybody.

“Yes, yes,” growled Uncle Santoro, when he could get her for a minute by herself. “You always need Don Michele! Master Filippo has told me time and again that he means to have done with it, that he won’t keep the wine in the cellar any lon-ger, and we must get it into the place contraband.”

“Don Filippo must attend to his own affairs. But I tell you once for all, that if I have to pay the duty twice over, I won’t have Don Michele here again. I won’t, I won’t!”

She could not forgive Don Michele the ugly trick he had played her with the Zuppidda, after all that time that he had lived like a fighting-cock at the tavern for love of his uniform; and ‘Ntoni Malavoglia, with no uniform at all, was worth ten of Don Michele; whatever she gave to him she gave with all her heart. In this way ‘Ntoni earned his living, and when his grandfather reproved him for doing nothing, or his sister looked grave-ly at him with her large melancholy eyes, he would reply:

“And do I ask you for anything? I don’t spend any money out of the house, and I earn my own bread.”

“It would be better that you should die of hun-ger,” said his grandfather, “and that we all fell dead on the spot.”

At last they spoke no more to each other, turning their backs as they sat. Padron ‘Ntoni was driven to silence sooner than quarrel with his grandson, and ‘Ntoni, tired of being preached to, left them there whining, and went off to Rocco Spatu and Cousin Vanni, who at least were jolly and could find every day Gome new trick to play off on somebody. They found one, one day, which was to serenade Uncle Crucifix the night of his marriage with his niece Vespa, and they brought under his windows all the crew, to whom Uncle Crucifix would no longer lend a penny, with broken pots and bottles, sheep’s bells, and whistles of cane, making the devil’s own row until midnight; so that Vespa got up the next morning rather greener than usual, and railed at that hussy of a Santuzza, in whose tavern all that noisy raff had got up that nasty trick; and it was all out of jealousy she had done it, because she couldn’t get married herself as Vespa had.

Everybody laughed at Uncle Crucifix when he appeared in the piazza in his new clothes, yellow as a corpse, and half frightened out of his wits at Vespa and the money she had made him spend for his new clothes. Vespa was always spending and spilling, and if he had left her alone would have emptied his money-bags in a fortnight; and she said that now she was mistress, so that there was the devil to pay between them every day. His wife planted her nails in his face, and screamed that she was going to keep the keys herself; that she didn’t see why she should want a bit of bread or a new kerchief worse than she did before; and if she had known what was to come of her mar-riage, with such a husband, too! she would have kept her fields and her medal of the Daughters of Mary. And he screamed, too, that he was ruined; that he was no longer master in his own house; that now he had the cholera in his house in good earnest; that they wanted to kill him before his time, to waste the money that he had spent his life in putting together! He, too, if he had known how it would be, would have seen them both at the devil, his wife and her fields, first; that he didn’t need a wife, and they had frightened him into taking Vespa, telling him that Brasi Cipolla was going to run off with her and her fields. Cursed be her fields!

Just at this point it came out that Brasi Cipolla had allowed himself to be taken possession of by the Mangiacarubbe, like a great stupid lout as he was; and Padron Fortunato was always hunting for them up and down on the heath, in the ravine, under the bridge, everywhere, foaming at the mouth, and swearing that if he caught them he would kick them as long as he could stand, and would wring his son’s ears off for him. Uncle Crucifix, at this, became quite desperate, and said that the Mangia-carubbe had ruined him by not running off with Brasi a week sooner. “This is the will of God!” he said, beating his breast. “ The will of God is that I should have taken this Wasp to expiate my sins.” And his sins must have been heavy, for the Wasp poisoned the bread in his mouth, and made him suffer the pains of purgatory both by day and by night.

The neighbors never came near the Malavoglia now, any more than if the cholera were still in the house; but left her alone, with her sister in her flowered kerchief, or with Nunziata and her cousin Anna, when they had the charity to come and chat with her a bit. As for Anna, she was as badly off as they were with her drunkard of a son, and now ev-erybody knew all about it; and Nunziata, too, who had been so little when that scamp of a father of hers had deserted her and gone elsewhere to seek his fortune. The poor things felt for each other, for that very reason, when they talked together, in low tones, with bent heads and hands folded under their aprons, and also when they were silent, each absorbed in her own pain.

“When people are as badly off as we are,” said Lia, speaking like a grown-up woman, “every one must take care of one’s self, and look after one’s own interests.”

Don Michele, every now and then, would stop and joke with them a little, so that the girls got used to his gold-bound cap, and were no longer afraid of him; and, little by little, Lia began to joke with him herself, and to laugh at him; nor did Mena dare to scold her, or to leave her and go into the kitchen, now they had no mother, but stayed with them crouching on the door-step, looking up and down the street with her tired eyes. Now that they were deserted by the neighbors, they felt their hearts swell with gratitude towards Don Michele, who, with all his uniform, did not disdain to stop at the Malavoglia’s door for a chat now and then. And if Don Michele found Lia alone he would look into her eyes, pulling his mustaches, with his gold-bound cap on one side, and say to her, “ What a pretty girl you are, Cousin Malavoglia!”

Nobody else had ever told her that, so she turned as red as a tomato.

“How does it happen that you are not yet mar-ried?” Don Michele asked her one day.

She shrugged her shoulders, and answered that she did not know.

“You ought to have a dress of silk and wool, and long ear-rings; and then, upon my word, there’d be many a fine city lady not fit to hold a candle to you.”

“A dress of silk and wool would not be a proper thing for me, Don Michele,” replied Lia.

“But why? Hasn’t the Zuppidda one? And the Mangiacarubbe, now that she has caught Brasi Cipolla, won’t she have one too? And Vespa, too, can have one if she likes.”

“They are rich, they are.”

“Cruel fate!” cried Don Michele, striking the hilt of his sword with his fist. “ I wish I could win a tern in the lottery, Cousin Lia. Then I’d show you what I’d do.”

Sometimes Don Michele would add, “Permit -me,” with his hand to his cap, and sit down near them on the stones. Mena thought he came for Barbara, and said nothing. But to Lia Don Mi-chele swore that he did not come there on account of Barbara, that he never had, that he never should, that he was thinking of quite a different person did not Cousin Lia know that? And he rubbed his chin and twisted his mustaches and stared at her like a basilisk. The girl turned all sorts of “col-ors, and got up to run into the house; but Don Michele caught her by the hand, and said:

“Do you wish to offend me, Cousin Malavoglia? Why do you treat me in this way? Stay where you are; nobody means to eat you.”

So, while they were waiting for the men to come back from sea, they passed the time, she in the door, and Don Michele on the stones, breaking little twigs to pieces because he did not know what to do with his hands. Once he asked her, “Would you like to go and live in town?”

“What should I do in town?”

“That’s the place for you! You were not meant to live here with these peasants, upon my honor! You are of a better sort than they are; you ought to live in a pretty little cottage, or in a villa, and to go to the marina, or to the promenade when there is music, dressed prettily, as I should like to see you with a pretty silk kerchief on your head, and an amber necklace. Here I feel as if I were living in the midst of pigs. Upon my honor I can hardly wait for the time when I shall be promoted, and recalled to town, as they have promised me, next year.”

Lia began to laugh as if it were all a joke, shaking her shoulders at the idea. She, who didn’t know even what silk kerchiefs or amber necklaces were like.

Then one day Don Michele drew out of his pock-et, with great mystery, a fine red and yellow silk kerchief wrapped up in a pretty paper, and wanted to make a present of it to Cousin Lia.

“No, no!” said she, turning fiery red. “ I wouldn’t take it, no, not if you killed me.”

Don Michele insisted. “ I did not expect this,

Cousin Lia; I do not deserve this.” But after all, he had to wrap the kerchief once more in the paper and put it back into his pocket.

After this, whenever she caught a glimpse of Don Michele, Lia ran off to hide herself in the house, fearing that he would try to give her the kerchief. It was in vain that Don Michele passed up and down the street, the Zuppidda screaming at him all the time; in vain that he stretched his neck peering into the Malavoglia’s door; no one was ever to be seen, so that at last he made up his mind to go in. The girls, when they saw him standing before them, stared, open-mouthed, trembling as if they had the ague, not knowing what to do.

“You would not take the silk kerchief, Cousin Lia,” he said to the girl, who turned red as a poppy, “but I have come all the same, because I like you all so much. What is your brother ‘Ntoni doing now?”

Now Mena turned red too, when he asked what her brother ‘Ntoni was doing, for he was doing nothing. And Don Michele went on: “I am afraid he will do something that you will not like, your brother ‘Ntoni. I am your friend, and I take no notice; but when another brigadier comes in my place he will be wanting to know what your brother is always about with Cinghialenta and that other pretty specimen, Rocco Spatu, down by the Rotolo in the evening, or walking about the downs, as if they had nothing to do but to wear out their shoes.

Look after him well, Cousin Mena, and listen to what I tell you; tell him not to go so much with that meddling old wretch Goosefoot, in Vanni Piz-zuti’s shop, for we know everything; and he will come to harm among them. The others are old foxes. And you had better tell your grandfather to stop him from walking so much up and down the beach, for the beach is not meant to walk about on; and the cliffs of the Rotolo have ears, tell him; and one can see very well, even without glasses, the boats that put out from there at dusk, as if they were going to fish for bats. Tell him this, Cousin Mena; and tell him, too, that this warning comes from one who is your friend. As for Master Cin-ghialenta, and Rocco Spatu, and Vanni Pizzuti as well, we have our eye on them. Your brother trusts old Goosefoot, but he does not know that the coast-guards have a percentage on smuggled goods, and that they always manage to get hold of some one of a gang, and give him a share to spy on them that they may be surprised.”

Mena opened her eyes still wider, and turned pale, without quite understanding all this long speech; but she had been trembling already for fear that her brother would get into trouble with the men in uniform. Don Michele, to give her courage, took her hand, and went on:

“If it came to be known that I had warned you, it would be all over with me. I am risking my uniform in telling you this, because I am so fond of all you Malavoglia. But I should be very sorry if your brother got into trouble. No, I don’t want to meet him some night in some ugly place where he has no business; no, I wouldn’t have it happen to catch a booty worth a thousand francs, upon my honor I wouldn’t.”

The poor girls hadn’t a moment’s peace after Don Micheie had warned them of this new cause of anxiety. They didn’t shut their eyes of a night, waiting behind the door for their brother, some-times until very late, trembling with cold and terror, while he went singing up and down the streets with Rocco Spatu and the rest of the gang, and the poor girls seemed to hear the cries and the shots as they had heard them that night when there was the talk of hunting two-legged quail.

“You go to bed, and to sleep,” said Mena to her sister; “ you are too young for such things as this.”

To her grandfather she said nothing, for she wished to spare him this fresh trouble, but to ‘Ntoni, when she saw him a little more quiet than usual, sitting at the door with his chin upon his hands, she took courage to say: “ What are you doing, going about with Rocco Spatu and Cinghialen-ta? You have been seen with them at the Rotolo and on the downs. And beware of Goosefoot. Remember how Jesus said to John, ‘ Beware of them whom God has marked.’ ”

“Who told you that?” said ‘Ntoni, leaping up as if he were possessed. “ Tell me who told you.”

“Don Michele told me,” she answered, with tear-ful eyes. “ He told me that you should beware of Goosefoot, and that to catch the smugglers they had to get information from some one of the gang.”

“He told you nothing else?”

“No, he told me nothing else.”

Then ‘Ntoni swore that there wasn’t a word of truth in the whole of it, and told her she mustn’t tell his grandfather. Then he got up and went off in a hurry to the tavern to drown his worries in wine, and if he met any of the fellows in uniform he gave them a wide berth. After all, Don Michele really knew nothing about it, and only talked at random to frighten him because he was jealous about San-tuzza, who had turned him (Don Michele) out of the house like a mangy dog. And, in short, he wasn’t afraid either of Don Michele or of any of his crew, that were paid to suck the blood of the people. A fine thing, to be sure! Don Michele had no need to help himself in that fashion, fat and sleek as he was, and he must needs try to lay hands on some poor helpless devil or other if he tried to get hold of a stray five-franc piece. And that oth-er idea, too, that to get anything in from outside the country one must pay the duty, as if the things had been stolen! And Don Michele and his spies must come poking their noses into it. They were free to take whatever they liked, and were paid for doing it; but others, if they tried at the risk of their lives to get their goods on shore, were treated worse than thieves, and shot down like wolves with pistols and carbines. But it never was a sin to rob thieves. Don Giammaria said so himself in the druggist’s shop. And Don Franco nodded, beard and all, and sneered that when they got a republic there would be no more such dirty work as that.

“Nor of those devil’s officials,” added the vicar.

“A lot of idle fellows who are paid for carrying guns about!” snarled the druggist, “ like the priests, who take forty centimes for saying a mass. Tell us, Don Giammaria, how much capital do you put into the masses that you get paid for?”

“About as much as you put into that dirty water that you make us pay the eyes out of our heads for,” said the priest, foaming at the mouth.

Don Franco had learned to laugh like Don Sil-vestro, just on purpose to put Don Giammaria into a passion; and he went on, without listening to him:

“Yes, in half an hour their work is done, and they can amuse themselves for the rest of the day, just the same as Don Michele, who goes flitting about like a great ugly bird all day long, now that he doesn’t keep the benches warm at Santuzza’s any more.”

“For that, he has taken it up with me,” inter-posed ‘Ntoni; “ and he is as cross as a bear, and goes swaggering about, because he has a sabre tied to him. But, by Our Lady’s blood! one. time or another, I’ll beat it about his head, that sabre of his, to show him how much I care for it and for him.”

“Bravo!” exclaimed the druggist. “ That’s the way to talk! The people ought to show their teeth. But not here; I don’t want a fuss in my shop. The Government would give anything to get me into a scrape, but I don’t care to have anything to do with their judges and tribunals and the rest of their machinery.”

‘Ntoni Malavoglia raised his fist in the air, and swore that he was going to have done with it, once for all, if he went to the galleys for it for the mat-ter of that, he had nothing to lose. Santuzza no longer looked upon him as she formerly did, so much had her father obtained of her, always whining and wheedling at her between one Ave Maria and another, since Master Filippo had left off keeping his wine in their cellar. He said that the cus-tomers were thinning off like flies at Saint An-drew’s Day, now they no longer found Master Filippo’s wine, which they had drunk ever since they were babies. Uncle Santoro kept on saying to his daughter: “What do you want with that great useless ‘Ntoni Malavoglia always about the place? Don’t you see that he is eating you out of house and home, to no purpose? You fatten him like a pig, and then he goes off and makes eyes at Vespa or the Mangtacarubbe, now that they are rich;” or he said, “Your customers are leaving you because you always have ‘Ntoni after you, so that nobody has a chance to laugh or talk with you;” or, “He’s so dirty and ragged that he is a shame to foe seen; the place looks like a stable, and people don’t want to drink out of the glasses after him. Don Michele looked well at the door, with his cap with the gold braid. People like to drink their wine in peace when they have paid for it, and they like to see a man with a sabre at the door, and everybody took off their caps to him, and nobody was likely to deny a debt to you while he was about. Now that he doesn’t come, Master Fi-lippo doesn’t come either. The other day he was passing, and I wanted him to come in, but he said it was of no use now, for he couldn’t get anything in contraband any longer, now you had quarrelled with Don Michele which is neither good for the soul nor for the body. People are beginning to murmur already, and to say that the charity you give to ‘Ntoni is not blameless, and if it goes on the vicar may hear of it, and you may lose your medal.”

At first Santuzza held out, for, as she said, she was determined to be mistress in her own house; but afterwards she began to see things in another light, and no longer treated ‘Ntoni as she used to do. If there was anything left at meals she did not give it to him, and she left the glasses dirty, and gave him no wine; so that at last he began to look cross, and then she told him that she didn’t want any idk fellows about the place, and that she and her father earned their bread, and that he ought to do the same. Couldn’t he help a bit about the house, chopping wood or blowing up the fire, instead of always shouting and screaming about, or sleeping with his head on his arms, or else spitting about everywhere so that one didn’t know where to set one’s foot? ‘Ntoni for a while did chop the wood, or blew the fire, which he preferred, as it was easier work. But he found it hard to work like a dog, worse than he did at home, and be treated like a dog into the bargain, with hard words and cross looks and all for the sake of the dirty plates they gave him to lick.

At last, one day when Santuzza had just come back from confession, he made a scene, complaining that Don Michele had begun to hover about the house again, and that he had waited for her in the piazza when she came home from church, and that Uncle Santoro had called to him when he heard his voice as he was passing, and had followed him as far as Vanni Pizzuti’s shop, feeling the walls with his stick. Santuzza flew into a passion, and said that he had come on purpose to bring her into sin again, and make her lose her communion.

“If you are not pleased you can go,” she said. “Did I say anything when I saw you running after Vespa and the Mangiacarubbe, now that they have got themselves married?”

But ‘Ntoni swore there wasn’t a word of truth in it, that he didn’t go running after any women, and that she might spit in his face if she saw him speaking to either of them.

“No, you won’t get rid of him that way,” said Uncle Santoro. “ Don’t you see that he won’t leave you because he lives at your expense? You won’t get him out unless you kick him out. Mas-ter Filippo has told me that he can’t keep his new wine any longer in the barrels, and that he won’t let you have it unless you make it up with Don Mi-chele, and help him to smuggle it in as he used to do.” And he went off after Master Filippo to Vanni Pizzuti’s shop, feeling his way along the walls with his stick.

His daughter put on haughty airs, protesting that she never would forgive Don Michele after the ugly trick he had played her.

“Let me manage it,” said Uncle Santoro. “ I assure you I can be discreet enough about it. Don’t believe I will ever let you go back and lick Don Michele’ s boots. Am I your father, or not?”

‘Ntoni, since Santuzza had begun to be rude to him, was obliged to look somewhere else for his dinner, for he was ashamed to go home where all the time his people were thinking of him with every mouthful they ate, feeling almost as if he were dead too; and they did not even spread the cloth any more, but sat scattered about the room with the plates on their knees.

“This is the last blow for me, in my old age,” said his grandfather, and those who saw him pass, bent down with the nets on his shoulders, on his way to his day’s work, said to each other:

“This is Padron ‘Ntoni’s last winter. It will not be long before those orphans are left quite alone in the world.”

And Lia, when Mena told her to stay in the house when Don Michele passed by, answered, with a pout: “Yes, it is worth while staying in the house, for such precious persons as we are! You needn’t be afraid anybody’ll want to steal us.”

“Oh, if your mother were here you wouldn’t talk in that way,” murmured Mena.

“If my mother were here I shouldn’t be an or-phan, and shouldn’t have to take care of myself. Nor would ‘Ntoni go wandering about the streets, until it is a shame to hear one’s self called his sis-ter. And not a soul would think of taking ‘Ntoni Malavoglia’s sister for a wife.”

‘Ntoni, now that he was in bad luck, was not ashamed to show himself everywhere with Rocco Spatu, and with Cinghialenta, on the downs and by the Rotolo, and was seen whispering to them mysteriously, like a lot of wolves. Don Michele came back to Mena, saying, “ Your brother will play you an ugly trick some day, Cousin Mena.”

Mena was driven to going out to look for her brother on the downs, or towards the Rotolo, or at the door of the tavern, sobbing and crying, and pulling him by the sleeve. But he replied:

“No, it is all Don Michele; he is determined to ruin me, I tell you. He is always plotting against me with Uncle Santoro. I have heard them myself in Pizzuti’s shop; and that spy said to him, ‘ And if I come back to your daughter, what kind of a figure shall I cut?’ And Uncle Santoro an-swered, ‘ But when I tell you that the whole place will by that time be dying of envy of you?’ ”

“But what do you mean to do?” asked Mena, with her pale face. “ Think of our mother, ‘Ntoni, and of us who have no one left in the world!”

“Nothing! I mean to put Santuzza to shame, and him too, as they go to the mass, before all the world. I mean to tell them what I think of them, and make them a laughing-stock for everybody. I fear nobody in the world. And the druggist himself shall hear me.”

In short, it was useless for Mena to weep or to beg. He went on saying that he had nothing to lose, and the others should look after themselves and not blame him; that he was tired of that life, and meant to end it, as Don Franco said. And since he was not kindly received at the tavern, he took to lounging about the piazza, especially on Sun-days, and sat on the church-steps to see what sort of a face those shameless wretches would wear, trying to deceive not only the world, but Our Lord and the Madonna under their very eyes.

Santuzza, not wishing to meet ‘Ntoni, went to Aci Castello to mass early in the morning, not to be led into temptation. ‘Ntoni watched the Mangia-carubbe, with her face wrapped in her mantle, not looking to the right or to the left, now she had caught a husband. Vespa, all over flounces, and with a very big rosary, went to besiege Heaven that she might be delivered from her scourge of a hus-band, and ‘Ntoni snarled after them: “ Now that they have caught husbands, they want nothing more. They’ve somebody to see that they have plenty to eat.” Uncle Crucifix had lost even his devotional habits since he had got Vespa on his shoulders; he kept away from church, to be free from her presence at least for so long a time, to the great peril of his soul.

“This is my last year!” he whined. And now he was always running after Padron ‘Ntoni and the others who were badly off. “ This year I shall have hail in my vineyard, you’ll see; I shall not have a drop of wine!”

“You know, Uncle Crucifix,” replied Padron ‘Ntoni, u as soon as you like, I am ready to go to the notary for that affair of the house, and I have the money here.”

That one cared for nothing but his house, and other people’s affairs were nothing to him.

“Don’t talk to me of the notary, Padron ‘Ntoni. If I hear any one speak of a notary I am reminded of the day when I let Vespa drag me before one. Cursed be that day!”

But Cousin Goosefoot, who smelled a bargain, said to him, “ That witch of a Wasp, after your death, may be capable of selling the house by the med-lar for next to nothing; isn’t it better that you should finish up your own affairs while you can?” And Uncle Crucifix would reply: “ Yes, yes, I’ll go to the notary; but you must let me make some profit on the affair. Look how many losses I have had!” And Goosefoot, feigning to agree with him, would add, “ That witch of a wife of yours must not know that you have the money, or she might twist your neck for the sake of spending it in neck-laces and new gowns.” And he went on: “ At least the Mangiacarubbe does not throw her money away, now she has caught a husband. Look how she comes to church in a cotton gown!”

“I don’t care for the Mangiacarubbe; but I know she and all the other women ought to be burned alive. They are only put in the world for our damnation. Do you believe that she doesn’t spend the money? That’s all put on to take in Padron Fortunate, who goes about declaring that he’d rather marry a girl himself out of the street than let his money go to that beggar, who has stolen his son from him. I’d give him Vespa, for my part, if he wanted her! They’re all alike! And woe to whoever gets one for his misfortune! The Lord help him! Look at Don Michele, who goes up and down the black street after Donna Rosolina! What does he need more, that one? Respected, well paid, fat, and comfortable! Well, he goes running after a woman, looking for trouble with a lantern, for the sake of the vicar’s few soldi after his death!”

“No, he doesn’t go for Donna Rosolina, no,” said Goosefoot, winking mysteriously. “ Donna Rosolina may take root on her terrace among her tomatoes, with her eyes like a dead fish’s. Don Michele doesn’t care for the vicar’s money. I know what he goes to the black street for.”

“Then, what will you take for the house?” asked Padron ‘Ntoni, returning to the subject.

“We’ll see, we’ll see when we go to the notary,” replied old Crucifix. “Now let me listen to the blessed mass;” and so he sent him off for that time.

“Don Michele has something else in his head,” repeated Goosefoot, running his tongue out behind Padron ‘Ntoni’s back, and making a sign towards his grandson, who was leaning against the wall, with a ragged jacket over one shoulder, and casting furious looks at Uncle Santoro, who had taken to coming to mass to hold out his hand to the faith-ful in the intervals of muttered Glorias and Ave Marias, knowing them all very well as they passed him on their way out, saying to one, “ The Lord bless you;” to another, “God give you health;” and as Don Michele passed, he said to him, “ Go to her, she is waiting for you in the garden. Holy Mary, pray for us! Lord be merciful to me a sinner!”

When Don Michele began to go back to the tav-ern people said: “ Look if the cat and dog haven’t made friends! There must have been some reason for their quarrelling. And Master Filippo has gone back too. He seems to have been fonder of Don Michele than of Santuzza! Some people wouldn’t care to be alone, even in Paradise.”

Then ‘Ntoni Malavoglia was furious, finding himself hustled out of the tavern worse than a mangy dog, without even a penny in his pocket to pay to go and drink in spite of Don Michele and his mus-taches, and sit there all day long for the sake of plaguing them, with his elbows on the table. In-stead of which he was obliged to spend the day in the street, like a dog with his tail between his legs and his nose to the ground, muttering, “ Blood of Judas! ‘one day there’ll be an upsetting there, that there will.”

Rocco Spatu and Cinghialenta, who always had more or less money, laughed in his face from the door of the tavern, pointing their fingers at him, or came out to talk to him in low tones, pulling him by the arm in the direction of the downs, or whis-pering in his ear. He hesitated always about giving them an answer, like a fool as he was. Then they would come down upon him both at once. “You deserve to die of hunger, there in sight of the door, and to have us sneering at you worse than Don Michele does, you faint-hearted wretch, you!”

“Blood of Judas! don’t talk like that,” cried ‘Ntoni, shaking his fist in the air; u or else some day something new will happen, that there will!”

But the others went sneering off and left him, until at last they succeeded in putting him into such a fury that he came straight into the middle of the tavern among them all, pale as a corpse, with his hand on his hip, and on his shoulder his old worn jacket, which he wore as proudly as if it had been a velvet coat, turning his blazing eyes about the room, looking out for somebody. Don Michele, out of respect for his own uniform, pretended not to see him, and made as if he would go away; but ‘Ntoni, seeing that Don Michele was not in the humor for fighting, became outrageously insolent, sneering at him and at Santuzza, and spitting out the wine which he drank, swearing that it was poi-son, and baptized besides, for Santuzza had mixed it with water, and they were simply fools to go into such a place as that to throw away their money; and that was the reason why he had left off coming there. Santuzza, touched in her weakest point, could no longer command her temper, and flew out at him, saying that he didn’t come because they wouldn’t have him, that they were tired of keeping him for charity, and they had had to use the broom-handle to him before he’d go, a great hungry dog! And ‘Ntoni began to rage and storm, roaring and flinging the glasses about, which, he said, they had put out to catch that other great codfish in uniform, but he would bring his wine out at his nose for him; he wasn’t afraid of anybody.

Don Michele, white with rage, with his cap on one side, stammered, “ This will end badly, will end badly!” while Santuzza rained flasks and glasses upon both of them. At last they flew at each other with their fists, until they both rolled on the floor like two dogs, and the others went at them with kicks and thumps trying to part them, which at last Peppi Naso, the butcher, succeeded in doing by dint of lashing them with the leather strap which he took off his trousers, which took the skin off wherever it touched.

Don Michele brushed off his uniform, picked up his sabre, which he had lost in the scuffle, and went out, only muttering something between his teeth, for his uniform’s sake. But ‘Ntoni Malavoglia, with the blood streaming from his nose, called out a lot of bad names after him rubbing his nose with his sleeve meanwhile, and swearing that he would soon give him the rest of it.

Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 12:01