The House by the Medlar-Tree, by Giovanni Verga


PEOPLE said that Lia was gone to live with Don Michele; that the Malavoglia, after all, had nothing left to lose, and Don Michele would give her bread to eat. Padron ‘Ntoni was of no use to any-body any more. He did nothing but wander about, bent almost double, and uttering at intervals prov-erbs without sense or meaning, like, “A hatchet for the fallen tree”; “Who falls in the water gets wet”; “The thinnest horse has the most flies”; and when they asked him why he was always wandering about, he said, “ Hunger drives the wolf out of the wood,” or, “The hungry dog fears not the stick,” but no one asked how he was, or seemed to care about him, now he was reduced to such a condition. They teased him, and asked him why he stood waiting with his back against the church-tower, like Uncle Crucifix when he had money to lend — or sit-ting under the boats which were drawn up on the sand, as if he had Padron Fortunato’s bark out at sea. And Padron ‘Ntoni replied that he was waiting for Death, who would not come to take him, for

“Long are the days of the unhappy.” No one in the house ever spoke of Lia, not even Sant’Agata, who, if she wished to relieve her feelings, went and wept beside her mother’s bed when she was alone in the house. Now this house, too, had become as wide as the sea, and they were lost in it. The money was gone with ‘Ntoni, Alessio was always away here or there at work, and Nunziata used to be charitable enough to come and kindle the fire when Mena used to have to go out towards evening and lead her grandfather home in the dusk, because he was half blind. Don Silvestro and oth-ers in the place said that Alessio would do better to send his grandfather to the poor-house, now that he was of no more use to anybody; but that was the only thing that frightened the poor old fellow. Every time that Mena led him out by the hand in the morning to take him where the sun shone, “ to wait for Death,” he thought that they were leading him to the poor-house, so silly was he grown, and he went on stammering, “ But will Death never come?” so that some people used to ask him, laughing, where he thought Death had gone.

Alessio came back every Saturday night and brought all his money and counted it out to his grandfather, as if he had still been reasonable. He always replied, “Yes, yes,” and nodded his head, and they always had to hide the little sum under the mattress, in the old place, and told him, to please him, that they were putting it away to buy back the house by the medlar-tree, and that in a year or two they should have enough. But then the old man shook his head obstinately, and replied that now they did not need the house, and that it would have been better if there had never been the house of the Malavoglia, now that the Malavoglia were all scattered here and there. Once he called Nunziata aside under the almond — tree, when no one was by, and seemed to be anxious to say something very important; but he moved his lips without speaking, and seemed to be seeking for words, looking from side to side. “Is it true what they say about Lia?” he said at last.

“No!” replied Nunziata, crossing her hands on her breast, “no; by the Madonna of Ognino, it is not true!”

He began to shake his head, with his chin sunk on his breast. “Then why has she run away, too? Why has she run away ?”

And he went about the house looking for her, pretending to have lost his cap, touching the bed and the cupboard, and sitting down at the loom without speaking. “ Do you know,” he asked after a while “do you know where she is gone?” But to Mena he said nothing. Nunziata really did not know where she was, nor did any one else in the place.

One evening there came and stopped in the black street Alfio Mosca, with the cart, to which was now harnessed a mule; and he had had the fever at

Bicocca and had nearly died, so that his face was yellow as saffron, and he had lost his fine, straight figure, but the mule was fat and shining.

“Do you remember when I went away to Bi-cocca? when you were still in the house by the medlar?” he asked. “Now everything is changed, for ‘the world is round, some swim and some are drowned.’ “ This time they had not even a glass of wine to offer him in welcome.

Cousin Alfio knew where Li a was he had seen her with his own eyes, looking just as Cousin Mena used to when she used to come to her window and he talked to her from his. For which reason he sat still, looking from one thing to another, looking at the furniture and at the walls, and feeling as if the loaded cart were lying on his breast, while he sat without speaking beside the empty table, to which they no longer sat down to eat the evening meal.

“Now I must go,” he repeated, finding that no one spoke to him. “When one has left one’s home it is better never to come back, for everything changes while one is away, and even the faces that meet one are changed, so that one feels like a stranger.”

Mena continued silent. Meanwhile Alessio began to tell him how he had made up his mind to marry Nunziata as soon as he had put together a little money, and Alfio replied that he was quite right, if Nunziata had also saved a little money, for that she was a good girl, and everybody knew her in the place. So even do our nearest and dearest forget us when we are no longer here, and each thinks of his own affairs and of bearing the burden which God has given him, like Alfio Mosca’s ass, poor beast, who was sold, and gone no one knew where.

Nunziata had her own dowry by this time, for her brothers were growing big enough to earn their own bread, and even to put by now and then a soldo; and she had never bought jewellery or good clothes for herself, for, she said, gold was for rich people, and white clothes it was nonsense to buy while she was still growing.

By this time she was grown up, a tall, slight girl with black hair and deep sweet eyes, that had never lost the look they wore when she found herself deserted by her father, with all her little brothers on her hands, whom she had reared through all those years of care and trouble. Seeing how she had pulled through all these troubles she and her lit-tle brothers, and she a slip of a thing “ no bigger than the broom-handle “ every one was glad to speak to her and to notice her if they met her in the street. “ The money we have,” she said to Cousin Alfio, who was almost like a relation, they had known him so long. “At All Saints my eldest brother is going to Master Filippo as hired man, and the second to Padron Cipolla, in his place. When we have found a place for Turi I shall marry, but I must wait until I am older and my father gives his consent.”

“But your father doesn’t even think whether you are alive or dead,” said Alfio.

“If he were to come back now,” said Nunziata, calmly, in her sweet voice, sitting quietly with her hands on her knees, “ he would stay, because now we have some money.”

Then Cousin Alfio repeated to Alessio that he would do well to marry Nunziata, now that she had money.

“We shall buy back the house by the medlar,” added Alessio; “ and grandfather will live with us. When the others come back they will live there too, and if Nunziata’s father comes, there will also be room for him.”

No one spoke of Lia, but they all thought of her as they sat with arms on their knees, looking into the moonlight.

Finally Cousin Mosca got up to go, because his mule shook his bells impatiently, almost as if he had known who it was whom Cousin Alfio had met, and whom they did not expect, at the house by the medlar-tree.

Uncle Crucifix expected that the Malavoglia would come to him about that house by the medlar, which had been lying all this time on his hands as if nobody cared to have it; so that he had no soon-er heard that Alfio Mosca was come back to the place than he went after him to ask him to speak to the Malavoglia and induce them to settle the affair, forgetting, apparently, that he had been so jealous of Alfio Mosca, when he went away, that he had wished to break his ribs with a big stick.

“Listen, Cousin Alfio,” said Dumb-bell. “If you’ll arrange that affair of the house with the Mal-avoglia, when they have the money, I’ll give you enough to pay for the shoes you’ll wear out going between us.”

Cousin Alfio went to speak to the Malavoglia, but Padron ‘Ntoni shook his head and said, “No; now we should not know what to do with the house, for Mena is not likely to marry, and there are no Malavoglia left. I am still here, because the afflicted have long lives. But when I am gone Alessio will marry Nunziata, and they will go away from the place.”

He, too, was going away. The greater part of the time he passed in bed, like a crab under the pebbles, crying out with pain. “What have I to do here?” he stammered, and he felt as if he was robbing them of the food they gave him. In vain did Mena and Alessio seek to persuade him other-wise. He repeated that he was robbing them of their food and of their time, and made them count the money hidden under the mattress, and if it grew less, he muttered: “At least if I were not here you would not need to spend so much. There is nothing left for me to do here, and it is time I was gone.”

The doctor, who came to feel his pulse, said that it was better they should take him to the hospital, for where he was he wore out his own life, and theirs too, to no purpose. Meanwhile the poor old man looked from one to the other trying to guess what was said, with sad faded eyes, trembling lest they should send him to the poor-house. Alessio would not hear of sending him to the poor-house, and said that while there was bread for any of them, there was for all; and Mena, for her part, also said no, and took him out into the sun on fine days, and sat down by him with her distaff, telling him stories as she would have done to a child, and spinning, when she was not obliged to go to wash. She talked to him also of what they would do if any little provi-dential fortune were to happen to them, to comfort him, telling him how they would buy a calf at Saint Sebastian, and how she would be able to cut grass enough to feed it through the winter. In May they would sell it again at a profit; and she showed him the brood of chickens she had, and how they came picking about their feet as they sat in the sun and rolling in the dust of the street. With the money they would get for the chickens they would buy a pig, so as not to lose the fig-peelings or the water in which the macaroni had been boiled, and at the end of the year it would be as if they had been put-ting money in a money-box. The old man, with his hands on his stick, ‘gave approving nods, looking at the chickens. He listened so attentively that at last he got so far as to say that if they had got back the house by the medlar they could have kept the pig in the court, and that it would bring a certain profit with Cousin Naso. At the house by the medlar — tree there was also the stable for the calf, and the shed for the hay, and everything. He went on, recalling one thing after another, looking about him with sunken eyes and his chin upon his stick. Then he would ask his granddaughter under his breath, “What was it the doctor said about the hospital?”

And Mena would scold him as if he were a child, saying to him, “ Why do you think about such things?”

He was silent, and listened quietly to all she said. But then he repeated, “ Don’t send me to the hos-pital, I’m not used to it.”

At last he ceased to get out of bed, and the doc-tor said that it was all over with him, and that he could do no more, but that he might live like that for years, and that Alessio and Mena, and Nunzi-ata, too, would have to give up their day’s work to take care of him; for that if there were not some one near him the pigs might eat him up if the door were left open.

Padron ‘Ntoni understood quite well what was said, for he looked at their faces one after another with eyes that it would break one’s heart to see; and the doctor was still standing on the door-step with Mena, who was weeping, and Alessio, who said no, and stamped and stormed when he signed to Nunziata to come near him, and whispered to her:

“It will be better to send me to the hospital; here, I am eating them out of house and home. Send me away some day when Mena and Alessio are gone out. They say no, because they have the good heart of the Malavoglia, but I am eating up the money which should be put away for the house; and then the doctor said that I might live like this for years, and there is nothing here for me to do. But I don’t want to live for years down there at the hospital.”

Nunziata began to cry, and she also said no, until all the neighborhood cried out upon them for being proud, when they hadn’t bread to eat. They ashamed to send their grandfather to the hospital, when the rest were scattered about here and there, and in such places, too!

So it went on, over and over, and the doctor kept on saying that it was of no use, his coming and going for nothing; and when the gossips came to stand round the old man’s bed, Cousin Grazia, or Anna, or Nunziata, he went on saying that the fleas were eating him up. Padron ‘Ntoni did not dare to open his mouth, but lay there still, worn and pale. And as the gossips went on talking among themselves, and even Nunziata could not answer them, one day when Alessio was not there he said, at last:

“Go and call Cousin Alfio Mosca, that he may do me the charity to carry me to the hospital in his cart.”

So Padron ‘Ntoni went away to the hospital in Alfio Mosca’s cart they had put the mattress and pillows in it but the poor sick man, although he said nothing, looked long at everything while they carried him to the cart one day when Alessio was gone to Riposto, and they had sent Mena away on some pretext, or they would not have let him go. In the black street, when they passed before the “house by the medlar-tree, and while they were crossing the piazza, Padron ‘Ntoni continued to look about him as if to fix everything in his memory. Alfio led the mule on one side, and Nunziata who had left Turi in charge of the calf, the turkeys, and the fowls walked on the other side, with the bun-dle of shirts under her arm. Seeing the cart pass, every one came out to look at it, and watched it until it was out of sight; and Don Silvestro said that they had done quite right, and that it was for that the commune paid the rate for the hospital; and Don Franco would also have made his little speech if Don Silvestro had not been there. “At least that poor devil will be left in peace,” said Uncle Crucifix.

“Necessity abases nobility,” said Padron Cipolla, and Santuzza repeated an Ave Maria for the poor old man. Only the cousin Anna and Cousin Grace Goosefoot wiped their eyes with their aprons as the cart moved slowly away, jolting on the stones. But

Uncle Tino chicl his wife: “What are you whining about? Am I dead? What is it to you?”

Alfio Mosca, as he guided the cart, related to Nunziata how and where he had seen Lia, who was the image of Sant’Agata; and he even yet could hardly believe that he had really seen her, and his voice was almost lost as he spoke of it, to while the time, as they walked along the dusty road. “Ah, Nunziata! who would have thought it when we used to talk to each other from the doors, and the moon shone, and we heard the neighbors talking in front, and Sant’Agata’s loom was going all day long, and those hens that knew her as soon as she opened the door, and La Longa, who called her from the court, and everything could be heard in my house as plainly as in theirs. Poor Longa! See, now, that I have my mule and everything just as I wished, and I wouldn’t have believed it would have happened if an angel had told me; now I am always thinking of those old times and the evenings when I heard all your voices when I was stabling my donkey, and saw the light in the house by the medlar, which is now shut up, and how when I came back I found nothing as I left it, and Cousin Mena so changed! When one leaves one’s own place it is better never to come back. See, I keep thinking, too, about that poor donkey that worked for me so long, and went on always, rain or shine, with his bent head and his long ears. Now who knows where they drive him, by what rough ways, or with what heavy loads, and how his ears hang down lower than ever, and he snuffs at the earth which will soon cover him, for he is old, poor beast?”

Padron ‘Ntoni, stretched on the mattress, heard nothing, and they had put a covering drawn over canes on the cart, so that it seemed as if they were carrying a corpse.

“For him it is best that he should not hear,” continued Cousin Alfio. “ He felt for ‘Ntoni’s trouble, and it would be so much worse if he ever came to hear how Lia has gone.”

“He asked me about her often when we were alone,” said Nunziata. “ He wanted to know where she was.”

“>he is worse off than her brother is. We, poor things, are like sheep; we go where we see others go. You must never tell any one, especially any one in our place, where I saw Lia, for it would kill Sant’Agata. She recognized me, certainly, when I passed where she stood at the door, for she turned white and then red, and I whipped my mule to get past as quick as I could, and I am sure that poor thing would rather have had the cart go over her, or that I might have been driving her the corpse that her grandfather seems. Now the family of the Malavoglia is destroyed, and you and Alessio must bring it up again.”

“We have the money for the plenishing. At Saint John’s Day we shall sell the calf.”

“Bravo! So, when the money is put away there won’t be the chance of losing it in a day, as you might if the calf happened to die the Lord forbid! Here we are at the first houses of the town, and you can wait for me here if you don’t want to come to the hospital/’

“No. I want to go too, so at least I shall see where they put him, and he will have me with him to the last moment.”

Padron ‘Ntoni saw them even to the last moment, and while Nunziata went away with Alfio Mosca, slowly, slowly, down the long, long room, that seemed like a church, he accompanied them with his eyes, and then turned on his side and moved no more. Cousin Alfio and Nunziata rolled up the mattress and the cover, and got into the cart and drove home over the long dusty road in silence.

Alessio beat his head with his fists and tore his hair when he found his grandfather no longer in his bed, and when they brought home his mattress rolled up, and raved at Mena as if it had been she who had sent him away. But Cousin Alfio said to him: “What will you have? The house of the Malavoglia is destroyed, and you and Nunziata must set it going again.”

He wanted to go on talking about the money and about the calf, of which he and the girl had been talking as they went to town; but Mena and Alessio would not listen to him, but sat, with their heads in their hands and eyes full of tears, at the door of the house, where they were now alone, indeed. Cousin Alfio tried to comfort them by talking of the old days of the house by the medlar-tree, when they used to talk to each other from the doors in the moonlight, and how all day long Sant’Agata’s loom was beating, and the hens were clucking, and they heard the voice of La Longa, who was always busy. Now everything was changed, and when one left one’s own place it was best, he said, never to come back; for even the street was not the same, now there was no one coming there for the Mangiacarubbe; and even Don Silvestro never was seen waiting for the Zuppidda to fall at his feet; and Uncle Crucifix was always shut up in the house looking after his things or quarrelling with Vespa; and even in the drug shop there wasn’t so much talking since Don Franco had looked the law in the face and shut himself in to read the pa-per, and pounded all his ideas up into his mor-tar to pass away the time. Even Padron Cipolla no longer wore out the steps of the church by sit-ting there so much since he had had no peace at home.

One fine day came the news that Padron Fortu-nato was going to be married, in order that the Mangiacarubbe might not devour his substance in spite of him, for that he now no longer wore out the church-steps, but was going to marry Barbara Zuppidda. “And he said matrimony was like a rat-trap,” growled Uncle Crucifix. “After that I’ll trust nobody.”

The curious girls said that Barbara was going to marry her grandfather, but sensible people like Peppi Naso and Goosefoot, and Don Franco, too, murmured: “ Now Venera has got the better of Don Silvestro, and it is a great blow for Don Sil-vestro, and it would be better if he left the place. Hang all foreigners! Here no foreigners ever really take root. Don Silvestro will never dare to measure himself with Padron Cipolla.”

“What did he think?” screamed Venera, with her hands on her hips “ that he could starve me into giving him my girl? This time I will have my way, and I have made my husband understand as much. ‘The faithful dog sticks to his own trough.’ We want no foreigners in our house. Once we were much better off in the place before the strangers came to write down on paper every mouthful that one ate, or to pound marsh-mallows in a mortar, and fatten on other people’s blood. Then every-body knew everybody and what everybody did, and what their fathers and grandfathers had done, even to what they had to eat; if one saw a person pass one knew where they were going, and the fields and the vineyards belonged to the people who were born among them, and the fish didn’t let themselves be caught by just anybody. In those days people didn’t go wandering here and there and didn’t die in the hospital.”

Since everybody was getting married, Alfio Mos-ca would have been glad to marry Cousin Mena, who had no longer any prospect of marrying, since the Malavoglia family was broken up, and Cousin Alfio could not now be called a bad match for her, with the mule which he had bought; so he rumi-nated, one Sunday, over all the reasons which could give him courage to speak to her as he sat by her side in front of the door with his back against the wall, breaking twigs off the bushes to give himself a countenance and pass away the time. She watched the people passing by, which was her way of keeping holiday.

“If you are willing to take me now, Cousin Mena,” he said at last, “ I am ready, for my part.”

Poor Mena did not even turn red, feeling that Cousin Alfio had guessed that she had been willing to have him at the time when they were going to give her to Brasi Cipolla so long ago that time ap-peared, and she herself so changed!

“I am old now, Cousin Alfio,” she said; “ I shall never marry.”

“If you are old, then I am old too, for I was older than you were when we used to talk to each other from the windows, and it seems as if it was but yesterday, I remember it all so well. But it must be eight years ago. And now, when your brother Alessio is married, you will be left alone.”

Mena drew her shoulders together with Cousin Anna’s favorite gesture, for she too had learned to do God’s will and not complain; and Cousin Alfio, seeing this, went on: “ Then you do not care for me, Cousin Mena, and I beg you to forgive my asking you to marry me. I know that you are above me, for you are the daughter of a ship-master; but now you have nothing, and when your brother mar-ries you will be left alone. I have my mule and my cart, and I would let you want for nothing, Cousin Mena but pardon the liberty I have taken.”

“You have not taken a liberty, Cousin Alfio, nor am I offended; I would have said yes to you when we had the Provvidenza and the house by the med-lar-tree if my relations had been willing, and God knows what I had in my heart when you went away to Bicocca with the donkey-cart; and it seems as if I could see still the light in the stable, and you piling all your things in the little cart in the court before your house. Do you remember?”

“Indeed, I do remember. Then, why do you not take me now, when I have the mule instead of the donkey, and your family will not say no?”

“I am too old to marry,” said Mena, with her head bent down. “ I am twenty-six years old, and it is too late for me to marry now.”

“No, that is not the reason you will not marry me,” said Alfio, with bent head as well as she. “You won’t tell me the real reason;” and they went on breaking the twigs, without speaking or looking at each other. When he got up to go away, with drooping shoulders and bent head, Mena followed him with her eyes as long as she could see him, and then looked at the wall opposite and sighed.

As Alfio Mosca said, Alessio had taken Nunziata to wife, and had bought back the house by the medlar-tree.

“I am too old to marry,” said Mena; “get mar-ried you, who are still young,” and so she went up into the upper room of the house by the medlar, like an old saucepan, and had set her heart at rest, waiting until Nunziata should give her children to be a mother to. They had the hens in the chicken-coop, and the calf in the stable, and the fodder and the wood in the shed, and the nets and all sorts of tackle hanging up, just as Padron ‘Ntoni had described them; and Nunziata had planted cabbages and cauliflowers in the garden, with those slender arms of hers, that no one would have dreamed could have bleached such yards and yards of linen, or that such a slip of a creature could have brought into the world those rosy fat babies that Mena was always carrying about the place, as if she had borne them, and was their mother in very truth.

Cousin Mosca shook his head when he saw her pass, and turned away with drooping shoulders.

“You did not think me worthy of the honor of marrying you,” he said once when they were alone, and he could bear it no longer.

“No, Cousin Alfio,” answered Mena, with starting tears. “ I swear it by the soul of this innocent creature in my arms; that is not my motive. But I cannot marry.”

“And why should you not marry, Cousin Mena?”

“No, no,” repeated Cousin Mena, now nearly weeping outright. “ Don’t make me say it, Cousin Alfio! Don’t make me speak. If I were to marry now people would begin to talk again of my sister Lia, so that no one can marry a girl of the Malavo-glia after what has happened. You yourself would be the first to repent of doing it. Leave me; I shall never marry, and you must set your heart at rest.”

So Cousin Alfio set his heart at rest, and Mena continued to carry her little nephews in her arms, almost as if her heart, too, were at rest; and she swept out the room up-stairs, to be ready for the others when they came back for they also had been born in the house. “As if they were gone on journeys from which any one ever came back!” said Goosefoot.

Meanwhile Padron ‘Ntoni was gone gone on a long journey, farther than Trieste, farther than Alex-andria in Egypt, the journey whence no man ever yet came back; and when his name fell into the talk, as they sat resting, counting up the expenses of the week, or making plans for the future, in the shade of the medlar-tree, with the plates upon their laps, a silence fell suddenly upon them, for they all seemed to have the poor old man before their eyes, as they had seen him the last time they went to visit him, in that great wide chamber, full of beds in long rows, where they had to look about before they could find him, and the grandfather waited for them as the souls wait in purgatory, with his eyes fixed on the door, although he now could hardly see, and went on touching them to be sure that they were really there and still said nothing, though they could see by his face that there was much he wished to say; and their hearts ached to see the suffering in his face, which he could not tell them. When they told him, however, how they had got back the house by the medlar, and were going to take him back to Trezza again, he said yes, yes with his eyes, to which the light came back once more, and he tried to smile, with that smile of those who smile no more or who smile for the last time, which stays, planted in the heart like a knife.

And so it was with the Malavoglia when they went on Monday with Alfio Mosca’s cart to bring back their grandfather, and found that he was gone. Remembering all these things, they left the spoons on their plates, and went on thinking and thinking of all that had happened, and it all seemed dark, as it was, under the shade of the medlar-tree. Now when their cousin Anna came to spin a little while with her gossips, she had white hair and had lost her cheerful laugh, because she had no time to be gay, now that she had all that family on her shoul-ders, and Rocco, too; and every day she had to go hunting him up, about the streets or in front of the tavern, .and drive him home like a vagabond calf. And the Malavoglia had also two vagabonds; and Alessio went on beating his brains to think where they could be, by what burning hot roads, white with dust, that they had never yet come back after all that long, long time.

Late one evening the dog began to bark behind the door of the court, and Alessio himself, who went to open the door, did not know ‘Ntoni who had come back with a bag under his arm so changed was he, covered with dust, and with a long beard. When he had come in, and sat down in a corner, they hardly dared to welcome him. He did not seem like himself at all, and looked about the walls as if Jhe saw them for the first time; and the dog, who had never known him, barked at him without stopping. They gave him food, and he bent his head over the plate, and ate and drank as if he had not seen the gifts of God for days and days, in silence; but the others could not eat for sadness. Then ‘Ntoni, when he had eaten and rested a while, took up his bag to go.

Alessio had hardly dared to speak, his broth-er was so changed. But seeing him take his bag again, in act to go, his heart leaped up into his breast, and Mena said, in a wild sort of way:

“You’re going?”

“Yes,” replied ‘Ntoni.

“And where will you go?” asked Alessio.

“I don’t know. I came to see you all. But since I have been here the food seems to poison me. Besides, I can’t stay here, where everybody knows me, and for that I came at night. I’ll go along way off, where nobody knows me, and earn my bread.”

The others hardly dared to breathe, for their hearts felt as if they were held in a vice, and they felt that he was right in speaking as he did. ‘Ntoni stood at the door looking about him, not being able to make up his mind to go.

“I will let you know where I am,” he said at last; and when he was in the court under the medlar-tree, where it was dark, he said, “ And grandfather?”

Alessio did not answer. ‘Ntoni was silent, too, for a while, and then said:

“I did not see Lia.”

And as he waited in vain for the answer, he added, with a quiver in his voice, as if he were cold, “Is she dead, too ?”

Still Alessio did not answer. Then ‘Ntoni, who was under the medlar-tree, with his bag in his hand, sat down, for his legs trembled under him, but rose up suddenly, stammering, “Adieu; I must go.”

Before going away he wanted to go over the house to see if everything were in its old place; but now he who had had the heart to leave them all, and to stab Don Michele, and to pass five years in prison, had not the heart to pass from one room into another unless they bade him do it. Alessio, who saw in his eyes that he wanted to see all the place, took him into the stable to show him the calf Nunziata had bought, which was fat and sleek; and in a corner there was the hen with her chick-ens; then he took him in the kitchen, where they had made a new oven, and into the room beside it, where Mena slept with Nunziata’s children, who seemed to her like her own. ‘Ntoni looked at everything, and nodded his head, saying, “ There grandfather would have put the calf, and here the hens usd to be, and here the girls slept when there was the other one “ But there he stopped short, and looked about him, — with tears in his eyes. At that moment the Mangiacarubbe passed by, scolding Brasi Cipolla, her husband, at the top of her voice, and ‘Ntoni said, “ That one has found a hus-band, and now when they have done quarrelling they will go back to their own house to sleep.”

The others were silent, and all the village was still, only now and then was heard the closing of some door; and Alessio at last found courage to say:

“If you will, you, too, have a house to sleep in. The bed is here, kept on purpose for you.”

“No,” replied ‘Ntoni, “I must go away. There is my mother’s bed here, too, that she wetted with her tears when I wanted to go and leave her. Do you remember the pleasant talks we used to have in the evenings while we were salting the ancho-vies? and Nunziata would give out riddles for us to guess, and mamma was there, and Lia, and all of us, and we could hear the whole village talking, as if we had been all one family. And I was ig-norant, and knew no better then than to want to get away; but now I know how it all was, and I must go, I must go.”

He spoke at that moment with his eyes fixed on the ground, and his head bent down between his shoulders. Then Alessio threw his arms round his neck.

“Adieu,” repeated ‘Ntoni. “You see that I am right in saying that I must go. Adieu. Forgive me, all of you.”

And he went, with his bag under his arm; then, when he was in the middle of the piazza, now dark and deserted, for all the doors were shut, he stopped to hear if they would shut the door of the house by the medlar-tree, while the dog barked behind and told him in that sound that he was alone in the midst of the place. Only the sea went on murmuring to him the usual story, down there between the Fariglione for the sea has no country, either, and belongs to whoever will pause to listen to it, here or there, wherever the sun dies or is born; and at Aci Trezza it has even a way of its own of murmuring, which one can recognize immediately, as it gurgles in and out among the rocks, where it breaks, and seems like the voice of a friend.

Then ‘Ntoni stopped in the road to look back at the dark village, and it seemed as if he could not bear to leave it, now that he “knew all,” and he sat down on the low wall of Master Filippo’s vine-yard.

He sat there for a long time, thinking of many things, looking at the dark village, and listening to the murmur of the sea below. He sat there until certain sounds that he knew well began to be heard, and voices called to each other from the doors, and shutters banged, and steps sounded in the dark streets. On the beach at the bottom of the piazza, lights began to twinkle. He lifted his head and looked at the Three Kings, which glowed in the sky, and the Puddara, announcing the dawn, as he had seen it do so many times. Then he bent down his head once more, thinking of all the story of his life. Little by little the sea grew light, and the Three Kings paled in the sky, and the houses became visible, one after another, in the streets, with their closed doors, that all knew each other; only before Vannt Pizzuti’s shop there was the lamp, and Rocco Spatu, with his hands in his pockets, coughing and spitting. “ Before long Uncle San-toro will open the door,” thought ‘Ntoni, “ and curl himself up beside it and begin his day’s work.” He looked at the sea again, that now had grown purple, and. was all covered with boats that had begun the day’s work, too, then took his bag, and said: “ Now it is time I should go, for people will be beginning to pass by. But the first man of them all to begin his day’s work has been Rocco Spatu.”

This web edition published by: eBooks@Adelaide
The University of Adelaide Library
University of Adelaide
South Australia 5005

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