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Title: Under the Shadow of Etna - Sicilian Stories from the Italian of Giovanni Verga
Author: Verga, Giovanni
Language: English
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UNDER THE SHADOW OF ETNA



  [Illustration: "UNDER THE SHADOW OF ETNA."]



     UNDER THE SHADOW
     OF ETNA

     SICILIAN STORIES FROM THE ITALIAN OF
     GIOVANNI VERGA

     BY
     NATHAN HASKELL DOLE

     _ILLUSTRATED_

     BOSTON
     JOSEPH KNIGHT COMPANY
     1896



     COPYRIGHT, 1895,
     BY JOSEPH KNIGHT COMPANY.

     Printed by C. H. Simonds & Co.
     Boston, U.S.A.



CONTENTS.


     HOW PEPPA LOVED GRAMIGNA                        1

     JELI, THE SHEPHERD                             23

     RUSTIC CHIVALRY (_Cavalleria Rusticana_)      101

     LA LUPA                                       117

     THE STORY OF THE ST. JOSEPH'S ASS             131

     THE BEREAVED                                  163



LIST OF ILLUSTRATIONS.


                                                  PAGE

     "UNDER THE SHADOW OF ETNA"         _Frontispiece_

     JELI, THE SHEPHERD                             22

     "LOLA USED TO GO OUT ON THE BALCONY
        WITH HER HANDS CROSSED"                    104

     THE DEATH OF THE ST. JOSEPH'S ASS             158



_INTRODUCTION._


_Giovanni Verga was born at Catania, in Sicily, in 1840. His youth was
spent in Florence and Milan. He afterwards lived in Catania again,
where he had an opportunity of studying those types of the Sicilian
peasantry which he introduces so effectively, and with such dramatic
suggestion, into many of his stories and sketches. After experiencing
grievous family losses he returned to Milan, where he now resides._

_In "L'Amante di Gramigna" Verga gives, in the form of a letter to his
friend, the novelist, S. Farina, a sort of brief exposition of his
literary Creed. Much of the drama is left to the imagination of the
reader, who sees through the lines the action hinted at in a word or a
phrase. Thus, in the story just mentioned, no definite time-limit is
assigned. Months elapse, but only a passing expression gives the clue
to it. It is amazing how definite is the idea left in the mind. It
gives all the vividness of reality._

_"Cavalleria Rusticana," or "Rustic Chivalry," has been known all over
the world by its operatic setting by Mascagni. "La Lupa," which is
scarcely less strong and vital, has been chosen by another Italian
composer, Puccini, as the subject for a two-act opera. These two, as
well as "L'amante di Gramigna" and "Jeli il Pastore," illustrate the
deeper passions of the Sicilian peasantry. Verga's sardonic humor is
shown in "Gli Orfani." How the sordid poverty of the people stands out
in the comparison between the sorrow over the dying ass, and the
utterly materialistic grief at the loss of the painstaking second
wife!_

_"La Storia dell' Asino di San Giuseppe," well illustrates the average
treatment of the long-suffering, long-eared mules and asses which make
so picturesque a part of the scenery of Italian and Spanish countries.
It is a document for the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to
Animals, and well deserves to be circulated together with "Black
Beauty." What pathos in the sudden transfer of the poor little beast
from comparative comfort, at least from the "dolce far niente" of its
foalhood, to the grim realities of life, and its steady and fatal
decline through all the gamut of wretchedness and degradation, to die
at last under the weight of its burdens! And what side glances on the
condition of those unfortunate Sicilians who live in what ought to be
the very garden and Paradise of the world, and yet are so oppressed by
unregulated Nature and too well regulated taxes!_

_It is no land of the imagination into which we are brought by Verga;
there is no fascinating glamour of the virtuous triumphing after many
vicissitudes, and seeing at last the wicked adequately punished. Here
it is grim reality. The poor and weak go relentlessly to the wall;
innocence and humble ignorance are crushed by experienced vice, the
butterfly is singed by the flame; there is little joy, little peace.
The fleckless sky shines down brilliantly on wreck of home and
fortune; the son must go to the army, and the daughter to her shame;
the father's gray hairs must be crowned with dishonor, and despair
must abide in the mother's breast. But yet the stories are not wholly
pessimistic, nor do they give an utterly hopeless idea of the Sicilian
peasant. He shows his capabilities; the woman her fiery zeal and
faithfulness, even when on the wrong track. You see that education and
a little real sympathy might make a great people out of Verga's
"Turiddus" and "Alfios." There are dozens of others of Verga's short
sketches which would repay translation, but the little collection of
Sicilian pictures here presented is marked by quite wonderful variety
and contrast. They well illustrate the author's genius at its best._

     NATHAN HASKELL DOLE.

     _"Hedgecote," Glen Road,
     Jamaica Plain, June 19, 1895_.



NOTE.


Some of the Italian titles applied to the characters in these stories
are retained. They are untranslatable; to omit them takes away from
the Sicilian flavor, which is their great charm. Thus the words
_compare_ (_con_ and _padre_) and _comare_ (_con_ and _madre_),
literally godfather and godmother, are used in almost the same way as
"uncle" and "aunt" in our country districts, only they are applied to
young as well as old; _gnà_ is a contraction for _signora_,
corresponding somewhat to our _mis'_ for "Mrs." _Babbo_ is like our
"dad" or "daddie." _Massaro_ is a farmer; _compagni d'armi_ are
district policemen, not quite the same as _gens d'armes_;
_Bersegliere_ is the member of a special division of the Italian
army.



HOW PEPPA LOVED GRAMIGNA.



UNDER THE SHADOW OF ETNA.



HOW PEPPA LOVED GRAMIGNA.


Dear Farina, this is not a story, but the outline of a story.

It will at least have the merit of being short, and of having fact for
its foundation; it is a human document, as the phrase goes
nowadays:--interesting perhaps for you and for all those who study the
mighty book of the heart. I will tell it just as I found it among the
country paths, and in almost the same simple and picturesque words
that characterize the tales of the people; and really you will prefer
to find yourself facing the bare and unadulterated fact rather than
being obliged to read between the lines of the book through the
author's spectacles.

The simple truth of human life will always make us thoughtful; will
always have the effectiveness of reality, of genuine tears, of the
fevers and sensations that have inflicted the flesh. The mysterious
processes whereby conflicting passions mingle, develop and mature,
will long constitute the chief fascination in the study of that
psychological phenomenon called the plot of a story, and which modern
analysis tries to follow with scientific care, through the hidden
paths of oftentimes apparently contradictory complications.

Of the one that I am going to tell you to-day I shall only narrate the
starting point and the ending, and that will suffice for you, as,
perchance, some day it will suffice for all.

We replace the artistic method to which we owe so many glorious
masterpieces by a different method, more painstaking and more
recondite; we willingly sacrifice the effect of the catastrophe, of
the psychological result as it was seen through an almost divine
intuition by the great artists of the past, and employ instead a
logical development, inexorably necessary, less unexpected, less
dramatic, but not less fatalistic; we are more modest, if not more
humble; but the conquests that we make with our psychological verities
will not be any less useful to the art of the future. Supposing such
perfection in the study of the passions should be ever attained that
it would be useless to go further in the study of the interior man,
will the science of the human heart, the fruit of the new art, so far
and so universally develop all the resources of the imagination that
in the future the only romances written will be "Various Facts?"

I have a firm belief that the triumph of the Novel, the completest and
most human of all the works of art, will increase until the affinity
and cohesion of all its parts will be so perfect, that the process of
its creation will remain a mystery like the development of human
passions; I have a firm belief that the harmony of its forms will be
so absolute, the sincerity of its reality so evident, its method and
justification so deeply rooted, that the artist's hand will remain
absolutely invisible.

Then the romance will seem to portray a real event, and the work of
art will apparently have come about by itself, spontaneously springing
into being and maturing like a natural fact, without any point of
contact with its author. It will not have preserved in its living form
any stamp of the mind in which it originated, any shade of the eye
that beheld it, any trace of the lips that murmured the first words
thereof as the creative fiat; it will exist by its own reason, by the
mere fact that it is as it should be and must be, palpitating with
life and as immutable as a statue of bronze, the author of which has
had the divine courage of eclipsing himself and disappearing in his
immortal work.

       *       *       *       *       *

A few years ago, down by the Simeto, they were giving chase to a
brigand, a certain Gramigna,[1] if I am not mistaken, a name as cursed
as the weed that bears it. The man had left behind him, from one end
of the province to the other, the terror of his evil reputation.
Carabineers, _compagni d'armi_, and cavalry-men had been on his track
for two months, without ever succeeding in putting their claws on him;
he was alone, but was equal to ten, and the evil plant threatened to
take firm root.

  [1] Gramigna means dog's-tail-grass.

Moreover the harvest-time was approaching, the crops already covered
the fields, the ears bent over and were calling to the reapers, who
indeed had their reaping-hooks in their hands, and yet not a single
proprietor dared show his nose over the hedge of his estate, for fear
of meeting Gramigna, who might be stretched out among the furrows
with his carbine between his legs, ready to blow off the head of the
first person who should venture to meddle with his affairs.

Thus the complaints were general. Then the prefect summoned all those
gentlemen of the district--carabineers and companies of armed men and
told them two words of the kind that makes men prick up their ears.
The next day an earthquake in every nook and corner:--patrols,
squadrons, scouts for every ditch and behind every wall; they hunted
him by day, by night, on foot, on horseback, by telegraph, as if he
had been a wild beast! Gramigna eluded them every time, and replied
with shots if they came too close on his track.

In the fields, in the villages, among the factories, under the signs
of country taverns, wherever people met, Gramigna was the only topic
of conversation,--that wild chase, that desperate flight. The
carabineers' horses returned dead-tired; the soldiers threw
themselves down in utter weariness on the ground when they got back to
the stables; the patrols slept wherever chance offered; Gramigna alone
was never tired, never slept, kept always on the wing, climbed down
precipices, slipped through the harvest-fields, crept on all fours
among the prickly pear-trees,[2] made his way out of danger like a
wolf by means of the hidden channels of the torrents.

  [2] Fichidindia, also called Indian figs.

The chief argument of every discourse at the cross roads, before the
village entrances, was the devouring thirst from which the fugitive
must suffer in the immense, barren plain, under the June sun. The lazy
loungers opened wide their eyes.

Peppa, one of the prettiest girls of Licodia, was expecting at that
time soon to marry _compare_ Finu, called "_Candela di sego_" (the
tallow-candle), who had landed property and a bay mule, and was a
tall young man, handsome as the sun, who carried the standard of Santa
Margherita without bending his back, as though he were a pillar.

Peppa's mother shed tears of delight over the good fortune that had
befallen her daughter, and spent her time in looking over and over the
bride's effects in the trunk, all white linen and of the nicest
quality, like a queen's, and earrings that would hang down to the
shoulders and gold rings for all the ten fingers of both hands; more
money than Santa Margherita could have ever had--and so they were to
have been married on Santa Margherita's day, which would fall in June,
after the hay had been harvested.

"Candela di Sego," on his way back from the field, used every evening
to leave his mule at Peppa's front door and go in to tell how the
crops promised to be a veritable enchantment, unless Gramigna set them
on fire, and the lattice over against the bed would not be large
enough to hold all the grain, and that it seemed to him a thousand
years off before he should carry home his bride on the crupper of his
bay mule.

But Peppa one fine day said to him,--

"Let your mule have a rest, for I do not wish to get married."

The poor "Candela di Sego" was dumbfounded, and the old mother began
to tear her hair when she heard that her daughter had refused the best
match in the village.

"I am in love with Gramigna," said the girl, "and he is the only one
whom I will marry."

"Ah!" screamed the mamma, and she stormed through the house, with her
gray hair streaming so that she looked like a witch--"Ah! that demon
has been here to bewitch my daughter!"

"No," replied Peppa, with her eyes flashing like a sword--"no, he has
not been here."

"Where did you ever see him?"

"I never saw him. I have only heard him spoken of. But I feel
something here, that burns me."

The report spread through the region, though they tried to keep it a
secret. The women and girls who had envied Peppa the prosperous
farming, the bay mule and the handsome youth who could bear the
standard of Santa Margherita without bending his back, went around
telling all sorts of unkind stories: how Gramigna had been to visit
her one night in the kitchen, and how he had been seen hiding under
the bed. The poor mother burnt a lamp for the souls in purgatory and
even the curato went to Peppa's house to touch her heart with his
stole, so as to drive out that devil of a Gramigna, who had got
possession of it.

But she persisted in her statement that she did not know the fellow by
sight; but that she had seen him one night in a dream, and the
following morning she had got up with her lips dry as if she had
herself suffered from all the thirst which they reported him to be
enduring.

Then the old woman shut her up in the house, so that she might not
hear another word about Gramigna, and she stopped up all the cracks of
the door with images of the saints.

Peppa heard all that was said in the street behind the sacred images,
and she turned red and white, as if the devil had kindled all his
fires in her face.

Finally she heard it said that Gramigna had been located among the
prickly pear-trees of Palagonia.

"They have been firing for two hours," they said. "He has killed one
carabineer and wounded more than three _compagni d'armi_. But they
sent back such a hailstorm of shots that he must have been hit; there
was a pool of blood where he had been."

Then Peppa made the sign of the cross before the old mother's pillow,
and made her escape out of the window.

Gramigna was in the prickly pear-trees of Palagonia, and they were not
able to find him in that stronghold of rabbits. He was ragged and
covered with blood, pale after two days of fasting, burning with
fever, and he had his carbine levelled. When he saw her coming,
resolute, among the prickly pear bushes, in the dim light of the
gloaming, he hesitated a moment whether to shoot or not:--

"What do you want?" he demanded. "What are you coming here for?"

"I am coming to stay with you," said she, looking straight at him.
"Are you Gramigna?"

"Yes, I am Gramigna. If you expect to get those twenty _oncie_[3] of
reward, you are mightily mistaken."

  [3] An onza is $2.55.

"No, I have come to stay with you," she replied.

"Go away!" said he. "You can't stay with me, and I don't want anyone
with me. If you are after money, I tell you you have made a mistake.
I haven't any, mind you! For two days I haven't had even a morsel of
bread."

"I can't go back home now," said she; "the place is all full of
soldiers."

"Go away! What is that to me? Each for himself."

As she was turning away like a kicked dog, Gramigna called to her:

"Say, go and get me a jug of water, down yonder in the brook. If you
want to stay with me, you must risk your skin."

Peppa went without saying a word, and when Gramigna heard the gunshots
he began to laugh immoderately, and said to himself: "That was meant
for me!"

But when he saw her coming back a few minutes later with the jug in
her hand, pale and bleeding, he said, before he sprang forward to
snatch the jug from her, and then when he had drunk till it seemed as
if he had no more breath:

"You escaped, did you? How did you do it?"

"The soldiers were on the other side, and there was a thick bush on
this."

"But they put a bullet through your skin. There's blood on your
dress."

"Yes."

"Where were you hit?"

"In the shoulder."

"That's nothing. You can walk."

So he allowed her to stay with him. She followed him, all in rags,
shoeless, suffering from the fever caused by the wound, and yet she
went foraging to procure for him a jug of water or a piece of bread,
and if she came back with empty hands, escaping through the gunshots,
her lover, devoured by hunger and thirst, would beat her. At last one
night when the moon was shining in the prickly pears, Gramigna said to
her,--

"They are on us."

And he obliged her to stand with her back to the rock far in the
crevice; then he fled in another direction. Among the bushes were
heard the frequent reports of the musketry, and the shadows were cut
here and there by quick bright flashes. Suddenly Peppa heard the sound
of steps near her and saw Gramigna coming back, dragging along a
broken leg. He leaned against the prickly pear bushes to reload his
carbine:

"It's all over," he said to her. "Now they'll take me."

And what froze the blood in her veins more than anything else was the
light that shone in his eyes, as if he were a madman.

Then when he fell on the dry branches like a log of wood, the soldiers
were on him in an instant.

The following day they dragged him through the village street on a
cart, all in rags and covered with blood. The people who had crowded
in to look at him began to laugh when they saw how small he was, how
pale and ugly like a punchinello. And it was for him that Peppa had
deserted _compare_ Finu, the "Candela di Sego!"

The poor "Candela di Sego" went and hid from sight, as if it behoved
him to be ashamed, and Peppa was led off, handcuffed by soldiers, as
if she also were a thief,--she who had as much gold as Santa
Margherita! Her poor mother was obliged to sell all the white linen
stored in her trunk, and the gold earrings and the rings for the ten
fingers, so as to pay the lawyers who defended her daughter and bring
the girl home again,--poor, ill, in shame, ugly as Gramigna, and with
Gramigna's child in her arms.

But when at the end of the trial her daughter was restored to her, the
poor old soul recited an "Ave Maria" in the bare and already dark jail
among the soldiers of the guard; it seemed to her that they had given
her back a treasure when she had nothing else in the world, and she
wept like a fountain at this consolation.

Peppa on the other hand seemed to have no tears to shed any more, and
said nothing, and disappeared from sight; yet the two women went out
every day to get their living by their own hands. People declared that
Peppa had taken up "the trade" in the woods, and went on robbing
expeditions at night. The truth of the matter was that she hid herself
in the kitchen like a wild beast in its lair, and it was only when her
old mother was dead of her privations, and the house had to be sold,
that she left it.

"See here!" said "Candela di Sego," who was as much in love with her
as ever, "I could smash your head with two stones for the evil you
have brought on yourself and others."

"It's true," replied Peppa, "I know it. It was God's will."

After her house and those few wretched pieces of furniture that were
left to her were sold, she went away from the town by night, just as
she had done before, without turning round to look at the roof under
which she had slept so long, and she went to do God's will in the
city, with her baby boy, near the prison in which Gramigna was
incarcerated. She could see nothing else besides the black grated
windows along the mighty silent façade, and the sentinels drove her
away if she stopped to look where he might be. At last she was told
that he had not been there for some time, that he had been taken away
to the other side of the sea, manacled, and with a basket fastened
over his shoulder.

She said nothing. She did not go away; for she knew not where to go,
and she had nothing more to expect. She made a shift to live, doing
chores for the soldiers, for the prisoners, as if she herself made a
part of that black and silent building; and she felt for the
carabineers who had taken Gramigna in the thicket of prickly pears,
and who had broken his leg with their shots, a sort of respectful
tenderness, as it were a brute admiration of force.

On holidays, when she saw them with their plumes and their glittering
epaulettes, stiff and erect in their gala uniforms, she devoured them
with her eyes, and she was always at the barracks cleaning the big
rooms and polishing the boots, so that they called her "The
Carabineers' dish-cloth."

Only when she saw them load their guns at nightfall and march out, two
and two, with their trousers turned up, revolver in belt, and when
they mounted horse under the light that made the muskets flash, and
heard the clattering of the horses' feet dying away in the darkness
and the jingling of sabres, she always grew pale, and while she was
closing the door of the stable she shivered; and when her youngster
played with the other urchins on the glacis before the prison, running
among the legs of the soldiers, and the urchins called him "Gramigna's
son, Gramigna's son," she flew into a rage and chased them away with
stones.



JELI, THE SHEPHERD.


  [Illustration: JELI, THE SHEPHERD.]



JELI, THE SHEPHERD.


Jeli, who had charge of the horses, was thirteen when he first became
acquainted with the young gentleman, Don Alfonso. But he was so small
that he did not come up to the belly of the old mare Bianca, who
carried the big bell for the drove. Wherever his animals wandered for
their pasturage, here and there, on the mountains and down in the
plain, he was always to be found erect and motionless on some eminence
or squatting on some big rock.

His friend, Don Alfonso, while he was at his country seat, went to
find him all the days that God sent to Tebidi, and shared with him his
piece of chocolate and shepherd's barley-bread and the fruit stolen in
the neighborhood.

At first Jeli called the young nobleman _eccellenza_--your
excellence--as is the custom in Sicily, but after they had had one
good quarrel their friendship was established on a solid basis. Jeli
taught his friend how to climb up to the magpies' nests on the tip-top
of the walnut-trees, higher than the campanile of Licodia, to knock
down a sparrow on the wing with a stone, and to mount with one spring
on the bare backs of his half-wild animals, seizing by the mane the
first that came within reach, without being frightened by the wrathful
whinnyings and the desperate leaps of the untrained colts.

Ah! the delightful gallops across the mown fields with their hair
flying in the wind; the lovely April days when the wind billowed the
green grass and the horses neighed in the pastures; the glorious
summer noons when the whitening fields lay silent under the cloudy
sky, and the crickets crackled among the clods as though the stubble
were on fire; the bright wintry sky seen through the naked branches
of the almond trees shivering under the north wind, and the narrow
path sounding frozen under the horses' hoofs, and the larks singing on
high in the warmth, in the azure; the delicious summer afternoons that
passed slowly, slowly, like the clouds; the sweet odor of the hay in
which they plunged their elbows, and the melancholy humming of the
evening insects, and those two notes of Jeli's zufolo or whistle,
always the same--iuh iuh!--making one think of distant things, of the
feast of Saint John, of Christmas eve, of the dawn of the
_scampagnata_,[4] of all those great events of the past which seemed
sad, so distant were they, and made you look up with moistened eyes as
if all the stars that were kindling in heaven poured showers into your
heart and made it overflow!

  [4] Pic-nic day.

Jeli, himself, did not suffer from any such melancholy; he squatted on
the side of the hill with puffed-out cheeks, quite intent on sounding
his iuh! iuh! iuh! Then he would bring together his drove by dint of
shouts and stones, and drive them into the stable beyond the "poggio
alla Croce."[5]

  [5] Hill with a cross on it.

Out of breath he would mount the hillside beyond the valley, and
sometimes shout to his friend Alfonso,--

"Call the dog! ohè! Call the dog!" or "Fling a good-sized stone at the
bay who's got the better of me and is slowly wandering away, dallying
among the bushes of the valley," or "To-morrow bring me a big
needle--one of _gnà_ Lia's."

He could do all sorts of things with the needle, and he had a heap of
odds and ends in his canvas bag, in case of need, to mend his trousers
or the sleeves of his jacket; he also knew how to braid horsehairs,
and with the clay in the valley he used to wash out his own
handkerchief which he wore around his neck when it was cold. In fact,
provided he had his bag with him, he needed nothing in the world,
whether he were in the woods of Resecone, or lost in the depths of the
plain of Caltagirone. _Gnà_ Lia used to say,--

"Do you see Jeli, the shepherd? He is always alone in the fields, as
if he himself had been born a colt, and that's why he knows how to
make the cross with his two hands!"[6]

  [6] _I.e._, a _lusus naturæ_, abnormal!

Indeed, it is true that Jeli needed nothing, but everybody connected
with the estate would have gladly helped him in any way because he was
a serviceable lad, and there was always a chance of getting something
from him. _Gnà_ Lia baked bread for him out of neighborly love, and he
showed his gratitude by making her osier baskets for her eggs, reels
of reeds, and other little things.

"Let us do as his animals do," said _gnà_ Lia, "they scratch each
other's backs."

At Tebidi every one had known him since he was a baby; there was no
time when he wasn't seen among the tails of the horses pasturing in
the "field of the _lettighiere_" and he had grown up, so to speak,
under their eyes, though really no one ever saw him very much, for he
was forever here and there, roaming about with his drove.

"He had rained down from heaven and the earth had taken him up," as
the proverb has it; he was just one of those who have neither home nor
relatives. His _mamma_ was out at service at Vizzini, and he never saw
her more than once a year when he went with his colts to the fair of
San Giovanni; and the day that she died they came to call him--it was
one Saturday evening--and on the following Monday Jeli was back with
his drove, so that the _contadino_ who had taken his place in looking
after the horses might not lose a day's work; but the poor lad came
back so upset that he kept letting the colts get into the ploughed
land.

"Ohè! Jeli!" cried _massaro_ Agrippino, from the threshing-floor.
"You want to have a taste of the rope's end, do you, you son of a
dog?"

Jeli started to run after his stray colts, and drove them mechanically
toward the hill; but always before his eyes he saw his mamma with her
head done up in the white handkerchief. She would never speak to him
more!

His father was a cow-herd at Ragoleti, beyond Licodia, "where the
malaria could be harvested," as the peasants of that region say,
meaning to signify its density; but in the malarious lands the
pasturage is fat and cows do not catch the fever. Jeli for that reason
stayed in the fields all the year long, either at Don Ferrante's, or
in the enclosure of la Commenda, or in the valley of il Jacitano, and
the hunters or travellers who took cross-cut over the country saw him
in this place or in that, like a dog without a master.

He did not suffer from this state of things because he was accustomed
to be with his horses, as they moved about leisurely nibbling the
clover, and with the birds who flew around him in bevies, while the
sun accomplished his daily journey, slowly, slowly, until the shadows
grew long and then vanished; he had time to watch the clouds pile up
on the horizon, one behind another, and imagine them mountains and
valleys; he knew how the wind blew when it brought thunder-showers,
and what color the clouds were when it was going to snow. Everything
had its aspect and significance, and his eyes and ears were kept on
the alert all day long. In the same way when toward sunset the young
herdsman began to play his alder-whistle, the brown mare would come
up, lazily cropping the clover, and also stand looking with great,
pensive eyes.

The only place where he suffered a little from melancholy was in the
desert lands of Passanitello, where not a grass-blade or a shrub is to
be seen, and during the hot months not a bird flies. The horses there
would cluster together with drooping heads to shade one another, and
during the long days of the threshing that mighty silent radiance
rained down without mitigation for sixteen hours. Wherever pasturage
was abundant and the horses liked to loiter, the lad busied himself
with something else--he would make reed-cages for the crickets, or
carved pipes and little baskets of bulrushes; with four branches he
could set up a shelter for himself when the North wind drove the long
lines of crows through the valley, or, when the cicadæ fluttered their
wings in the broiling sun over the parched stubble; he would roast
acorns in the coals of his sumach fire and imagine they were
chestnuts, or toast his thick slice of bread when it began to grow
musty, because, when he was at Passanitello in winter, the roads were
so bad that sometimes a fortnight would elapse without a single soul
passing.

Don Alfonso, who had been kept in cotton by his parents, envied his
friend Jeli the canvas bag in which he stored his effects,--his
bread, his onions, his bottle of wine, his neckerchief for cold
weather, his little hoard of rags and thread and needles, his little
tin food-box and his flint; he envied him especially that superb
spotted mare, that animal with rough forelock and wicked eyes,
swelling her indignant nostrils like a fierce mastiff when anyone
tried to mount her. Sometimes she would allow Jeli to get on her back
and scratch her ears; she was jealous of him, and would come smelling
round to find out what he was saying.

"Let the _vajata_ be," Jeli would say, "She isn't ugly, but she
doesn't know you."

After Scordu from Bucchiere took away the Calabrian which he had
bought at San Giovanni's Fair, under agreement to keep her in the
drove until vintage time, _Zaino_, the bay colt, orphaned, refused to
be comforted and galloped over the mountain precipices with long,
lamenting neighings, and its nose in the wind. Jeli ran behind it,
calling to it with loud shouts, and the colt paused to listen with its
head in the air, and its ears pricking back and forth, and switching
its flanks with its tail.

"It's because they have carried off his mother, and he doesn't know
what to make of it," observed the herdsman. "Now we must keep him in
sight, for he would be capable of jumping over the precipice. That was
the way I felt when my mamma died; I couldn't see with my eyes."

Then, after the colt began to try the clover and to make believe
bite:--

"See! he is gradually beginning to forget.... But this one will be
sold, too. Horses are made to be sold, just as lambs are born to go to
the butcher, and the clouds to bring the rain. Only the birds have
nothing else to do but sing and fly all day."

These ideas did not come to him clear cut and in sequence one after
the other, for it was rarely that he had anyone to talk with, and,
therefore, he had no cause for haste in starting them up and
disentangling them in the depths of his brain, where he was accustomed
to let them sprout and grow gradually, as the twigs burgeon under the
sun.

"Even the birds," he added, "have to hunt for food, and when the snow
covers the ground they perish."

Then he pondered for a moment,--"You are like the birds; but when
winter comes you can sit by the fire and do nothing."

But Don Alfonso replied that he too went to school and had to study.
Jeli opened his eyes wide and was all ears, while the signorino began
to read, and he looked at the book and at the young master himself
with a suspicious air, listening with that slight winking of the
eyelids which indicates intensity of attention in beasts little
accustomed to mankind.

He was delighted with the poetry that caressed his ears with the
harmony of an incomprehensible song, and occasionally he frowned,
drew up his chin, and made it evident that a great mental operation
was taking place within him; then he nodded "yes, yes," with a crafty
smile, and scratched his head. Then when the signorino started to
write so as to show how many things he knew how to do, Jeli could have
staid whole days watching him; and suddenly he would look round
suspiciously. He could not be persuaded that the words that were said
either by him or by Don Alfonso could possibly be repeated on paper,
and still more--those things that had not proceeded from their mouths,
and he ended with that shrewd smile.

Every new idea which knocked for entrance at his head made him
suspicious; he seemed to try it with the wild diffidence of his
_vajata_. But he expressed no wonder at anything in the world; he
might have been told that in cities horses rode in carriages,--he
would have kept on that mask of oriental indifference which is the
dignity of a Sicilian peasant. It would seem as if he intrenched
himself instinctively in his ignorance, as if it were the force of
poverty. Every time that he remained short of arguments he would
repeat,--

"I do not know at all. I am poor," with that obstinate smile that was
intended to be shrewd.

He had asked his friend Alfonso to write for him the name of Mara on a
piece of paper that he had found somewhere, because it was his habit
to pick up whatever he saw lying about and put into his packet of odds
and ends. One day, after being rather quiet and looking round
anxiously, he said, very gravely,--

"I'm in love with some one."

Alfonso, though he knew how to read, opened his eyes in astonishment.

"Yes," continued Jeli, "_massaro_ Agrippino's daughter Mara, who used
to be here; but now they're at Marineo, in that great house in the
plain that you can see from the 'plain of the _lettighiere_' yonder."

"O you're going to get married, then?"

"Yes, when I'm grown up and have six _onze_ a year wages. Mara knows
nothing about it."

"Why, haven't you told her?"

Jeli shook his head and reflected. Then he opened his hoard and
unfolded the paper which bore the written name.

"It must be that it says 'Mara'; Don Gesualdo, the _campiere_,[7] has
read it; and _fra_ Cola, when he came down here begging for beans."

  [7] Field guard.

"He who knows how to write," he went on saying, "is like one who
preserves words in his tinder-box and can carry them in his pocket,
and even send them this way and that."

"Now what are you going to do with that piece of paper that you can't
read?" asked Alfonso.

Jeli shrugged his shoulders, but kept on carefully folding his written
leaf to put away in his heap of odds and ends.

He had known la Mara ever since she was a little girl. Their
acquaintance had begun in a pitched battle once when they met down in
the valley, both of them after blackberries. The little girl, knowing
that she was "within her rights," had seized Jeli by the neck as if he
were a thief. For awhile they exchanged blows on the slope--"You one,
I one,"--as the cooper does on the hoops of his barrels; but when they
got tired of it they gradually calmed down, though they still had each
other by the hair.

"Who are you?" demanded Mara.

And when Jeli with less breeding refused to tell who he was,--

"I am Mara, the daughter of _Massaro_ Agrippino, who is the keeper of
all these fields here."

Jeli then let his grasp relax, and the little girl set to work to pick
up the blackberries that had fallen during their struggle, now and
then glancing with curiosity at her antagonist.

"Just beyond the bridge, on the edge of the orchard, there are lots
of big berries," suggested the little maid, "and the hens are eating
them."

Jeli meantime was creeping off stealthily, and Mara, after standing on
tip-toe to watch him disappearing in the grove, turned her back and
ran home as fast as her legs would carry her.

But from that day forth they began to be friends. Mara went with her
hemp to spin on to the parapet of the little bridge, and Jeli would
slowly drive his cattle toward the slopes of the _poggio del Bandito_.
At first he kept at a distance, roving around and looking from afar,
with suspicion in his face, but he kept gradually edging near, with
the watchful gait of a dog used to stones. When at last he joined her,
they remained long hours without speaking a word, Jeli attentively
watching the intricate work of the stockings which Mara's mamma had
hung round her neck, or she looking on while he carved his pretty
zig-zags on the almond sticks. Then they would separate, he going one
way, she the other, without saying a word, and the little girl as soon
as she was in sight of her house would start to run, kicking high her
petticoat with her little red legs.

When the prickly pears were ripe they would settle down in the thick
of the bushes, peeling the figs all the live-long day. They would
wander together under the immemorial walnuts, and Jeli would beat so
many of the walnuts that they would shower down thick as hail, and the
girl would tire herself out picking them up with jubilant shouts--more
than she could carry; and then she would scamper away nimbly, holding
up the two corners of her apron, bobbing like a little old woman.

During the winter time, Mara dared not put her nose out of doors, it
was so cold. Sometimes toward evening could be seen the smoke of
Jeli's fires of sumach wood, which he built on the _Piano del
lettighiere_, or on the _Poggio di Macca_, so as not to perish of the
cold, like the tomtits which he sometimes found in the morning behind
some rock, or in the shelter of a clod. The horses also found pleasure
in dangling their tails around the fire, and they would cuddle close
together so as to be warmer.

In March, the larks came back to the plain, the sparrows to the roofs,
the leaves and the nests to the hedges. Mara took up her habit of
going about with Jeli in the soft grass among the flowering bushes
under the still bare trees which were just beginning to show tender
points of green. Jeli would make his way through the brambles like a
bloodhound, so as to discover the nests of the blackbirds which would
look up to him in astonishment with their little keen eyes; the two
children would carry, cuddled in their hearts, little wee rabbits just
born, almost without fur, but already quick to move their long ears.

They would scour the fields in pursuit of the drove of horses,
entering the plains behind the hay-gatherers, step for step with the
herd, pausing every time that a mare stopped to pluck a mouthful of
grass. At evening, when they got back to the bridge, they separated,
he going in one direction, she in another, without saying good-by.

Thus they passed the whole summer. When the sun began to go down
behind the _Poggio alla Croce_, the robin red-breasts also went toward
the mountain, as it grew dark, following the light among the clumps of
prickly pears. The crickets and cicadæ were no longer heard, and at
that hour a great melancholy spread through the air.

About that time, to Jeli's tumble-down hovel came his father, the
cowherd, who had caught the malaria at Ragoleti, and could scarcely
dismount from the ass which brought him. Jeli started a fire quickly,
and ran to "the hall" for some hen's eggs.

"Put a little straw down in front of the fire as soon as you can,"
said his father, "for I feel the fever returning."

The chill of the fever was so severe that _compare_ Menu buried under
his thick cloak, the saddle-bags of the ass and Jeli's sacks shook as
the leaves do in November, in spite of the great blaze of branches
which made his face white as a corpse.

The contadini of the farm came to ask him,--

"How do you think you feel, _compare_ Menu?"

The poor man could only answer with a whine like a sucking puppy.

"It's a kind of malaria that kills more surely than a rifle bullet,"
said his friends, as they warmed their hands at the fire.

The doctor was called, but it was money thrown away, because the
disease is one of those clear and evident ones which even a boy would
know how to cure; unless the fever happens to be so severe that it
will kill at any rate, a little quinine cures it quickly.

_Compare_ Menu spent the eyes of his head for quinine but it was as
good as thrown down a well.

"Take a good dose of _ecalibbiso_ tea, which does not cost anything,"
suggested _massaro_ Agrippino, "and if it doesn't work as well as
quinine it doesn't ruin you by its cost."

So he took the decoction of eucaliptus, but the fever returned all the
same, and even more violently. Jeli attended to his father the best he
knew how. Every morning before he went off with his colts, he left him
his medicine all prepared in a drinking cup, his bundle of dry
branches within reach, his eggs in the hot ashes, and he came back as
early as he could in the afternoon with more wood for the night, and
the bottle of wine and a little piece of mutton, which he had gone as
far as Licodia to buy for him. The poor lad did everything as handily
as a clever maiden would have done, and his father, following him with
weary eyes in his operations about the hovel, sometimes smiled to
think that the boy would be able to do for himself in case he were
left alone in the world.

On days when the fever left him for a few hours, _compare_ Menu would
get up, all feeble as he was, and with his head wrapped in his
handkerchief, would stagger out to the door to wait for Jeli while the
sun was still warm. When Jeli dropped the bundle of wood at the
door-steps, and placed the bottle and the eggs on the table, he would
say to him,--

"Put the _ecalibbiso_ to boiling for to-night," or, "Remember that
your aunt Agata has charge of your mother's money, when I shall be no
more."

Jeli would nod "yes" with his head.

"It is hopeless," said _massaro_ Agrippino, every time he came to see
_compare_ Menu and his fever. "His blood is all diseased by this
time."

_Compare_ Menu listened without winking, with his face whiter than his
night-cap.

He now no longer got up. Jeli began to weep when he found himself not
strong enough to help him turn from one side to the other; shortly
after _compare_ Menu lay perfectly still. The last words that he
spoke to his boy were,--

"When I am dead, go to the owner of the cows at Ragoleti and let him
give you the three _onze_ and the twelve _tumoli_ of corn, which are
my due from March till now."

"No," replied Jeli, "it's only two _onze_ and a half, because you left
the cows more than a month ago, and one must be fair to one's
_padrone_."

"True!" agreed _compare_ Menu, closing his eyes.

"Now I am quite alone in the world, like a lost colt which the wolves
may eat!" said Jeli to himself, when his father had been carried off
to the cemetery of Licodia.

Mara had been one of those who came to see the dead man's house with
that morbid curiosity which is excited by horrible things.

"Do you see how I am left?" asked Jeli, but the girl drew back so
frightened that he could not induce her to step inside the house where
the dead man had been.

Jeli went to receive the money due his father, and then he started off
with his drove for Passanitello, where the grass was already tall on
the fallow-land, and the fodder was abundant; therefore, the colts
remained there for some time in pasture.

Meantime Jeli had been growing into a big lad, and Mara also must be
grown tall, he often thought to himself, while he played on his
_zufalo_; and when he returned to Tebidi after some little time,
slowly driving forward the mares through the dangerous paths of "Uncle
Cosimo's Fountain," he scanned the little bridge down in the valley,
and the hovel in the _Valle del Jacitano_, and the roof of "the Hall"
where the pigeons were always flying.

But at that time the _padrone_ had dismissed _massaro_ Agrippino, and
all Mara's family were just on the point of moving away.

Jeli found the girl, who had grown tall and very pretty, standing at
the entrance of the yard watching the furniture and things, which
they were loading on the cart. The empty room seemed to him more
gloomy and smoky than ever before. The table, the commode and the
images of the Virgin and of Saint John, and even the nails for hanging
up the gourds for seed had left on the walls the marks where they had
been for so many years.

"We are going away," said Mara, when she saw him looking around. "We
are going down to Marineo, where the great house stands in the plain."

Jeli took hold and helped _massaro_ Agrippino and _la gnà Lia_ load up
the cart, and when there was nothing else to carry out of the room he
went and sat down with Mara on the edge of the watering-trough.

"Even houses," he remarked, when he saw the last hamper piled on,
"even houses, when anything is taken away from them, do not any longer
seem the same."

"At Marineo," replied Mara, "we shall have much better rooms, mamma
says, and large as the cheese house."

"Now that you are going away, I shall not want to come here any more;
it seems to me as if winter had come back--to see that door closed."

"At Marineo we shall find other friends, Pudda _la rossa_ and the
_campiere's_ daughter; it will be jolly there; they have more than
eighty harvesters in the season, and the bag-pipes, and they dance on
the threshing-floor."

_Massaro_ Agrippino and his wife had gone off with the cart. Mara ran
behind them, full of joyous excitement, carrying the baskets with the
pigeons. Jeli was going to accompany her as far as the little bridge;
and when Mara was just on the point of disappearing down the valley he
called after her, "Mara! oh! Mara!"

"What do you want?" demanded Mara.

He knew not what he wanted.

"Oh! what will you do here all alone?" asked the girl.

"I shall stay with the colts."

Mara ran skipping away, and he stood there as if rooted to the spot
so as to catch the last sounds of the cart rattling over the stones.

The sun was just resting on the high rocks of the _Poggio alla Croce_,
the gray crests of the olive trees were shading into the twilight and
over the vast campagna far away, nothing was heard except the tinkling
bell of "Bianca" in the gathering stillness.

Mara, now that she was in the midst of new faces and amid all the
bustle of the grape gathering, forgot about Jeli; but he was always
thinking about her, because he had nothing else to do in the long days
that he spent looking at the horses' tails. There was now no special
reason for him to go down into the valley beyond the bridge, and no
one ever saw him any more at the farm.

Thus it was that he was for some time ignorant that Mara had become
betrothed--so much water had run and run under the bridge. The only
time that he saw the girl was on the day of Saint John's _Festa_,
when he went to the fair with his colts to sell; a festa which changed
everything for him into poison, and caused the bread to fall out of
his mouth by reason of an accident that befell one of the _padrone's_
colts--the Lord deliver us!

On the day of the fair, the factor waited for the colts ever since
dawn, walking impatiently up and down in his well-polished boots
behind the groups of horses and mules that came filing in along the
highway from this direction and that. It was almost time for the fair
to close, and still Jeli with his animals was not in sight beyond the
turn made by the highway. On the parched slopes of _Calvario_ and the
_Mulino a vento_--the Wind-Mill Mountain--there remained only a few
droves of sheep gathered in a circle, with noses drooping and weary
eyes, and a few yoke of oxen with long hair--of the kind that are sold
to satisfy unpaid rent, waiting motionless under the boiling sun.

Yonder toward the valley, the bell of San Giovanni's was ringing for
High Mass, accompanied by the long crackling of the fireworks.

Then the fair grounds seemed to spring up, and there ran a prolonged
cry among the shops of the green grocers, clustered in the place
called _salita dei Galli_, spreading through the country roads and
seeming to return from the valley where the church stood.

"Viva San Giovanni!"

"_Santo diavolone!_" screamed the factor. "That assassin of a Jeli
will make me lose the fair!"

The sheep lifted their heads in astonishment and began to bleat all at
once, and the cattle also made a step or two, slowly looking around
with their great, calm eyes.

The factor was in a rage because he was expected that day to pay the
rent due for the large enclosures--as the contract expressed it, "when
Saint John arrived under the elm;" and to make up the full sum, the
profits on the sale of the colts was necessary. Meantime the colts and
horses and mules were coming in such numbers as the good Lord had seen
fit to make, all curried and shining and adorned with tassels and
cockades and bells; and they were switching their tails to while away
their tedium, and turning their heads toward every one who passed, and
evidently waiting for some charitable soul willing to buy them.

"He must have gone to sleep on the way, the assassin!" yelled the
factor, "and so made me lose the sale of my colts."

In reality, Jeli had travelled all night so that the colts might reach
the fair fresh, and get a good position on their arrival; and he had
reached the _piano del Corvo_, and the "three kings" had not yet set,
but were shining over _monte Arturo_. There was a continuous
procession of carts passing along the road, and people mounted on
horses or mules going to the _festa_. Therefore, the young fellow
kept his eyes open so that the colts, frightened by the unusual
commotion, might not get away, but that he might keep them together
along the ridge of the road behind _la bianca_, the white mare, who
with the bell around her neck, always travelled straight ahead without
minding anything.

From time to time, when the road ran over the crest of the hills, the
bell of Saint John's could be heard in the distance, and in the
darkness and silence of the plain the rumor of the _festa_ was
distinguishable, and along the whole road far away, wherever there
were people on foot or on horseback going to Vizzini, were heard
shouts of "_Viva San Giovanni!_" And the rockets rose up high in the
air and brilliant behind the mountains of la Canzaria, like the rain
of meteors in August.

"It is like Christmas Eve!" Jeli kept saying to the boy, who was
helping him drive the herd. "And in every place there is feasting and
light, and throughout the whole campagna you can see fireworks."

The boy was half asleep as he forced one leg after the other, and he
made no response; but Jeli, who felt his blood stir within him at the
sound of that bell, could not keep quiet, as if each one of those
rockets that left their silent shining trails on the darkness behind
the mountains burst forth from his soul.

"Mara also must be going to the _festa_ of Saint John," he said,
"because she goes every year."

And without caring because the boy made no reply,--

"Don't you know? Mara is now so big that she must be taller than her
mother, and when I saw her last I couldn't believe that it was the
very same girl with whom I used to go after prickly pears and knock
off the nuts."

And he began to sing at the top of his voice all the songs that he
knew.

"Oh Alfio, why do you sleep?" he cried, when he was through with
them. "Look out that you keep _la bianca_ always behind you, look
out!"

"No, I am not asleep," replied Alfio, with a hoarse voice.

"Do you see _la puddara_[8] which stands winking down at us yonder, as
if they were firing up rockets also at Santa Domenica? It is almost
sunrise; we shall reach the fair in time to secure a good position.
Ah! _morellino bello_! you pretty little brownie! You shall have a new
halter, that you shall, with red cockades for the fair; and so shall
you, _stellato_!"[9]

  [8] La puddara is the Sicilian name for Ursa Major,--the Big Bear.

  [9] Stellato, starred, said of a horse with a white spot in his
  forehead.

       *       *       *       *       *

Thus he went on, talking to one and another of his colts so that they
might be encouraged hearing his voice in the darkness. But it grieved
him to think that the _stellato_ and the _morellino_ were going to the
fair to be sold.

"When they are sold, they'll go off with a new master, and we shan't
see them any more in the herd, just as it was with Mara after she went
to Marineo.

"Her father is well-to-do down there at Marineo, and when I was there,
found myself, poor fellow that I was, sitting down to bread and wine
and cheese, and everything good that God gives, and as if he were the
factor himself, and he has the keys to everything, and I could eat up
the whole place if I had wanted. Mara scarcely knew me, it had been so
long since we had seen each other, and she cried out,--'Oh, look!
there's Jeli the guardian of the horses, from Tebidi. He is like one
who comes home from abroad, who only at the sight of the distant
mountain-top is quick enough to recognize the country where he grew
up.' _Gnà_ Lia didn't want me to speak to her daughter with the _thee_
and the _thou_, because Mara had grown to be so big, and the people
who don't know about things easily gossip. But Mara only laughed, and
looked as if she had only just that minute been baking the bread, so
rosy her face was; she was getting the dinner ready, and she was
unfolding the table-cloth, and she seemed different. 'Oh, have you
forgotten Tebidi?' I asked her as soon as _gnà_ Lia went out to broach
a fresh cask of wine. 'No, no, I haven't forgotten' said she. 'At
Tebidi there was a bell with a campanile looking like the handle of a
salt-cellar, and there used to be two stone cats which stood at the
entrance of the garden.' I felt all through me those things that she
was saying. Mara looked at me from head to heels, with her eyes wide
open, and then she said,--'How tall you've grown!' and then she began
to laugh, and then she patted me on the head--here!"

In this way Jeli, the guardian of the horses, came to lose his place;
for just at that instant there suddenly appeared a coach, which had
given no sign of its approach, because it had been slowly climbing
the steep ascent, but started off at full speed as soon as it reached
the level ground at the top, with a great cracking of whips and
jingling of bells, as if it were carried by the devil himself. The
colts, in alarm, galloped off quicker than a flash, as if there had
been an earthquake, and all the shouts and cries and _ohi! ohi!
ohi's!_ of Jeli and the boy scarcely sufficed to collect them again
around _la bianca_, who in spite of her gravity had shied away
desperately with the bell around her neck.

When Jeli had counted over his animals he discovered that _stellato_
was missing, and he buried his hands in his hair, because at that
place the road ran along side a deep ravine, and it was down in that
ravine that _stellato_ broke his back--a colt worth a dozen _onze_,
like a dozen angels from Paradise! Weeping and shouting he went
calling the colt _ahu! ahu!_ It was too dark to see it. At last
_stellato_ replied from the bottom of the ravine with a melancholy
neigh, as if it had human speech, poor creature!

"Oh, mamma mia!" cried Jeli and the boy, as they went to it. "Oh, what
bad luck! mamma mia!"

The travellers on their way to the _festa_, hearing such a lamentation
in the darkness, asked what they had lost, and then when they learned
what had happened, went on their way.

The _stellato_ remained motionless where it had fallen, with its legs
in the air, and while Jeli was feeling it all over, weeping and
talking to it as if he could make it understand, the poor creature
stretched out its neck painfully and turned its head toward him, and
then could be heard its breathing, cut short by its agony.

"Something must be broken!" mourned Jeli in despair, because nothing
could be seen in the darkness; and the colt, inert as a rock, let its
head fall back. Alfio, who remained on the road above in charge of the
drove, had begun to view the matter more calmly, and had taken out his
bread from his bag.

The sky by this time was beginning to grow pale, and the mountains all
around seemed to be blossoming out, one after another, dark and high.
From the bend in the road the country round about began to stand out,
with _monte del Calvario_ and _monte del Mulino a vento_--the Windmill
Mountain--outlined against the dawn. They were still in shadow, but
the flocks of sheep made white blurs, and as the herds of cattle
grazing along the ridge of the mountains wandered hither and thither
against the azure sky, it seemed as if the profile of the mountain
itself were alive and full of motion.

The bell from the depths of the valley was no longer heard; travellers
were growing less numerous, and those who passed along were in haste
to reach the fair. Poor Jeli knew not what saint to call on in that
solitude. Alfio himself could not help him in any way; so the boy
continued breaking off the morsels of his loaf leisurely.

At last the factor was seen coming along mounted, cursing and swearing
as he came, at seeing his animals stopped on the road. When Alfio saw
him he ran off down the hill. But Jeli did not stir from the side of
the _stellato_. The factor left his mule by the roadside, and climbed
down into the ravine. He tried to help the colt to rise; he pulled him
by the tail.

"Let him be," said Jeli, as white in the face as if it were himself
whose back was broken. "Let him be! Don't you see that he can't move,
poor creature."

The _stellato_, in fact, at every movement and at every attempt made
to help him, set up a screech that seemed human. The factor fell on
Jeli tooth and nail, and gave him as many kicks as there are angels
and saints in Paradise. By this time Alfio had got his courage back,
and had returned to the road, so that the animals might not be without
a guardian, and he tried to excuse himself, saying, "'T wasn't my
fault. I was on ahead with the _bianca_."

"There's nothing more to be done," said the factor at last, having
persuaded himself that it was all time lost. "Nothing can be done with
this colt but to take his pelt; that's good for something."

Jeli began to tremble like a leaf when he saw the factor go and fetch
his gun from the mule's pack.

"Get off of him, good-for-nothing!" shouted the factor. "I don't know
what keeps me from laying you out beside this colt, which is worth
more than you, in spite of the swine's baptism which that thief of a
priest gave you!"

The _stellato_, unable to move, turned its head, with its big, steady
eyes, as if it understood every word, and its skin crisped in waves
along the back-bone as if a chill ran over it.

In that way, the factor killed the _stellato_ on the spot, so as at
least to save his pelt, and the dull noise which the gun held at short
range made, as the charge pierced the living flesh, Jeli thought he
felt in his own heart.

"Now if you want a piece of advice from me," said the factor, as he
left him there, "I'd not let the master lay eyes on you, in spite of
that bit of wages due you, for you may be sure, he'd give it to you
with a vengeance!"

The factor went off together with Alfio, taking along the other colts,
which did not once turn round to see what had become of the
_stellato_, but proceeded cropping the grass along the ridge. The poor
_stellato_ was left alone in the ravine waiting for the knacker to
flay him, its eyes were still wide open, and its four legs stretched
into the air, for to stretch them up was the only thing it could do.

Jeli, now that he had seen how the factor had been able to aim at the
colt, as it painfully lifted its head in fear, and had been courageous
enough to fire off the gun at it, no longer wept, but remained sitting
on a rock looking at the _stellato_ till the men came to take off the
pelt. Now he might go at his own pleasure and enjoy the _festa_, or
stand in the square all day long and see the gentlemen in the _café_,
as best pleased him, for now he no longer had bread or a shelter, and
it behooved him to find a new _padrone_, if any one would take him
after the misfortune of the _stellato_.

Thus go things in this world:--While Jeli was seeking a new employer,
walking about with his bag over his shoulder and his staff in his
hand, the band was playing gayly in the square, with plumes in their
caps, and surrounded by a merry throng of white hats thick as flies,
and the gentlemen were enjoying themselves as they sat at their
coffee. All the people were dressed in holiday attire like the animals
of the fair, and in one corner of the square was a lady, with a short
gown and flesh-colored stockings, making her appear bare-legged, and
she was pounding on a great box before a great painted sheet on which
appeared a slaughter of Christians with blood flowing in torrents,
and, there among the throng, gazing with open mouth, was _massaro_
Cola, whom he used to know when he was at Passanitello, and he told
him that he would find him an employer, because _compare_ Isidoro
Macca was in want of a herdsman for his hogs.

"But I wouldn't say anything about _stellato_," recommended _massaro_
Cola. "A misfortune like that might happen to any one in the world.
But it is best not to talk about it."

So they went in search of _compare_ Macca, who was at the ball, and
while _massaro_ Cola went to plead his cause, Jeli waited outside in
the street in the midst of the throng, who were gazing in at the door
of the hall. In the big room, there was a world of people jumping
about enjoying themselves, all flushed and perspiring, and making a
great trampling on the floor, while above all was heard the _ron ron_
of the double bass, and as soon as one piece of music, costing a
_grano_,[10] was finished they would all lift their fingers to
signify that they wanted another; and the man of the double bass
would make a cross with a piece of charcoal on the wall, to keep
account to the last, and then begin over again.

  [10] A fraction of a soldo, or cent.

"Those in there spend without thought," said Jeli, to himself. "That
means that they have their pockets full and are not in trouble as I
am, for lack of an employer, and if they sweat and tire themselves out
in dancing, it is for their own pleasure, as if they were paid by the
day."

_Massaro_ Cola came back saying that _compare_ Macca needed no one.

Then Jeli turned away, and walked off gloomily, gloomily.

Mara's home was toward Sant'Antonio, where the houses climb up the
mountainside, facing the valley of la Canziria, all green with prickly
pears, and with the mill-wheels churning the water into foam in the
lowlands by the stream. But Jeli hadn't the courage to go in that
direction, now that they needed no one to watch the swine; and,
making his way amid the throng which jostled him and pushed him
without any thought of him, he seemed more alone than ever he had been
when he was with his colts in the plains of Passanitello, and he felt
like weeping.

At last _massaro_ Agrippino, wandering about with his arms swinging,
and enjoying the _festa_, fell in with him in the square, and shouted
to him,--

"Oh! Jeli! oh!" and took him home.

Mara was in gala dress, with such long ear-rings that they hung down
to her cheeks, and she was standing on the threshold with her hands
folded, loaded with rings, waiting till it should grow dark, so as to
go and see the fireworks.

"Oh!" said Mara to him, "so you have come also for the _festa_ of
Saint John!"

Jeli did not want to go in because he was shabbily dressed, but
_massaro_ Agrippino forced him in saying that it was not the first
time they had ever seen each other, and that he knew that he had come
to the fair with his employer's colts. _Gnà_ Lia poured him out a good
generous glass of wine, and wanted to take him with them to see the
illuminations, together with the _comari_ and their other neighbors.

When they reached the square Jeli stood with open mouth, wondering at
the spectacle; the whole square seemed a sea of fire as when the
steppes are burning, and the reason was the great number of torches
which the devout lighted under the eyes of the saint, who stood
enjoying it all at the entrance of _il Rosario_--all black under his
silver baldachin. The acolytes were coming and going amid the flames
like so many demons, and there was, moreover, a woman in loose attire
and with dishevelled hair, and with her eyes staring out of her head,
also engaged in lighting the candles, and a priest in a black soutane
and without a hat, like one rendered crazy by religion.

"There's the son of _massaro_ Neri, the factor of Saloni, and he is
spending more than ten _lire_ for rockets," said _gnà_ Lia, pointing
to a young man who was going round through the square holding two
rockets in each hand, just like candles, so that all the women
devoured him with their eyes, and cried to him: "_Viva San Giovanni!_"

"His father is rich and owns more than twenty head of cattle," added
_massaro_ Agrippino.

Mara also knew well that he had carried the great banner in the
procession, and held it as straight as a pillar--such a strong and
handsome youth was he.

_Massaro_ Neri's son seemed to have heard them, and he set off his
rockets for Mara, making the wheel of fire before her, and after this
part of the fireworks was over, he joined them, and took them to the
ball and to the cosmorama, where the new world and the old world were
to be seen depicted, and he paid for them all, even for Jeli, who
followed behind the others like a masterless cur, to see _massaro_
Neri's son dancing with Mara, who whirled round and crouched down
like a dove on a roof, and held daintily up the corner of her apron,
and _massaro_ Neri's son gamboling like a colt, so that _gnà_ Lia wept
like a child at the consolation of the sight, and _massaro_ Agrippino
nodded with his head to signify that all was going to his mind.

At last when they were all tired, they went out where the people were
promenading, and they were carried away by the crowd as if they were
in the midst of a torrent, and there they saw the transparencies
lighted where the decapitation of Saint John was represented with such
faithfulness that it would have moved the heart of a Turk, and the
saint kicked out his legs like a goat under the hatchet. Near by the
band was playing under a great wooden umbrella, all lighted up, and in
the square there was such a crowd that one would have said never
before had so many Christians come to the fair.

Mara went holding _massaro_ Neri's son's arm, as if she were a fine
lady, and she whispered into his ear and laughed, as if she were
having a fine time. Jeli was utterly tired out, and actually went to
sleep sitting on the sidewalk till the first bombs of the fireworks
were sent up. At that moment Mara was still by the side of _massaro_
Neri's son, leaning against him with her hands clasped on his
shoulder, and in the different-colored lights from the fireworks she
seemed now all white and now all rosy. When the last sparks died away
in the darkness of the sky, _massaro_ Neri's son turned toward her,
with green light on his face, and gave her a kiss.

Jeli said nothing, but at that instant all that he had enjoyed till
then changed into poison, and he began once more to think of his
misfortunes, which he had for the moment forgotten--that he was
without an employer--and knew not what to do, nor where to go, that he
had no food or shelter; that the dogs might eat him as they were
eating the poor _stellato_ left down in the bottom of the ravine,
skinned to the hoofs!

Meantime, around him the people were still making merry in the
darkness that had ensued; Mara, with her companions, was dancing and
singing through the rock-paved streets as they turned homeward.

"Good-night! Good-night--_buona notte_!" shouted the people to one
another, as they were left at their own doors. Mara shouted
"good-night--_buona notte_!" in her musical voice, and it expressed
her happiness, and _massaro_ Neri's son did not see fit to leave her
while _massaro_ Agrippino and _gnà_ Lia were disputing about the
opening of the house door. No one gave Jeli a thought, till at last
_massaro_ Agrippino remembered him, and said,--

"And where are you going?"

"I don't know," said Jeli.

"Come and see me to-morrow and I will help you find a place. For
to-night, go back to the square where we have been hearing the band
play. You'll find a spot on some bench, and sleep out doors; you must
be used to that."

Jeli was used to that, but what pained him was that Mara said nothing
to him, but left him there at the door as if he were a beggar; and the
next day when he came back to see _massaro_ Agrippino, he was hardly
alone with the girl before he said to her,--

"Oh, _gnà_ Mara! How you forget old friends!"

"Oh, is that you, Jeli?" replied Mara. "No, I haven't forgotten you.
But I was so tired after the fireworks!"

"You're in love with him aren't you--_massaro_ Neri's son?" demanded
Jeli, twirling his staff in his hands.

"What are you saying?" abruptly interposed _gnà_ Mara. "My mother is
there and hears everything you say."

_Massaro_ Agrippino found him a place as shepherd at la Salonia, where
_massaro_ Neri was factor, but as Jeli was not very much skilled in
taking care of sheep, he had to be content with far smaller wages
than he had been having.

Now he attended faithfully to his flocks, and strove to learn how
cheese is made--the ricotta and the _caciocavallo_, and all the other
products of the flocks; but in the gossip that went on at eventide in
the yard, among the shepherds and _contadini_, while the women were
preparing the beans for the soup, if ever _massaro_ Neri's son was
mentioned as soon to marry _massaro_ Agrippino's Mara, Jeli said not a
word, and never dared open his mouth.

One time when the keeper insulted him, by saying, jestingly, that Mara
refused to have anything more to do with him, after every one had
declared that they were to be husband and wife, Jeli, as he went to
the pot where the milk was boiling, replied, as he slowly shook in the
rennet,--

"Now Mara has grown to be so pretty, she seems like a lady."

But as he was patient and laborious, and quickly got hold of the
secrets of the business, even better than one who had been born to
it, and as he was accustomed to be with animals, he came to love his
sheep as if they were his own, and for this reason the distemper--_il
male_--did not do so much damage at la Salonia, and the flock
prospered, so that it was a delight for _massaro_ Neri every time that
he came to the estate, and the next year it was no great trouble to
induce the _padrone_ to increase Jeli's wages, so that he came to have
as much as he got in looking out for the horses. And it was money well
spent, for Jeli never thought of reckoning up the miles and miles that
he travelled in search of the best pasturage for his flock, and if the
sheep were with young or were sick, he would take them to his
saddle-bags and carry the lambs in his arms, and they would lick his
face, thrusting their noses out of his pocket, and they would even
suck his ears.

In the famous snow storm of Santa Lucia's night, the snow fell four
handbreadths deep in the _lago morto_ at la Salonia, and all around
for miles and miles there was nothing else to be seen when day came,
and nothing would have been left of the sheep but the ears, had not
Jeli got up three or four times in the course of the night to drive
the sheep into the yard, so that the poor beasts shook the snow from
their backs and did not remain, as it were buried, as was the case in
so many of the neighboring flocks--at least so _massaro_ Agrippino
said when he came to give a look to a field of beans which he had at
la Salonia, and he also said that that story of _massaro_ Neri's son
marrying his daughter Mara was a lie made up of whole cloth--that Mara
had some one else in mind.

"It was said they were to be married at Christmas," said Jeli.

"Nothing of the sort; they aren't to marry at all; it's all the gossip
of envious folks who meddle with others' business," replied _massaro_
Agrippino.

But the keeper, who had known about it for some time, having heard it
talked about in town when he was there on Sunday, told the story as it
really was, after _massaro_ Agrippino had gone away.

"The engagement was broken because _massaro_ Neri's son had learned
that _massaro_ Agrippino's Mara was keeping company with Don Alfonso,
the signorino, who had known Mara from a little girl; and _massaro_
Neri had declared that his son was to be a man respected as his father
was, and the only horns he wanted in his house should be those of his
oxen."

Jeli was present at this conversation, sitting with the others in the
circle at breakfast, and at that instant was cutting his bread. He
still said nothing, but his appetite left him for that day.

While he was driving his sheep out to pasture he began to think of
Mara, as she had been when she was a little girl, when they were
together all day long wandering through the _valle del Jacitano_ and
over the _poggio alla Croce_, and how she stood looking at him, with
her chin in the air, while he climbed up to the tree-tops after the
birds' nests; and he thought also of Don Alfonso, who used to come and
see him from the neighboring villa, and how they would stretch
themselves out on their bellies, stirring up crickets' nests with
straws. All these things he considered and reconsidered for hours and
hours, as he sat on the edge of the brook, holding his knees between
his arms, and thinking of the tall walnuts of Tebidi, and the thick
bushes in the valleys and the slopes of the hills, green with sumachs,
and the gray olive trees spreading through the valley like a fog, and
the red-tiled roof of the house, and the campanile that looked like "a
handle of a salt cellar" among the oranges of the garden.

Here the campagna stretched away naked, desert, speckled with dried
grass, blending silently with the distant horizon.

In Spring the bean pods had begun to fill out when Mara came to la
Salonia with her father and mother and the boy and the ass, to pick
the beans, and they all came together to sleep at the farm for two or
three days during the picking.

In this way Jeli saw the girl morning and evening, and they would sit
together on the wall of the sheep-fold and talk, while the boy looked
after the sheep.

"It seems as if I were at Tebidi again," said Mara, "when we were
little things, and used to stand on the foot bridge."

Jeli also remembered everything, though he said little, being always a
judicious youth, and of few words.

When the harvest was over, and the eve of parting had come, Mara went
out to talk with the young man, just as he was making "ricotto
cheese," and he was wholly intent in skimming the whey with his ladle.

"Now I'll say _addio_," said she, "for to-morrow we return to
Vizzini."

"How have the beans gone?"

"Bad! _la lupa_[11] has eaten them all this year."

  [11] A parasitic disease.

"It depends on the rain which has been scarce," said Jeli. "We have
had to kill even the lambs because there hasn't been enough feed for
them. Over all of la Salonia there hasn't been three inches of grass."

"But that doesn't affect you. You always have your wages, good year or
bad."

"Yes, that's so," said he. "But it disgusts me to give those poor
creatures to the butcher."

"Do you remember when you came for the _festa_ of Saint John, and were
left without a _padrone_?"

"Yes, I remember."

"It was my father who got you a place here with _massaro_ Neri."

"And why didn't you marry _massaro_ Neri's son?"

"Because it wasn't the will of God. My father has been unlucky," she
continued, after a brief pause. "Since we came to Marineo, everything
has gone ill with us. The beans, the corn, that piece of vineyard
that we have yonder. Then my brother went off to the army, and we lost
a mule that was worth forty _onze_."

"I know," said Jeli, "the bay mule."

"Now, that we have lost all our property, who would want to marry me?"

Mara was breaking up a twig of briar while she said this, with her
chin in her bosom, and, with her elbow, she gently nudged Jeli's elbow
without appearing to mean it. But Jeli, with his eyes on the churn,
also made no response, and she went on,--

"At Tebidi they used to say that you and I would be husband and wife,
do you remember?"

"Yes," said Jeli, and he laid his ladle on the top of the churn. "But
I am a poor shepherd, and I can not pretend to a _massaro's_ daughter
like you."

La Mara remained silent for a little while, and then she said, "If you
want me, I will willingly be yours."

"Really?"

"Yes, really."

"And what will _massaro_ Agrippino say to it?"

"My father says that now that you know your trade, and since you are
not one of those who waste their wages, but make one _soldo_ into two,
and do not eat to consume bread, in time you will come to have flocks
of your own, and will be rich."

"If that is so," said Jeli, in conclusion, "I will gladly take you."

"There," said Mara, as soon as it had grown dark and the sheep were
relapsing into silence, "if you want a kiss, I will give you one,
because we are going to be husband and wife."

Jeli took one in "holy peace," and not knowing what to say, added, "I
have always loved you, even when you were going to desert me for the
son of _massaro_ Neri."

But he had not the heart to speak of the other one.

"Don't you see? We were meant for one another," said Mara, in
conclusion.

_Massaro_ Agrippino, in fact, said "Yes," and _gnà_ Lia put on a new
gown, and she had a pair of velvet trousers made for their son-in-law.
Mara was as lovely and fresh as a rose, with her white mantellina,
reminding you of the Paschal lamb, and that amber necklace which made
her neck look so white; so, when Jeli walked through the street at her
side, he marched stiffly and erect, dressed in his new cloth and
velvet suit, and he did not dare even blow his nose with his red silk
handkerchief, lest he should make a fool of himself; and the neighbors
and all who knew the story of Don Alfonso laughed in his face.

When Mara said "_sissignore_," and the priest made her Jeli's wife
with a grand sign of the cross, Jeli took her home, and it seemed to
him as if they had given him all the gold of the Madonna, and all the
lands that he had seen with his eyes.

"Now that we are husband and wife," said he, when they reached their
house, as he was sitting in front of her, and trying to appear very
humble, "now that we are husband and wife, I may tell you that it does
not seem to me true as you pretended--you might have had ever so many
better husbands than I--so beautiful and gracious you are."

The poor fellow could not find anything else to say, and he could not
contain his delight to see Mara setting and arranging everything
through the house, and playing _la padrona_. He found it impossible to
tear himself away to return to la Salonia; when he started Monday, he
was very slow in arranging in the pack of the ass, his saddle-bags,
and his cloak, and his umbrella.

"You ought to come to la Salonia, yourself," he said to his wife, who
was watching him from the door-step. "You ought to come with me."

But the young woman began to laugh, and replied that she was not born
to look after sheep, and had no reason to go to la Salonia.

Truly, Mara was not born for tending sheep, and she was not
accustomed to the January tramontana wind, which stiffens the hand on
the staff, and it seems as if your fingers would drop off, or to
furious storms that come, when the water penetrates to your very
bones, and again, when the dust drives choking through the streets,
when the sheep travel under the boiling sun, or to the hard bed on the
ground, and the mouldy bread, and the long, silent, solitary days,
when through the arid fields nothing else is seen in the distance but
occasionally some sun-burned peasant driving his ass silently along
over the white, interminable road.

Jeli knew at least that Mara was warm and comfortable under the
quilts, or was spinning in front of the fire, talking with the women
of the neighborhood, or was enjoying the sun on the balcony, while he
was returning from the pasture tired and thirsty, or wet through with
the rain, or when the wind drifted the snow back of his hut and put
out his fire of branches.

Every month Mara went to receive the wages from the _padrone_, and
they lacked neither eggs nor fowls, nor oil in the lamp, nor wine in
the jug. Twice a month Jeli came home to see her, and she would stand
on the balcony looking for him with her spindle in her hand, and after
he had left the ass in the stable and removed his pack and filled the
rack with oats, and placed the wood under the shed in the yard, or
whatever he brought into the kitchen, Mara would help him hang his
cloak on the nail and take off his leather leggings before the hearth,
and pour him out a glass of wine, and set to work to boil the soup and
get the table ready, quiet and thoughtful, like a good housewife,
while talking of this thing and that,--of the brooding hen that was
setting, of the cloth that was on the loom, of the calf which they
were raising, never forgetting anything of what she had been doing.

Jeli, when he found himself at home, felt that he was more important
than the pope.

But on the eve of Santa Barbara he came home unexpectedly late, when
all the lights were out in the street and the town clock was striking
midnight. He came in because the mare which the _padrone_ had left out
at pasture had been suddenly taken sick, and he saw that it was a case
that required the services of the farrier quickly, and he had wanted
to bring him to town in spite of the rain that was falling like a
torrent, and the muddy roads into which he sunk half up to his knees.

Knock and call as loud as he might behind the door, he had to wait
half an hour under the eaves, while the water ran out at his heels. At
last his wife came to open for him, and began to scold worse than if
it had been herself who had been obliged to wander across country in
such a tempest.

"Oh, what's the matter?" she demanded. "How you frightened me coming
at this time o' night! Does it seem to you a proper Christian time to
come? To-morrow I shall be ill!"

"Go back to bed, I will start up a fire."

"No, I'll have to go and get some wood."

"I'll go."

"No, I say."

When Mara returned with the wood in her arms Jeli said to her, "Why
did you leave the door to the yard open? Was there not enough wood in
the kitchen?"

"No, I went to get it under the shed."

She let him kiss her, coldly, coldly, and turned her head in another
direction.

"His wife lets him wait at the door," said the neighbors, "when there
is another bird in the nest."

But Jeli knew nothing about the fact that his wife was untrue to him,
nor did any one care to tell him, because it could surely be of no
consequence, for he had taken the woman with a damaged reputation
after _massaro_ Neri's son had jilted her, because he knew of the
story of Don Alfonso. But Jeli seemed to live happy and contented in
the shame of it, and grew as fat as a pig; for the proverb has it
"horns are lean but they make the house fat." At last, one time, the
herdman's boy told it to him in his face, while they were scuffling
about the pieces of cheese that had been stolen.

"Now that Don Alfonso has taken your wife you consider yourself his
brother-in-law, and you are proud enough to be a crowned king with
those horns on your head."

The factor and the keeper expected to see blood flow for those
insulting words, but on the contrary Jeli stood stupefied, as if he
had not heard, or as if it concerned him not, wearing the dull face of
an ox whose horns really fitted him.

Now that Easter was at hand the factor sent all the men of the estate
to confession, with the hope that through the fear of God they would
not do any more stealing. Jeli also went, and at the church entrance
sought for the boy with whom he had exchanged those hot words, and he
threw his arms around his neck, saying,--

"The confessor has bade me pardon you; but I am not angry with you for
such gossip; and if you will not steal any more of the cheese from me,
I will not take any further notice of what you said to me in passion."

It was from that moment that they nicknamed him _Corno d'ore_--"Gold
horns"--and the nickname stuck to him and all his, even after he had
washed his horns in blood.

La Mara also went to confession and returned from the church all
wrapped up in her mantellina, and with her eyes cast down, so that she
seemed a genuine _Santa Maria Maddelena_. Jeli, who was silently
waiting for her on the balcony, when he saw her coming in that way,
seeming as if she had the Holy Presence in her heart, kept looking at
her,--pale, pale from his foot to his head as if he saw her for the
first time, or as if his Mara had been changed for him, and he seemed
hardly to dare to lift his eyes to her while she was shaking the cloth
and setting the table, calm and neat as ever.

Then after long thinking he put the question to her: "Is it true that
you keep company with Don Alfonso?"

Mara looked him full in the face with those black eyes of hers and
made the sign of the cross.

"Why do you want to make me commit a sin on this day?" she demanded.

"I did not believe it, because Don Alfonso and I were always together
when we were boys, and there never passed a day that he did not come
to Tebidi when he was in the country there; and then he is rich, and
has bushels of money, and if he wanted women he might get married, nor
would he lack anything, either clothes to wear, or bread to eat."

But Mara was really angry, and she began to scold so that the poor
fellow did not dare lift his nose from his plate.

At last, so that that gift of God which they were eating might not
turn into poison, Mara changed the conversation, and asked him if he
had thought of weeding that little plot of flax which they had sowed
in the bean field.

"Yes," replied Jeli, "and the flax will do well."

"If that is so," said Mara, "this spring I will make you two new
shirts which will keep you warm."

In truth Jeli did not realize what "cuckold" meant, and he did not
know what jealousy was. Every new thing found difficulty in getting
into his head, and this became so great that, in making its way in, it
played devilish work, especially when he saw his Mara before him so
beautiful and white and neat, and how she had herself chosen him, and
how he had thought about her so many years, and so many years, ever
since he was a young boy, so that the day when they told him that she
was going to marry some one else, he had had no heart to eat anything
or to drink all day long.

Then again he thought of Don Alfonso, who had been his companion so
many times, and how he had always brought him strange feeling within
his heart. Don Alfonso had grown so tall that he no longer seemed the
same person, and now he had a full beard, curly like his hair, and a
velvet coat and a gold chain across his waistcoat. But he recognized
Jeli, and patted him on the shoulder in salutation. He had come with
the _padrone_ of the estate and a number of friends to have a
jollification while the sheep-shearing was in progress, and Mara also
came unexpectedly, under the pretext that she was pregnant, and longed
for some fresh ricotto.

It was a beautiful warm day in the pale fields, with the grain in
flower and the long green rows of the vines; the sheep were gamboling
and bleating for delight, at feeling themselves freed from all that
weight of wool, and in the kitchen, the women had made a great fire to
cook all the provisions that the _padrone_ had brought for the dinner.

The gentlemen, while they were waiting, had sat down in the shade
under the carob-trees, and were playing tambourines and bag-pipes,
and dancing with the girls of the estate, as if they were all of the
same class.

Jeli, meantime, went on with his work shearing the sheep, and felt
something within him, without knowing what, like a thorn, like a nail,
like a pair of shears, working within him, slowly, slowly, like a
poison.

The _padrone_ had ordered that they should kill a couple of goats, and
the yearling sheep, and some chickens, and a turkey cock. In fact, he
was going to do things on a grand scale, and lavishly, so as to do
honor to his friends; and while all those creatures were squealing
under the death-agony, and the goats were screaming under the knife,
Jeli felt his knees tremble, and little by little, it seemed to him
that the wool that he was shearing, and the grass in which the sheep
were leaping, were stained with blood.

"Don't go," he said to Mara, when Don Alfonso called her to come and
dance with the rest. "Don't go, Mara."

"Why not?"

"I don't want you to go. Do not go."

"I hear them calling me."

He uttered not another intelligible word while he stayed with the
sheep that he was shearing. Mara shrugged her shoulders, and went to
dance. She was blushing with delight, and her two black eyes shone
like two stars, and she smiled so that there was a gleam of white
teeth, and all the gold ornaments tossed and scintillated on her
wrists and on her bosom, so that she seemed like the Madonna herself.

Jeli had arisen to his full height, with the long shears in his hand,
and white in face, as white as once he had seen his father, the
cowherd, when he was trembling with fever in front of the fire in the
hovel.

Suddenly, when he saw how Don Alfonso, with his curling beard and his
velvet coat, and the gold chain at his waistcoat, took Mara by the
hand to dance--then--only at that moment that he touched her did he
fling himself on him and cut his throat with one stroke, as if he had
been a goat.

Later, while they were leading him off to the judge, bound, wholly
unmanned, without daring to make the least resistance,--

"How," said he, "should I not have killed him. He robbed me of my
Mara!"



RUSTIC CHIVALRY.

(_Cavalleria Rusticana._)

  [Illustration: "LOLA USED TO GO OUT ON THE BALCONY WITH HER HANDS
  CROSSED."]



RUSTIC CHIVALRY.

(_Cavalleria Rusticana._)


Turiddu Macca, _gnà_ Nunzia's son, after returning from the army, used
every Sunday to strut like a peacock through the square in his
bersegliere uniform and red cap, looking like the fortune-teller as he
sets up his stand with his cage of canaries. The girls on their way to
Mass gave stolen glances at him from behind their mantellinas, and the
urchins buzzed round him like flies.

He had brought back with him, also, a pipe with the king on horseback
carved so naturally that it seemed actually alive, and he scratched
his matches on the seat of his trousers, lifting his leg as if he were
going to give a kick.

But in spite of all this, Lola, the daughter of _massaro_ Angelo, had
not shown herself either at Mass or on the balcony, for the reason
that she was going to wed a man from Licodia, a carter who had four
Sortino mules in his stable.

At first, when Turiddu heard about it, _santo diavolone!_ he
threatened to disembowel him, threatened to kill him--that fellow from
Licodia! But he did nothing of the sort; he contented himself with
going under the fair one's window, and singing all the spiteful songs
he knew.

"Has _gnà_ Nunzia's Turiddu nothing else to do," asked the neighbors,
"except spending his nights singing like a lone sparrow?"

At length, he met Lola on her way back from the pilgrimage to the
Madonna del Pericolo, and when she saw him, she turned neither red nor
white, just as if it were none of her affair at all.

"Oh, _compare_ Turiddu, I was told that you returned the first of the
month."

"But I have been told of something quite different!" replied the
other. "Is it true that you are to marry _compare_ Alfio, the
carter?"

"Such is God's will," replied Lola, drawing the two ends of her
handkerchief under her chin.

"God's will in your case is done with a snap and a spring; to suit
yourself! And it was God's will, was it, that I should return from so
far to find this fine state of things, _gnà_ Lola!"

The poor fellow still tried to bluster, but his voice grew hoarse, and
he followed the girl, tossing his head so that the tassel of his cap
swung from side to side on his shoulders. To tell the truth, she felt
really sorry to see him wearing such a long face, but she had not the
heart to deceive him with fine speeches.

"Listen, _compare_ Turiddu," she said to him at last, "Let me join my
friends. What would be said in town if I were seen with you?"

"You are right," replied Turiddu, "Now that you are going to marry
_compare_ Alfio, who has four mules in his stable, it is best not to
let people's tongues wag about you. But my mother, poor soul, was
obliged to sell our bay mule, and that little plot of vineyard on the
highway while I was off in the army. The time 'when Berta spun,' is
over and gone, and you no longer think of the time when we used to
talk together from the window looking into the yard, and you gave me
that handkerchief before I went away, and God knows how many tears I
shed into it at going so far that even the name of our place is lost!
So good-by, _gnà_ Lola,--Let's pretend it's rained and cleared off,
and our friendship is ended."[12]

  [12] _Facemu cuntu ca chioppi e scampau e la nostra amicizia finiu._

_Gnà_ Lola married the carter, and on Sundays used to go out on the
balcony with her hands crossed on her stomach, to show off all the
heavy gold rings that her husband gave to her. Turiddu kept up his
habit of going back and forth through the street with his pipe in his
mouth, his hands in his pockets, and an air of unconcern, and
ogling the girls; but it gnawed his heart that Lola's husband had so
much money, and that she pretended not to see him when he passed.

"I'll get even with her, under her very eyes; the vile beast," he
muttered.

Opposite _compare_ Alfio lived _massaro_ Cola, the vinedresser, who
was as rich as a pig, and had one daughter at home. Turiddu said and
did all he could to become _massaro_ Cola's workman, and he began to
frequent the house, and make sweet speeches to the girl.

"Why don't you go and say sweet things to _gnà_ Lola?" asked Santa.

"_Gnà_ Lola is a fine lady. _Gnà_ Lola has married a crowned king
now!"

"I don't deserve crowned kings!"

"You are worth a hundred Lolas, and I know some one who wouldn't look
at _la gnà_ Lola or her saint when you are by, for _gnà_ Lola isn't
worthy to wear your shoes, no, she isn't!"

"The fox when he couldn't get at the grapes said, 'How beautiful you
are, _racinedda mia_,' my little grape!"

"Ohè! hands off, _compare_ Turiddu!"

"Are you afraid that I will eat you?"

"I'm not afraid of you or of your God."

"Eh! your mother was from Licodia, we all know that! You have
quarrelsome blood. Uh! How I could eat you with my eyes!"

"Eat me then with your eyes, for we should not have a crumb left, but
meantime help me up with this bundle."

"I would lift up the whole house for you, yes, I would!"

She, so as not to blush, threw at him a stick of wood which was within
reach, and by a miracle didn't hit him.

"Let's have done, for chattering never picked grapes."

"If I were rich I should try to get a wife like you, _gnà_ Santa."

"I shall never marry a crowned king like _gnà_ Lola, but I have my
dowry as well as she, whenever the Lord shall send me anyone."

"We know you are rich, we know it."

"If you know it, say no more, for father is coming, and I shouldn't
like to have him find me in the court-yard."

The old father began to turn up his nose, but the girl pretended not
to notice it, because the tassel of the bersegliere's cap had set her
heart to fluttering, and was constantly dancing before her eyes. When
the _babbo_ put Turiddu out of the house, his daughter opened the
window for him, and stood chatting with him all the evening long, so
that the whole neighborhood talked of nothing else.

"I'm madly in love with you," said Turiddu, "and I am losing my sleep
and my appetite."

"How absurd!"

"I wish I were Victor Emmanuel's son, so as to marry you."

"How absurd!"

"By the Madonna, I would eat you like bread!"

"How absurd!"

"Ah! on my honor!"

"Ah! _mamma mia!_"

Lola, who was listening every evening, hidden behind the vase of
basil, and turning red and white, one day called Turiddu:--

"And so, _compare_ Turiddu, old friends don't speak to each other any
more?"

"_Ma!_" sighed the young man, "blessed is he who can speak to you."

"If you have any desire to speak to me, you know where I live,"
replied Lola.

Turiddu went to see her so frequently that Santa noticed it, and shut
the window in his face. The neighbors looked at him with a smile or
with a shake of the head when the bersegliere passed. Lola's husband
was making a round of the fairs with his mules.

"Sunday I am going to confession, for last night I dreamed of black
grapes," said Lola.

"Put it off, put it off" begged Turiddu.

"No, Easter is coming, and my husband will want to know why I haven't
been to confession."

"Ah," murmured _massaro_ Cola's Santa, as she was waiting on her knees
before the confessional for her turn, while Lola was making a clean
breast of her sins. "On my soul, I will not send you to Rome for your
punishment!"

_Compare_ Alfio came home with his mules; he was loaded with money,
and he brought to his wife for a present, a handsome new dress for the
holidays.

"You are right to bring her gifts," said his neighbor Santa, "because
while you are away your wife adorns your house for you."

_Compare_ Alfio was one of those carters who wear their hats over one
ear, and when he heard his wife spoken of in such a way he changed
color as if he had been knifed.

"_Santo diavolone!_" he exclaimed, "if you haven't seen aright, I will
not leave you eyes to weep with, you or your whole family."

"I am not used to weeping!" replied Santa, "I did not weep even when
I saw with these eyes _gnà_ Nunzia's Turiddu going into your wife's
house at night!"

"It is well," replied _compare_ Alfio, "many thanks!"

Turiddu, now that the cat was at home, no longer went out on the
street by day, and he whiled away the tedium at the inn with his
friends; and on Easter eve they had on the table a dish of sausages.

When _compare_ Alfio came in, Turiddu realized, merely by the way in
which he fixed his eyes on him, that he had come to settle that
affair, and he laid his fork on the plate.

"Have you any commands for me, _compare_ Alfio?" he asked.

"No favors to ask, _compare_ Turiddu; it's some time since I have seen
you, and I wanted to speak concerning something you know about."

Turiddu at first had offered him a glass, but _compare_ Alfio refused
it with a wave of his hand. Then Turiddu got up and said to him,--

"Here I am, _compare_ Alfio."

The carter threw his arms around his neck.

"If to-morrow morning you will come to the prickly pears of la
Canziria, we can talk that matter over, _compare_."

"Wait for me on the street at daybreak, and we will go together."

With these words they exchanged the kiss of defiance. Turiddu bit the
carter's ear, and thus made the solemn oath not to fail him.

The friends had silently left the sausages, and accompanied Turiddu to
his home. _Gnà_ Nunzia, poor creature, waited for him till late every
evening.

"Mamma," said Turiddu, "do you remember when I went as a soldier, that
you thought I should never come back any more? Give me a good kiss as
you did then, for to-morrow morning I am going far away."

Before daybreak he got his spring-knife, which he had hidden under the
hay, when he had gone to serve his time in the army, and started for
the prickly-pear trees of la Canziria.

"Oh, Gesummaria! where are you going in such haste!" cried Lola in
great apprehension, while her husband was getting ready to go out.

"I am not going far," replied _compare_ Alfio. "But it would be better
for you if I never came back."

Lola in her nightdress was praying at the foot of the bed, and
pressing to her lips the rosary which Fra Bernardino had brought to
her from the Holy places, and reciting all the Ave Marias that she
could say.

"_Compare_ Alfio," began Turiddu, after he had gone a little distance
by the side of his companion, who walked in silence with his cap down
over his eyes, "as God is true I know that I have done wrong, and I
should let myself be killed. But before I came out, I saw my old
mother, who got up to see me off, under the pretence of tending the
hens. Her heart had a presentiment, and as the Lord is true, I will
kill you like a dog, so that my poor old mother may not weep."

"All right," replied _compare_ Alfio, stripping off his waistcoat.
"Then we will both of us hit hard."

Both of them were skilful fencers. Turiddu was first struck, and was
quick enough to receive it in the arm. When he returned it, he
returned it well, and wounded the other in the groin.

"Ah, _compare_ Turiddu! so you really intend to kill me, do you?"

"Yes, I gave you fair warning; since I saw my old mother in the
hen-yard, it seems to me I have her all the time before my eyes."

"Keep them well open, those eyes of yours," cried _compare_ Alfio,
"for I am going to give you back good measure."

As he stood on guard, all doubled up, so as to keep his left hand on
his wound, which pained him, and almost trailing his elbow on the
ground, he swiftly picked up a handful of dust, and flung it into his
adversary's eyes.

"Ah!" screamed Turiddu, blinded, "I am dead."

He tried to save himself, by making desperate leaps backwards, but
_compare_ Alfio overtook him with another thrust in the stomach, and a
third in the throat.

"And that makes three! that is for the house which you have adorned
for me! Now your mother will let the hens alone."

Turiddu staggered a short distance among the prickly pears, and then
fell like a stone. The blood foaming, gurgled in his throat, and he
could not even cry, "_Ah! mamma mia!_"



LA LUPA.


She was tall and lean; but she had a firm, full bust, and yet she was
no longer young; her complexion was brunette, but pallid as if she had
always suffered from malaria, and this pallor set forth two big eyes
and fresh rosy lips that seemed to eat you.

In the village she was called _la Lupa_--the She-Wolf--because she was
never satisfied. Women made the sign of the cross when they saw her
pass, always alone like a big ugly hound, with the vagabond and
suspicious gait of a famished wolf; she would bewitch their sons and
their husbands in the twinkling of an eye with her red lips and she
made them fall in love with her merely by looking at them out of those
big Satanic eyes of hers, even if they were before Santa Agrippina's
altar.

Fortunately _la Lupa_ never came to church at Easter or at Christmas,
nor to hear Mass or to make confession. _Padre_ Angiolino of Santa
Maria di Gesù, a true servant of God, had lost his soul on her
account.

Maricchia,--poor girl, pretty and clever she was,--secretly wept
because she was _la Lupa's_ daughter, and no one had offered to marry
her though she had nice clothes in her bureau, and her own little
piece of land in the sun, like every other girl of the village.

One time _la Lupa_ fell in love with a handsome youth who had just
served out his time in the army, and had come home and was helping to
reap the notary's harvest with her; for surely it means to be in love
when she felt the flesh burn under the fustian shift, and on looking
at him to experience the thirst that one has in hot June days down in
the low-lands.

But he went on with his work, undisturbed, with his nose on his
sheaves, and he said to her, "Oh, what's the matter, _gnà_ Pina?"

In the immense fields where the only sound was the rustle of the
grasshoppers flying up, while the sun was pouring down his hottest
beams perpendicularly, _la Lupa_ was heaping up sheaf on sheaf, and
pile on pile, without ever showing any signs of fatigue, without one
moment straightening herself up, without once touching her lips to the
water jug, so as to stick close to Nanni's heels as he reaped and
reaped; and now and again he would ask,--

"What do you want, _gnà_ Pina?"

One evening she told him, it was while the men were sleeping in the
threshing-floor, weary of the long day's work and the dogs were
howling through the vast black campagna,--

"I want you! you are as handsome as the sun and as sweet as honey; I
want you!"

"But I want your daughter--I want the young calf," said Nanni,
laughing at his own joke.

_La Lupa_ thrust her hands into the masses of her hair, scratching her
temples, without saying a word, and went off and was not seen again in
the harvest field. But the following October she saw Nanni again at
the time when they were pressing the oil, because he worked near her
house, and the rattle of the press kept her awake all night.

"Take a bag of olives," she said to her daughter, "and come with me."

Nanni was shoveling the olives into the hopper and shouting "Ohi" to
the mule to keep it going.

"Do you want my daughter Maricchia?" demanded _gnà_ Pina.

"What dowry will you give with your daughter Maricchia?" replied
Nanni.

"She has her father's things, and besides I will give her my house; it
will be enough for me if you'll let me have a corner in the kitchen to
spread out a mattress in."

"If that is so, we can talk about it at Christmas," said Nanni. Nanni
was all grease and dirt from the olives put to fermenting, and
Maricchia would not have him on any account; but her mother grabbed
her by the hair as they stood in front of the hearth and hissed
through her set teeth,--

"If you don't take him, I'll kill you."

_La Lupa_ looked ill, and the people remarked: "When the devil was old
the devil a monk would be." She no longer went wandering about; she
stood no more at her doorway looking out with those eyes as of one
possessed.

Her son-in-law, when she fixed those eyes on his face, always began to
laugh, and would pull out his cloth talisman, with its effigy of the
Madonna, to cross himself with.

Maricchia stayed at home to nurse her children, and her mother went
out to work in the fields with the men, just like a man,--to weed, to
dig, to guide the animals, to dress the vines, whether it were during
the Greek-Levant winds[13] of January, or during the August sirocco,
when mules let their heads droop, and men sleep prone on their bellies
under the shadow of the North wall.

  [13] North-east.

In that time between vespers and nones, when, according to the saying,
no good woman is seen going about, _gnà_ Pina was the only living
creature to be seen wandering across the campagna, over the fiery hot
stones of the narrow streets, among the parched stubble of the wide,
wide fields that stretched away into the burning haze toward cloudy
Etna, where the sky hangs heavy on the horizon.

"Wake up!" said _la Lupa_ to Nanni, who was asleep in the ditch next
the dusty harvest-field, with his head on his arms. "Wake up, for I've
brought you some wine to cool your throat."

Nanni opened his eyes, half awake, and saw her sitting up straight and
pale before him, with her swelling breast, and her eyes as black as
coal, and drew back waving his arms,--

"No! a good woman does not go about between vespers and nones,"
groaned Nanni, thrusting his face in amongst the dried weeds of the
ditch as far as he could, and putting his fingers into his hair. "Go
away! Get you gone! And don't you come to the threshing-floor any
more."

She turned and went away,--_la Lupa_,--knotting up her splendid
tresses again, looking down steadily as she made her way among the hot
stubble, with her eyes black as coal.

But she did go back to the threshing-floor, and Nanni no longer
reproached her; and when she failed to come, in that hour between
vespers and nones, he went, and with perspiration on his brow, waited
for her at the top of the white deserted footpath, but afterwards he
would thrust his hands through his hair, and every time he would say,
"Go away! Go away! Don't come to the threshing-floor again."

Maricchia wept night and day, and she looked into her mother's face
with eyes blazing with tears and jealousy, like a _lupachiotta_,
a young wolf herself, every time that she saw her coming back from
the fields, silent and pale.

"Vile! _scellerata!_" she would say, "Vile mamma."

"Hold your tongue!"

"Thief! thief!"

"Hold your tongue!"

"I'll go to the _brigadiere_!"[14]

  [14] Brigadiere is the station or the Commandant of the detachment
  of the Carabaneers in a small town.

And she actually went with her infants in her arms, without a sign of
fear, and without shedding a tear, like a crazy woman, because now she
passionately loved that husband whom she had been forced to marry,
greasy and dirty as he was from the olives set to fermenting.

The _brigadiere_ summoned Nanni, and threatened him with the galleys
and the gallows. Nanni began to weep, and pull his hair; he denied
nothing, did not try to justify himself.

"The temptation was too much," said he, "'twas the temptation of
hell." He flung himself at the _brigadiere's_ feet, begging him to
send him to the galleys.

"For mercy's sake, _Signor brigadiere_, take me out of this hell! Have
me shot! Send me to prison! Don't let me see her ever again! never
again!"

"No," replied _la Lupa_, to the _brigadiere's_ question. "I kept a
corner of the kitchen to sleep in when I gave him my house as my
daughter's dowry. The house is mine. I do not intend to go away."

Shortly after, Nanni was kicked in the chest by a mule, and was like
to die; but the priest refused to bring him the Holy Unction unless
_la Lupa_ was out of the house.

_La Lupa_ went away, and her son-in-law was then permitted to pass
away like a good Christian; he confessed and partook of the Sacrament
with such signs of penitence and contrition that all the neighbors and
inquisitive visitors wept as they surrounded the dying man's bed.

And it would have been better for him if he had died then and there,
before the devil had a chance to return to tempt him, and take
possession of him, mind and body, when he got well again.

"Let me be!" he said to _la Lupa_; "for mercy's sake, leave me in
peace! I have seen death with my own eyes! Poor Maricchia is in
despair. Now the whole region knows about it! If I don't see you, it's
better for you and better for me."

And he would rather have put his eyes out, than see _la Lupa's_, for
when hers were fastened on him, they made him lose soul and body. He
did not know what to do to overcome the enchantment. He paid for
Masses to be sung for the souls in Purgatory, and he went for aid to
the priest and the _brigadiere_. At Easter he went to confession, and
as a penance, publicly stood on the flint stones of the holy ground in
front of the church, putting out six handbreadths of tongue, and then,
when _la Lupa_ returned to tempt him,--

"See here," said he, "don't you come on the threshing-floor again,
because if you do come to seek me again, as sure as God exists, I'll
kill you."

"All right, kill me!" replied _la Lupa_. "It makes no difference to
me; but I can not live without you."

When he saw her afar off coming through the green corn field, he left
off pruning the vines, and went and got his axe from the elm.

_La Lupa_ saw him coming to meet her, with his face pale and his eyes
rolling wildly, with the axe shining in the sun; but she did not
hesitate an instant, did not look away. She went straight forward with
her hands full of bunches of red poppies, and devouring him with those
black eyes of hers.

"Ah! a curse on your soul!" stammered Nanni.



THE STORY OF THE ST. JOSEPH'S ASS.

[Illustration: THE DEATH OF THE ST. JOSEPH'S ASS.]



THE STORY OF THE ST. JOSEPH'S ASS.


They had bought it at the Fair of Buccheri when it was still a young
colt, and if it caught sight of a she ass, it would run to it and try
to nurse; for this reason, it had got blows and kicks on its rump, and
it was all in vain for them to shout "_arricca_"--get up--to it.

_Compare_ Neli, when he saw how lively and obstinate it was, and how
it licked its nostrils when the blows fell, and how it kept wagging
its ears, said,--

"That's the one for me."

And he went straight up to the proprietor, with his hand in his pocket
on thirty-five _lire_.

"The colt is handsome," said the proprietor, "and is worth more than
thirty-five _lire_. No matter if it has a white and black skin like a
magpie. There, I'll show you its mother; we keep her over yonder in
that little grove, because the colt's all the time wanting to nurse.
You shall see what a pretty dark hide it's got! Why, she does more
work for me than a mule would, and has given me more colts than she
has hairs on her back. My conscience! I don't know where this colt got
its magpie coat. But it is well built, I tell you. Even men aren't
judged by their moustaches. Look, what a chest! and what thick, solid
legs! See how it holds its ears. An ass that holds its ears up like
that can be put in a cart or to a plow as you please, and it will
carry four bushels of corn better than a mule, I swear it will--by all
the saints. Just feel that tail--strong enough to hold up you and all
your kith and kin."

_Compare_ Neli knew that as well as the other, but he wasn't dunce
enough to say so, and he stood with his hand in his pocket, shrugging
his shoulders and making grimaces while the proprietor of the colt
made it turn round before them.

"Huh!" grunted _compare_ Neli, "with a skin like that, it looks like
Saint Joseph's ass. Animals of that color are always _vigliacche_,[15]
and when you ride them about, people laugh in your face. Am I going to
be made a laughing stock for a Saint Joseph's ass?"

  [15] Cowardly, ridiculous, vile.

It was the _padrone's_ turn to turn his back on him in a passion,
screaming that some people didn't know a good animal when they saw
one, and if they hadn't any money to buy with, they'd better not come
to the fair, and waste good Christian's time--on a saint's day, too.

_Compare_ Neli let him fume away, and he went off with his brother,
who pulled the sleeve of his jacket, and whispered in his ear, that if
he was going to throw away his money on that good-for-nothing animal
he would deserve to be kicked.

While the _padrone_ pretended to be shelling some young beans,
holding the halter between his legs, _compare_ Neli, not really losing
sight of the Saint Joseph's ass, went off on a tour of inspection
among the mules and horses, now and again stopping to criticise or
even haggle over the price of this one or of that among the better
animals; but he did not open his hand, which still clasped safely in
his pocket the thirty-five _lire_ as if it were going to buy half the
fair. But his brother kept telling him in a whisper, pointing to the
ass, which they called Saint Joseph's,--

"That's the one for us."

The ass's mistress, every once in a while, came over to her husband to
see how business was progressing, and when she saw him sitting with
the halter in his hand, she said,--

"Isn't the Madonna going to send a purchaser for the foal, to-day?"

And the husband would always reply in these terms,--

"None yet! One's been here bargaining, and he liked it. But he
objected to the price, and went off again with the money in his
pocket. There he is, over yonder with the white cap, beyond that flock
of sheep. He hasn't bought anything yet; that means, he'll be back
again."

The woman was about to squat down on a couple of stones near her foal,
to see whether it would be sold or not. But her husband said to her,--

"Off with you. If they see you are waiting, they won't finish the
bargain."

Meantime the foal was nosing about between the legs of several
she-asses that were passing by. It wanted to nurse, for it was half
starved. It was just opening its mouth to bray when the _padrone_
reduced it to silence by a shower of blows because they had not wanted
it.

"It's still there," said _compare_ Neli in his brother's ear,
pretending to turn round and look for something. "If we wait till the
Ave Maria, we may be able to get it for five _lire_ cheaper than the
price that we offered."

The May sunshine was warm so that gradually amid all the noise and
bustle of the fair a great silence followed throughout the whole
field, as if no one were there: then it was that the mistress of the
young ass came to her husband again and said:

"I wouldn't hold out for five _lire_ more or less, for to-night we
have not enough to buy our supper and you know well that the foal will
eat his head off in a month if he remains on our hands."

"If you don't go off," replied her husband, "I'll give you a kick that
you'll remember."

       *       *       *       *       *

Thus passed the hours at the fair; but of all those who passed in
front of the Saint Joseph's ass not one stopped to look at it, and
that, too, though the _padrone_ had chosen the most humble place near
the animals of small value, so that with its magpie skin it might not
be compared with the beautiful bay mules and the sleek horses! Some
one like _compare_ Neli was wanted to buy his Saint Joseph's ass, at
the sight of which every one at the fair was laughing.

The colt, after such a long waiting in the sun, let his head and ears
hang down; his _padrone_ went and squatted on the stones, with his
hands also hanging between his knees and the halter in his hands,
gazing at the long shadows that began to be cast across the plain from
the sun, which was preparing to set, and at the legs of all those
animals that had not as yet found purchasers.

Just then _compare_ Neli and his brother, and a friend of theirs whom
they had picked up for the occasion, came sauntering by, with their
noses in the air; but the owner of the young ass turned his head aside
so as not to seem to be on the look out for them. And _compare_ Neli's
friend, squinting up his eyes, remarked as if the idea had just
occurred to him:

"O, see that Saint Joseph's ass! Why don't you buy that one, _compare_
Neli?"

"I bargained it this morning; but he asks too much for it. Besides, I
should be the laughing stock of the town if I were seen with that
black and white beast. You see no one has had a thought of buying it
so far."

"That's so, but the color makes no difference in the use that you make
of one."

And turning to the _padrone_ he asked,--

"How much must we pay for that Saint Joseph's ass of yours?"

The mistress of the Saint Joseph's ass, seeing that the business was
on once more, had quietly approached, with her hands clasped under her
apron.

"Don't speak to me of it," cried _compare_ Neli making off across the
field. "Don't speak of it again, I don't want to hear a word."

"If you don't want it, let it be," replied the _padrone_. "If he does
not take it, some one else will. 'A sad wretch is he who has nothing
left to sell after the fair.'"

"And I will be heard, _santo diavolone_!" screamed the friend. "Can't
I be permitted to have my say?"

And he ran and caught _compare_ Neli by the jacket, then he came back
and whispered something in the _padrone's_ ear as the man was about to
return home with his young ass, and he flung his arm round his neck,
murmuring,--

"Look here! five _lire_ more or less, and if you don't sell it to-day
you won't find another blunderhead like my _compare_ to buy a beast,
which between you and me, isn't worth a cigar!"

He also embraced the young ass's mistress, whispered in her ear to win
her to his way of thinking. But she shrugged her shoulders and replied
with stern face,--

"'Tis my husband's business: I don't mix myself in it. But if he lets
it go for less than forty _lire_ he is a dunce, and that's what I say.
It cost us more than that."

"This morning I was crazy when I offered him thirty-five _lire_,"
resumed _compare_ Neli. "Has he found any other purchaser even at that
price? I reckon not. In the whole fair there aren't more than four
scabby rams and the Saint Joseph's ass. I'll give thirty _lire_ if
he'll take it."

"Take it," softly whispered the young ass's mistress to her husband,
and the tears came into her eyes. "We haven't made enough this evening
to buy our supper, and Turiddu has the fever again; he'll have to have
quinine."

"_Santo diavolone!_" screamed her husband, "if you don't get away from
here I'll give you a taste of this halter."

"Thirty-two and a half, there now!" cried the friend at last, giving
him a powerful shake to the collar.

"Neither you nor I! This time my advice ought to hold, by all the
saints in paradise! and I don't even ask for a glass of wine. Don't
you see the sun is set? What is the use of you both holding out any
longer?"

And he snatched the halter from the _padrone's_ hand, while, at the
same time, _compare_ Neli with an oath took out of his pocket his
closed fist clutching the thirty-five _lire_, and gave them to the man
without looking at them as if they took his liver with them. The
friend retired to one side with the mistress of the young ass to count
over the money on a rock, while the _padrone_ went off to another part
of the fair like a colt, cursing and beating himself with his fists.

But when he was at last rejoined by his wife, who was carefully
recounting the money in her handkerchief, he demanded,--

"Have you got it?"

"Yes, the whole of it; praised be San Gaetano![16] Now I'll go to the
apothecary's."

  [16] The especial saint of the Provident.

"I got the best of them! I'd have let them have the beast for twenty
_lire_; asses of that color are _vigliacchi_--vile."

And _compare_ Neli, as he got behind the ass to drive it off, said,--

"As God exists I robbed him of the colt! The color makes no
difference. See what solid legs, _compare_! That beast is worth forty
_lire_ with one's eyes shut."

"If it had not been for me," returned the friend, "you would not have
struck the bargain. Here are still two _lire_ and a half of your
money. And if you don't object we will go and have a drink to the
health of the ass!"

Now the colt needed to have its health in order to repay the
thirty-two and a half _lire_ which had been paid for it, and the straw
which it ate. Meanwhile it was contented to frisk behind _compare_
Neli, trying to bite his new _padrone's_ coat tails, and making no ado
because it was leaving forever the stall where it had been sheltered
by its mother's side, free to rub its nose on the edge of the manger,
or to gambol and cut up capers, butting with the ram or going to rub
the pig's back in its pen.

And the _padrone_, who was still again counting over the money in her
handkerchief before the apothecary's counter, had on her side no
regrets, although she had assisted at the birth of the foal with its
black and white skin, as shiny as silk, and which could not at first
stand up on its legs, but lay in the warm sun in the court-yard while
all the grass which had made it grow so big and strong had passed
through her hands!

The only person who missed the foal was its mother, who stretched out
her neck toward the entrance of the stall and brayed. But when her
udder was no longer painfully distended with the milk, she also forgot
about the foal.

"Now you will see," said _compare_ Neli, "that this ass will carry
four bushels of corn better than a mule, for me."

And at harvest time he was set to threshing.

At the threshing, the colt, fastened by the neck, in a row with other
animals--worn out mules, decrepit horses, paced over the sheaves,
from morning till night, so that when it was brought back to the
stable, he was so tired that he had no desire to bite at the heap of
straw where they put him up in the shade when the wind blew, while the
peasants did their winnowing with shouts of "_Viva Maria!_"

Then he let his nose hang down and drooped his pendent ears, like a
full-fledged ass with eyes dulled, as if he were weary of gazing
across over that vast plain, smoking here and there with the dust of
the threshing-floors, and he seemed made for nothing else than to die
of thirst and enforced treading on sheaves.

At eventide, it was sent to the village with the saddle-bags filled
full, and the _padrone's_ boy followed, to prick it in the withers,
along the hedges lining the road, that seemed alive with the
chattering of the tomtits, and the odor of the catnip and rosemary;
and the ass would gladly have snatched a mouthful, if they had not
always kept it on the go, until at last, the blood ran to its legs and
they had to take it to the farrier; but this did not trouble the
_padrone_, because the harvest was good, and the young ass had earned
its cost,--his thirty-two _lire_ and a half. The _padrone_ said,--

"Now, the work has worn him out, but if I could sell him for twenty
_lire_, I should still have made a good thing out of him."

The only person who had a fondness for the young ass was the boy who
made it trot over the road on the way from the threshing-floor. And he
felt badly when the farrier burnt its legs with red-hot irons, so that
the young ass squirmed and flung its tail into the air, and pricked up
its ears, and when it ran across the field of the fair, and it tried
to break loose from the twisted rope which they fastened to its lip,
and it rolled its eyes with the agony, as if it were undergoing
torture, when the farrier's apprentice came to change the hot irons,
red as fire, and the skin smoked and sizzled, like fish in a
frying-pan. But _compare_ Neli cried to his boy,--

"You beast! what are you weeping for? Now that he is played out, and
since the harvest has been a good one, we'll sell him and buy a mule,
and that will be better."

Boys do not understand some things, and after the young ass was sold
to _massaro_ Cirino, of Licodiana, _compare_ Neli's son used to visit
it in the stall, and to caress its face and neck, and the ass would
turn round its head, and snuff as if it had become attached to him,
while, as a general thing, asses are made to be tied wherever their
_padrone_ may see fit to tie them, and change their lot as they change
their stall.

_Massaro_ Cirino, of Licodiana, had paid a very small price for the
Saint Joseph's ass, because it still bore the scars on its pastern,
and _compare_ Neli's wife, when she saw the poor beast go by with its
new master, said,--

"That beast was our mascot. That black and white skin brought joy to
the threshing-floor, and now the profits are going from bad to worse,
for we have had to sell the mule, too."

       *       *       *       *       *

_Massaro_ Cirino had yoked the ass to the plow, together with an old
mare which matched it like a stone in a ring, and drew her brave
furrow all day long, for miles and miles, from the time the lark began
to sing in the clear morning sky, till, with quick and hasty flights,
and melancholy chirping, the robin red-breasts ran to hide behind the
naked bushes, trembling with cold under the mist that rose like a sea.

Only, as the ass was smaller than the mare, a cushion of hay was put
over the saddle under the yoke, and it had hard work to break up the
frozen clods, by dint of chafed shoulders.

"It'll help spare the mare, who's getting old," said _massaro_ Cirino.
"It's got a heart as broad and big as the Plain of Catania, that Saint
Joseph's ass has! and you would not think it!"

And he added, turning to his wife, who had followed him, wrapped in a
mantellina, penuriously scattering the seed,--

"If anything should happen to it--Heaven forefend--we are ruined with
the prospects before us."

The woman looked forward to the prospects of crops in the rocky,
desolate, little field, with its white and cracked soil, so long had
it been since the rain fell, and all the water it got came in the form
of mist and fog, of the kind that spoils the seed, and when it was
time to dig up the ground, it was so yellow and hard, that you would
call it the very beard of the devil, as if it had been burnt with
sulphur matches!

"In spite of the crop which I put in," mourned _massaro_ Cirino,
pulling off his doublet, "why, that ass has worked himself to death
like a stupid mule. That ass is under a curse!"

His wife had a lump in her throat at the sight of the parched field,
and she replied with tears rolling from her eyes,--

"The ass had nothing to do with the failure. It brought a good crop
to _compare_ Neli. But we are unfortunate."

So the Saint Joseph's ass changed masters once more, when _massaro_
Cirino returned from the field with the sickle over his shoulder, it
being useless even to try to reap that year, although the images of
the saints had been stuck into bamboo sticks all over the ground for
protection, and two _tarì_[17] had been paid to the priest for his
blessing.

  [17] A _tarì_ is one-thirtieth of an _onza_.

"It's the devil that we want rather than the saints," said _massaro_
Cirino, irreverently, when he saw all those stalks standing up like
crests, which even the ass refused to touch, and he spat up towards
that turquoise-colored sky, so relentlessly cloudless.

It was then that _compare_ Luciano, the carter, meeting _massaro_
Cirino, as he was driving back the ass with empty saddlebags, asked,--

"What'll you take for that Saint Joseph's ass?"

"Anything you'll give me! Cursed be he and the saint who made him!"
replied _massaro_ Cirino. "Now we haven't any more bread to eat, or
fodder to give the beast."

"I'll give you fifteen _lire_ for it, seeing that you are ruined, but
the ass isn't worth so much, for it won't last out more than six
months! See how thin it is!"

"You might have got more than that," grumbled _massaro_ Cirino's wife,
after the bargain was settled. "_Compare_ Luciano's mule's dead, and
he hadn't money enough to buy another. Now if he hadn't bought our
Saint Joseph's ass, he wouldn't have known what to do with his cart
and harnesses; you'll see that ass'll be a fortune to him."

The ass was set to work drawing the cart, but the shafts of it were
much too high for it, and brought all the weight on its shoulders, so
that it would not have survived even six months; for it went limping
along over the hilly roads under _compare_ Luciano's cruel
cudgelling, who tried to put a little spirit into it; and when it went
down hill, the case was even worse, for then the whole load rested on
it, and pushed against it so hard that it had to make its back like an
arch to hold the cart back, and push with those poor scarred legs, and
people would laugh to see it, and when it fell it would have taken all
the angels of Paradise to get it to its feet again. But _compare_
Luciano knew that he carried three quintals of merchandise more than a
mule, and the load would bring him five _tarì_ a quintal.

"Every day that Saint Joseph's ass lives," said he, "I make fifteen
_tarì_, and his keep costs me less than a mule's would."

Every time the people who happened to be sauntering along behind the
cart saw the poor beast, which could hardly put one leg in front of
the other, arching its spine and panting heavily, with discouragement
clouding its eye, they would say,--

"Block the wheel with a rock, and let that poor creature have a chance
to get its breath."

But _compare_ Luciano would reply,--

"If I let him do as he pleases, I should not make my fifteen _tarì_ a
day. His hide's got to pay for mine. When he can't do any more work I
shall sell him to the lime dealer; for the beast is good enough for
his work. I tell you there's no truth at all in the idea that St.
Joseph's asses are _vigliacchi_. Besides, I got this one of _massaro_
Cirino for a piece of bread, after he was 'poverished."

       *       *       *       *       *

In this way the Saint Joseph's ass passed into the hands of the
lime-dealer, who already possessed a score or more of asses all lean
and moribund, which carried his sacks of plaster, and picked up a
wretched living by means of the mouthfuls of weeds that they could
snatch as they went along the road.

The lime-dealer objected to the Saint Joseph's ass because it was
covered with worse scars than his other beasts, with its legs seared
by the hot iron, and the skin on its chest worn off by the poitrel,
and the withers raw by the chafing of the plow, and the knees barked
by constant falls, and then that pelt of black and white seemed to him
so inharmonious among his other brown-skinned animals.

"That makes no difference," replied _compare_ Luciano. "Besides, it
will serve to distinguish your asses at a distance."

But he deducted two _tarì_ from the seven _lire_ that he had asked, so
as to bring the business to a settlement.

Now the Saint Joseph's ass would not have been recognized even by the
_padrona_ who had been present when it was born, so greatly had it
changed as it stumbled along with its nose to the ground and its ears
curled over like an umbrella under the lime-dealer's heavy sacks,
twitching its flanks under the blows of the youth who drove the
caravan. But then the _padrona_ herself was changed at that time,
what with the bad harvests they had gathered and the hunger from which
she had suffered, and the fevers which they had all contracted in the
low lands, she and her husband and her Turiddu, while they had no
money to buy any more quinine at the apothecary's and at the same time
they had no more asses even of the Saint Joseph kind to sell for the
small price of thirty-five _lire_!

In winter, when there was little work and the wood for burning the
lime was scarce, and to be had only at a distance, and the frozen
paths hadn't a leaf on their hedges or a mouthful of stubble along by
the icy gutters, life was still harder for those poor brutes, and the
_padrone_ knew that in winter not half as much was eaten; so he used
to buy a good stock of provisions in the spring.

At night the drove remained in the open air near the lime-burners, and
the brutes clustered together for protection against the cold. But
those stars shining like swords through and through them in spite of
their thick hides, and all those ulcer-eaten beasts shook and trembled
in the cold as if they were human beings.

But then there are many Christians who are not better off, not having
even such a ragged coat as that wrapt up in which the herd-boy slept
before the furnace.

Near by there lived a poor widow in a dilapidated hut, more
tumble-down by far than the lime-furnace, and through its roof the
stars penetrated like swords, as if it were no roof at all, and the
wind fluttered the wretched rags of her covering. At first she took in
washing, but that was meagre pay, for the people thereabouts do their
own washing, when they wash at all, and now that her little boy had
grown she went about peddling wood in the village. No one had known
her husband and no one knew where she got the wood that she sold; that
was known only by her son, who went about picking it up here and
there at the risk of getting shot by the _campieri_.

"If you only had an ass!" the lime-dealer had said to her, hoping that
he might dispose of that Saint Joseph's ass, which was good for
nothing more, "then you could take down to the village much bigger
fagots, now that your son is getting to be grown up."

The poor woman had a few _lire_ in the knot of her handkerchief, and
she let herself be persuaded into it by the lime-burner, because it is
said that "old things go to destruction in the house of a fool."

One thing at least was true: the poor Saint Joseph's ass had a more
endurable existence at last, because the widow regarded it as a
treasure by reason of the few _soldi_ that it had cost her, and she
went out nights in search of straw and hay for it, and she kept it in
her hut next her own bed because its vital heat was as good as a fire,
and in this way one hand washed the other, as the proverb has it.

The woman driving the ass loaded with a mountain of wood so that its
ears could not be seen, built air-castles as she went, and her son
ravaged the hedges, and risked his life in the borders of the
woodlands to gather together his load, while both mother and son had
an idea that they were going to become rich by that business, until,
finally, the baron's _campiere_ caught the boy breaking off branches,
and gave him a terrible beating.

The doctor, for the price of curing the lad, devoured all the spare
_soldi_ knotted in the handkerchief, the store of wood, and whatever
else vendible she had,--and that was not much in all conscience,--so
that the widow one night when her son was in a raging fever, with his
face turned to the wall, and there was not a mouthful of bread in the
house, went out, raging and talking to herself, as if she, too, had
the fever, and she went to break off an almond-tree near by in such a
way that it would not appear how it happened, and at dawn she loaded
it on the ass to go and sell it. But the ass on the way up stumbled
under the weight, and went down on its knees, just as Saint Joseph's
ass knelt before the infant Jesus, and would not get up again.

"Souls of the dead!" stammered the woman, "won't you carry this load
of wood for me."

And the passers-by pulled the ass's tail, and they bit its ears, so as
to make it get up.

"Don't you see it's dying?" at last remarked a carter, and so at least
the others let it alone, because the ass had the eye of a dead fish, a
cold nose, and a shudder ran over its skin.

The woman, meantime, thought of her son, who was delirious with fever,
and a flushed face, and cried,--

"Now what shall we do,--what shall we do?"

"If you will sell it, and all the wood on its back for five _tarì_,
I'll give that much," said the carter who had an empty cart; and as
the woman looked at it with squinting eyes, he added, "I'll only take
the wood, for the ass isn't worth that--"

And he gave a kick to the carcass, which sounded like a burst drum.



THE BEREAVED.


The little girl appeared at the door, twisting the corner of her apron
in her fingers, and said,--

"Here I am!"

Then, when no one paid any attention to her, she looked shyly first at
one and then at another of the women who were kneading dough, and
spoke again,--

"They told me,--'Go to _comare_ Sidora.'"

"Come here, come here," cried _comare_ Sidora, red as a tomato, as she
stood in the back part of the bake-shop. "Wait a moment, and I'll make
you a nice cake."

"It means they are bringing _comare_ Nunzia the Viaticum; they've sent
the little girl away," observed the woman from Lacodia.

One of the women engaged in kneading the dough, turned her head, with
her hands still at work in the trough, her arms bare to the elbow, and
asked the little girl,--

"How is your step-mother?"

The child, not knowing the woman, looked at her with frightened eyes,
and hanging her head, and nervously working at the ends of her apron,
said, in a low voice, between her set teeth,--

"She's in bed."

"Don't you see 'tis the Sacrament," replied la Licodiana. "Now the
neighbors have begun to scream at the door."

"As soon as I finish kneading this dough," said _comare_ Sidora, "I'll
run over a moment to see if they have need of anything. _Compare_ Meno
loses his right hand when this second wife of his dies."

"Some men have no luck with their wives, just as some are unfortunate
with their mules. No sooner do they get 'em than they lose 'em.
There's _comare_ Angela."

"Yesterday evening," observed la Licodiana, "I saw _compare_ Meno at
his door; he had come back from the vineyard before the Ave Marie, and
was blowing his nose on his handkerchief."

"But," suggested the woman who was kneading the dough, "he is a master
hand at killing off his wives. In less than three years already two of
_curátolo_[18] Nino's daughters have been eaten up, one after the
other! Wait a little and you'll see the third go the same way, and all
_curátolo_ Nino's things wasted."

  [18] The manager of a farm, not a tenant.

"Is this little girl _comare_ Nunzia's daughter, or his first wife's?"

"She's his first wife's daughter. But this one has been just as kind
to her as though she had been her own mamma, because the little orphan
was her niece, you know."

The child, hearing them speaking of herself, began to weep silently in
a corner, thus relieving her bursting heart, which she had till then
kept under control, by playing with her apron.

"Come here, come here," pursued _comare_ Sidora. "The nice cake's all
ready. There, there! Don't cry; for your mamma's in Paradise."

The little girl then dried her eyes with her doubled fists, because
she saw that _comare_ Sidora was preparing to open the oven.

"Poor _comare_ Nunzia!" said a neighbor, appearing at the door. "The
gravediggers are on their way. They just passed by here."

"Heaven protect me! as I am under Mary's grace!"[19] exclaimed the
women, crossing themselves.

  [19] "_Lontano sia! che son figlia di Maria!_"

_Comare_ Sidora took the cake out of the oven, brushed off the ashes,
and handed it, smoking hot, to the little girl, who took it in her
apron and walked away slowly, slowly, blowing on it as she went.

"Where are you going?" cried _comare_ Sidora. "Stay here! There's a
black-faced _ba-bau_ at your house who carries folks off."

The little orphan listened gravely, with wide-opened eyes. Then she
replied in the same obstinate drawl,--

"I am going to carry it to my mamma."

"Your mamma is dead; stay here," said one of the neighbors. "Eat your
cake."

Then the little girl squatted down on the door-step, the image of
sadness, holding her cake in her hand without offering to eat it.

Then suddenly seeing "_il babbo_" coming, she jumped up joyously and
ran to meet him.

_Compare_ Meno entered without saying a word, and sat down in a
corner, with his hands dangling between his knees, with a long face,
and his lips as white as paper; for since the day before, he had not
put a morsel of food into his mouth because of his grief. He looked at
the women as if to say,--

"_Poveretto me!_"

Seeing the black handkerchief around his neck, the women, with their
hands still pasted with dough, made a circle round him and condoled
with him in chorus.

"Don't speak of it to me, _comare_ Sidora," he exclaimed, shaking his
head, and heaving up his great shoulders. "This is a thorn that will
never be pulled out of my heart. That woman was a real saint! I did
not deserve her, saving your presence. Only day before yesterday, when
she was so sick, she got up to tend to the weaning colt, and she would
not let me call in the doctor, or buy any medicine, either--so as to
not waste any money. I sha'n't find another wife like her. No I
sha'n't, I tell you. Let me weep--I've good reason to."

And he began to shake his head and to heave his shoulders as if his
misfortune were a burden not to be borne.

"As to getting another wife," said la Licodiana, to encourage him,
"all you've got to do is to look for one."

"No! no!" asseverated _compare_ Meno, with his head hung low, like a
mule's. "Such another wife is not to be had. This time I shall remain
a widower. I tell you I shall."

_Comare_ Sidora interrupted him,--

"Don't say foolish things like that. You must get another wife, if
only for the sake of this little orphan girl; for otherwise, who will
look out for her when you are out working? You wouldn't let her run in
the streets, would you?"

"Then find me another wife like my last one! She would not wash
herself, for fear of soiling the water; and at home, she served me
better than a farm-hand--affectionate and faithful. Why, she would not
take even a handful of beans from the rack, or ever open her mouth to
ask for anything. And beside, a fine dowry--things as good as gold.
And I've got to give it all back because she had no children. At
least, so the sacristan says, when he came with the Holy Water. And
how kind she was to the little girl who reminded her of her poor
sister. Any other woman, except an aunt, would have cast an evil eye
on her, the poor little orphan!

"If you asked _curátolo_ Nino for his third daughter, it would make
things all right, both for the orphan and for the dowry," suggested la
Licodiana.

"That's what I say. But don't speak of it to me, for now my mouth is
bitter as gall."

"I wouldn't talk about it now," said _comare_ Sidora. "Eat a bit of
something, _compare_ Meno. You are all tired out."

"No! no!" returned _compare_ Meno several times. "Don't speak to me of
eating, for I have a lump in my throat."

_Comare_ Sidora placed before him on a stool fresh bread with ripe
olives, a piece of sheep's-head cheese, and a jug of wine. And the
poor clumsy fellow set to work nibbling at it, all the time grumbling,
with a long face.

"Such bread as she made," he observed with a quaver in his voice, "no
one else could ever make. Just as if it were made of real meal. And
with a handful of wild fennel, she would make a soup to lick your
fingers over! Now I shall have to buy bread at the shop of that thief,
_mastro_ Puddo; and as for hot soup, I sha'n't have any more, when I
come home wet as a fresh-hatched chicken. And I shall have to go to
bed with a cold stomach. Only the other night, while I was watching
with her, after I had been digging and grubbing all day on the hill,
and caught myself snoring as I sat next the bed, so tired I was, the
poor soul said to me: 'Go and get a mouthful of something to eat. I
left the soup to keep hot on the hearth.' And she was always thinking
about my comfort, and about the house, and whatever was to be done,
and this thing and that thing; and she could not come to an end of
speaking or of giving her last directions, like one who is going off
on a long journey, and I heard her constantly muttering between waking
and sleeping. And how contentedly she went off to the other world!
With the crucifix on her breast, and her hands folded over it. She
has no need of Masses and rosaries, saint that she was. Money spent on
the priest would be money thrown away."

"World of tribulation!" exclaimed a neighbor. "_Comare_ Angela's ass
is like to die of the colic."

"But my misfortunes are heavier," ended _compare_ Meno, wiping his
mouth with the back of his hand. "No, don't make me eat any more, for
the mouthfuls fall like lumps of lead into my stomach. You eat
something, you poor innocent, for you don't understand what you've
lost. Now you have no one any longer to wash you and brush your hair.
Now you haven't a mamma any more to shelter you under her wings like a
setting hen, and you are ruined, as I am. I found her for you, but a
second stepmother like her you won't get, my daughter!"

The child with bursting heart put up her lip again, and stuck her
fists into her eyes.

"No, you can't possibly get along alone," interposed _comare_ Sidora.
"You must find another wife for the sake of this poor little
motherless girl, left in the midst of the street."

"And how shall I get along? And my colt? And my house? And who'll look
after the hens? Let me weep, _comare_ Sidora! It would have been
better if I had died instead of that good soul."

"Hush, hush! you don't know what you are saying, and you don't know
what a house without its head is!"

"That is true," assented _compare_ Meno, comforted.

"Just take example from poor _comare_ Angela! First, her husband died;
then her grown-up son, and now her ass is also dying."

"The ass ought to be bled in the belly, if it has the colic," said
_compare_ Meno.

"Come, you know all about such things," suggested the neighbor. "Do a
work of charity for the sake of your wife's soul."

_Compare_ Meno got up to go to _comare_ Angela's, and the little
orphan ran behind him like a chicken, now that she had no one else in
the world. _Comare_ Sidora, good housewife that she was, called him
back.

"And the house? How have you left it, now that there is no one there
to look after it?"

"I locked the door, and besides cousin Alfia lives opposite, and will
keep an eye on it."

Neighbor Angela's ass lay stretched out in the midst of the yard, with
his muzzle cold and his ears hanging, every now and then kicking his
four legs into the air whenever the colic made him draw in his sides
like a pair of bellows. The widow crouching in front of him on the
rocks, with her hands clenching her gray hair, and her eyes dry and
despairing, was watching him, pale as a corpse.

_Compare_ Meno manoeuvred round the animal, touching his ears,
looking into his lifeless eyes, and when he saw that the blood was
still oozing from the punctured vein under the belly, drop by drop,
and coagulating in a black mass on his hairy skin, he remarked:

"So you've had him bled, have you?"

The widow fixed her dark eyes on his face without speaking, and nodded
her "yes."

"Then there's nothing more to do," said _compare_ Meno, and he
continued to stare at the ass, which stretched itself out on the
stones, stiffly, with its hair all rumpled, like a dead cat.

"It is God's will, sister!" said he to comfort her. "We are ruined,
both of us!"

He had gone round by the widow's side and squatted down on the stones,
with his little daughter between his knees, and both of them continued
to gaze at the poor beast, which from time to time threshed the air
with its legs as if it were in the agonies of death.

_Comare_ Sidora, when she had got the bread safely out of the oven,
also came into the yard with the cousin Alfia, who had put on her new
gown and wore her silk handkerchief on her head, all ready for a bit
of gossip, and _comare_ Sidora said to _compare_ Meno, drawing him
aside,--

"_Curátolo_ Nino won't give you his third daughter, for at your house
the women die off like flies, and he loses the dowry. And then la
Santa is too young, and there's the risk that she'd fill your house
with children."

"If only one could be sure of boys! But there's always the danger of
girls coming. Oh, I am so unfortunate!"

"Well, there's the cousin Alfia. She is no longer young, and she has
property,--the house and a bit of vineyard."

_Compare_ Meno fixed his eyes on the cousin Alfia, who with her arms
a-kimbo was pretending to look at the ass, and then he said, "That's
so! One might think of that. But I am so very unlucky!"

_Comare_ Sidora interrupted him,--

"Think of those who are more unlucky than you are!"

"No one is, I tell you. I shall never find another wife like her, I
shall never be able to forget her, even if I married ten times. And
this poor little orphan will never forget her, either."

"Calm yourself! You'll forget her fast enough. And the little girl
will forget her, too. Didn't she forget her own mother? But just look
at poor neighbor Angela, whose ass is dying, and she hasn't got
anything else. She'll never be able to forget it."

_Comare_ Alfia saw that it was a favorable moment for her to approach,
and drawing a long face, she began to eulogize the dead woman. She had
with her own hands helped to lay her out on the bier, and had put over
her face a fine linen handkerchief, of which she had a goodly store,
as may be imagined.

Then _compare_ Meno, with his heart melting within him, turned to his
neighbor Angela, who was sitting motionless, as if she had been turned
to stone.

"I suppose you'll have the ass skinned won't you? At least get some
money for his pelt."





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