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Title: House by The-Medlar-Tree
Author: Verga, Giovanni
Language: English
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Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

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HOUSE BY THE-MEDLAR-TREE

By Giovanni Verga

Translation By Mary A. Craig

An Introduction By W. D. Howells

New York: Harper & Brothers

1890

[Illustration: 0001]

[Illustration: 0007]



INTRODUCTION.

|Any one who loves simplicity or respects sincerity, any one who feels
the tie binding us all together in the helplessness of our common
human life, and running from the lowliest as well as the highest to the
Mystery immeasurably above the whole earth, must find a rare and tender
pleasure in this simple story of an Italian fishing village. I cannot
promise that it will interest any other sort of readers, but I do not
believe that any other sort are worth interesting; and so I can praise
Signor Verga’s book without reserve as one of the most perfect pieces of
literature that I know.

When we talk of the great modern movement towards reality we speak
without the documents if we leave this book out of the count, for I can
think of no other novel in which the facts have been more faithfully
reproduced, or with a profounder regard for the poetry that resides
in facts and resides nowhere else. Signor Verdi began long ago, in his
_Vita dei Campi_ (“Life of the Fields”) to give proof of his fitness
to live in our time; and after some excursions in the region of French
naturalism, he here returns to the original sources of his inspiration,
and offers us a masterpiece of the finest realism.

He is, I believe, a Sicilian, of that meridional race among whom the
Italian language first took form, and who in these latest days have done
some of the best things in Italian literature. It is of the far South
that he writes, and of people whose passions are elemental and whose
natures are simple. The characters, therefore, are types of good and of
evil, of good and of generosity, of truth and of falsehood. They are
not the less personal for this reason, and the life which they embody
is none the less veritable. It will be well for the reader who comes
to this book with the usual prejudices against the Southern Italians to
know that such souls as Padron ’Ntoni and Maruzza la Longa, with their
impassioned conceptions of honor and duty, exist among them; and that
such love idyls as that of Mena and Alfio, so sweet, so pure, and the
happier but not less charming every-day romance of Alessio and Nunziata,
are passages of a life supposed wholly benighted and degraded. This
poet, as I must call the author, does again the highest office of
poetry, in making us intimate with the hearts of men of another faith,
race, and condition, and teaching us how like ourselves they are in all
that is truest in them. Padron ’Ntoni and La Longa, Luca, Mena, Alfio,
Nunziata, Alessio, if harshlier named, might pass for New England types,
which we boast the product of Puritanism, but which are really the
product of conscience and order. The children of disorder who move
through the story--the selfish, the vicious, the greedy, like Don
Sylvestro, and La Vespa, and Goosefoot, and Dumb-bell, or the merely
weak, like poor ’Ntoni Malavoglia--are not so different from our
own images either, when seen in this clear glass, which falsifies and
distorts nothing.

Few tales, I think, are more moving, more full of heartbreak than this,
for few are so honest. By this I mean that the effect in it is precisely
that which the author aimed at. He meant to let us see just what manner
of men and women went to make up the life of a little Italian town of
the present day, and he meant to let the people show themselves with the
least possible explanation or comment from him. The transaction of the
story is in the highest degree dramatic; but events follow one another
with the even sequence of hours on the clock. You are not prepared to
value them beforehand; they are not advertised to tempt your curiosity
like feats promised at the circus, in the fashion of the feebler novels;
often it is in the retrospect that you recognize their importance
and perceive their full significance. In this most subtly artistic
management of his material the author is most a master, and almost more
than any other he has the rare gift of trusting the intelligence of
his reader. He seems to have no more sense of authority or supremacy
concerning the personages than any one of them would have in telling
the story, and he has as completely freed himself from literosity as the
most unlettered among them. Under his faithful touch life seems mainly
sad in Trezza, because life is mainly sad everywhere, and because men
there have not yet adjusted themselves to the only terms which can
render life tolerable anywhere. They are still rivals, traitors,
enemies, and have not learned that in the vast orphanage of nature they
have no resource but love and union among themselves and submission to
the unfathomable wisdom which was before they were. Yet seen aright this
picture of a little bit of the world, very common and low down and far
off, has a consolation which no one need miss. There, as in every part
of the world, and in the whole world, goodness brings not pleasure, not
happiness, but it brings peace and rest to the soul and, lightens all
burdens; the trial and the sorrow go on for good and evil alike; only,
those who choose the evil have no peace.

W. D. Howells.



THE HOUSE BY THE MEDLAR-TREE.



I.

|Once the Malavoglia were as numerous as the stones on the old road to
Trezza; there were some even at Ognino and at Aci Castello, and good and
brave seafaring folk, quite the opposite of what they might appear to be
from their nickname of the Ill-wills, as is but right. In fact, in the
parish books they were called Toscani; but that meant nothing, because,
since the world was a world, at Ognino, at Trezza, and at Aci Castello
they had been known as Malavoglia, from father to son, who had always
had boats on the water and tiles in the sun. Now at Trezza there
remained only Padron ’Ntoni and his family, who owned the
_Provvidenza_, which was anchored in the sand below the washing-tank by
the side of Uncle Cola’s _Concetta_ and Padron Fortunato Cipolla’s bark.
The tempests, which had scattered all the other Malavoglia to the
four winds, had passed over the house by the medlar-tree and the boat
anchored under the tank without doing any great damage; and Padron
’Ntoni, to explain the miracle, used to say, showing his closed fist,
a fist which looked as if it were made of walnut wood, “To pull a good
oar the five fingers must help one another.” He also said, “Men are like
the fingers of the hand--the thumb must be the thumb, and the little
finger the little finger.”

And Padron ’Ntoni’s little family was really disposed like the fingers
of a hand. First, he came--the thumb--who ordered the fasts and the
feasts in the house; then Bastian, his son, called Bastianazzo because
he was as big and as grand as the Saint Christopher which was painted
over the arch of the fish-market in town; and big and grand as he was,
he went right about at the word of command, and wouldn’t have blown
his nose unless his father had told him to do it. So he took to wife
La Longa when his father said to him “Take her!” Then came La Longa, a
little woman who attended to her weaving, her salting of anchovies, and
her babies, as a good house-keeper should do; last, the grandchildren
in the order of their age--’Ntoni, the eldest, a big fellow of twenty,
who was always getting cuffs from his grandfather, and then kicks a
little farther down if the cuffs had been heavy enough to disturb
his equilibrium; Luca, “who had more sense than the big one,” the
grandfather said; Mena (Filomena), surnamed Sant’Agata, because she was
always at the loom, and the proverb goes, “Woman at the loom, hen in the
coop, and mullet in January;” Alessio, our urchin, that was his
grandfather all over; and Lia (Rosalia), as yet neither fish nor flesh.
On Sunday, when they went into church one after another, they looked
like a procession.

Padron ’Ntoni was in the habit of using certain proverbs and sayings
of old times, for, said he, the sayings of the ancients never lie:
“Without a pilot the boat won’t go;” “To be pope one must begin by being
sacristan,” or, “Stick to the trade you know, somehow you’ll manage to
go;” “Be content to be what your father was, then you’ll be neither a
knave nor an ass,” and other wise saws. Therefore the house by the
medlar was prosperous, and Padron ’Ntoni passed for one of the weighty
men of the village, to that extent that they would have made him a
communal councillor. Only Don Silvestro, the town-clerk, who was very
knowing, insisted that he was a rotten _codino_, a reactionary who went
in for the Bourbons, and conspired for the return of Franceschello, that
he might tyrannize over the village as he tyrannized over his own house.
Padron ’Ntoni, instead, did not even know Franceschello by sight, and
used to say, “He who has the management of a house cannot sleep when he
likes, for he who commands must give account.” In December, 1863,
’Ntoni, the eldest grandson, was called up for the naval conscription.
Padron ’Ntoni had recourse to the big-wigs of the village, who are
those who can help us if they like. But Don Giammaria, the vicar,
replied that he deserved it, and that it was the fruit of that satanic
revolution which they had made, hanging that tricolored handkerchief to
the campanile. Don Franco, the druggist, on the other hand, laughed
under his beard, and said it was quite time there should be a
revolution, and that then they would send all those fellows of the draft
and the taxes flying, and there would be no more soldiers, but everybody
would go out and fight for their country if there was need of it. Then
Padron ’Ntoni begged and prayed him, for the love of God, to make the
revolution quickly, before his grandson ’Ntoni went for a soldier, as
if Don Franco had it in his pocket, so that at last the druggist flew
into a rage. Then Don Silvestro, the town-clerk, dislocated his jaws
with laughter at the talk, and finally he said that by means of certain
little packets, slipped into certain pockets that he knew of, they might
manage to get his nephew found defective in some way, and sent back for
a year. Unfortunately, the doctor, when he saw the tall youth, told him
that his only defect was to be planted like a column on those big ugly
feet, that looked like the leaves of a prickly-pear, but such feet as
that would be of more use on the deck of ah iron-clad in certain rough
times that were coming than pretty small ones in tight boots; and so he
took ’Ntoni, without saying “by your leave.” La Longa, when the
conscripts went up to their quarters, trotted breathless by the side of
her long-legged son, reminding him that he must always remember to keep
round his neck the piece of the Madonna’s dress that she had given him,
and to send home news whenever any one came that way that he knew, and
she would give him money to buy paper.

The grandfather, being a man, said nothing; but felt a lump in his
throat, too, and would not look his daughter-in-law in the face, so that
it seemed as if he were angry with her. So they returned to Aci
Trezza, silent, with bowed heads. Bastianazzo, who had unloaded the
_Provvidenza_ in a great hurry, went to meet them at the top of the
street, and when he saw them coming, sadly, with their shoes in their
hands, had no heart to speak, but turned round and went back with them
to the house. La Longa rushed away to the kitchen, longing to find
herself alone with the familiar saucepans; and Padron ’Ntoni said to
his son, “Go and say something to that poor child; she can bear it no
longer.” The day after they all went back to the station of Aci Castello
to see the train pass with the conscripts who were going to Messina,
and waited behind the bars hustled by the crowd for more than an hour.
Finally the train arrived, and they saw their boys, all swarming with
their heads out of the little windows like oxen going to a fair. The
singing, the laughter, and the noise made it seem like the Festa of
Trecastagni, and in the flurry and the fuss they forgot their aching
hearts for a while.

“Adieu, ’Ntoni! Adieu, mamma! Addio. Remember! remember!” Near by, on
the margin of the ditch, pretending to be cutting grass for the calf,
was Cousin Tudda’s Sara; but Cousin Venera, the Zuppidda (hobbler), went
on whispering that she had come there to see Padron ’Ntoni’s ’Ntoni,
with whom she used to talk over the wall of the garden. She had seen
them herself, with those very eyes, which the worms would one day
devour. Certain it is that ’Ntoni waved his hand to Sara, and that she
stood still, with the sickle in her hand, gazing at the train as long as
it was there. To La Longa it seemed that that wave of the hand had been
stolen from her, and when she met Cousin Tudda’s Sara on the piazza
(public square), or at the tank where they washed, she turned her back
on her for a long time after. Then the train moved off, hissing and
screaming so as to drown the adieus and the songs. And then the curious
crowd dispersed, leaving only a few poor women and some poor devils that
still stood clinging to the bars without knowing why. Then, one by
one, they also moved away, and Padron ’Ntoni, guessing that his
daughter-in-law must have a bitter taste in her mouth, spent two
centimes for a glass of water, with lemon-juice in it, for her. Cousin
Venera, the Zuppidda, to comfort her gossip La Longa, said to her, “Now,
you may set your heart at rest, for, for five years you may look upon
your son as dead, and think no more about him.”

But they did think of him all the time at the house by the medlar--now
it would be a plate too many which La Longa found in her hand when she
was getting supper ready; now some knot or other that nobody could tie
like ’Ntoni in the rigging--and when some rope had to be pulled
taut, or turn some screw, the grandfather groaning, “O-hi! O-o-o-o-hi!”
 ejaculated: “Here we want ’Ntoni!” or “Do you think I have a wrist
like that boy’s?” The mother, passing the shuttle through the loom that
went one, two, three! thought of the boum, boum of the engine that
had dragged away her son, which had sounded ever since in her heart,
one!--two!--three!

The grandpapa, too, had certain singular methods of consolation. “What
will you have? A little soldiering will do that boy good; he always
liked better to carry his two arms out a-walking of a Sunday than to
work with them for his bread.” Or, “When he has learned how salt the
bread is that one eats elsewhere he won’t growl any longer about the
minestra * at home.”

* Macaroni of inferior quality.

Finally, there arrived the first letter from ’Ntoni, which convulsed
the village. He said that the women oft there swept the streets with
their silk petticoats, and that on the mole there was Punch’s theatre,
and that they sold those little round cheeses, that rich people eat, for
two centimes, and that one could not get along without soldi; that did
well enough at Trezza, where, unless one went to Santuzza’s, at the
tavern, one didn’t know how to spend one’s money.

“Set him up with his cheeses, the glutton,” said his grandfather. “He
can’t help it, though; he always was like that. If I hadn’t held him at
the font in these arms, I should have said Don Giammaria had put sugar
in his mouth instead of salt.”

The Mangiacarubbe when she was at the tank, and Cousin Tudda’s Sara was
by, went on saying:

“Certainly. Those ladies with the silk dresses waited on purpose for
Padron ’Ntoni’s ’Ntoni to steal him away. They haven’t got any
pumpkin-heads down there!”

The others held their sides with laughing, and henceforth the envious
girls called ’Ntoni “pumpkin-head.”

’Ntoni had sent his portrait, too; all the girls at the tank had seen
it, as Sara showed it to one after another, passing it under her apron,
and the Mangiacarubbe shivered with jealousy. He looked like Saint
Michael the Archangel with those feet planted on a fine carpet, and a
curtain behind his head, like that of the Madonna at Ognino; and he was
so handsome, so clean, and smooth and neat, that the mother that bore
him wouldn’t have known him; and poor La Longa was never tired of gazing
at the curtain and the carpet and that pillar, against which her
son stood up stiff as a post, scratching with his hand the back of a
beautiful arm-chair; and she thanked God and the saints who had placed
her boy in the midst of such splendors. She kept the portrait on the
bureau, under the glass globe which covered the figure of the Good
Shepherd; so that she said her prayers to it, the Zuppidda said, and
thought she had a great treasure on the bureau; and, after all, Sister
Mariangela, the Santuzza, had just such another (anybody that cared to
might see it) that Cousin Mariano Cinghialenta had given her, and she
kept it nailed upon the tavern counter, among the bottles.

But after a while ’Ntoni got hold of a comrade who could write, and
then he let himself go in abuse of the hard life on board ship, the
discipline, the superiors, the thin rice soup, and the tight shoes.
“A letter that wasn’t worth the twenty centimes for the postage,” said
Padron ’Ntoni. La Longa scolded about the writing, that looked like a
lot of fishhooks, and said nothing worth hearing.

Bastianazzo shook his head, saying no; it wasn’t good at all, and that
if it had been he, he would have always put nice things to please people
down there on the paper--pointing at it with a finger as big as the pin
of a rowlock--if it were only out of compassion for La Longa, who, since
her boy was gone, went about like a cat that had lost her kitten.
Padron ’Ntoni went in secret, first, to Don Giammaria, and then to Don
Franco, the druggist, and got the letter read to him by both of them;
and as they were of opposite ways of thinking, he was persuaded that
it was really written there as they said; and then he went on saying to
Bastianazzo and to his wife:

“Didn’t I tell you that boy ought to have been born rich, like Padron
Cipolla’s son, that he might have nothing to do but lie in the sun and
scratch himself?”

Meanwhile the year was a bad one, and the fish had to be given for
the souls of the dead, now that Christians had taken to eating meat on
Friday like so many Turks. Besides, the men who remained at home were
not enough to manage the boat, and sometimes they had to take La Locca’s
Menico, by the day, to help. The King did this way, you see--he took the
boys just as they got big enough to earn their living; while they were
little, and had to be fed, he left them at home. And there was Mena,
too; the girl was seventeen, and the youths began to stop and stare at
her as she went into church. So it was necessary to work with hands and
feet too to drive that boat, at the house by the medlar-tree.

Padron ’Ntoni, therefore, to drive the bark, had arranged with Uncle
Crucifix Dumb-bell an affair concerning certain lupins * to be bought
on credit and sold again at Riposto, where Cousin Cinghialenta, the
carrier, said there was a boat loading for Trieste. In fact, the lupins
were beginning to rot; but they were all that were to be had at Trezza,
and that old rascal Dumb-bell knew that the _Provvidenza_ was eating her
head off and doing nothing, so he pretended to be very stupid, indeed.
“Eh! too much is it? Let it alone, then! But I can’t take a centime
less! I can’t, on my conscience! I must answer for my soul to God! I
can’t”--and shook his head till it looked in real earnest like a bell
without a clapper. This conversation took place at the door of the
church at Ognino, on the first Sunday in September, which was the
feast of Our Lady. There was a great concourse of people from all the
neighborhood, and there was present also Cousin Agostino Goosefoot, who,
by talking and joking, managed to get them to agree upon two scudi
and ten the bag, to be paid by the month. It was always so with Uncle
Crucifix, he said, because he had that cursed weakness of not being able
to say no. “As if you couldn’t say no when you like,” sneered Goosefoot.
“You’re like the--” And he told him what he was like.

* Coarse flat beans.

When La Longa heard of the business of the lupins, she opened her eyes
very wide indeed, as they sat with their elbows on the table-cloth after
supper, and it seemed as if she felt, the weight of that sum of forty
scudi on her stomach. But she said nothing, because women have nothing
to do with such things; and Padron ’Ntoni explained to her how, if the
affair was successful, there would be bread for the winter and ear-rings
for Mena, and Bastiano could go and come in a week from Riposto with La
Locca’s Menico. Bastiano, meantime, snuffed the candle and said
nothing. So the affair of the lupins was arranged, and the voyage of
the _Provvidenza_, which was the oldest boat in the village, but was
supposed to be very lucky. Maruzza had a heavy heart, but did not speak;
he went about indefatigably, preparing everything, putting the boat in
order, and filling the cupboard with provisions for the journey--fresh
bread, the jar with oil, the onions--and putting the fur-lined coat
under the deck.

The men had been very busy all day with that usurer Uncle Crucifix, who
had sold a pig in a poke, and the lupins were spoiling. Dumb-bell
swore that he knew nothing about it, in God’s truth! “Bargaining is
no cheating,” was he likely to throw his soul to the pigs? And Goosefoot
scolded and blasphemed like one possessed--to bring them to agreement,
swearing that such a thing had never happened to him before; and he
thrust his hands among the lupins, and held them up before God and the
Madonna, calling them to witness. At last--red, panting, desperate--he
made a wild proposition, and flung it in the face of Uncle Crucifix (who
pretended to be quite stupefied), and of the Malavoglia, with the sacks
in their hands. “There! pay it at Christmas, instead of paying so much a
month, and you will gain two soldi the sack! Now make an end of it. Holy
Devil!” and he began to measure them. “In God’s name, one!”

The _Provvidenza_ went off on Saturday, towards evening, when the Ave
Maria should have been ringing; only the bell was silent because Master
Cirino, the sacristan, had gone to carry a pair of new boots to Don
Silvestro, the town-clerk; at that hour the girls crowded like a
flight of sparrows about the fountain, and the evening-star was shining
brightly already just over the mast of the _Provvidenza_, like a
lamp. Maruzza, with her baby in her arms, stood on the shore, without
speaking, while her husband loosed the sail, and the _Provvidenza_
danced on the broken waves by the Fariglione * like a duck. “Clear south
wind and dark north, go fearlessly forth,” said Padron ’Ntoni, from
the landing, looking towards the mountains, dark with clouds.

La Locca’s Menico, who was in the _Provvidenza_ with Bastianazzo, called
out something which was lost in the sound of the sea. “He said you may
give the money to his mother, for his brother is out of work;” called
Bastianazzo, and that was the last word that was heard.

* Rocks rising straight out of the sea, separate from the shore.



II.


|In the whole place nothing was talked of but the affair of the lupins,
and as La Longa returned with Lia from the beach the gossips came to
their doors to see her pass.

“Oh, a regular golden business”! shouted Goose-foot, as he hitched along
with his crooked leg behind Padron ’Ntoni, who went and sat down
on the church-steps with Padron Fortunato Cipolla and Locca Menico’s
brother, who were taking the air there in the cool of the evening.
“Uncle Crucifix screamed as if you had been pulling out his
quill-feathers; but you needn’t mind that--he has plenty of quills, the
old boy. Oh, we had a time of it!--you can say as much for your part,
too, can’t you, Padron ’Ntoni? But for Padron ’Ntoni, you know, I’d
throw myself off the cliffs any day. So I would, before God! And Uncle
Crucifix listens to me because he knows what a big ladle means--a big
ladle, you know, that stirs a big pot, where there’s more than two
hundred scudi a year a-boiling! Why, old Dumb-bell wouldn’t know how to
blow his nose if I wasn’t by to show him!”

La Locca’s son, hearing them talk of Uncle Crucifix, who was really his
uncle, because he was La Locca’s brother, felt his heart swelling with
family affection.

“We are relations,” he repeated. “When I go there to work by the day he
gives me only halfwages and no wine, because we are relations.”

Old Goosefoot sneered:

“He does it for your good, so that you shouldn’t take to drinking, and
that he may have more money to leave you when he dies.”

Then old Goosefoot went on amusing himself by speaking ill now of one
now of another, as it happened; but so good-humoredly, without malice,
that no one could catch him in anything actionable.

He said to La Locca’s son:

“Your uncle wants to nobble your Cousin Vespa [wasp] out of her
garden--trying to get her to let him have it for half what it’s
worth--making her believe he’ll marry her. But if La Vespa succeeds in
drawing him on, you may go whistle for your inheritance, and you’ll lose
the wages he hasn’t given you and the wine you didn’t drink.”

Then they began to dispute--for Padron ’Ntoni insisted upon it that,
“after all, Uncle Dumb-bell was a Christian, and hadn’t quite thrown his
brains into the gutter, to go and marry his brother’s daughter.”

“What has Christian to do with it, or Turk either?” growled Goosefoot.
“He’s mad, you mean! He’s as rich as a pig; what does he want of that
little garden of Vespa’s, as big as a nose-rag? And she has nothing but
that.”

“I ought to know how big it is; it lies along my vineyard,” said Padron
Cipolla, puffing himself like a turkey.

“You call that a vineyard? Four prickly-pears!” sneered Goosefoot.

“Between the prickly-pears the vines grow; and if Saint Francis will
send us a good shower of rain, you’ll see if I don’t have some good
wine! To-day the sun went to bed loaded with rain, or with wind.” “When
the sun goes to bed heavy one must look for a west wind,” said Padron
’Ntoni.

Goosefoot couldn’t bear Cipolla’s sententious way of talking, “thinking,
because he was rich, he must know everything, and could make the poor
people swallow whatever nonsense he chose to talk. One wants rain, and
one wants wind,” he wound up. “Padron Cipolla wants rain for his vines,
and Padron ’Ntoni wants a wind to push the poop of the _Provvidenza_.
You know the proverb, ‘Curly is the sea, a fresh wind there’ll be!’
To-night the stars are shining, at midnight the wind will change. Don’t
you hear the ground-swell?”

On the road there was heard the sound of heavy carts, slowly passing.

“Night or day, somebody’s always going about the world,” said Cipolla a
little later on.

Now that they could no longer see the sea or the fields, it seemed as
if there were only Trezza in the world, and everybody wondered where the
carts could be going at that hour.

“Before midnight the _Provvidenza_ will have rounded the Cape of the
Mills, and the wind won’t trouble her any longer.”

Padron ’Ntoni thought of nothing but the _Provvidenza_, and when they
were not talking of her he said nothing, and sat like a post among the
talkers.

“You ought to go across the street to the druggist’s, where they are
talking politics. You’d make a fine figure among them. Listen how they
shout!”

“That’s Don Giammaria,” said La Locca’s son, “disputing with Don
Franco.”

The druggist was holding a conversation at the door of his shop with the
vicar and two or three others. As he was a cultured person he got the
newspaper, and read it, too, and let others read it; and he had the
_History of the French Revolution_, which he kept under the glass
mortar, because he quarrelled about it every day with Don Giammaria, the
vicar, to pass the time, and they got positively bilious over it, but
they couldn’t have lived a day without seeing each other. On Saturdays,
when the paper came, Don Franco went so far as to burn a candle for half
an hour, or even for a whole hour, at the risk of a scolding from his
wife, so as to explain his ideas properly, and not go to bed like a
brute, as Uncle Cipolla and old Malavoglia did. In the summer, besides,
there was no need of a candle, for they could stand under the lamp at
the door, when Mastro Cirino lighted it, and sometimes Don Michele,
the brigadier of the customs guard, joined them; and Don Silvestro, the
town-clerk, too, coming back from his vineyard? stopped for a moment.
Then Don Franco would say, rubbing his hands, that they were quite a
parliament, and go off behind his counter, passing his fingers through
his long beard like a comb, with a shrewd little grin, as if he were
going to eat somebody for his breakfast; and would let slip broken
phrases under his breath full of hidden meaning; so that it was plain
enough that he knew more than all the world put together. And Don
Giammaria couldn’t bear the sight of him, and grew yellow with fury and
spit Latin at him. Don Silvestro, for his part, was greatly amused to
see how he poisoned his blood “trying to straighten out a dog’s legs,”
 he said, “without a chance of making a centime by it; he, at least,
didn’t lose his temper, as they did.” And for that reason they said in
the place that he had the best farms in Trezza--“that he had come to a
barefooted ragamuffin,” added old Goosefoot. He would set the disputants
at each other as if they had been dogs, and laughed fit to split his
sides with shrill cries of ah! ah! ah! like a cackling hen.

Goosefoot went off again with the old story that if Don Silvestro had
been willing to stay where he belonged, it would be a spade he’d be
wielding now and not a pen.

“Would you give him your granddaughter Mena?” said Cipolla at last,
turning to Padron ’Ntoni.

“Each to his own business--leave the wolf to look after the sheep.”

Padron Cipolla kept on nodding his head--all the more that there had
been some talk between him and Padron ’Ntoni of marrying Mena to his
son Brasi; if the lupin business went on well the dowry would be paid
down in cash, and the affair settled immediately.

“The girl as she has been trained, and the tow as it has been spun,”
 said Padron Malavoglia at last; and Padron Cipolla agreed “that
everybody in the place knew that La Longa had brought up her girl
beautifully, that anybody who passed through the alley behind the house
by the medlar at the hour at which they were talking could hear the
sound of Sant’Agata’s loom. Cousin Maruzza didn’t waste her oil after
dark, that she didn’t,” he said.

La Longa, just as she came back from the beach, sat down at the window
to prepare the thread for the loom.

“Cousin Mena is not seen but heard, and she stays at the loom day and
night, like Sant’Agata,” said the neighbors.

“That’s the way to bring up girls,” replied Maruzza, “instead of
letting them stay gaping out the window. ‘Don’t go after the girl at the
window,’ says the proverb.”

“Some of them, though, staring out of window, manage to catch the
foolish fish that pass,” said her cousin Anna from the opposite door.

Cousin Anna (really her cousin this time, not only called so by way of
good-fellowship) had reason and to spare for this speech; for that
great hulking fellow, her son Rocco, had tacked himself on to the
Mangiacarubbe’s petticoat-tail, and she was always leaning out of the
window, toasting her face in the sun.

Gossip Grazia Goosefoot, hearing that there was a conversation going on,
came to her door with her apron full of the beans she was shelling, and
railed about the mice, who had made her “sack like a sieve,” eating holes
all over it, as if they had had wits like Christians so the talk became
general because those accursed little brutes had done Maruzza all sorts
of harm, too. Cousin Anna had her house full of them, too, since she had
lost her cat, a beast worth its weight in gold, who had died of a kick
from Uncle Tino.

“The gray cats are the best to catch mice; they’d go after them into a
needle’s eye.” “One shouldn’t open the door to the cat by night, for an
old woman at Aci Sant’Antonio got killed that way by thieves who stole
her cat three days before, and then brought her back half starved to mew
at the door, and the poor woman couldn’t bear to hear the creature out
in the street at that hour, and opened the door, and so the wretches got
in. Nowadays the rascals invent all sorts of tricks to gain their ends;
and at Trezza one saw faces now that nobody had ever seen on the coast;
coming, pretending to be fishing, and catching up the clothes that were
out to dry if they could manage it. They had stolen a new sheet from
poor Nunziata that way. Poor girl! robbing her, who worked so hard to
feed those little brothers that her father left on her hands when he
went off seeking his fortune in Alexandria, in Egypt. Nunziata was like
what Cousin Anna herself had been when her husband died and left her
with that houseful of little children, and Rocco, the biggest of them,
no higher than her knee. Then, after all the trouble of rearing him,
great lazy fellow, she must stand by and see the Mangiacarubbe carry him
off.”

Into the midst of this gossiping came Venera la Zuppidda, wife to
Bastiano, the calker; she lived at the foot of the lane, and always
appeared unexpectedly, like the devil at the litany, who came from
nobody knew where, to say his say like the rest.

“For that matter,” she muttered, “your son Rocco never helped you a bit;
if he got hold of a soldo he spent it at the tavern.”

La Zuppidda knew everything that went on in the place, and for this
reason they said she went about all day barefoot, with that distaff that
she was always holding over her head to keep the thread off the gravel.
Playing the spy, she was; the spinning was only a pretext. “She always
told gospel truth--that was a habit of hers--and people who didn’t
like to have the truth told about them accused her of being a wicked
slanderer--one of those whose tongues dropped gall. ‘Bitter mouth spits
gall,’ says the proverb, and a bitter mouth she had for that Barbara
of hers, that she had never been able to marry, so naughty and rude she
was, and with all that, she would like to give her Victor Emmanuel’s son
for a husband.

“A nice one she is, the Mangiacarubbe,” she went on; “a brazen-faced
hussy, that has called the whole village, one after another, under her
window [‘Choose no woman at the window,’ says the proverb); and Vanni
Pizzuti gave her the figs he stole from Mastro Philip, the ortolano, and
they ate them together in the vineyard under the almond-tree. I saw them
myself. And Peppi (Joe) Naso, the butcher, after he began to be jealous
of Mariano Cinghialenta, the carter, used to throw all the horns of the
beasts he killed behind her door, so that they said he combed his head
under the Mangiacarubbe’s window.”

That good-natured Cousin Anna, instead, took it easily. “Don’t you know
Don Giammaria says it is a mortal sin to speak evil of one’s neighbors?”

“Don Giammaria had better preach to his own sister Donna Rosolina,”
 replied La Zuppidda, “and not let her go playing off the airs of a young
girl at Don Silvestro when he goes past the house, and with Don Michele,
the brigadier; she’s dying to get married, with all that fat, too, and
at her age! She ought to be ashamed of herself.”

“The Lord’s will be done!” said Cousin Anna, in conclusion. “When my
husband died, Rocco wasn’t taller than this spindle, and his sisters
were all younger than he. Perhaps I’ve lost my soul for them. Grief
hardens the heart, they say, and hard work the hands, but the harder
they are the better one can work with them. My daughters will do as I
have done, and while there are stones in the washing-tank we shall have
enough to live on. Look at Nunziata--she’s as wise as an old grand-dame;
and she works for those babies as if she had borne them herself.”

“And where is Nunziata that she doesn’t come back?” asked La Longa of
a group of ragged little fellows who sat whining on the steps of the
tumbledown little house on the opposite side of the way. When they heard
their sister’s name they began to howl in chorus.

“I saw her go down to the beach after broom to burn,” said Cousin Anna,
“and your son Alessio was with her too.”

The children stopped howling to listen, then began to cry again, all
at once; and the biggest one, perched like a little chicken on the top
step, said, gravely, after a while, “I don’t know where she is.”

The neighbors all came out, like snails in a shower, and all along the
little street was heard a perpetual chatter from one door to another.
Even Alfio Mosca, who had the donkey-cart, had opened his window, and
a great smell of broom-smoke came out of it. Mena had left the loom and
come out on the door-step.

“Oh, Sant’Agata!” they all cried, and made a great fuss over her.

“Aren’t you thinking of marrying your Mena?” asked La Zuppidda, in a low
tone, of Maruzza. “She’s already eighteen, come Easter-tide. I know
her age; she was born in the year of the earthquake, like my Barbara.
Whoever wants my Barbara must first please me.”

At this moment was heard a sound of boughs scraping on the road, and up
came Luca and Nun-ziata, who couldn’t be seen under the big bundle of
broom-bushes, they were so little.

“Oh, Nunziata,” called out the neighbors, “were not you afraid at this
hour, so far from home?”

“I was with them,” said Alessio. “I was late washing with Cousin Anna,
and then I had nothing to light the fire with.”

The little girl lighted the lamp, and began to get ready for supper, the
children trotting up and down the little kitchen after her, so that she
looked like a hen with her chickens; Alessio had thrown down his
fagot, and stood gazing out of the door, gravely, with his hands in his
pockets.

“Oh, Nunziata,” called out Mena, from the doorstep, “when you’ve lighted
the fire come over here for a little.”

Nunziata left Alessio to look after her fire, and ran across to perch
herself on the landing beside Sant’Agata, to enjoy a little rest, hand
in hand with her friend.

“Friend Alfio Mosca is cooking his broad beans now,” observed Nunziata,
after a little. “He is like you, poor fellow! You have neither of you
any one to get the minestra ready by the time you come home tired in the
evening.”

“Yes, it is true that; and he knows how to sew, and to wash and mend his
clothes.” (Nunziata knew everything that Alfio did, and knew every inch
of her neighbor’s house as if it had been the palm of her hand.) “Now,”
 she said, “he has gone to get wood, now he is cleaning his donkey,” and
she watched his light as it moved about the house.

Sant’Agata laughed, and Nunziata said that to be precisely like a woman
Alfio only wanted a petticoat.

“So,” concluded Mena, “when he marries, his wife will go round with the
donkey-cart, and he’ll stay at home and look after the children.”

The mothers, grouped about the street, talked about Alfio Mosca too, and
how La Vespa swore that she wouldn’t have him for a husband--so said La
Zuppidda--“because the Wasp had her own nice little property, and wanted
to marry somebody who owned something better than a donkey-cart. She has
been casting sheep’s eyes at her uncle Dumb-bell, the little rogue!”

The girls for their parts defended Alfio against that ugly Wasp; and
Nunziata felt her heart swell with contempt at the way they scorned
Alfio, only because he was poor and alone in the world, and all of a
sudden she said to Mena:

“If I was grown up I’d marry him, so I would, if they’d let me.”

Mena was going to say something herself, but she changed the subject
suddenly.

“Are you going to town for the All Souls’ festa?”

“No. I can’t leave the house all alone.”

“We are to go if the business of the lupins goes well; grandpapa says
so.”

Then she thought a minute and added:

“Cousin Alfio, he’s going too, to sell his nuts at the fair.”

And the girls sat silent, thinking of the Feast of All Souls, and how
Alfio was going there to sell his nuts.

“Old Uncle Crucifix, how quietly he puts Vespa in his pocket,” began
Cousin Anna, all over again.

“That’s what she wants,” cried La Zuppidda, in her abrupt way, “to be
pocketed. La Vespa wants just that, and nothing else. She’s always
in his house on one pretext or another, slipping in like a cat, with
something good for him to eat or drink, and the old man never refuses
what costs him nothing. She fattens him up like a pig for Christmas. I
tell you she asks nothing better than to get into his pocket.”

Every one had something to say about Uncle Crucifix, who was always
whining, when, instead, he had money by the shovelful--for La Zuppidda,
one day when the old man was ill, had seen a chest under his bed as big
as that!

La Longa felt the weight of the forty scudi of debt for the lupins,
and changed the subject; because “one hears also in the dark,” and they
could hear the voice of Uncle Crucifix talking with Don Giammaria, who
was crossing the piazza close by, while La Zuppidda broke off her abuse
of him to wish him good-evening.

Don Silvestro laughed his hen’s cackle, and this fashion of laughing
enraged the apothecary, who had never had any patience for that matter;
he left that to such asses as wouldn’t get up another revolution.

“No, you never had any,” shouted Don Giammaria to him; “you have no
place to put it.” And Don Franco, who was a little man, went into a
fury, and called ugly names after the priest which could be heard all
across the piazza in the dark. Old Dumb-bell, hard as a stone, shrugged
his shoulders, and took care to repeat “that all that was nothing to
him; he attended to his own affairs.”

“As if the affairs of the Company of the Happy Death were not your
affairs,” said Don Giammaria, “and nobody paying a soldo any more. When
it is a question of putting their hands in their pockets these people
are a lot of Protestants, worse than that heathen apothecary, and let
the box of the confraternity become a nest for mice. It was positively
beastly!”

Don Franco, from his shop, sneered at them all at the top of his voice,
trying to imitate Don Silvestro’s cackling laugh, which was enough to
madden anybody. But everybody knew that the druggist was a freemason,
and Don Giammaria called out to him from the piazza:

“You’d find the money fast enough if it was for schools or for
illuminations!”

The apothecary didn’t answer, for his wife just then appeared at the
window; and Uncle Crucifix, when he was far enough off not to be heard
by Don Silvestro, the clerk, who gobbled up the salary for the master of
the elementary school:

“It is nothing to me,” he repeated, “but in my time there weren’t so
many lamps nor so many schools, and we were a deal better off.”

“You never were at school, and you can manage your affairs well enough.”

“And I know my catechism, too,” said Uncle Crucifix, not to be
behindhand in politeness.

In the heat of dispute Don Giammaria lost the pavement, which he could
cross with his eyes shut, and was on the point of breaking his neck, and
of letting slip, God forgive us! a very naughty word.

“At least if they’d light their lamps!”

“In these days one must look after one’s steps,” concluded Uncle
Crucifix.

Don Giammaria pulled him by the sleeve of his coat to tell him about
this one and that one--in the middle of the piazza, in the dark--of the
lamplighter who stole the oil, and Don Silvestro, who winked at it,
and of the Sindic Giufà, who let himself be led by the nose. Dumb-bell
nodded his head in assent, mechanically, though they couldn’t see each
other; and Don Giammaria, as he passed the whole village in review,
said: “This one is a thief; that one is a rascal; the other is a
Jacobin--so you hear Goosefoot, there, talking with Padron Malavoglia
and Padron Cipolla--another heretic, that one! A demagogue he is, with
that crooked leg of his”; and when he went limping across the piazza he
moved out of his way and watched him distrustfully, trying to find out
what he was after, hitching about that way. “He has the cloven foot like
the devil,” he muttered.

Uncle Crucifix shrugged his shoulders again, and repeated “that he was
an honest man, that he didn’t mix himself up with it.”

“Padron Cipolla was another old fool, a regular balloon, that fellow,
to let himself be blindfolded by old Goosefoot; and Padron ’Ntoni,
too--he’ll get a fall before long; one may expect anything in these
days.”

“Honest men keep to their own business,” repeated Uncle Crucifix.

Instead, Uncle Tino, sitting up like a president on the church steps,
went on uttering wise sentences:

“Listen to me. Before the Revolution everything was different; Now the
fish are all adulterated; I tell you I know it.”

“No, the anchovies feel the north-east wind twenty-four hours before it
comes,” resumed Padron ’Ntoni, “it has always been so; the anchovy is
a cleverer fish than the tunny. Now, beyond the Capo dei Mulini, they
sweep the sea with nets, fine ones, all at once.”

“I’ll tell you what it is,” began old Fortunato. “It is those beastly
steamers beating the water with their confounded wheels. What will you
have? Of course the fish are frightened and don’t come any more; that’s
what it is.”

The son of La Locca sat listening, with his mouth open, scratching his
head.

“Bravo!” he said. “That way they wouldn’t find any fish at Messina nor
at Syracuse, and instead they came from there by the railway by quintals
at a time.”

“For that matter, get out of it the best way you can,” cried Cipolla,
angrily. “I wash my hands of it. I don’t care a fig about it. I have my
farm and my vineyards to live upon, without your fish.”

Padron ’Ntoni, with his nose in the air, observed, “If the north-east
wind doesn’t get up before midnight, the _Provvidenza_ will have time to
get round the Cape.”

From the campanile overhead came the slow strokes of the deep bell. “One
hour after sunset!” observed Padron Cipolla.

Padron ’Ntoni made the holy sign, and replied, “Peace to the living
and rest to the dead.”

“Don Giammaria has fried vermicelli for supper,” observed Goosefoot,
sniffing towards the parsonage windows.

Don Giammaria, passing by on his way home, saluted Goosefoot as well as
the others, for in such times as these one must be friends with those
rascals, and Uncle Tino, whose mouth was always watering, called after
him:

“Eh, fried vermicelli to-night, Don Giammaria!”

“Do you hear him? Even sniffing at what I have to eat!” muttered Don
Giammaria between his teeth; “they spy after the servants of God to
count even their mouthfuls--everybody hates the church!” And coming
face to face with Don Michele, the brigadier of the coast-guard, who was
going his rounds, with his pistols in his belt and his trousers thrust
into his boots, in search of smugglers, “They don’t grudge their suppers
to those fellows.”

“Those fellows, I like them,” cried Uncle Crucifix. “I like those
fellows who look after honest men’s property!”

“If they’d only make it worth his while he’d be a heretic too,”
 growled Don Giammaria, knocking at the door of his house. “All a lot of
thieves,” he went on muttering, with the knocker in his hand, following
with suspicious eye the form of the brigadier, who disappeared in the
darkness towards the tavern, and wondering “what he was doing at the
tavern, protecting honest men’s goods?”

All the same, Daddy Tino knew why Don Michele went in the direction of
the tavern to protect the interests of honest people, for he had spent
whole nights watching for him behind the big elm to find out; and he
used to say:

“He goes to talk on the sly with Uncle Santoro, Santuzza’s father.
Those fellows that the King feeds must all be spies, and know all
about everybody’s business in Trezza and everywhere else; and old Uncle
Santoro, blind as he is, blinking like a bat in the sunshine, at the
tavern door, knows everything that goes on in the place, and could call
us by name one after another only by the footsteps.” Maruzza, hearing
the bell strike, went into the house quickly to spread the cloth on
the table; the gossips, little by little, had disappeared, and as the
village went to sleep the sea became audible once more at the foot of
the little street, and every now and then it gave a great sigh like a
sleepless man turning on his bed. Only down by the tavern, where the red
light shone, the noise continued; and Rocco Spatu, who made festa every
day in the week, was heard shouting.

“Cousin Rocco is in good spirits to-night,” said Alfio Mosca from his
window, which looked quite dark and deserted.

“Oh, there you are, Cousin Alfio!” replied Mena, who had remained on the
landing waiting for her grandfather.

“Yes, here I am, Coz Mena; I’m here eating my minestra, because when
I see you all at table, with your light, I don’t lose my appetite for
loneliness.”

“Are you not in good spirits?”

“Ah, one wants so many things to put one in good spirits!”

Mena did not answer, and after a little Cousin Alfio added:

“To-morrow I’m going to town for a load of salt.”

“Are you going for All Souls?” asked Mena.

“Heaven knows! this year my poor little nuts are all bad.”

“Cousin Alfio goes to the city to look for a wife,” said Nunziata, from
the door opposite.

“Is that true?” asked Mena.

“Eh, Cousin Mena, if I had to look for one I could find girls to my mind
without leaving home.”

“Look at those stars,” said Mena, after a silence. “They say they are
the souls loosed from Purgatory going into Paradise.”

“Listen,” said Alfio, after having also taken a look at the stars, “you,
who are Sant’Agata, if you dream of a good number in the lottery, tell
it to me, and I’ll pawn my shirt to put in for it, and then, you know, I
can begin to think about taking a wife.”

“Good-night!” said Mena.

The stars twinkled faster than ever, the “three kings” shone out over
the Fariglione, with their arms out obliquely like Saint Andrew.

The sea moved at the foot of the street, softly, softly, and at long
intervals was heard the rumbling of some cart passing in the dark,
grinding on the stones, and going out into the wide world--so wide, so
wide, that if one could walk forever one couldn’t get to the end of it;
and there were people going up and down in this wide world that knew
nothing of Cousin Alfio, nor of the _Provvidenza_ out at sea, nor of the
Festa of All Souls.

So thought Mena, waiting on the landing for grandpapa.

Grandpapa himself came out once or twice on the landing, before closing
the door, looking at the stars, which twinkled more than they need have
done, and then muttered, “Ugly Sea!” Rocco Spatu howled a tipsy song
under the red light at the tavern. “A careless heart can always sing,”
 concluded Padron ’Ntoni.



III.


|After midnight the wind began to howl as if all the cats in the place
had been on the roof, and to shake the shutters. The sea roared round
the Fariglione as if all the bulls of the Fair of Saint Alfio had been
there, and the day opened as black as the soul of Judas. In short, an
ugly September Sunday dawned--a Sunday in false September which lets
loose a tempest on one between the cup and the lip, like a shot from
behind a prickly-pear. The village boats were all drawn up on the beach,
and well fastened to the great stones under the washing-tank; so the
boys amused themselves by hissing and howling whenever there passed by
some lonely sail far out at sea, tossed amid mist and foam, dancing up
and down as if chased by the devil; the women, instead, made the sign
of the cross, as if they could see with their eyes the poor fellows who
were on board.

Maruzza la Longa was silent, as behooved her; but she could not stand
still a minute, and went up and down and in and out without stopping,
like a hen that is going to lay an egg. The men were at the tavern,
or in Pizzuti’s shop, or under the butcher’s shed, watching the rain,
sniffing the air with their heads up. On the shore there was only Padron
’Ntoni, looking out for that load of lupins and his son Bastianazzo
and the _Provvidenza_, all out at sea there; and there was La Locca’s
son too, who had nothing to lose, only his brother Menico was out at sea
with Bastianazzo in the _Provvidenza_, with the lupins. Padron Fortunato
Cipolla, getting shaved in Pizzuti’s shop, said that he wouldn’t give
two baiocchi for Bastianazzo and La Locca’s Menico with the Provvidenza
and the load of lupins.

“Now everybody wants to be a merchant and to get rich,” said he,
shrugging his shoulders; “and then when the steed is stolen they shut
the stable door.”

In Santuzza’s bar-room there was a crowd--that big drunken Rocco Spatu
shouting and spitting enough for a dozen; Daddy Tino Goosefoot, Mastro
Cola Zuppiddu, Uncle Mangiacarubbe; Don Michele, the brigadier of the
coast-guard, with his big boots and his pistols, as if he were going
to look for smugglers in this sort of weather; and Mastro Mariano
Cinghialenta. That great big elephant of a man, Mastro Cola Zuppiddu,
went about giving people thumps in fun, heavy enough to knock down an
ox, as if he had his calker’s mallet in his hand all the time, and then
Uncle Cinghialenta, to show that he was a carrier, and a courageous man
who knew the world, turned round upon him, swearing and blaspheming.

Uncle Santoro, curled all up in the corner of the little porch, waited
with out-stretched hand until some one should pass that he might ask for
alms.

“Between the two, father and daughter, they must make a good sum on such
a day as this,” said Zuppiddu, “when everybody comes to the tavern.”

“Bastianazzo Malavoglia is worse off than he is at this moment,” said
Goosefoot. “Mastro Cirino may ring the bell as much as he likes, to-day
the Malavoglia won’t go to church--they are angry with our Lord--because
of that load of lupins they’ve got out at sea.”

The wind swept about the petticoats and the dry leaves, so that Vanni
Pizzuti, with the razor in his hand, held on to the nose of the man he
was shaving, and looked out over his shoulder to see what was going on;
and when he had finished, stood with hand on hip in the door-way, with
his curly hair shining like silk; and the druggist stood at his shop
door, under that big ugly hat of his that looked as if he had an
umbrella on his head, pretending to have high words with Don Silvestro,
the town-clerk, because his wife didn’t force him to go to church in
spite of himself, and laughed under his beard at the joke, winking at
the boys who were tumbling in the gutters.

“To-day” Daddy Goosefoot went about saying, “Padroni ’Ntoni is a
Protestant, like Don Franco the apothecary.”

“If I see you looking after that old wretch Don Silvestro, I’ll box your
ears right here where we are,” shouted La Zuppidda, crossing the piazza,
to her girl. “That one I don’t like.”

La Santuzza, at the last stroke of the bell, left her father to take
care of the tavern, and went into church, with her customers behind her.
Uncle Santoro, poor old fellow, was blind, and didn’t go to the mass,
but he didn’t lose his time at the tavern, for though he couldn’t see
who went to the bar, he knew them all by the step as one or another went
to take a drink.

“The devils are out on the air,” said Santuzza, as she crossed herself
with the holy water. “A day to commit a mortal sin!”

Close by, La Zuppidda muttered Ave Marias mechanically, sitting on her
heels, shooting sharp glances hither and thither, as if she were on evil
terms with the whole village, whispering to whoever would listen to her:
“There’s Maruzza la Longa doesn’t come to church, and yet her husband
is out at sea in this horrid weather! There’s no need to wonder why
the Lord sends judgments on us. There’s even Menico’s mother comes to
church, though she doesn’t do anything there but watch the flies.”

“One must pray also for sinners,” said Santuzza; “that is what good
people are for.”

Uncle Crucifix was kneeling at the foot of the altar of the Sorrowing
Mother of God, with a very big rosary in his hand, and intoned his
prayers with a nasal twang which would have touched the heart of Satan
himself. Between one Ave Maria and another he talked of the affair of
the lupins, and of the _Provvidenza_, which was out at sea, and of La
Longa, who would be left with five children.

“In these days,” said Padron Cipolla, shrugging his shoulders, “no one
is content with his own estate; everybody wants the moon and stars for
himself.”

“The fact is,” concluded Daddy Zuppiddu, “that this will be a black day
for the Malavoglia.”

“For my part,” added Goosefoot, “I shouldn’t care to be in Cousin
Bastianazzo’s shirt.”

The evening came on chill and sad; now and then there came a blast of
north wind, bringing a shower of fine cold rain; it was one of those
evenings when, if the bark lies high and safe, with her belly in the
sand, one enjoys watching the simmering pot, with the baby between one’s
knees, and listening to the housewife trotting to and fro behind one’s
back. The lazy ones preferred going to the tavern to enjoy the Sunday,
which seemed likely to last over Monday as well; and the cupboards shone
in the firelight until even Uncle Santoro, sitting out there with his
extended hand, moved his chair to warm his back a little.

“He’s better off than poor old Bastianazzo just now,” said Rocco Spatu,
lighting his pipe at the door.

And without further reflection he put his hand in his pocket, and
permitted himself to give two centimes in alms.

“You are throwing your alms away, thanking God for being in safety from
the storm; there’s no danger of your dying like Bastianazzo.”

Everybody laughed at the joke, and then they all stood looking out at
the sea, that was as black as the wet rocks.

Padron ’Ntoni had been going about all day, as if he had been bitten
by the tarantula, and the apothecary asked him if he wanted a tonic, and
then he said:

“Fine providence this, eh, Padron ’Ntoni?” But he was a Protestant and
a Jew; all the world knew that.

La Locca’s son, who was out there with his hands in his empty pockets,
began:

“Uncle Crucifix is gone with old Goosefoot to get Padron ’Ntoni to
swear before witnesses that he took the cargo of lupins on credit.”

At dusk Maruzza, with her little ones, went out on the cliffs to watch
the sea, which from that point could be seen quite well, and hearing
the moaning waves, she felt faint and sick, but said nothing. The little
girl cried, and these poor things, forgotten up there on the rocks,
seemed like souls in Purgatory. The little one’s cries made the mother
quite sick--it seemed like an evil omen; she couldn’t think what to do
to keep the child quiet, and she sang to her song after song, with a
trembling voice loaded with tears..

The men, on their way back from the tavern, with pot of oil or flask of
wine, stopped to exchange a few words with La Longa, as if nothing
had happened; and some of Bastianazzo’s special friends--Cipolla, for
example, or Mangiacarubbe--walking out to the edge of the cliff, and
giving a look out to see in what sort of a temper the old growler was
going to sleep in, went up to Cousin Maruzza, asking about her husband,
and staying a few minutes to keep her company, pipe in mouth, or talking
softly among themselves. The poor little woman, frightened by these
unusual attentions, looked at them with sad, scared eyes, and held her
baby tight in her arms, as if they had tried to steal it from her. At
last the hardest, or the most compassionate of them, took her by the
arm and led her home. She let herself be led, only saying over and over
again: “O Blessed Virgin! O Blessed Virgin Mary!” The children clung
to her skirts, as if they had been afraid somebody was going to steal
something from them too. When they passed before the tavern all the
customers stopped talking, and came to the door in a cloud of smoke,
gazing at her as if she were already a curiosity.

“_Requiem aeternam_,” mumbled old Santoro, under his breath: “that poor
Bastianazzo always gave me something when his father let him have a
soldo to spend for himself.”

The poor little thing, who did not even know she was a widow, went on
crying: “O Blessed Virgin! O Blessed Virgin! O Virgin Mary!”

Before the steps of her house the neighbors were waiting for her,
talking among themselves in a low voice. When they saw her coming, Mammy
Goose-foot and her cousin Anna came towards her silently, with
folded hands. Then she wound her hands wildly in her hair, and with a
distracted screech rushed to hide herself in the house.

“What a misfortune!” they said among themselves in the street. “And the
boat was loaded--forty scudi worth of lupins!”



IV.


|The worst part of it was that the lupins had been bought on credit, and
Uncle Crucifix was not content with “fair words and rotten apples.” He
was called Dumb-bell because he was deaf on one side, and turned that
side when people wanted to pay him with talk, saying, “the payment can
be arranged.” He lived by lending to his friends, having no other trade,
and for this reason he stood about all day in the piazza, or with his
back to the wall of the church, with his hands in the pockets of that
ragged old jacket that nobody would have given him a soldo for; but he
had as much money as you wanted, and if any one wanted ten francs he was
ready to lend them right off, on pledge, of course--“He who lends money
without security loses his friends, his goods, and his wits”--with the
bargain that they should be paid back on Sunday, in silver, with the
account signed, and a carlino more for interest, as was but right, for,
in affairs, there’s no friendship that counts. He also bought a whole
cargo of fish in the lump, with discount, if the poor fellow who had
taken the fish wanted his money down, but they must be weighed with his
scales, that were as false as Judas’s, so they said. To be sure, such
fellows were never contented, and had one arm long and the other short,
like Saint Francesco: and he would advance the money for the port taxes
if they wanted it, and only took the money beforehand, and half a pound
of bread per head and a little quarter flask of wine, and wanted no
more, for he was a Christian, and one of those who knew that for what
one does in this world one must answer to God. In short, he was a real
Providence for all who were in tight places, and had invented a hundred
ways of being useful to his neighbors; and without being a seaman, he
had boats and tackle and everything for such as hadn’t them, and lent
them, contenting himself with a third of the fish, and something for the
boat--that counted as much as the wages of a man--and something more for
the tackle, for he lent the tackle too; and the end was that the boat
ate up all the profits, so that they called it the devil’s boat. And
when they asked him why he didn’t go to sea, too, and risk his own skin
instead of swallowing everything at other people’s expense, he would
say, “Bravo! and if an accident happened, Lord avert it! and if I lost
my life who would attend to my business?” He did attend to his business,
and would have hired out his very shirt; but he wanted to be paid
without so much talk, and there was no use arguing with him because
he was deaf, and, more than that, wasn’t quite right in his head, and
couldn’t say anything but “Bargaining’s no cheating;” or, “The honest
man is known when pay-day comes.”

Now his enemies were laughing in their sleeves at him, on account of
those blessed lupins that the devil had swallowed; and he must say a _De
profundis_ for Bastianazzo too, when the funeral ceremony took place,
along with the other Brothers of the Happy Death, with the bag over his
head.

The windows of the little church flashed in the sunshine, and the sea
was smooth and still, so that it no longer seemed the same that had
robbed La Longa of her husband; wherefore the brothers were rather in
a hurry, wanting to get away each to his own work, now that the weather
had cleared up. This time the Malavoglia were all there on their knees
before the bier, washing the pavement with their tears, as if the dead
man had been really there, inside those four boards, with the lupins
round his neck, that Uncle Crucifix had given him on credit, because he
had always known Padron ’Ntoni for an honest man; but if they meant to
cheat him out of his goods on the pretext that Bastianazzo was drowned,
they might as well cheat our Lord Christ. By the holy devil himself, he
would put Padron ’Ntoni in the hulks for it!--there was law, even at
Trezza.

Meanwhile Don Giammaria flung two or three asperges of holy-water on the
bier, and Mastro Cirino went round with an extinguisher putting out
the candles. The brothers strode over the benches with arms over their
heads, pulling off their habits; and Uncle Crucifix went and gave a
pinch of snuff to Padron ’Ntoni by the way of consolation; for, after
all, when one is an honest man one leaves a good name behind one and
wins Paradise, and this is what he had said to those who asked him about
his lupins:

“With the Malavoglia I’m safe, for they are honest people,
and don’t mean to leave poor Bastianazzo in the claws of the devil.”

Padron ’Ntoni might see for himself that everything had been done
without skimping in honor of the dead--so much for the mass, so much for
the tapers, so much for the requiem--he counted it all off on his big
fingers in their white cotton gloves; and the children looked with open
mouths at all these things which cost so much and were for papa--the
catafalque, the tapers, the paper-flowers; and the baby, seeing the
lights, and hearing the organ, began to laugh and to dance.

The house by the medlar was full of people. “Sad is the house where
there is the ‘visit’ for the husband.” Everybody passing and seeing the
poor little orphaned Malavoglia at the door, with dirty faces, and hands
in their pockets, shook their heads, saying:

“Poor Cousin Maruzza, now her hard times are beginning.”

The neighbors brought things, as the custom is--macaroni, eggs, wine,
all the gifts of God that one could only finish if one was really
happy--and Cousin Alfio Mosca came with a chicken in his hands, “Take
this, Cousin Mena,” he said, “I only wish I’d been in your father’s
place--I swear it--at least I should not have been missed, and there
would have been none to mourn for me.”

Mena, leaning against the kitchen door, with her apron over her face,
felt her heart beat as if it would fly out of her breast, like that of
the poor frightened bird she held in her hand. The dowry of Sant’Agata
had gone down, down in the _Provvidenza_, and the people who came to
make the visit of condolence in the house by the medlar looked round at
the things, as if they saw Uncle Crucifix’s claws already grasping at
them; some sat perched on chairs, and went off, without having spoken a
word, like regular stockfish as they were; but whoever had a tongue in
their heads tried to keep up some sort of conversation to drive away
melancholy, and to rouse those poor Malavoglia, who went on crying all
day long, like four fountains. Uncle Cipolla related how there was
a rise of a franc to a barrel in the price of anchovies, which might
interest Padron ’Ntoni if he still had any anchovies on hand; he
himself had reserved a hundred barrels, which now came in very well;
and he talked of poor Cousin Bastianazzo, too, rest his soul; how no
one could have expected it--a man like that, in the prime of life, and
positively bursting with health and strength, poor fellow!

There was the sindaco, too, Master Croce Calta “Silk-worm”--called also
Giufà--with Don Silvestro, the town-clerk, and he stood sniffing with
nose in the air, so that people said he was waiting for the wind to see
what way to turn--looking now at one who was speaking, now at another,
as if he were watching the leaves in the wind, in real earnest, and
if he spoke he mumbled so no one could hear him, and if Don Silvestro
laughed he laughed too.

“No funeral without laughter, no marriage without tears.” The
druggist’s wife twisted about on her chair with disgust at the trifling
conversation, sitting with her hands in her lap and a long face, as is
the custom in town under such circumstances, so that people became dumb
at the sight of her, as if the corpse itself had been sitting there, and
for this reason she was called the Lady. Don Silvestro strutted about
among the women, and started forward every minute to offer a chair to
some new-comer, that he might hear his new boots creak. “They ought to
be burned alive, those tax-gatherers!” muttered La Zuppidda, yellow as
a lemon; and she said it aloud, too, right in the face of Don Silvestro,
just as if he had been one of the tax-gatherers. She knew very well
what they were after, these bookworms, with their shiny boots without
stockings; they were always trying to slip into people’s houses, to
carry off the dowry and the daughters. ’Tis not you I want, my dear,
’tis your money. For that she had left her daughter Barbara at home.
“Those faces I don’t like.”

“It’s a beastly shame!” cried Donna Rosolina, the priest’s sister, red
as a turke, fanning herself with her handkerchief; and she railed at
Garibaldi, who had brought in the taxes; and nowadays nobody could live
and nobody got married any more.

“As if that mattered to Donna Rosolina now,” murmured Goosefoot.

Donna Rosolina meanwhile went on talking to Don Silvestro of the lot of
work she had on her hands: thirty yards of warp on the loom, the beans
to dry for winter, all the tomato-preserve to be made. She had a secret
for making it, so that it kept fresh all winter; she always got the
spices from town on purpose, and used the best quality of salt. A house
without a woman never goes on well, but the woman must have brains, and
know how to use her hands as she did, not one of those little geese that
think of nothing but brushing their hair before the glass. “Long hair
little wit,” says the proverb, specially when the husband goes under the
water like poor Bastianazzo, rest his soul!

“Blessed that he is!” sighed Santuzza, “he died on a fortunate day, a
day blessed by the Church--the eve of Our Lady of Sorrows--and now he’s
praying for us sinners, like the angels and the saints. Whom the Lord
loveth he chasteneth.’ He was a good man, one of those who mind their
own business, and don’t go about speaking ill of their neighbors, as so
many do, falling into mortal sin.”

Maruzza, sitting at the foot of the bed, pale and limp as a wet rag,
looking like Our Lady of Sorrows herself, began to cry louder than ever
at this; and Padron ’Ntoni, bowed and stooping, looking a hundred
years older than he did three days before, went on looking and looking
at her, shaking his head, not knowing what to say, with that big thorn
Bastianazzo sticking in his breast as if a shark had been gnawing at
him.

“Santuzza’s lips drop nothing but honey,” observed Cousin Grace
Goosefoot.

“To be a good tavern-keeper,” said La Zuppidda, “one must be like that;
who doesn’t know his trade must shut his shop, and who can’t swim must
be drowned.”

“They’re going to put a tax on salt,” said Uncle Mangiacarubbe. “Don
Franco saw it in the paper in print. Then they can’t salt the anchovies
any more, and we may just use our boats for firewood.”

Master Turi, the calker, was lifting up his fist and his voice, “Blessed
Lord--” he began, but caught sight of his wife and stopped short.

“With the dear times that are coming,” added Padron Cipolla, “this year,
when it hasn’t rained since Saint Clare, and if it wasn’t for this last
storm when the _Provvidenza_ was lost, that was a real blessing, the
famine this year would be solid enough to cut with a knife.”

Each one talked of his own trouble to comfort the Malavoglia and show
them that they were not the only ones that had trouble. “Troubles old
and new, some have many and some have few,” and such as stood outside in
the garden looked up at the sky to see if there was any chance of more
rain--that was needed more than bread was. Padron Cipolla knew why it
didn’t rain any longer as it used to do, “It rained no longer on account
of that cursed telegraph-wire that drew all the rain to itself and
carried it off.” Daddy Tino and Uncle Mangiacarubbe at this stood
staring with open mouths, for there was precisely on the road to Trezza
one of those very telegraph-wires; but Don Silvestro began to laugh with
his hen’s cackle, ah! ah! ah! and Padron Cipolla jumped up from the wall
in a fury, and railed at “ill-mannered brutes with ears as long as an
ass’s.” Didn’t everybody know that the telegraph carried the news from
one place to another; this was because inside the wires there was a
certain fluid like the sap in the vines, and in the same way it sucked
the rain out of the sky and carried it off where there was more need of
it; they might go and ask the apothecary, who said it himself; and it
was for this reason that they had made a law that whoever broke the
telegraph-wire should go to prison. Then Don Silvestro had no more to
say, and put his tongue between his teeth.

“Saints of Paradise! some one ought to cut down those telegraph-posts
and burn them!” began Uncle Zuppiddu, but no one listened to him, and to
change the subject looked round the garden.

“A nice piece of ground,” said Uncle Mangia-carubbe; “when it is well
worked it gives food enough for a whole year.”

The house of the Malavoglia had always been one of the first in Trezza,
but now--with Bastianazzo drowned, and ’Ntoni gone for a soldier, and
Mena to be married, and all those hungry little ones--it was a house
that leaked at every seam.

“In fact what could it be worth, the house?” Every one stretched out his
neck from the garden, measuring the house with his eye, to guess at the
value of it, cursorily as it were. Don Silvestro knew more about it than
any one, for he had the papers safe in the clerk’s room at Aci Castello.

“Will you bet five francs that all is not gold that glitters,” he said,
showing the shining new silver piece of money. He knew that there was
a mortgage of two francs the year, so he began to count on his fingers
what would be the worth of the house with the well and the garden and
all.

“Neither the house nor the boat can be sold, for they are security for
Maruzza’s dowry,” said some one else; and they began to wrangle about it
until their voices might have been heard even inside, where the family
were mourning for the dead. “Of course,” cried Don Silvestro, like a
pistol-shot, “there’s the dowry mortgage.”

Padron Cipolla, who had spoken with Padron ’Ntoni about the marriage
of his son Brasi and Mena, shook his head and said nothing.

“Then,” said Uncle Cola, “nobody’ll suffer but Uncle Crucifix, who
loses his lupins that he sold on credit.”

They all turned to look at old Crucifix, who had come, too, for
appearance’ sake, and stood straight up in a corner, listening to all
that was said, with his mouth open and his nose up in the air, as if he
was counting the beams and the tiles of the roof to make a valuation of
the house. The most curious stretched their necks to look at him from
the door, and winked at each other, as if to point him out.

“He looks like a bailiff making an inventory,” they sneered.

The gossips, who had got wind of the talk between Cipolla and Padron
’Ntoni about the marriage, said to each other that Maruzza must get
through her mourning, and then she could settle about that marriage of
Mena’s. But now La Longa had other things to think of, poor dear!

Padron Cipolla turned coolly away without a word; and, when everybody
was gone, the Malavoglia were left alone in the court.

“Now,” said Padron ’Ntoni, “we are ruined, and the best off of us all
is Bastianazzo, who doesn’t know it.”

At these words Maruzza began to cry afresh, and the boys seeing the
grown-up people cry began to roar again, too, though it was three days
now since papa was dead. The old man wandered about from place to place,
without knowing what he was going to do. But Maruzza never moved from
the foot of the bed, as if she had nothing left that she could do. When
she spoke she only repeated, with fixed eyes, as if she had no other
idea in her head, “Now I’ve nothing more to do.”

“No!” replied Padron ’Ntoni. “No! we must pay the debt to old
Dumb-bell; it won’t do to have people saying: Honest men when they grow
poor become knaves.” And the thought of the lupins drove the thorn of
Bastianazzo deeper into his heart.

The medlar-tree let fall dry leaves, and the wind blew them here and
there about the court.

“He went because I sent him,” repeated Padron ’Ntoni, as the wind
bears the leaves here and there, “and if I had told him to fling himself
head foremost from the Fariglione, he would have done it without a word.
At least he died while the house and the medlar-tree, even to the last
leaf, were his own; and I, who am old, am still here. ‘Long are the days
of the poor man.’”

Maruzza said nothing, but in her head there was one fixed idea that beat
upon her brains, and gnawed at her heart--to know, if she might, what
had happened on that night; that was always before her eyes, and if she
shut them she seemed to see the _Provvidenza_ out by the Cape of the
Mills, where the sea was blue and smooth and sprinkled with boats, which
looked like gulls in the sunshine, and could be counted one by
one--that of Uncle Crucifix, the other of Cousin Barrabbas, Uncle Cola’s
_Concetta_, Padron Fortunato’s bark--that it swung her head to see;
and she heard Cola Zup-piddu singing fit to split his throat out of
his great bull’s lungs, while he hammered away with his mallet, and the
scent of the tar came on the air; and Cousin Anna thumped her linen on
the stone at the washing-tank, and she heard Mena, too, crying quietly
in the kitchen.

“Poor little thing!” said the grandfather to himself, “the house has
come down about your cars too.” And he went about touching one by one
all the things that were heaped up in the corner, with trembling hands,
as old men do, and seeing Luca at the door, on whom they had put his
father’s big jacket, that reached to his heels, he said to him, “That’ll
keep you warm at your work--we must all work now--and you must help, for
we have to pay the debt for the lupins.”

Maruzza put her hands to her ears that she might not hear La Locca, who,
perched on the landing behind the door, screamed all day long with her
cracked maniac’s voice, saying that they must give her back her son, and
wouldn’t listen to reason from anybody.

“She goes on like that because she’s hungry,” said Cousin Anna, at last.
“Now old Crucifix is furious at them all about the lupins, and won’t
do anything for them. I’ll go and give her something to eat, and then
she’ll go away.”

Cousin Anna, poor dear, had left her linen and her girls to go and help
Cousin Maruzza, who acted as if she were sick, and if they had left her
alone she wouldn’t have, lighted the fire or anything, but would have
left them all to starve. “Neighbors should be like the tiles on the roof
that carry water for each other.” Meanwhile the poor children’s lips
were pale for hunger. Nunziata came to help too, and Alessio--with his
face black from crying at seeing his mother cry--looked after the little
boys, crowding round him like a brood of chickens, that Nunziata might
have her hands free.

“You know how to manage,” said Cousin Anna to her, “and you’ll have your
dowry ready in your two hands when you grow up.”



V.


|Mena did not know that there was an idea of marrying her to Padron
Cipolla’s Brasi “to make the mother forget her grief,” and the first
person to tell it her was Alfio Mosca, who, a few days later, came
to the garden gate, on his way back from Aci Castello, with his
donkey-cart. Mena replied, “It isn’t true, it isn’t true!” but she was
confused, and as he went on telling her all about how he had heard it
from La Vespa in the house of Uncle Crucifix, all of a sudden she turned
red all over. Cousin Alfio, too, lost countenance seeing the girl like
that, with her black kerchief over her head. He began to play with the
buttons of his coat, stood first on one leg, then on the other, and
would have given anything to get away. “Listen; it isn’t my fault;
I heard it in old Dumb-bell’s court while I was chopping up the
locust-tree that was blown down in the storm at the Santa Clara, you
remember. Now, Uncle Crucifix gets me to do chores for him, because
he won’t hear of La Locca’s son ever since his brother played him that
trick with the cargo of lupins.” Mena had the string of the gate in her
hand, but couldn’t make up her mind to open it. “And then if it isn’t
true, why do you blush?” She didn’t know, that was the truth, and she
turned the latch-string round and round. That person she knew only by
sight, and hardly that. Alfio went on telling her the whole litany of
Brasi Cipolla’s riches; after Uncle Naso, the butcher, he was the best
match in the place, and all the girls were ready to eat him up with
their eyes. Mena listened with all hers, and all of a sudden she made
him a low courtesy, and went off up the garden path to the house.

Alfio, in a fury, went off and scolded La Vespa for telling him such a
lot of stupid lies, getting him into hot water with everybody.

“Uncle Crucifix told me,” replied La Vespa; “I don’t tell lies!”

“Lies! lies!” growled old Crucifix. “I ain’t going to damn my soul
for that lot! I heard it with these ears. I heard also that the
_Provvidenza_ is in Maruzza’s dowry, and that there’s a mortgage of two
francs a year on the house.”

“You wait and you’ll see if I tell lies or not,” continued La Vespa,
leaning back against the bureau, with her hands on her hips, and looking
at him all the time with the wickedest eyes. “You men are all alike;
one can’t trust any of you.” Meanwhile Uncle Crucifix didn’t hear,
and instead of eating, went on talking about the Malavoglia, who were
talking of marriages in the family; but of the two hundred francs for
the lupins nobody heard a word.

“Eh!” cried La Vespa, losing patience, “if one listened to you nobody
would get married at all.”

“I don’t care who gets married or who doesn’t, I want my own; I don’t
care for anything else.”

“If you don’t care about it, who should? I say--everybody isn’t like
you, always putting things off.”

“And are you in a hurry, pray?”

“Of course I am. You have plenty of time to wait, you’re so young; but
everybody can’t wait till the cows come home, to get married.”

“It’s a bad year,” said Uncle Dumb-bell. “No one has time to think of
such things as those.”

La Vespa at this planted her hands on her hips, and went off like a
railway-whistle, as if her own wasp’s sting had been on her tongue.

“Now, listen to what I’m going to say. After all, my living is mine, and
I don’t need to go about begging for a husband. What do you mean by it?
If you hadn’t come filling my head with your flattery and nonsense,
I might have had half a thousand husbands--Vanni Pizzuti, and Alfio
Mos-ca, and my Cousin Cola, that was always hanging on to my skirts
before he went for a soldier, and wouldn’t even let me tie up my
stockings--all of them burning with impatience, too. They wouldn’t have
gone on leading me by the nose this way, and keeping me slinging round
from Easter until Christmas, as you’ve done.”

This time Uncle Crucifix put his hand behind his ear to hear the better,
and began to smooth her down with good words: “Yes, I know you are a
sensible girl; for that I am fond of you, and am not like those fellows
that were after you to nobble your land, and then to eat it up at
Santuzza’s tavern.”

“It isn’t true! you don’t love me. If you did you wouldn’t act this
way; you would see what I am really thinking of all the time--yes, you
would.”

She turned her back on him, and still went on poking at him, as if
unconsciously, with her elbow. “I know you don’t care for me,” she said.
The uncle was offended by this unkind suspicion. “You say these things
to draw me into sin.” He began to complain. He not care for his own
flesh and blood!--for she was his own flesh and blood after all, as the
vineyard was, and it would have been his if his brother hadn’t taken it
into his head to marry, and bring the Wasp into the world; and for that
he had always kept her as the apple of his eye, and thought only of her
good. “Listen!” he said. “I thought of making over to you the debt
of the Malavoglia, in exchange for the vineyard, which is worth forty
scudi, and with the expenses and the interest may even reach fifty
scudi, and you may get hold even of the house by the medlar, which is
worth more than the vineyard.”

“Keep the house by the medlar for yourself,” said she. “I’ll keep my
vineyard. I know very well what to do with it.” Then Uncle Crucifix also
flew into a rage, and said that she meant to let it be gobbled up by
that beggar Alfio Mosca, who made fish’s-eyes at her for love of the
vineyard, and that he wouldn’t have him about the house any more, and
would have her to know that he had blood in his veins, too. “I declare
if he isn’t jealous!” cried the Wasp.

“Of course I’m jealous,” said the old man, “jealous as a wild beast;”
 and he swore he’d pay five francs to whoever would break Alfio Mosca’s
head for him, but would not do it himself, for he was a God-fearing
Christian; and in these days honest men were cheated, for good faith
dwells in the house of the fool, where one may buy a rope to hang one’s
self; the proof of it was that one might pass and repass the house of
the Malavoglia till all was blue, until people had begun to make fun of
him, and to say that he made pilgrimages to the house by the medlar, as
they did who made vows to the Madonna at Ognino. The Malavoglia paid
him with bows, and nothing else; and the boys, if they saw him enter the
street, ran off as if they had seen a bugbear; but until now he hadn’t
heard a word of that money for the lupins--and All Souls was hard
at hand--and here was Padron ’Ntoni talking of his granddaughter’s
marriage!

He went off and growled at Goosefoot, who had got him into this scrape,
he said to others; but the others said he went to cast sheep’s-eyes at
the house by the medlar-tree; and La Locca--who was always wandering
about there, because she had been told that her son had gone away in the
Malavoglia’s boat, and she thought he would come back that way, and she
should find him there--never saw her brother Crucifix without beginning
to screech like a bird of ill omen, making him more furious than ever.
“This one will drive me into a mortal sin,” cried Dumb-bell.

“All Souls is not yet come,” answered Goosefoot, gesticulating, as
usual; “have a little patience! Do you want to suck Padron ’Ntoni’s
blood? You know very well that you’ve really lost nothing, for the
lupins were good for nothing--you know that.”

He knew nothing; he only knew that his blood was in God’s hands, and
that the Malavoglia boys dared not play on the landing when he
passed before Goosefoot’s door. And if he met Alfio Mosca, with his
donkey-cart, who took off his cap, with his sunburnt face, he felt his
blood boiling with jealousy about the vineyard. “He wants to entrap my
niece for the sake of the vineyard,” he grumbled to Goosefoot. “A lazy
hound, who does nothing but strut round with that donkey-cart, and has
nothing else in the world. A starving beggar! A rascal who makes that
ugly witch of a niece of mine believe that he’s in love with her pig’s
face, for love of her property.”

Meantime Alfio Mosca was not thinking of Vespa at all, and if he had any
one in his eye it was rather Padron ’Ntoni’s Mena, whom he saw every
day in the garden or on the landing, or when she went to look after the
hens in the chicken-coop; and if he heard the pair of fowls he had given
her cackling in the court-yard, he felt something stir inside of him,
and felt as if he himself were there in the court of the house by the
medlar; and if he had been something better than a poor carter he would
have asked for Sant’Agata’s hand in marriage, and carried her off in the
donkey-cart. When he thought of all these things he felt as if he had
a thousand things to say to her; and yet when she was by his tongue was
tied, and he could only talk of the weather, or the last load of wine
he had carried for the Santuzza, and of the donkey, who could draw four
quintals’ weight better than a mule, poor beast!

Mena stroked the poor beast with her hand, and Alfio smiled as if it had
been himself whom she had caressed. “Ah, if my donkey were yours, Cousin
Mena!” And Mena shook her head sadly, and wished that the Malavoglia had
been carriers, for then her poor father would not have died.

“The sea is salt,” she said, “and the sailor dies in the sea.”

Alfio, who was in a hurry to carry the wine to Santuzza, couldn’t make
up his mind to go, but stayed, chatting about the fine thing it was to
keep tavern, and how that trade never fell off, and if the wine was
dear one had only to pour more water into the barrels. Uncle Santoro had
grown rich in that way, and now he only begged for amusement.

“And you do very well carrying the wine, do you not?” asked Mena.

“Yes, in summer, when I can travel by night and by day both; that way I
manage pretty well. This poor beast earns his living. When I shall
have saved a little money I’ll buy a mule, and then I can become a real
carrier like Master Mariano Cinghialenta.”

The girl was listening intently to all that Alfio was saying, and
meanwhile the gray olive shook, with a sound like rain, and strewed the
path with little dry curly leaves.

“Here is the winter coming, and all this we talk of is for the summer,”
 said Goodman Alfio. Mena followed with her eyes the shadows of the
clouds that floated over the fields, as if the gray olive had melted and
blown away; so the thoughts flew through her head, and she said:

“Do you know, Cousin Alfio, there is nothing in that story about Padron
Fortunato Cipolla, because first we must pay the debt for the lupins.”

“I’m glad of it,” said Mosca; “so you won’t go away from the
neighborhood.”

“When ’Ntoni comes back from being a soldier, grandfather and all of
us will help each other to pay the debt. Mamma has taken some linen to
weave for her ladyship.”

“The druggist’s is a good trade, too!” said Alfio Mosca.

At this moment appeared Cousin Venera Zup-pidda, with her distaff in her
hand. “O Heaven! somebody’s coming,” cried Mena, and ran off into the
house.

Alfio whipped the donkey, and wanted to get away as well, but--

“Oh, Goodman Alfio, what a hurry you’re in!” cried La Zuppidda, “I
wanted to ask you if the wine you’re taking to Santuzza is the same she
had last time.”

“I don’t know; they give me the wine in barrel.”

“That last was vinegar--only fit for salad--regular poison it was;
that’s the way Santuzza gets rich; and to cheat the better, she wears
the big medal of the Daughters of Mary on the front of her dress.
Nowadays whoever wants to get on must take to that trade; else they go
backward, like crabs, as the Malavoglia have. Now they have fished up
the _Provvidenza_, you know?”

“No; I was away, but Cousin Mena knew nothing of it.”

“They have just brought the news, and Padron ’Ntoni has gone off to
the Rotolo to see her towed in; he went as if he had got a new pair of
legs, the old fellow. Now, with the _Provvidenza_, the Malayoglia can
get back where they were before, and Mena will again be a good match.”

Alfio did not answer, for the Zuppidda was looking at him fixedly, with
her little yellow eyes, and he said he was in a hurry to take the wine
to Santuzza.

“He won’t tell me anything,” muttered the Zuppidda, “as if I hadn’t seen
them with my eyes. They want to hide the sun with a net.”

The _Provvidenza_ had been towed to shore, all smashed, just as she had
been found beyond the Cape of the Mills, with her nose among the rocks
and her keel in the air. In one moment the whole village was at the
shore, men and women together, and Padron ’Ntoni, mixed up with
the crowd, looked on like the rest. Some gave kicks to the poor
_Provvidenza_ to hear how she was cracked, as if she no longer belonged
to anybody, and the poor old man felt those kicks in his own stomach.
“A fine Providence you have!” said Don Franco to him, for he, too, had
come--in his shirt-sleeves and his great ugly hat, with his pipe in his
mouth--to look on.

“She’s only fit to burn,” concluded Padron For-tunato Cipolla; and
Goodman Mangiacarubbe, who understood those matters, said that the boat
must have gone down all of a sudden, without leaving time for those on
board to cry “Lord Jesus, help us!” for the sea had swept away sails,
masts, oars, everything, and hadn’t left a single bolt in its place.

“This was papa’s place, where there’s the new rowlock,” said Luca, who
had climbed over the side, “and here were the lupins, underneath.”

But of the lupins there was not one left; the sea had swept everything
clean away. For this reason Maruzza would not leave the house, and never
wanted to see the _Provvidenza_ again in her life.

“The hull will hold; something can be made of it yet,” pronounced Master
Zuppiddu, the calker, kicking the _Provvidenza_ too, with his great ugly
feet; “with three or four patches she can go to sea again; never be
fit for bad weather--a big wave would send her all to pieces--but for
‘long-shore fishing, and for fine weather, she’ll do very well.” Padron
Cipolla, Goodman Marigiacarubbe, and Cousin Cola stood by, listening in
silence.

“Yes,” said Padron Fortunato, at last. “It’s better than setting fire to
her.”

“I’m glad of it,” said Uncle Crucifix, who also stood looking on, with
his hands behind his back. “We are Christians, and should rejoice in
each other’s good-fortune. What says the proverb? ‘Wish well to thy
neighbor and thou wilt gain something for thyself.’”

The boys had installed themselves inside the _Provvidenza_, as well as
the other lads who insisted on climbing up into her, too. “When we have
mended the _Provvidenza_ properly,” said Alessio, “she will be like
Uncle Cola’s _Concetta_;” and they gave themselves no end of trouble
pushing and hauling at her, to get her down to the beach, before the
door of Master Zuppiddu, the calker, where there were the big stones to
keep the boats in place, and the great kettles for the tar, and heaps of
beams, and ribs and knees leaning against the wall. Alessio was always
at loggerheads with the other boys, who wanted to climb up into the
boat, and to help to fan the fire under the kettle of pitch, and when
they pushed him he would say, in a threatening whine:

“Wait till my brother ’Ntoni comes back!”

In fact ’Ntoni had sent in his papers and obtained his leave--although
Don Silvestro, the town-clerk, had assured him that if he would stay on
six months longer as a soldier he would liberate his brother Luca from
the conscription. But ’Ntoni wouldn’t stay even six days longer, now
that his father was dead; Luca would have done just as he did if that
misfortune had come upon him while he was away from home, and wouldn’t
have done another stroke of work if it hadn’t been for those dogs of
superiors.

“For my part,” said Luca, “I am quite willing to go for a soldier,
instead of ’Ntoni. Now, when he comes back, the _Provvidenza_ can put
to sea again, and there’ll be no need of anybody.”

“That fellow,” cried Padron ’Ntoni, with great pride, “is just like
his father Bastianazzo, who had a heart as big as the sea, and as kind
as the mercy of God.”

One evening Padron ’Ntoni came home panting with excitement,
exclaiming, “Here’s the letter; Goodman Cirino, the sacristan, gave it
to me as I came from taking the nets to Pappafave.”

La Longa turned quite pale for joy; and they all ran into the kitchen to
see the letter.

’Ntoni arrived, with his cap over one ear, and a shirt covered with
stars; and his mother couldn’t get enough of him, as the whole family
and all his friends followed him home from the station; in a moment the
house was full of people, just as it had been at the funeral of poor
Bastianazzo, whom nobody thought of now.

Some things nobody remembers but old people, so much so that La Locca
was always sitting before the Malavoglia house, against the wall,
waiting for her Menico, and turning her head this way and that at every
step that she heard passing up or down the alley.



VI.


|Ntoni got back on a Sunday, and went from door to door saluting his
friends and acquaintances, the centre of an admiring crowd of boys,
while the girls came to the windows to look at him; the only one that
was not there was Mammy Tudda’s Sara.

“She has gone to Ognino with her husband,” Santuzza told him. “She has
married Menico Trinca, a widower with six children, but as rich as a
hog. She married him before his first wife had been dead a month. God
forgive us all!”

“A widower is like a soldier,” added La Zuppidda; “a soldier’s love is
soon cold; at tap of drum, adieu, my lady!”

Cousin Venera, who went to the station to see if Mammy Tudda’s Sara
would come to say good-bye to Padron ’Ntoni’s ’Ntoni, because she
had seen them talking to each other over the vineyard wall, hoped to put
’Ntoni out of countenance by this piece of news. But time had changed
him too--“Out of sight, out of mind”--‘Ntoni now wore his cap over his
ear.

“I don’t like those flirts who make love to two or three people at a
time,” said the Mangiacairubbe, pulling the ends of her kerchief tighter
under her chin, and looking as innocent as a Madonna. “If I were to love
anybody, I’d stick to that one, and would change, no, not for Victor
Emmanuel himself, or Garibaldi, even.”

“I know whom you love!” said ’Ntoni, with his hand on his hip.

“No, Cousin ’Ntoni, you don’t know; they have told you a lot of gossip
without a word of truth in it. If ever you are passing my door, just you
come in, and I’ll tell you the whole story.”

“Now that the Mangiacarubbe has set her heart on Padron ’Ntoni’s
’Ntoni, it will be a real mercy for his cousin Anna if anything comes
of it,” said Cousin Venera.

’Ntoni went off in high feather, swaggering with his hand on his hip,
followed by a train of friends, wishing that every day might be Sunday,
that he might carry his pretty shirts out a-walking. That afternoon he
amused himself by wrestling with Cousin Pizzuti, who hadn’t the fear of
God before his eyes (though he had never been for a soldier), and sent
him rolling on the ground before the tavern, with a bloody nose; but
Rocco Spatu was stronger than ’Ntoni, and threw him down.

In short, ’Ntoni amused himself the whole day long; and while they
were sitting chatting round the table in the evening, and his mother
asked him all sorts of questions about one thing and another, and Mena
looked at his cap, and his shirt with the stars, to see how they were
made, and the boys, half asleep, gazed at him with all their eyes, his
grandfather told him that he had found a place for him, by the day, on
board Padron Fortunato Cipolla’s bark, at very good wages.

“I took him for charity,” said Padron Fortunato to whoever would listen
to him, sitting on the bench in front of the barber’s shop. “I took him
because I couldn’t bear to say no when Padron ’Ntoni came to ask me,
under the elm, if I wanted men for the bark. I never have any need of
men, but ‘in prison, in sickness, and in need one knows one’s friends’;
with Padron ’Ntoni, too, who is so old that his wages are money thrown
away.”.

“He’s old, but he knows his business,” replied, old Goosefoot. “His
wages are by no means thrown away, and his grandson is a fellow that any
one might be glad to get away from him--or from you, for that matter.”

“When Master Bastian has finished mending the _Provvidenza_ we’ll get
her to sea again, and then we sha’n’t need to go out by the day,” said
Padron ’Ntoni.

In the morning, when he went to wake his grandson, it wanted two hours
to dawn, and ’Ntoni would have preferred to remain under the blankets;
when he came yawning out into the court, the Three Sticks were still
high over Ognino, and the Puddara * shone on the other side, and all the
stars glittered like the sparks under a frying-pan. “It’s the same thing
over again as when I was a soldier and they beat the reveille on deck,”
 growled ’Ntoni. “It wasn’t worth while coming home, at this rate!”

“Hush,” said Alessio. “Grandpapa is out there getting ready the tackle;
he’s been up an hour already,” but Alessio was a boy just like his father
Bastiànazzo, rest his soul! Grandfather went about here and there in
the court with his lantern; outside could be heard the people passing
towards the sea, knocking at the doors as they passed to rouse
their companions. All the same, when they came to the shore, where the
stars were mirrored in the black smooth sea, which murmured softly on the
stones, and saw here and there the lights of the other boats, ’Ntoni,
too, felt his heart swell within him. “Ah,” he exclaimed, with a mighty
stretch of his arms, “it is a fine thing to come back to one’s own home.
This sea knows me.” And Pa-dron ’Ntoni said, “No fish can live out of
water,” and “For the man who is born a fish the sea waits.”

     * The Great Bear.

On board, the bark they chaffed ’Ntoni because Sara had jilted him.
While they were furling the sails, and the _Carmela_ was rowed slowly
round and round, dragging the big net after her like a serpent’s tail,
“‘Swine’s flesh and soldier’s faith last but a little while,’ for that
Sara threw you over,” they said to him.

“When the Turk turns Christian the woman keeps her word,” said Uncle
Cola.

“I have plenty of sweethearts, if I want them,” replied ’Ntoni; “at
Naples they ran after me.”

“At Naples you had a cloth coat and a cap with a name on it, and shoes
on your feet,” said Barabbas.. .

“Are the girls at Naples as pretty as the ones here?”

“The girls here are not fit to hold a candle to those in Naples. I
had one with a silk dress, and red ribbons in her hair, an embroidered
corset, and gold epaulets like the captain’s. A fine, handsome girl who
brought her master’s children out to walk, and did nothing else.”

“It must be a fine thing to live in those ports,” observed Barabbas.

“You on the left there, stop rowing!” called out Padron ’Ntoni..

“Blood of Judas! You’ll send the bark onto the net,” shouted Uncle
Cola from the helm. “Will you stop chattering! Are we here to scratch
ourselves or to work?”

“It’s the tide drives us up,” said ’Ntoni.

“Draw in there, you son of a pig; your head is so full of those queens
of yours that you’ll make us lose the whole day,” shouted Barabbas.

“Sacrament!” replied ’Ntoni, with his oar in the air. “If you say that
again I’ll bring it down on your head.”

“What’s all this?” cried Uncle Cola from the helm. “Did you learn when
you were a soldier not to hear a word from anybody?”

“I’ll go,” said ’Ntoni.

“Go along, then! With Padron Fortunato’s money he’ll soon find another.”

“Prudence is for the master, patience for the man,” said Padron
’Ntoni.

’Ntoni continued to row, growling all the while, as he could not
get up and walk away; and Cousin Mangiacarubbe, to put an end to the
quarrelling, said it was time for breakfast.

At that moment the sun was just rising, and a draught of wine was
pleasant in the cold air which began to blow. So the boys began to set
their jaws at work, with flask between their knees, while the bark moved
slowly about inside the ring of corks.

“A kick to whoever speaks first,” said Uncle Cola.

Not to be kicked, they all began to chew like so many oxen, watching the
waves that came rolling in from the open sea and spreading out without
foam, those green billows that on a fair sunny day remind one of a black
sky and a slate-colored sea.

“Padron Cipolla will be swearing roundly at us to-night,” said Uncle
Cola; “but it isn’t our fault. In this fresh breeze there’s no chance of
fish.”

First Goodman Mangiacarubbe let fly a kick at Uncle Cola, who had broken
silence himself after declaring the forfeit, and then answered:

“Since we are here, we may as well leave the net out a while longer.”

“The tide is coming from the open; that will help us,” said Padron
’Ntoni.

“Ay, ay!” muttered Uncle Cola meanwhile.

Now that the silence was broken, Barabbas asked ’Ntoni Malavoglia for
a stump of a cigar.

“I haven’t but one,” said ’Ntoni, without thinking of the recent
quarrel, “but I’ll give you half of mine.”

The crew of the bark, leaning their backs against the bench, with hands
behind their heads, hummed snatches of songs under their breath, each on
his own account, to keep himself awake, for it was very difficult not to
doze in the blazing sun; and Ba-rabbas snapped his fingers at the fish
which leaped flashing out of the water.

“They have nothing to do,” said ’Ntoni, “and they amuse themselves by
jumping about.”

“How good this cigar is!” said Barabbas. “Did you smoke these at
Naples?”

“Yes, plenty of them.”

“All the same, the corks are beginning to sink,” said Goodman
Mangiacarubbe.

“Do you see where the _Provvidenza_ went down with your father?” said
Barabbas to ’Ntoni; “there at the Cape, where the sun glints on those
white houses, and the sea seems as if it were made of gold.”

“The sea is salt, and the sailor sinks in the sea,” replied ’Ntoni.

Barabbas passed him his flask, and they began to mutter to each other
under their breath against Uncle Cola, who was a regular dog for the
crew of the bark, watching everything they said and did; they might as
well have Padron Cipolla himself on board.

“And all to make him believe that the boat couldn’t get on without him,”
 added Barabbas; “an old spy. Now he’ll go saying that it is he that has
caught the fish by his cleverness, in spite of the rough sea. Look how
the nets are sinking; the corks are quite under water; you can’t see
them.”

“Holloa, boys!” shouted Uncle Cola; “we must draw in the net, or the
tide will sweep it away.”

“O-hi! O-o-o-hi!” the crew began to vociferate, as they passed the rope
from hand to hand.

“Saint Francis!” cried Uncle Cola, “who would have thought that we
should have taken all this precious load in spite of the tide?”

The nets shivered and glittered in the sun, and all the bottom of the
boat seemed full of quicksilver.

“Padron Fortunato will be contented now,” said Barabbas, red and sweaty,
“and won’t throw in our faces those few centimes he pays us for the
day.”

“This is what we get,” said ’Ntoni, “to break our backs for other
people; and then when we have put a few soldi together comes the devil
and carries them off.”

“What are you grumbling about?” asked his grandfather. “Doesn’t Padron
Fortunato pay your day’s wages?”

The Malavoglia were mad after money: La Longa took in weaving and
washing; Padron ’Ntoni and his grandsons went out by the day, and
helped each other as best they could; and when the old man was bent
double with sciatica, he stayed in the court and mended nets and tackle
of all kinds, of which trade he was a master. Luca went to work at the
bridge on the railroad for fifty centimes a day, though ’Ntoni said
that wasn’t enough to pay for the shirts he spoiled by carrying loads
on his back--but Luca didn’t mind spoiling his shirts, or his shoulders
either; and Alessio went gathering crabs and mussels on the shore, and
sold them for ten sous the pound, and sometimes he went as far as Ognino
or the Cape of the Mills, and came back with his feet all bloody.
But Goodman Zuppiddu wanted a good sum every Saturday for mending the
_Provvidenza_; and one wanted a good many nets to mend, and rolls of
linen to weave, and crabs at ten sous the pound, and linen to bleach,
too, with one’s feet in the water, and the sun on one’s head, to make up
two hundred francs. All Souls was come, and Uncle Crucifix did nothing
but promenade up and down the little street, with his hands behind his
back, like an old basilisk.

“This story will end with a bailiff,” old Dumbbell went on saying to Don
Silvestro and to Don Giammaria, the vicar.

“There will be no need of a bailiff, Uncle Crucifix,” said Padron
’Ntoni, when he was told what old Dumb-bell had been saying. “The
Malavoglia have always been honest people, and have paid their debts
without the aid of a bailiff.”

“That does not matter to me,” said Uncle Crucifix, as he stood against
the wall of his court measuring the cuttings of his vines; “I only know
I want to be paid.”

Finally, through the interposition of the vicar, Dumb-bell consented to
wait until Christmas, taking for interest that sixty-five francs which
Maruzza had managed to scrape together sou by sou, which she kept in an
old stocking hid under the mattress of her bed.

“This is the way it goes,” growled Padron ’Ntoni’s ’Ntoni; “we work
night and day for old Crucifix. When we have managed to rake and scrape
a franc we have to give it to old Dumbbell.”

Grandfather, with Maruzza, consoled each other by building castles in
the air for the summer, when there would be anchovies to be salted, and
Indian figs at ten for eight centimes; and they made fine projects of
going to the tunny-fishing, and the fishing for the sword-fish--when one
gains a good sum by the day--and in the mean time Cousin Bastian would
have put the _Provvidenza_ in order. The boys listened attentively, with
elbows on their knees, to this discourse, as they sat on the landing, or
after supper; but ’Ntoni, who had been in foreign ports, and knew the
world better than the others, was not amused by such talk, and preferred
going to lounge about the tavern, where there was a lot of people who
did nothing, and old Uncle Santoro the worst of them, who had only that
easy trade of begging to follow, and sat muttering Ave Marias; or he
went down to Master Zuppiddu’s to see how the _Provvidenza_ was getting
on, to have a little talk with Barbara, who came out with fagots for the
fire under the kettle of pitch, when Cousin ’Ntoni was there.

“You’re always busy, Cousin Barbara,” said ’Ntoni; “you’re the right
hand of the house; it’s for that your father doesn’t want to get you
married.”

“I don’t want to marry anybody who isn’t my equal,” answered Barbara.
“Marry with your equals and stay with your own.”

“I would willingly stay with your people, by Our Lady! if you were
willing, Cousin Barbara.” *

“Why do you talk to me in this way, Cousin ’Ntoni? Mamma is spinning
in the court; she will hear you.”

“I meant that those fagots are wet and won’t kindle. Let me do it.”

“Is it true you come down here to see the Mangiacarubbe when she comes
to the window?”

“I come for quite another reason, Cousin Barbara. I come to see how the
_Provvidenza_ is getting on.”

“She is getting on very well, and papa says that by Christmas she will
be ready for sea.”

As the Christmas season drew on the Malavoglia were always in and out of
Master Bastiano Zuppiddu’s court. Meanwhile the whole place was assuming
a festive appearance; in every house the images of the saints were
adorned with boughs and with oranges, and the children ran about in
crowds after the pipers who came playing before the shrines, with the
lamps before the doors; only in the Malavoglia’s house the statue of the
Good Shepherd stood dark and unadorned, while Padron ’Ntoni’s ’Ntoni
ran here and there like a rooster in the spring. And Barbara Zuppidda
said to him:

“At least you’ll remember how I melted the pitch for the _Provvidenza_
when you’re out at sea.”

Goosefoot prophesied that all the girls would want to rob her of him.

“It’s I who am robbed,” whined Uncle Crucifix. “Where am I to get the
money for the lupins if ’Ntoni marries, and they take off the dowry
for Mena, and the mortgage that’s on the house, and all the burdens
besides that came out at the very last minute? Christmas is here, but no
Malavoglia.”

Padron ’Ntoni went to him in the piazza, or in his own court, and said
to him: “What can I do if I have no money? Wait till June, if you will
do me that favor; or take the boat, or the house; I have nothing else.”

“I want my money,” repeated Uncle Crucifix, with his back against the
wall. “You said you were honest people; you can’t pay me with talk about
the _Provvidenza_, or the house by the medlar-tree.”

He was ruining both body and soul, had lost sleep and appetite, and
wasn’t even allowed to relieve his feelings by saying that the end of
this story would be the bailiff, because if he did Padron ’Ntoni sent
straightway Don Giammaria or Don Silvestro to beg for pity on him; and
they didn’t even leave him in peace in the piazza, where he couldn’t go
on his own business without some one was at his heels, so that the whole
place cried out on the devil’s money. With Goosefoot he couldn’t talk,
because he always threw in his face that the lupins were rotten, and
that he had done the broker for him. “But that service he could do me!”
 said he, suddenly, to himself; and that night he did not sleep another
wink, so charmed was he with the discovery. And he went off to Goosefoot
as soon as it was day, and found him yawning and stretching at his house
door. “You must pretend to buy my debt,” he said to him, “and then we
can send the officers to Malavoglia, and nobody will call you a usurer,
or say that yours is the devil’s money.”

“Did this fine idea come to you in the night,” sneered Goosefoot, “that
you come waking me at dawn to tell it me?”

“I came to tell you about those cuttings, too; if you want them you may
come and take them.”

“Then you may send for the bailiff,” said Goose-foot; “but you must pay
the expenses.”

Before every house the shrines were adorned with leaves and oranges,
and at evening the candles were lighted, when the pipers played and sang
litanies, so that it was a festa everywhere. The boys played at games
with hazel-nuts in the street; and if Alessio stopped, with legs apart,
to look on, they said to him:

“Go away, you; you haven’t any nuts to play with. Now they’re going to
take away your house.”

In fact, on Christmas eve the officer came in a carriage to the
Malavoglia’s, so that the whole village was upset by it; and he went and
left a paper with a stamp on it on the bureau, beside the image of the
Good Shepherd.

The Malavoglia seemed as if they all had been struck by apoplexy at
once, and stayed in the court, sitting in a ring, doing nothing; and
that day that the bailiff came there was no table set in the house of
the Malavoglia.

“What shall we do?” said La Longa. Padron ’Ntoni did not know what
to say, but at last he took the paper, and went off with his two eldest
grandsons to Uncle Crucifix, to tell him to take the _Prov-videnza_,
which Master Bastiano had just finished mending; and the poor old man’s
voice trembled as it did when he lost his son Bastianazzo. “I know
nothing about it,” replied Dumb-bell. “I have no more to do with? the
business. I’ve sold my debt to Goosefoot, and you must manage it the
best way you can with him.”

Goosefoot began to scratch his head as soon as he saw them coming in
procession to speak to him.

“What’ do you want me to do?” answered he; “I’m a poor devil, I need the
money, and I can’t do anything with the boat. That isn’t my trade; but
if Uncle Crucifix will buy it, I’ll help you to sell it. I’ll be back
directly.”

So the poor fellows sat on the wall, waiting and casting longing glances
down the road where old Goosefoot had disappeared, not daring to look
each other in the face. At last he came limping slowly along (he got on
fast enough when he liked, in spite of his crooked leg). “He says it’s
all broken, like an old shoe; he wouldn’t hear of taking it,” he
called out from a distance. “I’m sorry, but I could do nothing.” So the
Malavoglia went off home again with their stamped paper.

But something had to be done, for that piece of stamped paper lying on
the bureau had power, they had been told, to devour the bureau and the
house, and the whole family into the bargain.

“Here we need advice from Don Silvestro,” suggested Maruzza. “Take these
two hens to him, and he’ll be sure to know of something you can do.”

Don Silvestro said there was no time to be lost, and he sent them to a
clever lawyer, Dr. Scipione, who lived in the street of the Sick-men,
opposite Uncle Crispino’s stable, * and was young, but, from what he had
been told, had brains enough to put in his pocket all the old fellows,
who asked five scudi for opening their mouths, while he was contented
with twenty-five lire.

The lawyer was rolling cigarettes, and he made them come and go two or
three times before he would let them come in. The finest thing about
it was that they all went in procession, one behind the other. At first
they were accompanied by La Longa, with her baby in her arms, as she
wished to give her opinion, too, on the subject; and so they lost a
whole day’s work. When, however, the lawyer had read the papers, and
could manage to understand something of the confused answers which he
had to tear as if with pincers from Padron ’Ntoni, while the others
sat perched up on their chairs, without daring even to breathe, he began
to laugh heartily, and the Malavoglia laughed too, with him, without
knowing why, just to get their breath. “Nothing,” replied the lawyer;
“you need do nothing.” And when Padron ’Ntoni told him again that the
bailiff had come to the house: “Let the bailiff come every day if he
likes, so the creditors will the sooner tire of the expense of sending
him. They can take nothing from you, because the house is settled on
your son’s wife; and for the boat, we’ll make a claim on the part of
Master Bastiano Zuppiddu. Your daughter-in-law did not take part in
the purchase of the lupins.” The lawyer went on talking without drawing
breath, without scratching his head even, for more than twenty-five
lire, so that Padron ’Ntoni and his grandson felt a great longing to
talk too, to bring out that fine defence of theirs of which their
heads were full; and they went away stunned, overpowered by all these
wonderful things, ruminating and gesticulating over the lawyer’s speech
all the way home. Maruzza, who hadn’t been with them that time, seeing
them come with bright eyes and rosy faces, felt herself relieved of a
great weight, and with a serene aspect waited to hear what the advocate
had said. But no one said a word, and they all stood looking at each
other.

“Well?” asked Maruzza, who was dying of impatience.

“Nothing! we need fear nothing!” replied Padron ’Ntoni, tranquilly.

“And the advocate?”

“Yes, the advocate says we need fear nothing.”

“But what did he say?” persisted Maruzza.

“Ah, he knows how to talk! A man with whiskers! Blessed be those
twenty-five lire!”

“But what did he tell you to do?”

The grandfather looked at the grandson, and ’Ntoni looked back at
his grandfather. “Nothing,” answered Padron ’Ntoni; “he told us to do
nothing.”

“We won’t pay anything,” cried ’Ntoni, boldly, “because they can’t
take either the house or the Provvidenza. We don’t owe them anything.”

“And the lupins?”

“The lupins! We didn’t eat them, his lupins; we haven’t got them in our
pockets. And Uncle Crucifix can take nothing from us; the advocate
said so, said he was spending money for nothing.” There was a moment’s
silence, but Maruzza was still unconvinced.

“So he told you not to pay?”

’Ntoni scratched his head, and his grandfather added:

“It’s true, the lupins--we had them--we must pay for them.”

There was nothing to be said, now that the lawyer was no longer there;
they must pay. Padron ’Ntoni shook his head, muttering:

“Not that, not that! the Malavoglia have never done that. Uncle Crucifix
may take the house and the boat and everything, but we can’t do that.”

The poor old man was confused; but his daughter-in-law cried silently
behind her apron.

“Then we must go to Don Silvestro,” concluded Padron ’Ntoni.

And with one accord, grandfather, grandchildren, and daughter-in-law,
with the little girl, proceeded once more in procession to the house of
the communal secretary, to ask him how they were to manage about paying
the debt, and preventing Uncle Crucifix from sending any more stamped
paper to eat up the house and the boat and the family.

Don Silvestro, who understood law, was amusing himself by constructing a
trap-cage, intended as a present for the children of “her ladyship.”

He did not do as the lawyer did, he let them talk and talk, continuing
silently to sharpen his reeds and fasten them into their places. At last
he told them what was necessary. “Well, now, if Madam Maruzza is willing
to put her hand to it, everything may be arranged.” The poor woman
could not guess where she was to put her hand. “You must put it into the
sale,” said Don Silvestro to her, “and give up your dotal mortgage,
although you did not buy the lupins.”

“We all bought the lupins together,” murmured the poor Longa. “And the
Lord has punished us all together by taking away my husband.”

The poor ignorant creatures, motionless on their chairs, looked at each
other, and Don Silvestro laughed to himself. Then he sent for Uncle
Crucifix, who came gnawing a dried chestnut, having just finished his
dinner, and his eyes were even more glassy than usual. From the very
first he would listen to nothing, declaring that he had nothing to do
with it, that it was no longer his affair. “I am like the low wall that
everybody sits and leans on as much as he pleases; because I can’t
talk like an advocate, and give all my reasons properly, my property
is treated as if I had stolen it.” And so he went on grumbling and
muttering, with his back against the wall, and his hands thrust into his
pockets; and nobody could understand a word he said, on account of the
chestnut which he had in his mouth. Don Silvestro spoiled a shirt by
sweating over the attempt to make him understand how the Malavoglia were
not to be called cheats if they were willing to pay the debt, and if the
widow gave up her dotal rights. The Malavoglia would be willing to give
up everything but their shirts sooner than go to law; but if they were
driven to the wall they might begin to send stamped paper as well as
other people; such things have happened before now. “In short, a little
charity one must have, by the holy devil! What will you bet that if you
go on planting your feet like a mule in this you don’t lose the whole
thing?”

And Uncle Crucifix replied, “If you take me on that side I haven’t
any more to say.” And he promised to speak to old Goosefoot. “For
friendship’s sake I would make any sacrifice.” Padron ’Ntoni could
speak for him, how for friendship’s sake he had done as much as that
and more; and he offered him his open snuffbox, and stroked the baby’s
cheek, and gave her a chestnut. “Don Silvestro knows my weakness; I
don’t know how to say no. This evening I’ll speak to Goosefoot, and tell
him to wait until Easter, if Cousin Maruzza will put her hand to it.”
 Cousin Maruzza did not know where her hand was to be put, but said that
she was ready to put it immediately.

“Then you can send for those beans that you said you wanted to sow,”
 said Uncle Crucifix to Don Silvestro before he went away.

“All right! all right!” replied Don Silvestro. “We all know that for
your friends you have a heart as big as the sea.”

Goosefoot, while any one was by, wouldn’t hear of any delay, and
screamed and tore his hair and swore they wanted to reduce him to his
last shirt, and to leave him without bread for the winter, him and
his wife Grace, since they had persuaded him to buy the debt of the
Malavoglia, and that those were five hundred lire, one better than
another, that they had coaxed him out of, to give them to Uncle
Crucifix. His wife Grace, poor thing, opened her eyes very wide, because
she couldn’t tell where all that money had come from, and put in a good
word for the Malavoglia, who were all good people, and everybody in the
vicinity had always known they Were honest. And Uncle Crucifix himself
now began to take the part of the Malavoglia. “They have said they will
pay; and if they don’t they will let you have the house; Madam Maruzza
will put her hand to it. Don’t you know that in these days if you want
your own you must do the best you can?” Then Goosefoot put on his jacket
in a great hurry, and went off swearing and blaspheming, saying that his
wife and old Crucifix might do as they pleased, since he was no longer
master in his own house.



VII.

|That was a black Christmas for the Malavoglia. Just then Luca had to
draw his number for the Conscription--a low number, too, like a poor
devil as he was--and he went off without many tears; they were used to
it by this time. This time, also, ‘’Ntoni accompanied his brother,
with his cap over his ear, so that it seemed as if it were he who was
going away, and he kept on saying that it was nothing, that he had been
for a soldier himself. That day it rained, and the street was all one
puddle.

“I don’t want you to come with me,” repeated Luca to his mother; “the
station is a long way off.” And he stood at the door watching the rain
come down on the medlar-tree, with his little bundle under his arm. Then
he kissed the hands of his mother and his grandfather, and embraced Mena
and the children.

So La Longa saw him go away, under the umbrella, accompanied by all his
relations, jumping from stone to stone, in the little alley that was
all one puddle; and the boy, who was as wise as his grandfather himself,
turned up his trousers on the landing, although he wouldn’t have to wear
them any more when he got his soldier-clothes. “This one won’t write
home for money when he is down there,” thought the old man; “and if
God grants him life he will bring up once more the house by the
medlar-tree.” But God did not grant him life, just because he was that
sort of a fellow; and when there came, later on, the news of his death,
a thorn remained in his mother’s heart because she had let him go away
in the rain, and had not accompanied him to the station.

“Mamma,” said Luca, turning back, because his heart bled to leave her so
silent, on the landing, looking like Our Lady of Sorrows, “when I come
back I’ll let you know first, and then you can come and meet me at the
station.”

And these words Maruzza never forgot while she lived; and till her death
she bore also that other thorn in her heart, that her boy had not been
present at the festa that was made when the _Provvidenza_ was launched
anew, while all the place was there, and Barbara Zuppidda came out with
the broom to sweep away the shavings. “I do it for your sake,” she said
to Padron ’Ntoni’s ’Ntoni; “because it is your Providence.”

“With the broom in your hand, you look like a queen,” replied ’Ntoni.
“In all Trezza there is not so good a housewife as you.”

“Now you have taken away the _Provvidenza_, we shall not see you here
any more, Cousin ’Ntoni.”

“Yes, you will. Besides, this is the shortest way to the beach.”

“You come to see the Mangiacarubbe, who always goes to the window when
you pass.”

“I leave the Mangiacarubbe for Rocco Spatu. I have other things in my
mind.”

“Who knows what you have in your mind--those pretty girls in foreign
parts, perhaps?”

“There are pretty girls here, too, Cousin Barbara, and I know one very
well.”

“Really?”

“By my soul!”

“What do you care?”

“I care! Yes, that I do; but she doesn’t care for me, because there are
certain dandies who walk under her window with varnished boots.”

“I don’t even look at those varnished boots, by the Madonna of Ognino!
Mamma says that varnished boots are only fit to devour the dowry and
everything else; and some fine day I shall go out with my distaff, and
make him a scene, that Don Silvestro, who won’t leave me in peace.”

“Do you mean that seriously, Cousin Barbara?”

“Yes, indeed I do!”

“That pleases me right well,” said ’Ntoni.

“Listen; let’s go down to the beach on Monday, when mamma goes to the
fair.”

“On Mondays I never shall have a chance to breathe, now that the
_Provvidenza_ has been launched.”

Scarcely had Master Turi said that the boat was in order, than Padron
’Ntoni went off to start her with his boys and all the neighbors; and
the _Provvidenza_, when she was going down to the sea, rocked about on
the stones as if she were sea-sick among the crowd.

“This way, here!” called out Cousin Zuppiddu, louder than anybody; but
the others shouted and struggled to push her back on the ways as she
rocked over on the stones. “Let me do it, or else I’ll just take the
boat up in my arms like a baby, and put her in the water myself.”

“Master Turi is capable of doing it, with those arms of his,” said some
one; or else, “Now the Malavoglia will be all right again.”

“That devil of a Cousin Zuppiddu has lucky fingers,” they exclaimed.
“Look how he has put her straight again, when she was like an old shoe.”
 And in truth the _Provvidenza_ did seem quite another boat-shining with
new pitch, and with a bright red line along her side, and on the prow
San Francesco, with his beard that seemed to have been made of tow, so
much so that even La Longa had made peace with the _Provvidenza_, whom
she had never forgiven, for coming back to her without her husband; but
she made peace for fright, now that the bailiff had been in the house.

“Viva San Francesco!” called out every one as the _Provvidenza_ passed;
and La Locca’s son called out louder than anybody, in the hope that
now Padron ’Ntoni would hire him by the day, instead of his brother
Menico. Mena stood on the landing, and once more she cried for joy;
and, at last, even La Locca got up like the rest, and followed the
Malavoglia.

“O Cousin Mena, this is a fine day for all of you,” said Alfio Mosca to
her from his window opposite. “It will be like this when I can buy my
mule.”

“And will you sell your donkey?”

“How can I? I’m not rich, like Vanni Pizzuti; if I were, I swear I
wouldn’t sell him, poor beast! If I had enough to keep another person,
I’d take a wife, and not live here alone like a dog.”

Mena didn’t know what to say, and Alfio added: “Now that the
_Provvidenza_ has put to sea again, you’ll be married to Brasi Cipolla.”

“Grandpapa has said nothing about it.”

“He will. There’s still time. Between now and your marriage who knows
how many things may happen, or by what different roads I shall drive my
cart? I have been told that in the plain, at the other side of the
town, there is work for everybody on the railroad. Now that Santuzza
has arranged with Master Philip for the new wine, there is nothing to be
done here.”

Meanwhile the _Provvidenza_ had slipped into the sea like a duck,
with her beak in the air, and danced on the green water, enjoying its
coolness, while the sun glanced on her shining side. Padron ’Ntoni
enjoyed it, too, with his hands behind his back, and his legs apart,
drawing his brows together, as sailors do when they want to see clearly
in the sunshine; for it was a fine winter’s day, and the fields were
green and the sea shining and the deep blue sky had no end. So return
the sunshine and the sweet winter mornings for the eyes that have wept,
to whom the sky has seemed black as pitch; and so all things renew
themselves like the _Provvidenza_, for which a few pounds of tar and a
handful of boards sufficed to make her new once more; and the eyes that
see not these things are those that are done with weeping and are closed
in death.

“Bastianazzo is not here to see this holiday!” thought Maruzza, as she
went to and fro, arranging things in the house and about the loom--where
almost everything had been her husband’s work on Sundays or rainy
days--and those hooks and shelves he had fixed in the wall with his own
hands. Everything in the house was full of him, from his water-proof
cape in the corner to his boots under the bed, that were almost new.
Mena, setting up the warp, had a sad heart, too, for she was thinking of
Alfio, who was going away, and would have sold his donkey, poor beast!
for the young have short memories, and have only eyes for the rising
sun; and no one looks westward save the old, who have seen the sun rise
and set so many times.

“Now that the _Provvidenza_ has put to sea again,” said Maruzza at last,
noticing that her daughter was still pensive, “your grandfather has
begun to go with Master Cipolla again; I saw them this morning, from the
landing, before Peppi Naso’s shed.”

“Padron Fortunato is rich, and has nothing to do, and stays all day in
the piazza,” answered Mena.

“Yes, and his son Brasi has plenty of the gifts of God. Now that we have
our boat, and our men no longer need to go out by the day to work for
others, we shall get out of this tangle; and if the souls in Purgatory
will help us to get rid of the debt for the lupins, we shall be able to
think of other things. Your grandfather is wide-awake, don’t you fear,
and he won’t let you feel that you have lost your father. He will be
another father to you.”

Shortly after arrived Padron ’Ntoni, loaded with nets, so that he
looked like a mountain, and you couldn’t see his face. “I’ve been to get
them out of the bark,” he said, “and I must look over the meshes, for
to-morrow we must rig the _Provvidenza_.”

“Why did you not get ’Ntoni to help you?” answered Maruzza, pulling at
one end of the net, while the old man turned round in the middle of the
court, like a winder, to unwind the nets, which seemed to have no end,
and looked like a great serpent trailing along.

“I left him there at the barber’s shop; poor boy, he has to work all
the week, and it is hot even in January with all this stuff on one’s
shoulders.” Alessio laughed to see his grandfather so red, and bent
round like a fish-hook, and the grandsire said to him, “Look outside
there; there is that poor Locca; her son is in the piazza, with nothing
to do, and they have nothing to eat.” Maruzza sent Alessio to La Locca
with some beans, and the old man, drying his forehead with the sleeve of
his shirt, added:

“Now that we have our boat, if we live till summer, with the help of
God, we’ll pay the debt.”

He had no more to say, but sat under the medlar-tree looking at his
nets, as if he saw them filled with fish.

“Now we must lay in the salt,” he said after a while, “before they raise
the tax, if it is true it is to be raised. Cousin Zuppiddu must be
paid with the first money we get, and he has promised that he will then
furnish the barrels on credit.”

“In the chest of drawers there is Mena’s linen, which is worth five
scudi,” added Maruzza.

“Bravo! With old Crucifix I won’t make any more debts, because I have
had a warning in the affair of the lupins; but he will give us thirty
francs for the first time we go out with the _Provvidenza_.”

“Let him alone!” cried La Longa. “Uncle Crucifix’s money brings ill
luck. Just this last night I heard the black hen crowing.”

“Poor thing!” cried the old man, smiling as he watched the black hen
crossing the court, with her tail in the air and her crest on one side,
as if the whole affair were no business of hers. “She lays an egg every
day, all the same.”

Then Mena spoke up, and coming to the door, said, “There is a basketful
of eggs, and on Monday, if Cousin Alfio goes to Catania, you can send
them to market.”

“Yes, they will help to pay the debt,” said Padron ’Ntoni; “but you
can eat an egg yourselves now and then if you feel to want it.”

“No, we don’t need them,” said Maruzza, and Mena added, “If we eat them
they won’t be sold in the market by Cousin Alfio; and now we will put
duck’s eggs under the setting hen. The ducklings can be sold for forty
centimes each.” Her grandfather looked her in the face, and said:

“You’re a real Malavoglia, my girl!”.

The hens scratched in the sand of the court, in the sun, and the setting
hen, looking perfectly silly, with the feather over her beak, shook
herself in a corner under the green boughs in the garden, along the
wall, there was more linen bleaching, with a stone lying on it to keep
it from blowing away. “All this is good to make money,” said Pa-dron
’Ntoni, “and, with the help of God, we shall stay in our house. ‘My
house is my mother.’”

“Now the Malavoglia must pray to God and Saint Francis for a plentiful
fishing,” said Goose-foot meanwhile.

“Yes, with the times we’re having,” exclaimed Padron Cipolla, “they must
have sown the cholera for the fish in the sea, I should think.”

Mangiacarubbe nodded, and Uncle Cola began to talk of the tax that they
wanted to put on salt, and how, if they did that, the anchovies might be
quiet, and fear no longer the wheels of the steamers, for no one would
find it worth his while to fish for them any more.

“And they have invented something else,” added Master Turi, the calker:
“to put a duty on pitch.” Those to whom pitch was of no importance had
nothing to say, but Zuppiddu went on shouting that he should shut up
shop, and whoever wanted a boat mended might stuff the hole with his
wife’s dress. Then they began to scold and to swear.

At this moment was heard the scream of the engine, and the big wagons of
the railway came rushing out all of a sudden from the hole they had made
in the hill, smoking and fuming as if the devil was in them. “There!”
 cried Padron Fortu-nato, “the railroad one side and the steamers
the other, upon my word it’s impossible to live in peace at Trezza
nowadays.”

In the village there was the devil to pay when they wanted to put the
tax upon pitch. * La Zup-pidda, foaming at the mouth, mounted upon her
balcony, and went on preaching that this was some new villany of Don
Silvestro, who wanted to bring the whole place to ruin, because they
(the Zup-piddus) wouldn’t have him for a husband for their daughter;
they wouldn’t have him even for a companion in the procession, neither
she nor her girl! When Madam Venera spoke of her daughter’s husband it
always seemed as if she herself were the bride.

Master Turi Zuppiddu tramped about the landing, mallet in hand,
brandishing his chisel as if he wanted to shed somebody’s blood, and
wasn’t to be held even by chains. The bile ran high from door to door,
like the waves of the sea in a storm. Don Franco rubbed his hands, with
his great ugly hat on his head, saying that the people was raising its
head; and seeing Don Michele pass with pistols hanging at his belt,
laughed in his face. The men, too, one by one, allowed themselves
to be worked up by their womankind, and began hunting each
other up, to try and rouse each other to fury, losing the whole
day standing about in the piazza, with arms akimbo and open mouths,
listening to the apothecary, who went on speechifying, but under
his breath, for fear of his wife up-stairs, how they ought to make a
revolution if they weren’t fools, and not to mind the tax on salt or the
tax on pitch, but to clear off the whole thing, for the king ought to be
the people. Instead, some turned their backs, muttering, “He wants to be
king himself; the druggist belongs to those of the revolution who want
to starve the poor people.” And they went off to the inn to Santuzza,
where there was good wine to heat one’s head, and Master Cinghialenta
and Rocco Spatu made noise enough for ten.

     * Dazio (French, octroi), tax on substances entering a town,
     levied by the town-council.

The good wine made them shout, and shouting made them thirsty (for the
tax had not yet been raised on the wine), and such as had much shook
their fists in the air, with shirt-sleeves rolled up, raging even at the
flies.

Vanni Pizzuti had closed his shop door because no one came to be shaved,
and went about with his razor in his pocket, calling out bad names from
a distance, and spitting at those who went about their own business with
oars on their backs, shrugging their shoulders at the noise.

Uncle Crucifix (who was one of those who attended to their own affairs,
and when they drew his blood with taxes, held his tongue for fear of
worse, and kept his bile inside of him) was never seen in the piazza
now, leaning against the wall of the bell-tower, but kept inside his
house, reciting Paternosters and Ave Marias to keep down his rage
against those who were making all the row--a lot of fellows who wanted
to put the place to sack, and to rob everybody who had twenty centimes
in his pocket.

Whoever, like Padron Cipolla, or Master Filippo, the ortolano, had
anything to lose stayed shut up at home with doors bolted, and didn’t
put out even their noses; so that Brasi Cipolla got a rousing cuff from
his father, who found him at the door of the court, staring into the
piazza like a great stupid codfish. The big fish stayed under water
while the waves ran high, and did not make their appearance, not even
those who were, as Venera said, fish-heads, but left the syndic with his
nose in the air, counting his papers.

“Don’t you see that they treat you like a pup-pet?” screamed his
daughter Betta, with her hands on her hips. “Now that they have got
you into a scrape, they turn their backs on you, and leave you alone
wallowing in the mud; that’s what it means to let one’s self be led by
the hose by that meddling Don Silvéstro.”

“I’m not led by the nose by anybody,” shouted the Silk-worm. “It is I
who am syndic, not Don Silvestro.”

Don Silvestro, on the contrary, said the real syndic was his daughter
Betta, and that Master Croce Calta wore the breeches by mistake. He
still went about and about, with that red face of his, and Rocco Spatu
and Cinghialenta, when they saw him, went into the tavern for fear of
a mess, and Vanni Pizzuti swore loudly, tapping his razor in his
breeches-pocket all the time. Don Silvestro, without noticing them, went
to say a word or two to Uncle Santoro, and put two centimes into his
hand.

“The Lord be praised!” cried the blind man. “This is Don Silvestro,
the secretary; none of these others that come here roaring and thumping
their stomachs ever give a centime in alms for the souls in Purgatory,
and they go saying they mean to kill your syndic and the secretary;
Vanni Pizzuti said it, and Rocco Spatu and Master Cinghialenta. Vanni
Pizzuti has taken to going without shoes, not to be known; but I know
his step all the same, for he drags his feet along the ground, and
raises the dust like a flock of sheep passing by.”

“What is it to you?” cried his daughter, when Don Silvestro was gone.
“These affairs are no business of ours. The inn is like a seaport--men
come and go, and one must be friendly with all and faithful to none, for
that each one has his own soul for himself, and each must look out for
his own interests, and not make rash speeches about other people. Cousin
Cinghialenta and Rocco Spatu spend money in our house. I don’t speak of
Pizzuti, who sells absinthe, and tries to get away our customers.”

Cousin Mosca was among those who minded their own business, and passed
tranquilly through the piazza with his cart, amid the crowd, who were
shaking their fists in the air.

“Don’t you care whether they put on the hide tax?” asked Mena when she
saw him come back with his poor donkey panting and with drooped ears.

“Yes, of course I care; but to pay the tax the cart must go, or they’ll
take away the ass, and the cart as well.”

“They say they’re going to kill them all. Grandpapa told us to keep the
door shut, and not to open it unless they come back. Will you go out
tomorrow too?”

“I must go and take a load of lime for Master Croce Calta.”

“Oh, what are you going to do? Don’t you know he’s the syndic, and
they’ll kill you too?”

“He doesn’t care for them, he says. He’s a mason, and he has to
strengthen the wall of Don Filippo’s vineyard; and if they won’t have
the tax on pitch Don Silvestro must think of something else.”

“Didn’t I tell you it was all Don Silvestro’s fault?” cried Mammy
Venera, who was always about blowing up the fires of discord, with her
distaff in her hand. “It’s all the affair of that lot, who have nothing
to lose, and who don’t pay a tax on pitch because they never had so much
as an old broken board at sea. It is all the fault of Don Silvestro,”
 she went on screeching to everybody all over the place, “and of that
meddling scamp Goose-foot, who have no boat, either of them, and live
on their neighbors, and hold out the hat to first one and then another.
Would you like to know one of his tricks? It isn’t a bit true that he
has bought the debt of Uncle Crucifix. It’s all a lie, got up between
him and old Dumb-bell to rob those poor creatures. Goosefoot never even
saw five hundred francs.”

Don Silvestro, to hear what they said of him, went often to the tavern
to buy a cigar, and then Rocco Spatu and Vanni Pizzuti would come out
of it blaspheming; or he would stop on the way home from his vineyard
to talk with Uncle Santoro, and heard in this way all the tale of
the fictitious purchase by Goosefoot; but he was a “Christian” with a
stomach as deep as a well, and all things he left to sink into it. He
knew his own business, and when Betta met him with his mouth open worse
than a mad dog, and Master Croce Calta let slip his usual expression,
that it didn’t matter to him, he replied, “What’ll you bet I don’t just
go off and leave you?” And went no more to the syndic’s house; but on
the Sunday appointed for the meeting of the council Don Silvestro, after
the mass, went and planted himself in the town-hall, where there had
formerly been the post of the National Guard, and began tranquilly
mending his pens in front of the rough pine table to pass away the time,
while La Zuppidda and the other gossips vociferated in the street, while
spinning in the sun, swearing that they would tear out the eyes of the
whole lot of them.

Silk-worm, as they had come all the way to Master Filippo’s vineyard
to call him, couldn’t do less than move. So he put on his new overcoat,
washed his hands, and brushed the lime off his clothes, but wouldn’t go
to the meeting without first calling for Don Stefano to come to him.
It was in vain that his daughter Betta took him by the shoulders, and
pushed him out of the door, saying to him that they who had cooked the
broth ought to eat it, and that he ought to let the others do as they
liked, that he might remain syndic. This time Master Calta had seen the
crowd before the town-hall, distaffs in hand, and he planted his feet on
the ground worse than a mule. “I won’t go unless Don Silvestro comes,”
 he repeated, with eyes starting out of his head. “Don Silvestro will
find some way out of it all.”

At last Don Silvestro came, with a face like a wall, humming an air,
with his hands behind his back. “Eh, Master Croce, don’t lose your head;
the world isn’t going to come to an end this time!” Master Croce
let himself be led away by Don Silvestro, and placed before the pine
council-table, with the glass inkstand in front of him; but there was no
council, except Peppi Naso, the butcher, all greasy and red-faced, who
feared nobody in the world, and Messer Tino Piedipassera (Goosefoot).

“They have nothing to lose,” screamed La Zuppidda from the door, “and
they come here to suck the blood of the poor, worse than so many
leeches, because they live upon their neighbors, and hold the sack for
this one and that one to commit all sorts of villanies. A lot of thieves
and assassins.”

“See if I don’t slit your tongue for you!” shouted Goosefoot, beginning
to rise from behind the pine-wood table.

“Now we shall come to grief!” muttered Master Croce Giufà.

“I say! I say! what sort of manners are these? You’re not in the
piazza,” called out Don Silvestro. “What will you bet I don’t kick out
the whole of you? Now I shall put this to rights.”

La Zuppidda screamed that she wouldn’t have it put to rights, and
struggled with Don Silvestro, who pulled her by the hair, and at last
ended by thrusting her inside her own gate. When they were at last alone
he began:

“What is it you want? What is it to you if we put a tax on pitch? It
isn’t you or your husband that will have to pay it, but those who come
to have their boats mended. Listen to me: your husband is an ass to make
all this row and to quarrel with the town-council, now when there is
another councillor to be chosen in the room of Padron Cipolla or Master
Mariano, who are of no use, and your husband might come in.”

“I know nothing about it,” answered La Zuppidda, becoming quite calm in
an instant. “I never mix myself up in my husband’s affairs. I know he’s
biting his hands with rage. I can do nothing but go and tell him, if the
thing is certain.”

“Certain? of course it is--certain as the heavens above, I tell you! Are
we honest men or not? By the holy big devil!”

La Zuppidda went straight off to her husband, who was crouching in the
corner of the court carding tow, pale as a corpse, swearing that they’d
end by driving him to do something mad. To open the sanhedrim and try if
the fish would bite, there were still wanting Padron Fortunato Cipolla
and Master Filippo, the market-gardener, who stayed away so long that
the crowd began to get bored--so much so that the gossips began to spin,
sitting on the low wall of the town-hall yard. At last they sent word
that they couldn’t come; they had too much to do; the tax might be
levied just as well without them.

“Word for word what my daughter Betta said,” growled Master Croce Giufà.

“Then get your daughter Betta to help you,” exclaimed Don Silvestro.
Silk-worm said not another word audibly, but continued to mutter between
his teeth.

“Now,” said Don Silvestro, “you’ll see that the Zuppiddi will come and
ask me to take their daughter Barbara, but they’ll have to go on
asking.”

The meeting was closed without deciding upon anything. The clerk wanted
time to get up his subject. In the mean while the clock struck twelve,
and the gossips quickly disappeared. The few that stayed long enough to
see Master Cirino shut the door and put the key in his pocket went away
to their own work, some this way, some that, talking as they went of the
dreadful things that Goosefoot and La Zuppidda had been saying. In the
evening Padron ’Ntoni’s ’Ntoni heard of this bad language, and,
“Sacrament!” if he wouldn’t show Goosefoot that he had been for a
soldier! He met him, just as he was coming from the beach, near the
house of the Zuppiddi, with that devil’s club-foot of his, and began to
speak his mind to him--that he was a foul-mouthed old carrion, and that
he had better take care what he said of the Zuppiddi; that their doings
was no affair of his. Goosefoot didn’t keep his tongue to himself
either.

“Holloa! do you think you’ve come from foreign parts to play the master
here?”

“I’ve come to slit your weasand for you if you don’t hold your tongue!”

Hearing the noise, a crowd of people came to the doors, and a great
crowd gathered; so that at last they took hold of each other, and
Goosefoot, who was sharp as the devil he resembled, flung himself on
the ground all in a heap with ’Ntoni Malavoglia, who thus lost all the
advantage which his good legs might have given him, and they rolled over
and over in the mud, beating and biting each other as if they had been
Peppi Naso’s dogs, so that ’Ntoni had to be pulled into the Zuppiddi’s
court with his shirt torn off his back, and Goose-foot was led home
bleeding like Lazarus.

“You’ll see!” screamed out again Gossip Venera, after she had slammed
the door in the faces of her neighbors--“you’ll see whether I mean to be
mistress in my own house. I’ll give my girl to whomsoever I please!”

The girl ran off into the house, red as a turkey, with her heart beating
as fast as a spring chicken’s.

“He’s almost pulled off your ear!” said Master Bastiano, as he poured
water slowly over ’Ntoni’s head; “bites worse than a dog, does Uncle
Tino.” ’Ntoni’s eyes were still full of blood, and he was set upon
vengeance.

“Listen, Madam Venera!” he said, in the hearing of all the world. “If
your daughter doesn’t take me, I’ll never marry anybody.” And the girl
heard him in her chamber.

“This is no time to speak of such things, Cousin ’Ntoni; but if your
grandfather has no objection, I wouldn’t change you, for my part, for
Victor Emmanuel himself.”

Master Zuppiddu, meanwhile, said not a word, but handed ’Ntoni a towel
to dry himself with; so that ’Ntoni went home that night in a high
state of contentment.

But the poor Malavoglia, when they heard of the fight with Goosefoot,
trembled to think how they might at any moment expect the officer to
turn them out-of-doors; for Goosefoot lived close by, and of the money
for the debt they had only, after endless trouble, succeeded in putting
together about half.

“Look what it means to be always hanging about where there’s a
marriageable girl!” said La Longa to ’Ntoni. “I’m sorry for Barbara!”

“And I mean to marry her,” said ’Ntoni.

“To marry her!” cried the grandfather. “And who am I? And does your
mother count for nothing? When your father married her that sits there,
he made them come and tell me first. Your grandmother was then alive,
and they came and spoke to us in the garden under the fig-tree. Now
these things are no longer the custom, and the old people are of no
use. At one time it was said, ‘Listen to the old, and you’ll make no
blunders.’ First your sister Mena must be married--do you know that?”

“Cursed is my fate!” cried ’Ntoni, stamping and tearing his hair.
“Working all day! Never going to the tavern! Never a soldo in one’s
pocket! Now that I’ve found a girl to suit me, I can’t have her! Why did
I come back from the army?”

“Listen!” cried old ’Ntoni, rising slowly and painfully in consequence
of the racking pain in his back. “Go to bed and to sleep--that’s the
best thing for you to do. You should never speak in that way in your
mother’s presence.”

“My brother Luca, that’s gone for a soldier, is better off than I am,”
 growled ’Ntoni as he went off to bed.



VIII.

Luca, poor fellow, was neither better off nor worse. He did his duty
abroad, as he had done it at home, and was content. He did not often
write, certainly--the stamps cost twenty centimes each--nor had he sent
his portrait, because from his boyhood he had been teased about his
great ass’s ears; instead, he every now and then sent a five-franc
note, which he made out to earn by doing odd jobs for the officers.
The grandfather had said, “Mena must be married first.” It was not
yet spoken of, but thought of always, and now that the money was
accumulating in the drawer, he considered that the anchovies would cover
the debt to Goosefoot, and the house remain free for the dowry of
the girl. Wherefore he was seen sometimes talking quietly with Padron
Fortunato on the beach while waiting for the bark, or sitting in the sun
on the church steps when no one else was there.

Padron Fortunato had no wish to go back from his word if the girl had
her dowry, the more that his son always was causing him anxiety by
running after a lot of penniless girls, like a stupid as he was. “The
man has his word, and the bull has his horns,” he took to repeating
again. Mena had often a heavy heart as she sat at the loom, for girls
have quick senses. And now that her grandfather was always with Padron
Fortunato, and she so often heard the name Cipolla mentioned in the
house, it seemed as if she had the same sight forever before her, as if
that blessed Christian Cousin Alfio were nailed to the beams of the loom
like the pictures of the saints. One evening she waited until it was
quite late to see Cousin Alfio come back with his donkey-cart, holding
her hands under her apron, for it was cold and all the doors were
shut, and not a soul was to be seen in the little street; so she said
good-evening to him from the door.

“Will you go down to Biccocca at the first of the month?” she asked him,
finally.

“Not yet; there are still a hundred loads of wine for Santuzza.
Afterwards, God will provide.”

She knew not what to say while Cousin Alfio came and went in the little
court, unharnessing the donkey and hanging the harness on the knobs,
carrying the lantern to and fro.

“If you go to Biccocca we shall not see each other any more,” said Mena,
whose voice was quite faint.

“But why? Are you going away too?”

The poor child could not speak at all at first, though it was dark and
no one could see her face.

From time to time the neighbors could be heard speaking behind the
closed doors, or children crying, or the noise of the platters in some
house where supper was late; so that no one could hear them talking.

“Now we have half the money we want for old Goosefoot, and at the
salting of the anchovies we can pay the other half.”

Alfio, at this, left the donkey in the court and came out into the
street. “Then you will be married after Easter?”

Mena did not reply.

“I told you so,” continued Alfio. “I saw Padron ’Ntoni talking with
Padron Cipolla.”

“It will be as God wills,” said Mena. “I don’t care to be married if I
might only stay on here.”

“What a fine thing it is for Cipolla,” went on Mosca, “to be rich enough
to marry whenever he pleases, and take the wife he prefers, and live
where he likes!”

“Good-night, Cousin Alfio,” said Mena, after stopping a while to gaze at
the lantern hanging on the wicket, and the donkey cropping the nettles
on the wall. Cousin Alfio also said good-night, and went back to put the
donkey in his stall.

Among those who were looking after Barbara was Vanni Pizzuti, when he
used to go to the house to shave Master Bastiano, who had the sciatica;
and also Don Michele, who found it a bore to do nothing but march around
with the pistols in his belt when he wasn’t behind Santuzza’s counter,
and went ogling the pretty girls to pass away the time. Barbara at first
returned his glances, but afterwards, when her mother told her
that those fellows were only loafing around to no purpose--a lot of
spies--all foreigners were only fit to be flogged--she slammed the
window in his face--mustache, gold-bordered cap and all; and Don Michele
was furious, and for spite took to walking up and down the street,
twisting his mustache, with his cap over his ear. On Sunday, however, he
put on his plumed hat, and went into Vanni Pizzuti’s shop to make eyes
at her as she went by to mass with her mother. Don Silvestro also
took to going to be shaved among those who waited for the mass, and
to warming himself at the brazier for the hot water, exchanging saucy
speeches with the rest. “That Barbara begins to hang on ’Ntoni
Malavoglia’s hands,” he said. “What will you bet he doesn’t marry her
after all? There he stands, waiting, with his hands in his pockets,
waiting for her to come to him.”

At last, one day, Don Michele said:

“If it were not for the cap with the border, I’d make that ugly scamp
’Ntoni Malavoglia hold the candle for me--that I would.”

Don Silvestro lost no time in telling ’Ntoni everything, and how Don
Michele, the brigadier, who was not the man to let the flies perch on
his nose, had a grudge against him.

Goosefoot, when he went to be shaved and heard that Don Michele would
have given him something to get rid of ’Ntoni Malavoglia, ruffled
himself up like a turkey-cock because he was so much thought of in the
place. Vanni Pizzuti went on, saying: “Don Michele would give anything
to have the Malavoglia in his hands as you have. Oh, why did you let
that row with ’Ntoni pass off so easily?”

Goosefoot shrugged his shoulders, and went on warming his hands over the
brazier. Don Silvestro began to laugh, and answered for him:

“Master Vanni would like to pull the chestnuts out of the fire with
Goosefoot’s paws. We know already that Gossip Venera will have nothing
to say to foreigners or to gold-bordered caps, so if ’Ntoni Malavoglia
were out of the way he would be the only one left for the girl.”

Vanni Pizzuti said nothing, but he lay awake the whole night thinking
of it. “It wouldn’t be such a bad thing,” he thought to himself;
“everything depends upon getting hold of Goosefoot some day when he is
in the right sort of humor.”

It came that day, once when Rocco Spatu was nowhere to be seen.
Goosefoot had come in two or three times rather late, to look for him,
with a pale face and starting eyes, too; and the customs guard had
been seen rushing here and there, full of business, smelling about like
hunting-dogs with noses to the ground, and Don Michele along with them,
with pistols in belt and trousers thrust into his boots.

“You might do a good service to Don Michele if you would take ’Ntoni
Malavoglia out of his way,” said Vanni to Papa Tino, as he stood in
the darkest corner of the shop buying a cigar. “You’d do him a famous
service, and make a friend of him for life.”

“I dare say,” sighed Goosefoot. He had no breath that evening, and said
nothing more.

In the night were heard shots over towards the cliffs called the Rotolo
and along all the beach, as if some one were hunting quail. “Quail,
indeed!” murmured the fisher-folk as they started up in bed to listen.
“Two-legged quail, those are; quail that bring sugar and coffee and silk
handkerchiefs that pay no duty. That’s why Don Michele had his boots in
his trousers and his pistols in his belt.”

Goosefoot went as usual to the barber’s shop for his morning glass
before the lantern over the door had been put out, but that next morning
he had the face of a dog that has upset the kettle. He made none of his
usual jokes, and asked this one and that one why there had been such
a devil of a row in the night, and what had become of Rocco Spatu and
Cinghialenta, and doffed his cap to Don Michele, and insisted on
paying for his morning draught. Goosefoot said to him: “Take a glass of
spirits, Don Michele; it will do your stomach good after your wakeful
night. Blood of Judas!” exclaimed Goosefoot, striking his fist on the
counter and feigning to fly into a real rage, “it isn’t to Rome that
I’ll send that young ruffian ’Ntoni to do penance.”

“Bravo!” assented Vanni. “I wouldn’t have passed it over, I assure you;
nor you, Don Michele, I’ll swear.”

Don Michele approved with a growl.

“I’ll take care that ’Ntoni and all his relations are put in their
places,” Goosefoot went on threatening. “I’m not going to have the whole
place laughing at me. You may rest assured of that much, Don Michele.”
 And off he went, limping and blaspheming, as if he were in a fearful
rage, while all the time he was saying to himself, “One must keep
friends with all these spies,” and ruminating on how he was to make a
friend of Santuzza as well, going to the inn, where he heard from Uncle
Santoro that neither Rocco Spatu nor Cin-ghialenta had been there; then
went on to Cousin Anna’s, who, poor thing, hadn’t slept a wink, and
stood at her door looking out, pale as a ghost. There he met the Wasp,
who had come to see if Cousin Anna had by chance a little leaven.

“Today I must speak with your uncle Dumbbell about the affair you know
of,” said Goosefoot. Dumb-bell was willing enough to speak of that
affair which never came to an end, and “When things grow too long
they turn into snakes.” Padron ’Ntoni was always preaching that
the Malavoglia were honest people, and that he would pay him, but he
(Dumb-bell) would like to know where the money was to come from. In
the place, everybody knew to a centime what everybody owned, and those
honest people, the Malavoglia, even if they sold their souls to the
Turks, couldn’t manage to pay even so much as the half by Easter; and to
get possession of the house one must have stamped paper and all sorts of
expenses; that he knew very well.

And all this time Padron ’Ntoni was talking of marrying his
granddaughter. He’d seen him with Padron Cipolla, and Uncle Santoro had
seen him, and Goosefoot had seen him too; and he, too, went on doing the
go-between for Vespa and that lazy hound Alfio Mosca, that wanted to get
hold of her field.

“But I tell you that I do nothing of the sort!” shouted Goosefoot in his
ear. “Your niece is over head and ears in love with him, and is always
at his heels. I can’t shut the door in her face, out of respect for you,
when she comes to have a chat with my wife; for, after all, she is your
niece and your own blood.”

“Respect! Pretty sort of respect! You’ll chouse me out of the field
with your respect.”

“Among them they’ll chouse you out of it. If the Malavoglia girl marries
Brasi Cipolla, Mosca will be left out in the cold, and will take to
Vespa and her field for consolation.”

“The devil may have her for what I care,” called put old Crucifix,
deafened by Uncle Tino’s clatter. “I don’t care what becomes of her, a
godless cat that she is. I want my property. I made it of my blood; and
one would think I had stolen it, that every one takes it from me--Alfio
Mosca, Vespa, the Malavoglia. I’ll go to law and take the house.”

“You are the master. You can go to law if you like.”

“No, I’ll wait until Easter--‘the man has his word, and the bull has his
horns;’ but I mean to be paid up to the last centime, and I won’t listen
to anybody for the least delay.”

In fact, Easter was drawing near. The hills began once more to clothe
themselves with green, and the Indian figs were in flower. The girls
had sowed basil outside the windows, and the white butterflies came to
flutter about it; even the pale plants on the sea-shore were starred
with white flowers. In the morning the red and yellow tiles smoked in
the rising sun, and the sparrows twittered there until the sun had set.

And the house by the medlar-tree, too, had a sort of festive air: the
court was swept, the nets and cords were hung neatly against the wall,
or spread on drying-poles; the garden was full of cabbages and lettuce,
and the rooms were open and full of sunshine, that looked as if it too
were content. All things proclaimed that Easter was at hand. The elders
sat on the steps in the evening, and the girls sang at the washing-tank.
The wagons began again to pass the high-road by night, and at dusk
there began once more the sound of voices in conversation in the little
street.

“Cousin Mena is going to be married,” they said; “her mother is busy
with her outfit already.”

Time had passed--and all things pass away with time, sad things as well
as sweet. Now Cousin Maruzza was always busy cutting and sewing all
sorts of household furnishing, and Mena never asked for whom they were
intended; and one evening Brasi Cipolla was brought into the house, with
Master Fortunato, his father, and all his relations.

“Here is Cousin Cipolla, who is come to make you a visit,” said Padron
’Ntoni, introducing him into the house, as if no one knew anything
about it beforehand, while all the time wine and roasted pease were
made ready in the kitchen, and the women and the girls had on their best
clothes.

That evening Mena looked exactly like Sant’-Agata, with her new dress
and her black kerchief on her head, so that Brasi never took his eyes
off her, but sat staring at her all the evening like a basilisk, sitting
on the edge of his chair, with his hands between his knees, rubbing them
now and then on the sly for very pleasure.

“He is come with his son Brasi, who is quite a big fellow now,”
 continued Padron ’Ntoni.

“Yes, the children grow and shoulder us into the ground,” answered
Padron Fortunato.

“Now you’ll take a glass of our wine--of the best we have, and a few
dried pease which my daughter has toasted. If we had only known you were
coming we might have had something ready better worth your acceptance.”

“We happened to be passing by,” said Padron Cipolla, “and we said,
‘Let’s go and make a visit to Cousin Maruzza.’”

Brasi filled his pockets with dried pease, always looking at the girl,
and then the boys cleared the dish in spite of all Nunziata, with the
baby in her arms, could do to hinder them, talking all the while among
themselves softly as if they had been in church. The elders by this
time were in conversation together under the medlar, all the gossips
clustering around full of praises of the girl--how she was such a good
manager, and kept the house neat as a new pin. “The girl as she is
trained, and the flax as it is spun,” they quoted.

“Your granddaughter is also, grown up,” said Padron Fortunato; “it is
time she was married.”

“If the Lord sends her a good husband I ask nothing better,” replied
Padron ’Ntoni.

“The husband and the bishop are chosen by Heaven,” added Cousin La
Longa.

Mena sat by the young man, as is the custom, but she never lifted her
eyes from her apron, and Brasi complained to his father, when they came
away, that she had not offered him the plate with the dried pease.

“Did you want more?” interrupted Padron Fortunate when they were out of
hearing. “Nobody could hear anything for your munching like a mule at a
sack of barley. Look if you haven’t upset the wine on your new trousers,
lout! You’ve spoiled a new suit for me.”

Padron ’Ntoni, in high spirits, rubbing his hands, said to his
daughter-in-law: “I can hardly believe that everything is so happily
settled. Mena will want for nothing, and now we can put in order all our
other little matters, and you may say the old daddy was right when he
said, ‘Tears and smiles come close together.’”

That Saturday, towards evening, Nunziata came in to get a handful of
beans for the children, and said: “Cousin Alfio goes away to-morrow.
He’s packing up all his things.”

Mena turned white, and stopped weaving.

In Alfio’s house there was a light. Everything was topsy-turvy. He came
a few minutes after, knocking at the door, also with a very white face,
and tying and untying the knot of the lash of his whip, which he held in
his hand.

“I’ve come to say good-bye to you all, Cousin Maruzza, Padron ’Ntoni,
the boys, and you too, Cousin Mena. The wine from Aci Catena is
finished. Now Santuzza will get it from Master Filippo. I’m going to
Biccocca, where there is work to be got for my donkey.”

Mena said nothing; only the mother spoke in reply to him: “Won’t you
wait for Padron ’Ntoni? He will be glad to see you before you go.”

So Cousin Alfio sat down on the edge of a chair, whip in hand, and
looked about the room, in the opposite direction to that where Mena was.

“Now, when are you coming back?” said La Longa.

“Who knows when I shall come back? I shall go where my donkey carries
me. As long as there is work I shall stay; but I should rather come back
here if I could manage to live anyhow.”

“Take care of your health, Cousin Alfio; I’ve been told that people die
like flies of the malaria down there at the Biccocca.”

Alfio shrugged his shoulders, saying there was nothing to be done. “I
would much rather not have gone away from here.” He went on looking at
the candle. “And you say nothing to me, Cousin Mena?”

The girl opened her mouth two or three times as if to speak, but no
words came; her heart beat too fast.

“And you, too, will leave the neighborhood when you are married,”
 added Alfio. “The world is like an inn, with people coming and going.
By-and-by everybody will have changed places, and nothing will be the
same as it was.” So saying, he rubbed his hands and smiled, but with
lips only--not in his heart.

“Girls,” said La Longa, “go where Heaven appoints them to go. When they
are young they are gay and have no care; when they go into the world
they meet with grief and trouble.”

Alfio, after Padron ’Ntoni and the boys had come back, and he had
wished them also good-bye, could not make up his mind to go, but stood
on the threshold, with his whip under his arm, shaking hands now with
one, now with another--with Cousin Maruzza as well as the rest--and went
on repeating, as people do when they are going for a long journey, and
are not sure of ever coming back, “Pardon me if I have been wanting in
any way towards any of you.” The only one who did not take his hand was
Sant’Agata, who stayed in the dark corner by the loom. But, of course,
that is the proper way for girls to behave on such occasions.

It was a fine spring evening, and the moon shone over the court and the
street, over the people sitting before the doors and the girls walking
up and down singing, with their arms around each other’s waists. Mena
came out, too, with Nunziata; she felt as if she should suffocate in the
house.

“Now we sha’n’t see Cousin Alfio’s lamp any more in the evenings,” said
Nunziata, “and the house will be shut up.”

Cousin Alfio had loaded his cart with all the wares he was taking away
with him, and now he was tying up the straw which remained in the manger
into a bundle, while the pot bubbled on the fire with the beans for his
supper.

“Shall you be gone before morning, Cousin Alfio?” asked Nunziata from
the door of the little court.

“Yes. I have a long way to go, and this poor beast has a heavy load. I
must let him have a rest in the daytime.”

Mena said nothing, but leaned on the gate-post, looking at the loaded
cart, the empty house, the bed half taken down, and the pot boiling for
the last time on the hearth.

“Are you there too, Cousin Mena?” cried Alfio as soon as he saw her, and
left off what he was engaged upon.

She nodded her head, and Nunziata ran, like a good house-keeper as she
was, to skim off the pot, which was boiling over.

“I am glad you are here; now I can say goodbye to you, too.”

“I came here to see you once more,” she said, with tears in her voice.
“Why do you go down there where there is the malaria?”

Alfio began to laugh from the lips outward, as he did when he went to
say good-bye to them all.

“A pretty question! Why do I go there? and why do you marry Brasi
Cipolla? One does what one can, Cousin Mena. If I could have done as I
wished to do, you know what I would have done.”

She gazed and gazed at him, with eyes shining with tears.

“I should have stayed here where the very walls are my friends, and
where I can go about in the night to stable my donkey, even in the dark;
and I should have married you, Cousin Mena--I have held you in my heart
this long while--and I shall carry you with me to the Biccocca, and
wherever I may go. But this is all useless talk, and one must do what
one can. My donkey, too, must go where I drive him.”

“Now farewell,” said Mena at last. “I, too, have something like a thorn
here within me.... And now when I see this window always shut, it
will seem as if my heart were shut too, as if it were shut inside the
window--heavy as an oaken door. But so God wills. Now I wish you well,
and I must go.”

The poor child wept silently, hiding her eyes with her hand, and
went away with Nunziata to sit and cry under the medlar-tree in the
moonlight.



IX.


|Neither the Malavoglia nor any one else in the town had any idea what
Goosefoot and Uncle Crucifix were hatching together. On Easter Day
Pa-dron ’Ntoni took out the hundred lire which were amassed in the
bureau drawer, and put on his Sunday jacket to carry them to Uncle
Crucifix.

“What, is it all here?” said he.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

On the evening of the Ascension, while the boys were still dancing
around the post with the bonfire, the gossips were collected around the
Malavoglia’s balcony, and Cousin Venera Zuppidda was with them to listen
to what was said, and to give her opinion like the rest. Now, as Padron
’Ntoni was marrying his granddaughter, and the _Provvidenza_ was on
her legs once more, everybody was ready to put a good face on it with
the Malavoglia--for nobody knew anything of what Goosefoot had in his
head to do, not even Cousin Grace, his wife, who went on talking with
Cousin Maruzza just as if her husband had nothing on his mind. ’Ntoni
went every evening to have a chat with Barbara, and had confided to her
that his grandfather had said, “First we must marry Mena.”

“And I come next,” concluded ’Ntoni. After this Barbara had given to
Mena the pot of basil, all adorned with carnations, and tied up with
a fine red ribbon, which was the sign of particular friendship between
girls; and everybody made a great deal of Sant’Agata--even her mother
had taken off her black kerchief, because it is unlucky to wear mourning
in the house where there is a bride, and had written to Luca to give him
notice that Mena was going to be married. She alone, poor girl, seemed
anything but gay, and everything looked black to her, though the fields
were covered with stars of silver and of gold, and the girls wove
garlands for Ascension, and she herself went up and down the stairs
helping her mother to hang the garlands over the door and the windows.

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

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

Padron Cipolla at this time sat for whole evenings together with Padron
’Ntoni, on the church steps, talking of the wondrous doings of the
_Provvidenza_.

Brasi was always hanging about the street near the Malavoglia, with his
new clothes on; and soon after it was known all over the place that on
that Sunday coming Cousin Grace Goosefoot was going herself to part the
girl’s hair, and to take out the silver dagger from her braids--because
Brasi Cipolla had lost his mother--and the Malavoglia had asked Cousin
Grace on purpose to please her husband, and they had asked also Uncle
Crucifix and all the neighborhood, and all their relations and friends
without exception.

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

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

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

The house was full of people, just as it had been at the time of
Bastianazzo’s death, and Mena, without her dagger, and with her hair
parted in the middle, looked quite differently; so that the gossips all
crowded around her and made such a chattering that you couldn’t have
heard a cannonade. Goosefoot went on talking nonsense to the women, and
made them laugh as if he had been tickling them; while all the time the
lawyer was getting ready the papers, although Uncle Crucifix had said
that there was time enough yet to send the summons. Even Padron Cipolla
permitted himself a joke or two, at which no one laughed but his son
Brasi; and everybody spoke at once; while the boys struggled on the
floor for beans and chestnuts. Even La Longa, poor woman, had forgotten
her troubles for the moment, so pleased was she; and Padron ’Ntoni sat
on the low wall, nodding his head in assent to everybody and smiling to
himself.

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

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

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

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

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

From the wall where he sat Goosefoot could see a group of people who
stood talking together by the fountain, with faces as serious as if the
world were coming to an end. At the druggist’s shop there were the usual
idlers with the journal, talking and shaking their fists in each other’s
faces, as if they were coming to blows the next minute; while Don
Giammaria laughed, and took snuff with a satisfaction visible even at
that distance.

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

“I told them to, but they appear to have something particular to do,”
 answered Padron ’Ntoni.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“When Mena is married,” replied ’Ntoni, “grandpapa will let us have
the room up-stairs.”

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

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

“I’m sorry, Padron ’Ntoni,” he said, “but what will you have? I must
think of my own interest first. Even Saint Joseph shaved himself first,
and then the rest.”

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

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

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

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

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

“Woe to the fallen man who asks for help!”

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

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

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

The poor old man hadn’t the courage to tell his daughter-in-law that
she must go “quietly” out of the house by the medlar-tree. After so many
years that they had been there, it was like going into banishment, or
like those who had gone away meaning to come back, and had come back no
more. And there was Luca’s bed there, and the nail where Bastianazzo’s
pea-jacket used to hang. But at last the time came that they had to
move, with all those poor sticks of furniture, and take them out of
their old places, where each left a mark on the wall where it had
stood, and the house without them looked strange and unlike itself. They
carried their things out by night into the sexton’s cottage, which they
had hired, as if everybody in the place didn’t know that now the house
belonged no more to them but to Goosefoot, and that they had to move
away from it. But at all events no one saw them carrying their things
from one house to the other. Every time the old man pulled out a nail,
or moved a cupboard from the corner where it was used to stand, he shook
his poor old head. Then the others, when all was done, sat down upon a
heap of straw in the middle of the room to rest, and looked about here
and there to see if anything had been forgotten. But the grandfather
could not stay inside, and went out into the court in the open air. But
there, too, was the scattered straw and broken crockery and coils of old
rope, and in a corner the medlar-tree and the vine hanging in clusters
over the door. “Come, boys, let’s go. Sooner or later we must,” and
never moved.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Adieu, Cousin Barbara,” said the poor fellow; and so he put a
stone over all that had been, and went back to his oar like a
galley-slave--and galley-slave’s work it was from Monday morning till
Saturday night--and he was tired of wearing out his soul for nothing,
for when one has nothing, what good can come of driving away from
morning till night, with never a dog to be friends with one either, and
for that he had had enough of such a life. He preferred rather to do
nothing at all, and stay in bed, as if he were sick, as they did on
board ship when the service was too hard, for the grandpapa wouldn’t
come to pull him and thump him like the ship’s doctor.

“What’s the matter?” he asked.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“A nice lot, eh?” screamed Uncle Crucifix, quite forgetting his
deafness. “That witch is the devil himself. We must tell Padron
Fortunato about it, that we must. Are we honest men, or are we not?
If Padron Fortunato doesn’t look out, that witch of a niece of mine will
carry off his son before his eyes, poor old fellow.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



X.


|Ntoni went out to sea every blessed day, and had to row, tiring his
back dreadfully. But when the sea was high, and fit to swallow them all
at one gulp--them, the _Pravvidenza_, and everything else--that boy
had a heart as brave as the sea itself--“Malavoglia blood!”--said his
grandfather; and it was fine to see him at work in a storm, with the
wind whistling through his hair, while the bark sprang over the big
waves like a porpoise in the spring.

The _Provvidenza_ often ventured out into blue water, old and patched
though she was, after that little handful of fish which was hard to
find, now that the sea was swept from side to side as if with brooms.
Even on those dark days when the clouds hung low over Agnone, and
the horizon to the east was full of black shadows, the sail of the
Provvidenza might be seen like a white handkerchief against the
leaden-colored sea, and everybody said that Padron ’Ntoni’s people
went out to look for trouble, like the old woman with a lamp.

Padron ’Ntoni replied that he went out to look for bread; and when the
corks disappeared one by one in the wide sea, gleaming green as grass,
and the houses of Trezza looked like a little white spot, so far off
were they, and there was nothing all around them but water, he began to
talk to his grandsons in sheer pleasure. La Longa and the others would
come down to the beach to meet them on the shore as soon as they saw the
sail rounding the Fariglione; and when they too had been to look at the
fish flashing through the nets, and looking as if the bottom of the boat
were full of molten silver; and Padron ’Ntoni replied before any one
had asked, “Yes, a quintal or a quintal twenty-five” (generally right,
even to an ounce); and then they’d sit talking about it all the evening,
while the women pounded salt in the wooden mortars; and when they
counted the little barrels one by one, and Uncle Crucifix came in to
see how they had got on, to make his offer, so, with his eyes shut; and
Goosefoot came too, screaming and scolding about the right price, and
the just price, and so on; then they didn’t mind his screaming, because,
after all, it was a pity to quarrel with old friends; and then La
Longa would go on counting out sou by sou the money which Goosefoot had
brought in his handkerchief, saying, “These are for the house; these are
for the every-day expenses,” and so on. Mena would help, too, to pound
the salt and to count the barrels, and she should get back her blue
jacket and her coral necklace, that had been pawned to Uncle Crucifix;
and the women could go back to their own church again, for if any young
man happened to look after Mena, her dowry was getting ready.

“For my part,” said ’Ntoni, rowing slowly, slowly round and round,
so that the current should not drive him out of the circle of the net,
while the old man pondered silently over all these things--“for my part,
all I wish is that hussy Barbara may be left to gnaw her elbows when we
have got back our own again, and may live to repent shutting the door in
my face.”

“In the storm one knows the good pilot,” said the old man. “When we are
once more what we have always been, every one will bear a smooth face
for us, and will open their doors to us once more.”

“There were two who did not shut their doors,” said Alessio, “Nunziata
and our cousin Anna.”

“‘In prison, in poverty, and in sickness one finds one’s friends’; for
that may the Lord help them, too, and all the mouths they have to feed!”

“When Nunziata goes out on the downs to gather wood, or when the rolls
of linen are too heavy for her, I go and help her too, poor little
thing,” said Alessio.

“Come and help now to pull in this side, for this time Saint Francis has
really sent us the gift of God!” and the boy pulled and puffed, with his
feet braced against the side of the boat, so that one would have thought
he was doing it all himself. Meanwhile ’Ntoni lay stretched on the
deck singing to himself, with his hands under his head, watching the
white gulls flying against the blue sky, which had no end, it rose
so pure and so high, and the _Provvidenza_ rushed on the green waves
rolling in from farther than the eye could see.

“What is the reason,” said Alessio, “that the sea is sometimes blue
and sometimes green and then white, then again black as the sand of the
beach, and is never all one color, as water should be?”

“It is the will of God,” replied the grandfather, “so the mariner can
tell when he may safely put out to sea, and when it is best to stay on
shore.”

“Those gulls have a fine time of it, flying in the air; they need not
fear the waves when the wind is high.”

“But they have nothing to eat, either, poor beasts.”

“So every one has need of good weather, like Nunziata, who can’t go to
the fountain when it rains,” concluded Alessio.

“Neither good nor bad weather lasts forever,” observed the old man.

But when bad weather came, and the mistral blew, and the corks went
dancing on the water all day long as if the devil were playing the
violin for them, or if the sea was white as milk, or bubbling up as if
it were boiling, and the rain came pouring down upon them until evening,
so that no wraps were proof against it, and the sea went frying all
about them like oil in the pan, then it was another pair of shoes--and
’Ntoni was in no humor for singing, with his hood down to his nose,
bailing out the _Provvidenza_, that filled faster than he could clear
out the water, and the grandpapa went on repeating, “White sea, sirocco
there’ll be!” or “Curly sea, fresh wind!” as if he had come there only
to learn proverbs; and with these blessed proverbs, too, he’d stand in
the evening at the window looking out for the weather, with his nose in
the air, and say, “When the moon is red it means wind; when it is clear,
fine weather; when it is pale it means rain.”

“If you know it is going to rain,” said ’Ntoni, one day, “why do we go
out, while we might stay in bed an hour or two longer?”

“‘Water from the sky, sardines in the net,’” answered the old man.

Later on ’Ntoni began to curse and swear, with the water half up to
his knees.

“This evening,” said his grandfather, “Maruzza will have a good fire
ready for us, and we shall soon be quite dry.”

And at dusk when the _Provvidenza_, with her hull full of the gifts
of God, turned towards home, with her sail puffing out like Donna
Rosolina’s best petticoat, and the lights of the village came twinkling
one by one from behind the dark rocks as if they were beckoning to each
other, Padron ’Ntoni showed his boys the bright fire which burned in
La Longa’s kitchen at the bottom of the tiny court in the narrow black
street; for the wall was low, and from the sea the whole house was
visible, with the tiles built into a shed for the hens, and the oven on
the other side of the door.

“Don’t you see what a blaze La Longa has got up for us?” said he, in
high spirits; and La Longa was waiting for them, with the baskets
ready. When they were brought back empty there wasn’t much talking;
but instead, if there were not enough, and Alessio had to run up to the
house for more, the grandfather would put his hands to his mouth and
shout, “Mena! Oh, Mena!” And Mena knew well what it meant, and they
all came down in procession--she, Lia, and Nunziata, too, with all her
chicks behind her; then there was great joy, and nobody minded cold or
rain, and before the blazing fire they sat talking of the gifts of God
which Saint Francis had sent them, and of what they would do with the
money.

But in this desperate game men’s lives are risked for a few pounds of
fish; and once the Malavoglia were within a hair’s-breadth of losing
theirs all at once, as Bastianazzo had, for the sake of gain, when they
were off Agnone as the day drew to a close, and the sky was so dark that
they could not even see Etna, and the winds blew and swept up the waves
so close about the boat that it seemed as if they had voices and could
speak.

“Ugly weather,” said Padron ’Ntoni. “The wind turns like a silly
wench’s head, and the face of the sea looks like Goosefoot’s when he is
hatching some hateful trick.”

The sea was as black as the beach, though the sun had not yet gone down,
and every now and then it hissed and seethed like a pot.

“Now the gulls have all gone to sleep,” said Alessio.

“By this time they ought to have lighted the beacon at Catania,” said
’Ntoni; “but I can’t see it.”

“Keep the rudder always north-east,” ordered the grandfather; “in half
an hour it will be darker than an oven.”

“On such evenings as this it is better to be at Santuzza’s tavern.”

“Or asleep in your bed, eh?” said the old man; “then, you should be a
clerk, like Don Silvestro.”

The poor old fellow had been groaning all day with pain. “The weather is
going to change,” he said; “I feel it in my bones.”.

All of a sudden it grew so black that one couldn’t even see to swear.
Only the waves, as they rolled past the _Provvidenza_, shone like
grinning teeth ready to devour her; and no one dared speak a word in
presence of the sea, that moaned over all its waste of waters.

“I’ve an idea,” said ’Ntoni, suddenly, “that we had better give the
fish we’ve caught to-day to the devil.”

“Silence!” said his grandfather; and the stern voice out of that
darkness made him shrink together like a leaf on the bench where he sat.

They heard the wind whistle in the sails of the _Provvidenza_, and the
ropes ring like the strings of a guitar. Suddenly the wind began to
scream like the steam-engine when the train comes out from the tunnel in
the mountain above Trezza, and there came a great wave from nobody knew
where, and the _Provvidenza_ rattled like a sack of nuts, and sprang up
into the air and then rolled over.

“Down with the sail--down!” cried Padron ’Ntoni. “Cut away, cut away!”

’Ntoni, with the knife in his mouth, scrambled like a cat out on the
yard, and standing on the very end to balance himself, hung over the
howling waves that leaped up to swallow him.

“Hold on, hold on!” cried the old man to him, through all the thunder
of the waves that strove to tear him down, and tossed about the
_Provvidenza_ and all that was inside her, and flung the boat on her
side, so that the water was up to their knees. “Cut away, cut away!”
 called out the grandfather again.

“Sacrament!” exclaimed ’Ntoni; “and what shall we do without the sail,
then?”

“Stop swearing; we are in the hands of God now.”

Alessio, who was grasping the rudder with all his force, heard what his
grandfather said, and began to scream, “Mamma, mamma, mamma!”

“Hush!” cried his brother, as well as he could for the knife in his
teeth. “Hush, or I’ll give you a kick.”

“Make the holy sign, and be quiet,” echoed the grandfather, so that the
boy dared not make another sound.

Suddenly the sail fell all at once in a heap, and ’Ntoni drew it in,
furling it light, quick as a flash.

“You know your trade well, as your father did before you,” said his
grandfather. “You, too, are a Malavoglia.”

The boat righted and gave one leap, then began to leap about again among
the waves.

“This way the rudder, this way; now it wants a strong arm,” said Padron
’Ntoni; and though the boy, too, clung to it like a cat, the boat
still sprang about, and there came great waves sweeping over it that
drove them against the helm, with force enough nearly to knock the
breath out of them both.

“The oars!” cried ’Ntoni; “pull hard, Alessio; you’re strong enough
when it comes to eating; just now the oars are worth more than the
helm.”

The boat creaked and groaned with the strain of the oars pulled by those
strong young arms; the boy, standing with his feet braced against the
deck, put all his soul into his oar as well as his brother.

“Hold hard!” cried the old man, who could hardly be heard at the other
side of the boat, over the roaring of the wind and the waves. “Hold on,
Alessio!”

“Yes, grandfather, I do,” replied the boy.

“Are you afraid?” asked ’Ntoni.

“No, he’s not,” answered his grandfather for him; “but we must commend
ourselves to God.”

“Holy devil!” exclaimed ’Ntoni. “Here one ought to have arms of iron,
like the steam-engine. The sea is getting the best of it.”

The grandfather was silent, listening to the blast.

“Mamma must by this time have come to the shore to watch for us.”

“Don’t talk about mamma now,” said the old man; “it is better not to
think about her.”

“Where are we now?” asked ’Ntoni after some time, hardly able to speak
for fatigue.

“In God’s hands,” answered the grandfather.

“Then let me cry!” exclaimed Alessio, who could bear it no longer; and
he began to scream aloud and to call for his mother at the top of his
voice, in the midst of the noise of the wind and of the sea, and neither
of them had the heart to scold him.

“It’s all very well your howling, but nobody can hear you, and you had
best be still,” said his brother at last, in a voice so changed and
strange that he hardly knew it himself. “Now hush!” he went on; “it is
best for you and best for us.”

“The sail!” ordered Padron ’Ntoni. “Put her head to the wind, and then
leave it in the hands of God.”

The wind hindered them terribly, but at last they got the sail set, and
the _Provvidenza_ began to dance over the crests of the waves, leaning
to one side like a wounded bird.

The Malavoglia kept close together on one side, clinging to the rail. At
that moment no one spoke, for, when the sea speaks in that tone no one
else dares to utter a word.

“Only Padron,” ’Ntoni said, “Over there they are saying the rosary for
us.”

And no one spoke again, and they flew along through the wild tempest and
the night, that had come on as black as pitch.

“The light on the mole!” cried ’Ntoni; “do you see it?”

“To the right!” shouted Padron ’Ntoni; “to the right! It is not the
light on the mole. We are driving on shore! Furl, furl!”

“I can’t,” cried ’Ntoni; “the rope’s too wet.” His voice was hardly
to be heard through the storm, so tired he was. “The knife, the knife!
quick, Alessio!”

“Cut away, cut away!”

At that moment a crash was heard; the _Pravvidenza_ righted suddenly,
like a still spring let loose, and they were within one of being flung
into the sea; the spar with the sail fell across the deck, snapped like
a straw. They heard a voice which cried out as if some one were hurt to
death.

“Who is it? Who called out?” demanded ’Ntoni, aiding himself with his
teeth and the knife to clear away the rigging of the sail, which had
fallen with the mast across the deck, and covered everything. Suddenly
a blast of wind took up the sail and swept it whistling away into the
night. Then the brothers were able to disengage the wreck of the mast,
and to fling it into the sea. The boat rose up, but Padron ’Ntoni did
not rise, nor did he answer when ’Ntoni called to him. Now, when the
wind and the sea are screaming their worst together, there is nothing
more terrible than the silence which comes instead of the voice which
should answer to our call.

“Grandfather! grandfather!” called out Alessio, too; and in the silence
which followed the brothers felt the hair rise up on their heads as if
it had been alive. The night was so black that they could not see from
one end of the boat to the other, and Alessio was silent from sheer
terror. The grandfather was stretched in the bottom of the boat with his
head broken. ’Ntoni found him at last by groping about for him, and
thought he was dead, for he did not move, nor even breathe. The helm
swung from side to side, while the boat leaped up and then plunged
headlong into the hollows of the waves.

“Ah, Saint Francis de Paul! Ah, blessed Saint Francis!” cried the boys,
now that they knew nothing else to do. And Saint Francis mercifully
heard while he passed through the whirlwind helping his flock, and
spread his mantle under the _Provvidenza_ just as she was ready to crash
like a rotten nut on the “Cliffs of the Domes,” under the lookout of
the coast-guard. The boat sprang over the rocks like a colt, and ran
on shore, burying her nose in the sand. “Courage, courage!” cried the
guards from the shore; “here we are, here we are!” and they ran here and
there with lanterns, ready to fling out ropes.

At last one of the ropes fell across the _Provvidenza_, which trembled
like a leaf, and struck ’Ntoni across the face like a blow from a
whip, but not the gentlest of caresses could have seemed sweeter to him
at that moment.

“Help, help!” he cried, catching at the rope, which ran so fast that he
could hardly hold it in his hands. Alessio came to his assistance
with all his force, and together they gave it two turns around the
rudder-post, and those on shore drew them in.

Padron ’Ntoni, however, gave no sign of life, and when the light
was brought they found his face covered with blood, and the grandsons
thought him dead, and tore their hair. But after an hour or two arrived
Don Michele, Rocco Spatu, Vanni Pizzuti, and all the idlers that had
been at the tavern when the news had come, and by force of rubbing and
of cold water they brought him to himself, and he opened his eyes. The
poor old man, when he heard where he was, and that there wanted less
than an hour to reach Trezza, asked them to carry him home on a ladder.
Maruzza, Mena, and the neighbors, screaming and beating their breasts in
the piazza, saw him arrive like that, stretched out on the ladder, pale
and still, as if he had been dead.

“’Tis nothing, ’Tis nothing!” called out Don Michele, at the head
of the crowd. “’Tis only a slight thing.” And he went off to the
druggist’s for the Thieves’ vinegar. Don Franco came himself with it,
holding the bottle with both hands; and Goose-foot, too, came running,
and his wife and Dumbbell and the Zuppiddi and Padron Cipolla and all
the neighborhood, for at such a time all differences are forgotten;
there came even poor La Locca, who always went wherever there was a
crowd or a bustle, by night or by day, as if she never slept, but was
always seeking her lost Menico. So that the people were crowded in the
little street before the Malavoglia’s house as if a corpse had been
there, and their cousin Anna had to shut the door in their faces.

“Let me in, let me in!” cried Nunziata, pounding with her fist on the
door, having run over only half dressed. “Let me in to see what has
happened to Cousin Maruzza!”

“What good was it sending us for the ladder if we can’t come in and see
what’s going on?” shouted the son of La Locca.

The Zuppidda and the Mangiacarubbe had forgotten all the hard words that
had passed between them, and stood chatting before the door, with hands
under their aprons. Yes, it was always so with this trade, and it was
bound to finish this way one day or another. Whoever marries their
daughter to a seafaring man is sure to see her come back to the house
a widow, and with children into the bargain; and if it had not been for
Don Michele there would have remained not one of the Malavoglia to carry
on the family. The best thing to do was to do nothing, like those people
who got paid for just that--like Don Michele, for example; why, he
was as big and as fat as a canon, and he ate as much as ten men, and
everybody smoothed him down the right way; even the druggist, that was
always railing at the King, took off his great ugly black hat to him.

“It will be nothing,” said Don Franco, coming out of the house; “we have
bandaged his head properly; but if fever doesn’t come on, I won’t answer
for him.”

Goosefoot insisted on going in “because he was one of the family,
almost,” and Padron Fortunato, and as many more as could manage to pass.

“I don’t like the looks of him a bit!” pronounced Padron Cipolla,
shaking his head. “How do you feel, Cousin ’Ntoni?”

For two or three days Padron ’Ntoni was more dead than alive. The
fever came on, as the apothecary had said it would, but it was so strong
that it went nigh to carry the wounded man off altogether. The poor old
fellow never complained, but lay quiet in his corner, with his white
face and his long beard, and his head bound up. He was only dreadfully
thirsty; and when Mena or La Longa gave him to drink, he caught hold of
the cup with both trembling hands, and clung to it as if he feared it
would be taken from him.

The doctor came every morning, dressed the wound, felt his pulse, looked
at his tongue, and went away again shaking his head.

At last there came one evening when the doctor shook his head more sadly
than ever; La Longa placed the image of the Madonna beside the bed, and
they said their rosary around, it, for the sick man lay still, and never
spoke, even to ask for water, and it seemed as if he had even ceased to
breathe.

Nobody went to bed that night, and Lia nearly broke her jaws yawning, so
sleepy was she. The house was so silent that they could hear the glasses
by the bedside rattle when the carts passed by on the road, making
the watchers by the sick man start; so passed the day, too, while the
neighbors stood outside talking in low tones, and watching what went on
through the half-door. Towards evening Padron ’Ntoni asked to see each
member of his family one by one, and looking at them with dim, sunken
eyes, asked them what the doctor had said. ’Ntoni was at the head of
the bed, crying like a child, for the fellow had a kind heart.

“Don’t cry so!” said his grandfather, “don’t cry. Now you are the head
of the house: Think how they are all on your hands, and do as I have
done for them.”

The women began to cry bitterly, and to tear their hair, hearing him
speak in that way. Even little Lia did the same, for women have no
reason at such times, and did not notice how the poor man’s face worked,
for he could not endure to see them grieve for him in that way. But the
weak voice continued:

“Don’t spend money for me when I am gone. The Lord will know that you
have no money, and will be content with the rosary that Mena and Maruzza
will say for me. And you, Mena, go on doing as your mother has done, for
she is a saint of a woman, and has known well how to bear her sorrows;
and keep your little sister under your wing as a hen does her chickens.
As long as you cling together your sorrows will seem less bitter. Now
’Ntoni is a man, and before long Alessio will be old enough to help
you too.”

“Don’t talk like that, don’t! for pity’s sake, don’t talk so!” cried the
women, as if it were of his own free-will that he was leaving them. He
shook his head sadly, and replied:

“Now I have said all I wished to say, I don’t mind. Please turn me on
the other side. I am tired. I am old, you know; when the oil is burned
out the lamp goes out too.”

Later on he called ’Ntoni, and said to him:

“Don’t sell the _Provvidenza_, though she is so old; if you do you will
have to go out by the day, and you don’t know how hard it is when Padron
Cipolla or Uncle Cola says to you, ‘There’s nobody wanted on Monday.’
And another thing I want to say to you, ’Ntoni. When you have put by
enough money you must marry off Mena, and give her to a seaman like her
father, and a good fellow like him. And I want to say, also, when you
shall have portioned off Lia, too, try and put by money to buy back the
house by the medlar-tree. Uncle Crucifix will sell it if you make it
worth his while, for it has always belonged to the Malavoglia--and
thence your father and Luca went away, never to return.”

“Yes, grandfather, yes, I will,” promised ’Ntoni, with many tears. And
Alessio also listened gravely, as if he too had been a man.

The women thought the sick man must be wandering, hearing him go on
talking and talking, and they went to put wet cloths on his forehead.

“No,” said Padron ’Ntoni, “I am in right senses. I only want to finish
what I have to say before I go away from you.”

By this time they had begun to hear the fishermen calling from one door
to another, and the carts began to pass along the road. “In two hours it
will be day,” said Padron ’Ntoni, “and you can go call Don Giammaria.”

Poor things! they looked for day as for the Messiah, and went to the
window every few minutes to look for the dawn. At last the room grew
lighter, and Padron ’Ntoni said, “Now go call the priest, for I want
to confess.”

Don Giammaria came when the sun had already risen; and all the
neighbors, when they heard the bell tinkle in the black street, went
after it, to see the viaticum going to the Malavoglia. And all went in,
too; for when the Lord is within the door can be shut upon nobody; so
that the mourning family, seeing the house full of people, dared not
weep nor cry; while Don Giammaria muttered the prayers between his
teeth, and Master Cirino put a candle to the lips of the sick man, who
lay pale and stiff as a candle himself.

“He looks just like the patriarch Saint Joseph, in that bed, with
that long beard,” said Santuzza, who arranged all the bottles and
straightened everything, for she was always about when Our Lord went
anywhere--“Like a raven,” said the druggist.

The doctor came while the vicar was still there, and at first he wanted
to turn his donkey round and go home again. “Who told you to call the
priest?” he said; “that is the doctor’s affair, and I am astonished that
Don Giammaria should have come without a certificate. Do you know what?
There is no need of the priest--he’s better--that’s what he is.”

“It is a miracle, worked by Our Lady of Sorrows,” cried La Longa; “Our
Lady has done this for us, for Our Lord has come too often to this
house.”

“Ah, Blessed Virgin! Ah, Holy Virgin!” exclaimed Mena, clasping her
hands; “how gracious art thou to us!” And they all wept for joy, as if
the sick man were quite ready to get up and be off to his boat again.

The doctor went off growling. “That’s always the way. If they get well
it is Our Lady has saved them; if they die, it is we who have killed
them.”

“Don Michele is to have the medal for throwing the rope to the
_Provvidenza_, and there’s a pension attached to it,” said the druggist.
“That’s the way they spend the people’s money!”

Goosefoot spoke up in defence of Don Michele, saying that he had
deserved the medal, and the pension, too, for he had gone into the
water up to his knees, big boots and all, to save the Malavoglia--three
persons. “Do you think that a small thing--three lives?--and was within
a hair’s-breath of losing his own life, too, so that everybody was
talking of him: and on a Sunday, when he put on his new uniform, the
girls couldn’t take their eyes off him, so anxious were they to see if
he really had the medal or not.”

“Barbara Zuppidda, now that she’s got rid of that lout of a Malavoglia,
won’t turn her back on Don Michele any more,” said Goosefoot. “I’ve
seen her with her nose between the shutters when he’s passed along the
street.”

’Ntoni, poor fellow, as long as they couldn’t do without him, had
run hither and thither indefatigably, and had been in despair while
his grandfather was so ill. Now that he was better, he took to lounging
about, with his arms akimbo, waiting till it was time to take the
_Provvidenza_ to Master Zup-piddu to be mended, and went to the tavern
to chat with the others, though he hadn’t a sou to spend there, and told
to this one and that one how near he had been to drowning, and so passed
the time away, lounging and spitting about, doing nothing. When any one
would pay for wine for him he would get angry about Don Michele, and say
he had taken away his sweetheart; that he went every evening to talk
to Barbara at the window; that Uncle Santoro had seen him; that he had
asked Nunziata if she hadn’t seen Don Michele pass by the black street.

“But, blood of Judas! my name isn’t ’Ntoni Malavoglia if I don’t put a
stop to that. Blood of Judas!”

It amused the others to see him storm and fume, so they paid for him to
drink on purpose. San-tuzza, when she was washing the glasses, turned
her back upon them so as not to hear the oaths and the ugly words that
were always passing among them, but hearing Don Michele’s name, she
forgot her manners, and listened with all her ears. She also became
curious, and listened to them with open mouth, and gave Nunziata’s
little brother and Ales-sio apples or green almonds to get out of them
what had passed in the black street. Don Michele swore there was no
truth in the story, and often in the evening, after the tavern was shut,
they might be still heard disputing, and her voice would be audible,
screaming, “Liar! Assassin! Miscreant! Thief!” and other pretty names;
so much so that Don Michele left off going to the tavern at all, and
used to send for his wine instead, and drink it by himself at Vanni
Pizzuti’s shop.



XI.


|One day ’Ntoni Malavoglia, lounging about as usual, had seen two
young men who had embarked some years before at Riposto in search of
fortune, and had returned from Trieste, or from Alexandria, in short,
from afar off, and were spending and swaggering at the tavern--grander
than Cousin Naso the butcher, or than Padron Cipolla. They sat astride
of the benches joking with the girls and pulling innumerable silk
handkerchiefs out of their pockets, turning the place upsidedown.

’Ntoni, when he came home at night, found nobody there but the women,
who were changing the brine on the anchovies and chatting with the
neighbors, sitting in a circle on the stones, and passing away the
time by telling stories and guessing riddles, which amused greatly the
children, who stood around rubbing their sleepy eyes. Padron ’Ntoni
listened too, and watched the strainer with the fresh brine, nodding
his head in approval when the stories pleased him, or when the boys were
clever at guessing the riddles.

“The best story of all,” said ’Ntoni, “is that of those two fellows
who arrived here to-day with silk kerchiefs that one can hardly believe
one’s eyes to look at, and such a lot of money that they hardly look at
it when they take it out of their pockets. They’ve seen half the world,
they say. Trezza and Aci Castello put together are not to be compared
to what they’ve seen. I’ve seen the world too, and how people in those
parts don’t sit still salting anchovies, but go round amusing themselves
all day long, and the women, with silk dresses and more rings and
necklaces than the Madonna of Ognino, go about the streets vying with
each other for the love of the handsome sailors.”

“The worst of all things,” said Mena, “is to leave one’s own home, where
even the stones are one’s friends, and when one’s heart must break to
leave them behind one on the road. ‘Blest is the bird that builds his
nest at home!’”

“Brava, Sant’Agata!” said her grandfather; “that is what I call talking
sense.”

“Yes,” growled ’Ntoni, “and when we have sweated and steamed to build
our nest we haven’t anything left to eat; and when we have managed to
get back the house by the medlar we shall just have to go on wearing out
our lives from Monday to Saturday, and never do anything else.”

“And don’t you mean to work any more? What do you mean to do--turn
lawyer?”

“I don’t mean to turn lawyer,” said ’Ntoni, and went off to bed in
high dudgeon.

But from that time forth he thought of nothing but the easy, wandering
life other fellows led; and in the evening, not to hear all that idle
chatter, he stood by the door with his shoulders against the wall,
watching the people pass, and meditating on his hard fate; at least one
was resting against the fatigues of to-morrow, when must begin again
over and over the same thing, like Cousin Mosca’s ass, that when they
brought the collar reached out his neck to have it put on. “We’re all
asses!” he muttered; “that’s what we are--asses! beasts of burden.” And
it was plainly enough to be seen that he was tired of that hard life,
and longed to leave it, and go out into the world to make his fortune,
like those others; so that his mother, poor woman, was always stroking
him on the shoulder, and speaking to him in tones that were each like a
caress, looking at him with eyes full of tears, as if she would read
his very soul. But he told her there was no cause to grieve, that it was
better he should go, for himself and for the rest of them, and when he
came back they would all be happy together.

The poor mother never closed her eyes that night, and steeped her pillow
with tears. At last the grandfather himself perceived it, and called his
grandson outside the door, under the shrine, to ask him what ailed him.

“What is it, my boy?” he said. “Tell your grandpapa; do, that’s a good
boy.”

’Ntoni shrugged his shoulders; but the old man went on nodding his
head, and seeking for words to make himself understood properly.

“Yes, yes! you’ve got some notion in your head, boy! some new notion or
other. ‘Who goes with lame men limps himself before long.’”

“I’m a poor miserable devil, that’s what it is.”

“Well, is that all? You knew that before. And what am I, and what was
your father? ‘He is the richest who has the fewest wants. Better content
than complaint.’”

“Fine consolation, that is!”

This time the old man found words, for they were in his heart, and so
came straight to his lips.

“At least, don’t say it to your mother.”

“My mother! She would have done better not to have brought me into the
world, my mother!”

“Yes,” assented Padron ’Ntoni, “it would have been better she had not
borne you, if you are to begin to talk in this way.”

For a minute ’Ntoni didn’t know what to say, then he began: “Well, I
mean it for your good, too--for you, for my mother, for us all. I want
to make her rich, my mother! that’s what I want. Now we’re tormenting
ourselves for the house, and for Mena’s dowry; then Lia will grow up,
and she’ll want a dowry too, and then a bad year will throw us all back
into misery. I don’t want to lead this life any longer. I want to change
my condition and to change yours. I want that we should be rich--mamma,
Mena, you, Alessio, all of us.”

Padron ’Ntoni opened his eyes very wide and listened, pondering, to
this discourse, which he found very hard to understand. “Rich!” he said,
“rich! And what shall we do when we are rich?” ’Ntoni scratched his
head, and began to wonder himself what he should do in such a case. “We
should do what other people do,” he said--“go and live in town, and do
nothing, and eat meat.”

“In town! go and live in town by yourself. I choose to die where I was
born;” and thinking of the house where he was born, which was no longer
his, he let his head drop on his breast. “You are but a boy; you don’t
know what it is,” he said; “you don’t know, you don’t know! When you can
no longer sleep in your own bed, or see the light come in through your
own window, you’ll see what it is. I am old, and I know!” The poor old
man coughed as if he would suffocate, with bent shoulders, shaking
his head sadly. “‘His own nest every bird likes best.’ Look at those
swallows; do you see them? They have always made their nest there, and
they still return to make it there, and never go away.”

“But I am not a swallow,” said ’Ntoni. “I am neither a bird nor
a beast. I don’t want to live like a dog on a chain, or like Cousin
Alfio’s ass, or like a mule in a mill, that goes round and round,
turning the same wheel forever. I don’t want to die of hunger in a
corner, or to be eaten up by sharks.”

“Thank God, rather, that you were born here, and pray that you may not
come to die far from the stones that you know. ‘Who changes the old for
the new changes for the worse all through.’ You are afraid of work, are
afraid of poverty; I, who have neither your youth nor your strength,
fear them not. ‘The good pilot is known in the storm.’ You are afraid
of having to work for your bread, that is what ails you! When my father,
rest his soul, left me the _Provvidenza_ and five mouths to feed, I was
younger than you are now, and I was not afraid; and I have done my duty
without grumbling; and I do it still, and I pray God to help me to do it
as long as I live, as your father did, and your brother Luca, blessed
be their souls! who feared not to go and die where duty led them. Your
mother, too, has done hers, poor little woman, hidden inside four walls;
and you know not the tears she has shed, nor how many she sheds now,
because you want to go and leave her; nor how in the morning your sister
finds her sheets wet with tears. And nevertheless she is silent, and
does not talk of you nor of the hard things you say to her; and she
works, and puts together her provision, poor busy little ant that she
is; and she has never done anything else all her life long--before she
had so many tears to shed, and when she suckled you at her breast, and
before you could go alone, or the temptation had come over you to go
wandering like a gypsy about the world.”

The end of it was that ’Ntoni began to cry like a child, for at bottom
the boy had a good heart; but the next day it began all over again. In
the morning he took the tackle unwillingly on his shoulder, and went off
to sea growling, “Just like Cousin Alfio’s ass: at daybreak I have to
stretch out my neck to see if they are coming to load me.” After they
had thrown the net he left Alessio to move the oars slowly, so as to
keep the boat in its place; and folding his arms, looked out into the
distance to where the sea ended, towards those great cities where people
did nothing but walk about and amuse themselves; or thought of the two
sailors who had come back thence, and had now for some time been gone
away from the place; but it seemed to him that they had nothing to do
but to wander about the world from one town to another, spending the
money they had in their pockets. In the evening, when all the tackle was
put away, they let him wander about as he liked, like a houseless dog,
without a soldo to bless himself with, sooner than see him sit there as
sulky as a bear.

“What ails you, ’Ntoni?” said La Longa, looking timidly into his face,
with her eyes shining with tears, for she knew well enough, poor woman,
what it was that ailed him. “Tell me, tell your mother.” He did not
answer, or answered that nothing ailed him. But at last he did tell her
that his grandfather and the rest of them wanted to work him to death,
and he could bear it no longer. He wanted to go away and seek his
fortune like other people.

His mother listened, with her eyes full of tears, and could not speak in
reply to him, as he went on weeping and stamping and tearing his hair.

The poor creature longed to answer him, and to throw her arms round his
neck, and beg him not to go away from her, but her lips trembled so that
she could not utter a word.

“Listen,” she said at last; “you may go, if you will do it, but you
won’t find me here when you come back, for I am old now and weak, and I
cannot bear this new sorrow.”

’Ntoni tried to comfort her, saying he would soon come back with
plenty of money, and that they would all be happy together. Maruzza
shook her head sadly, saying that no, no, he would not find her when he
came back.

“I feel that I am growing old,” she said. “I am growing old. Look at me.
I have no strength now to weep as I did when your father died, and your
brother. If I go to the washing I come back so tired that I can hardly
move; it was never so before. No, my son, I am not what I was. Once,
when I had your father and your brother, I was young and strong. The
heart gets tired too, you see; it wears away little by little, like old
linen that has been too often washed. I have no courage now; everything
frightens me. I feel as one does when the waves come over his head when
he is out at sea. Go away if you will, but wait until I am at rest.”

She was weeping, but she did not know it; she seemed to have before her
eyes once more her husband and her son Luca as she had seen them when
they left her to return no more.

“So you will go, and I shall see you no more,” she said to him. “The
house grows more empty every day; and when that poor old man, your
grandfather, is gone, too, in whose hands shall I leave those orphan
children? Ah, Mother of Sorrows!”

She clung to him, with her head against his breast, as if her boy were
going to leave her then and there, and stroked his shoulder and his
cheeks with her trembling hands. Then ’Ntoni could resist her no
longer, and began to kiss her and to whisper gently in her ear:

“No, no! I won’t go if you say I must not. Look at me! Don’t talk so,
don’t. Well, I’ll go on working like Cousin Mosca’s ass, that will be
thrown into a ditch to die when he’s too old to work any more. Are you
contented now? Don’t cry, don’t cry any more. Look at my grandfather how
he has struggled all his life, and is struggling still to get out of the
mud, and he will go on so. It is our fate.”

“And do you think that everybody hasn’t troubles of their own? ‘Every
hole has its nail; new or old, they never fail.’ Look at Padron Cipolla
how he has to run here and to watch there, not to have his son Brasi
throwing all the money he has saved and scraped into Vespa’s lap! And
Master Filippo, rich as he is, trembling for his vineyard every time it
rains. And Uncle Crucifix, starving himself to put soldo upon soldo,
and always at law with this one or with that. And do you think those two
foreign sailors that you saw here, and that put all this in your head
with their talk of strange countries, do you think they haven’t their
own troubles too? Who knows if they found their mothers alive when they
got home to their own houses? And as for us, when we have bought back
the house by the medlar, and have our grain in the hutch and our beans
for the winter, and when Mena is married, what more shall we want? When
I am under the sod, and that poor old man is dead too, and Alessio is
old enough to earn his bread, go wherever you like. But then you won’t
want to go, I can tell you; for then you will begin to know what we feel
when we see you so obstinate and so determined to leave us all, even
when we do not speak, but go on in our usual way. Then you will not find
it in your heart to leave the place where you were born, where the very
stones know you well, where your own dead will lie together under the
marble in the church, which is worn smooth by the knees of those who
have prayed so long before Our Mother of Sorrows.”

’Ntoni, from that day forth, said no more of going away, or of growing
rich; and his mother watched him tenderly, as a bird watches her young,
when she saw him looking sad or sitting silently on the door-step, with
his elbows on his knees. And the poor woman was truly a sad sight to
see, so pale was she, so thin and worn; and when her work was over
she too sat down, with folded hands, and her back bent as badly as
her father-in-law’s. But she knew not that she herself was going for
a journey--that journey which leads to the long rest below the smooth
marble in the church--and that she must leave behind her all those she
loved so well, who had so grown into her heart that they had worn it all
away, piece by piece, now one and now another.

At Catania there was the cholera, and everybody that could manage it ran
away into the country here and there among the villages and towns in the
neighborhood. And at Ognino, and at Trezza, too, these strangers, who
spent so much money, were a real providence. But the merchants pulled a
long face, and said that it was almost impossible to sell even a dozen
barrels of anchovies, and that all the money had disappeared on account
of the cholera. “And don’t people eat anchovies any more?” asked
Goosefoot. But to Padron ’Ntoni, who had them to sell, they said that
now there was the cholera, people were afraid to eat anchovies, and all
that kind of stuff, but must eat macaroni and meat; and so it was best
to let things go at the best price one could get. That hadn’t been
counted in the Malavoglia’s reckoning. Hence, not to go backward, crab
fashion, needs must that La Longa should go about from house to house
among the foreigners, selling eggs and fresh bread, and so on, while
the men were out at sea, and so put together a little money. But it
was needful to be very careful, and not take even so much as a pinch of
snuff from a person one did not know. Walking on the road, one must go
exactly in the middle--as far away as possible from the walls, where one
ran the risk of coming across all sorts of horrors; and one must never
sit down on the stones or on the wall. La Longa, once, coming back from
Aci Gastello, with her basket on her arm, felt so tired that her legs
were like lead under her, and she could hardly move, so she yielded
to temptation, and rested a few minutes on the smooth stones under the
shade of the fig-tree, just by the shrine at the entrance of the town;
and she remembered afterwards, though she did not notice it at the time,
that a person unknown to her--a poor man, who seemed also very weary and
ill--had been sitting there a moment before she came up. In short, she
fell ill, took the cholera, and returned home pale and tottering, as
yellow as a gilded heart among the votive offerings, and with deep black
lines under her eyes; so that when Mena, who was alone at home, saw her,
she began to cry, and Lia ran off to gather rosemary and marshmallow
leaves. Mena trembled like a leaf while she was making up the bed, and
the sick woman, sitting on a chair, with pallid face and sunken eyes,
kept on saying, “It is nothing, don’t be frightened; as soon as I have
got into bed it will pass off,” and tried to help them herself; but
every minute she grew faint, and had to sit down again. “Holy Virgin!”
 stammered Mena. “Holy Virgin, and the men out at sea! Holy Virgin, help
us!” and Lia cried with all her might.

When Padron ’Ntoni came back with his grandsons, and they saw the
door half shut, and the light inside the shutters, they tore their hair.
Maruzza was already in bed, and her eyes, seen in that way in the dusk,
looked hollow and dim, as if death had already dimmed their light;
and her lips were black as charcoal. At that time neither doctor nor
apothecary went out after sunset, and even the neighbors barred their
doors, and stuck pictures of saints over all the cracks, for fear of the
cholera. So Cousin Maruzza had no help except from her own poor people,
who rushed about the house as if they had been crazy, watching her
fading away before their eyes, in her bed, and beat their heads against
the wall in their despair. Then La Longa, seeing that all hope was gone,
begged them to lay upon her breast the lock of cotton dipped in holy oil
which she had bought at Easter, and said that they must keep the light
burning, as they had done when Padron ’Ntoni had been so ill that they
thought him dying, and wanted them all to stay beside her bed, that she
might look at them until the last moment with those wide eyes that no
longer seemed to see. Lia cried in a heart-breaking way, and the others,
white as the wall, looked in each other’s faces, as if asking for help,
where no help was; and held their hands tight over their breasts, that
they might not break out into loud wailing before the dying woman, who,
none the less, knew all that they felt, though by this time she saw them
no longer, and even at the last felt the pain of leaving them behind.
She called them one by one by name, in a weak and broken voice, and
tried to lift her hand to bless them, knowing that she was leaving them
a treasure beyond price.

“’Ntoni,” she repeated, “’Ntoni, to you, who are the eldest, I leave
these orphans!” And hearing her speak thus while she was still alive,
they could not help bursting out into cries and sobs.

So they passed the night beside the bed, where Maruzza now lay without
moving, until the candle burned down in the socket and went out. And the
dawn came in through the window, pale like the corpse, which lay with
features sharpened like a knife, and black, parched lips. But Mena never
wearied of kissing those cold lips, and speaking as if the dead could
hear. ’Ntoni beat his breast and cried, “O mother! O mother! and you
have gone before me, and I wanted to leave you!” And Alessio never will
forget that last look of his mother, with her white hair and pinched
features; no, not even when his hair has grown as white as hers.

At dusk they came to take La Longa in a hurry, and no one thought of
making any visits; for every one feared for their life. And even Don
Giammaria came no farther than the threshold, whence he dispensed the
holy water, holding his tunic about his knees tight, lest it should
touch anything in the house--“Like a selfish monk as he was,” said the
apothecary. He, on the contrary, had they brought him a prescription
from the doctor, would have given it them, would even have opened the
shop at night for the purpose, for he was not afraid of the cholera;
and said, besides, that it was all stuff and nonsense to say that the
cholera could be thrown about the streets or behind the doors.

“A sign that he spreads the cholera himself,” whispered the priest. For
that reason the people of the place wanted to kill the apothecary;
but he laughed at them, with the cackling laugh he had learned of Don
Silvestro, saying, “Kill me! I’m a republican! If it were one of those
fellows in the Government, now, I might find some use in doing it, but
what good would it do me to spread the cholera?” But the Malavoglia were
left alone with the bed whence the mother had been carried away.

For some time they did not open the door after La Longa had been taken
away. It was a blessing that they had plenty to eat in the house--beans
and oil--and charcoal too, for Padron ’Ntoni, like the ants, had made
his provision in time of plenty; else they might have died of hunger,
for no one came to see whether they were alive or dead. Then, little by
little, they began to put their black neckerchiefs on and to go out into
the street, like snails after a storm, still pale and dazed-looking. The
gossips, remaining aloof, called out to them to ask how it had happened;
for Cousin Maruzza had been one of the first to go. And when Don
Michele, or some other personage who took the King’s pay, and wore a
gold-bordered cap, came their way, they looked at him with scared eyes,
and ran into the house. There was great misery, and no one was seen in
the street, not even a hen; and Don Cirino was never seen anywhere, and
had left off ringing at noon and at the Ave Maria, for he too ate the
bread of the commune, and had five francs a month as parish beadle, and
feared for his life, for was not he a Government official? And now Don
Michele was lord of the whole place, for Pizzuti and Don Silvestro and
the rest hid in their burrows like rabbits, and only he walked up and
down before the Zuppidda’s closed door. It was a pity that nobody saw
him except the Malavoglia, who had no longer anything to lose, and so
sat watching whoever passed by, sitting on the door-step, with their
elbows on their knees. Don Michele, not to take his walk for nothing,
looked at Sant’Agata, now that all the other doors were shut; and did it
all the more to show that great hulking ’Ntoni that he wasn’t afraid
of anybody, not he. And besides, Mena, pale as she was, looked a real
Sant’Agata; and the little sister, with her black neckerchief, was
growing up a very pretty girl.

It seemed to poor Mena that twenty years had fallen suddenly on her
shoulders. She watched Lia now, as La Longa had watched her, and kept
her always close at her side, and had all the cares of the house on her
mind. She had grown into a habit of remaining alone in the house with
her sister while the men were at sea, looking from time to time at that
empty bed. When she had nothing to do she sat, with her hands in her
lap, looking at the empty bed, and then she felt, indeed, that her
mother had left her; and when she heard them say in the street such an
one is dead, or such another, she thought so they heard “La Longa is
dead”--La Longa, who had left her alone with that poor little orphan,
with her black neckerchief.

Nunziata or their Cousin Anna came now and then, stepping softly, and
with sad looks, and saying nothing, would sit down with her on the
door-step, with hands under their aprons. The men coming back from the
fishing stepped quickly along, looking carefully from side to side, with
the nets on their shoulders. And no one stopped anywhere, not even the
carts at the tavern.

Who could tell where Cousin Alfio’s cart was now? or if at this moment
he might not lie dying of cholera behind a hedge, that poor fellow, who
had no one belonging to him. Sometimes Goosefoot passed, looking half
starved, glanced about him, as if he were afraid of his shadow; or Uncle
Crucifix, whose riches were scattered here and there, and who went to
see if his debtors were likely to die and to cheat him out of his money.
The sacrament went by, too, quickly, in the hands of Don Giammaria, with
his tunic fastened up, and a barefooted boy ringing the bell before
him, for Don Cirino was nowhere to be seen. That bell, in the deserted
streets, where no one passed, not a dog, and even Don Franco kept his
door half shut, was heart-rending. The only person to be seen, day or
night, was La Locca, with her tangled white hair, who went to sit before
the house by the medlar-tree, or watched for the boats on the shore. Even
the cholera would have none of her, poor old thing.

The strangers had flown as birds do at the approach of winter, and no
one came to buy the fish. So that every one said, “After the cholera
comes the famine.” Padron ’Ntoni had once more to dip into the money
put away for the house, and day by day it melted before his eyes. But he
thought of nothing, save that Maruzza had died away from her own house;
he could not get that out of his head. ’Ntoni, too, shook his head
every time it was necessary to use up the money. Finally, when the
cholera was at an end, and there only remained about half of the money
put together with such pains and trouble, he began to complain that such
a life as that he could not bear--eternally saving and sparing, and then
having to spend for bare life; that it was better to risk something,
once for all, to get out of this eternal worry, and that there, at
least, where his mother had died in the midst of that hideous misery, he
would stay no longer.

“Don’t you remember that your mother recommended Mena to you?” said
Padron ’Ntoni.

“What good can I do to Mena by staying here?--tell me that.”

Mena looked at him timidly, but with eyes like her mother’s, where one
could read her heart, but she dared not speak. Only once, clinging to
the jamb of the door, she found courage to say: “I don’t ask for help,
if only you’ll stay with us. Now that I haven’t my mother, I feel like
a fish out of water; I don’t care about anything. But I can’t bear the
idea of that orphan, Lia, who will be left without anybody if you go
away; like Nunziata when her father left her.”

“No,” said ’Ntoni, “no, I can do nothing for you if I stay here; the
proverb says ‘Help yourself and you’ll be helped.’ When I have made
something worth while I’ll come back, and we’ll all be happy together.”

Lia and Alessio opened their large round eyes, and seemed quite dazzled
by this prospect, but the old man let his head fall on his breast. “Now
you have neither father nor mother, and can do as it seems best to you,”
 he said at last. “While I live I will care for these children, and when
I die the Lord must do the rest.”

Mena, seeing that ’Ntoni would go, whether or not, put his clothes in
order, as his mother would have done, and thought how “over there,” in
strange lands, her brother would be like Alfio Mosca, with no one to
look after him. And while she sewed at his shirts, and pieced his coats,
her head ran upon days gone by, and she thought of all that had passed
away with them with a swelling heart.

“I cannot pass the house by the medlar now,” she said, as she sat by her
grandfather; “I feel such a lump in my throat that I am almost choking,
thinking of all that has happened since we left it.”

And while she was preparing for her brother’s departure she wept as if
she were to see him no more. At last, when everything was ready, the
grandpapa called his boy to give him a last solemn sermon, and much good
advice as to what he was to do when he was alone and dependent only
on his own discretion, without his family about him to consult or to
condole with him if things, went wrong; and gave him some money too, in
case of need, and his own pouch lined with leather, since now he was old
he should not need it any more.

The children, seeing their brother preparing for departure, followed him
silently about the house, hardly daring to speak to him, feeling as if
he had already become a stranger.

“Just so my father went away,” said Nunziata, who had come to say
good-bye to ’Ntoni, and stood with the others at the door. After that
no one spoke.

The neighbors came one by one to take leave of Cousin ’Ntoni, and
then stood waiting in the street to see him start. He lingered, with
his bundle on his shoulder and his shoes in his hand, as if at the
last moment his heart had failed him. He looked about him as if to fix
everything in his memory, and his face was as deeply moved as any there.
His grandfather took his stick to accompany him to the city, and Mena
went off into a corner, where she cried silently.

“Come, come, now,” said ’Ntoni. “I’m not going away forever. We’ll say
I’m going for a soldier again.” Then, after kissing Mena and Lia, and
taking leave of the gossips, he started to go, and Mena ran after him.
with open arms, weeping aloud, and crying out, “What will mamma say?
What will mamma say?” as if her mother were alive and could know what
was taking place. But she only said the thing which dwelt most strongly
in her memory when ’Ntoni had spoken of going away before; and she
had seen her mother weep, and used to find her pillow in the morning wet
with tears.

“Adieu, ’Ntoni!” Alessio called after him, taking courage now he was
gone, and Lia began to scream.

“Just so my father went,” said Nunziata, who had stayed behind the
others at the door.

’Ntoni turned at the corner of the black street, with his eyes full of
tears, and waved his hand to them in token of farewell. Mena then closed
the door and went to sit down in a corner with Lia, who continued to sob
and cry aloud. “Now another one is gone away from the house,” she
repeated. “If we had been in the house by the medlar it would seem as
empty as a church.”

Mena, seeing her dear ones go away, one after the other, felt, indeed,
like a fish out of water. And Nunziata, lingering there beside her, with
the little one in her arms, still went on saying, “Just so my father
went away, just so!”



XII.


|Padron ’Ntoni, now that he had no one but Alessio to help him with
the boat, had to hire some one by the day--Cousin Nunzio, perhaps, who
had a sick wife and a large family of children; or the son of La Locca,
who came whining to him behind the door that his mother was starving,
and that his uncle Crucifix would give them nothing, because, he said,
the cholera had ruined him, so many of his debtors had died and had
cheated him out of his money, and he had taken the cholera himself. “But
he hadn’t died,” added the son of La Locca, and shook his head ruefully.
“Now we might have plenty to live on, I and my mother and all the
family, if he had died. We stayed two days with Vespa, nursing him,
and it seemed as if he were dying every minute, but he didn’t die after
all.” However, the money that the Malavoglia gained day by day was often
not enough to pay Cousin Nunzio or the son of La Locca, and they were
obliged to take up those precious coins so painfully put together to
buy back the house by the medlar-tree. Every time Mena went to take
the stocking from under the mattress she and her grandfather sighed. La
Locca’s son was not to blame, poor fellow--he would have done four men’s
work sooner than not give the full worth of his wages--it was the fish,
that would not let themselves be caught. And when they came ruefully
home empty, rowing, with loosened sails, he said to Padron ’Ntoni:
“Give me wood to split, or fagots to bind; I will work until midnight,
if you say so, as I did with my uncle. I don’t want to steal the wages
from you.”

So Padron ’Ntoni, after having thought the matter over carefully,
consulted Mena as to what was to be done. She was clear-headed, like her
mother, and she was the only one left for him to consult--the only one
left of so many! The best thing was to sell the _Provvidenza_, which
brought in nothing, and only ate up the wages of Cousin Nunzio or the
son of La Locca to no purpose; and the money put aside for the house was
melting away, little by little. The _Provvidenza_ was old, and always
needed to be mended every now and then to keep her afloat. Later, if
’Ntoni came back and brought better fortune once more among them, they
might buy a new boat and call that also the _Provvidenza_.

On Sunday he went to the piazza, after the mass, to speak to Goosefoot
about it. Cousin Tino shrugged his shoulders, shook his head, said that
the _Provvidenza_ was good for nothing but to put under the pot, and
talking in this way he drew him down to the shore. The patches, he said,
could be seen under the paint, like some women he knew of with wrinkles
under their stays; and went on kicking her in the hull with his lame
foot. Besides, the trade was going badly; rather than buy, everybody was
trying to sell their boats, much better than the Provvidenza. And who
was going to buy her? Padron Cipolla didn’t want old stuff like that.
This was an affair for Uncle Crucifix. But at this moment Uncle Crucifix
had something else on his hands--with that demon-ridden Vespa, who was
tormenting his soul out running after all the marriageable men in the
place. At last, for old friendship’s sake, he agreed to go and speak
to Uncle Crucifix about it, if he found him in a good humor---if Padron
’Ntoni were really anxious to sell the _Provvidenza_ for an old song;
for, after all, he, Goosefoot, could make Uncle Crucifix do anything he
liked. In fact, when he did speak of it--drawing him aside towards the
horse-trough--Uncle Crucifix replied with shrugs and frantic shakings
of his head, till he looked like one possessed, and tried to slip out
of Goosefoot’s hands. Cousin Tino, poor man, did his best--caught him
by the coat and held him by force; shook him, to make him give his
attention; put his arm round his neck, and whispered in his ear: “Yes,
you are an ass if you let slip such a chance! Going for an old song,
I tell you! Padron ’Ntoni sells her because he can’t manage her any
longer, now his grandson is gone. But you could put her into the hands
of Cousin Nunzio, or of your own nephew, who are dying of hunger, and
will work for next to nothing. Every soldo she gains will come into
your pocket. I tell you, you are a fool. The boat is in perfectly good
condition--good as new. Old Padron ’Ntoni knew very well what he was
about when he had her built. This is a real ready money business--as
good as that of the lupins, take my word for it!”

But Uncle Crucifix wouldn’t listen to him--almost crying, with his
yellow hatchet-face uglier than ever since he had nearly died of the
cholera--and tried to get away, even to the point of leaving his jacket
in Uncle Tino’s hands.

“I don’t care about it,” said he; “I don’t care about anything. You
don’t know all the trouble I have, Cousin Tino! Everybody wants to suck
my blood like so many leeches. Here’s Vanni Pizzuti running after Vespa,
too; they’re like a pack of hunting-dogs.”

“Why don’t you marry her yourself? After all, is she not your own blood,
she and her field? It will not be another mouth to feed, not at all! She
has a clever pair of hands of her own, she is well worth the bread she
eats, that woman. You’ll have a servant without wages, and the land will
be yours. Listen, Uncle Crucifix: you’ll have another affair here as
good as that of the lupins.”

Padron ’Ntoni meanwhile waited for the answer before Pizzuti’s shop,
and watched the two who were discussing his affairs, like a soul in
purgatory. Now it seemed as if everything were at an end, now they began
again, and he tried to guess whether or no Uncle Crucifix would consent
to the bargain. Goosefoot came and told him how much he had been able
to obtain for him, then went back to Uncle Crucifix--going backward
and forward in the piazza like the shuttle in the loom, dragging his
club-foot behind him, until he had succeeded in bringing them to an
agreement.

“Capital!” he said to Padron ’Ntoni; then to Uncle Crucifix, “For an
old song, I tell you!” And in this way he managed the sale of all the
tackle, which, of course, was no longer of any use to the Malavoglia,
now that they had no boat; but it seemed to Padron ’Ntoni that they
took away his very heart from within him, as he saw them carry away the
nets, the baskets, the oars, the rope--everything.

“I’ll manage to get you a position by the day, and your grandson Alessio
too, never fear,” said Goosefoot to Padron ’Ntoni; “but you mustn’t
expect high wages, you know! ‘Strength of youth and wisdom of age.’ For
my assistance in the bargaining I trust to your good-will.”

“In time of famine one eats barley bread,” answered Padron ’Ntoni.
“Necessity has no nobility.”

“That’s right, that’s right! I understand,” replied Goosefoot, and away
he went, in good earnest, to speak to Padron Cipolla at the drug-store,
where Don Silvestro had at last succeeded in enticing him, as well as
Master Filippo and a few other bigwigs, to talk over the affairs of the
Commune--for after all, the money was theirs, and it is silly not to
take one’s proper place in the government when one is rich and pays more
taxes than all the rest put together.

“You, who are rich, can afford a bit of bread to that poor old Padron
’Ntoni,” suggested Goosefoot. “It will cost you nothing to take him on
by the day, him and his grandson Alessio. You know that he understands
his business better than any one else in the place, and he will be
content with little, for they are absolutely without bread. It is an
affair worth gold to you, Padron Fortunato; it is indeed.”

Padron Fortunato, caught as he was just at that propitious moment, could
not refuse; but after higgling and screwing over the price--for, now
that the times were so bad, he really hadn’t work for any more men--he
at last made a great favor of taking on Padron ’Ntoni.

“Yes, I’ll take him if he’ll come and speak to me himself. Will you
believe that they are out of temper because I broke off my son’s
marriage with Mena? A fine thing I should have made of it! And to be
angry about it! What could I do?”

Don Silvestro, Master Filippo, Goosefoot himself--all of them, in
fact--hastened to say that Padron Fortunato was quite right.

Mena, meanwhile, did not even put her nose at the window, for it was
not seemly to do so now that her mother was dead and she had a black
kerchief on her head; and, besides, she had to look after the little
one and to be a mother to her, and she had no one to help her in
the housework, so that she had to go to the tank to wash and to the
fountain, and to take the men their luncheon when they were at work on
land; so that she was not Sant’Agata any longer, as in the days when no
one ever saw her and she was all day long at the loom. In these days she
had but little time for the loom. Don Michele, since the day when the
Zuppidda had given him such a talking to from her terrace, and had
threatened to put out his eyes with her distaff, never failed to pass
by the black street; and sometimes he passed two or three times a day,
looking after Barbara, because he wasn’t going to have people say that
he was afraid of the Zuppidda or of her distaff; and when he passed the
house where the Malavoglia lived he slackened his pace, and looked in to
see the pretty girls who were growing up at the Malavoglia’s.

In the evening, when the men came back from sea, they found everything
ready for them: the pot boiling on the fire, the cloth ready on the
table--that table that was so large for them, now that they were so few,
that they felt lost at it. They shut the door and ate their supper in
peace; then they sat down on the door-step to rest after the fatigues
of the day. At all events, they had enough for the day’s needs, and
were not obliged to touch the money that was accumulating for the house.
Pa-dron ’Ntoni had always that house in his mind, with its closed
windows and the medlar-tree rising above the wall. Maruzza had not been
able to die in that house, nor perhaps should he die there; but the
money was beginning to grow again, and his boys at least would go back
there some day or other, now that Alessio was growing into a man, and
was a good boy, and one of the true Malavoglia stamp. When they had
bought back the house, and married the girls, if they might get a boat
again they would have nothing more to wish for, and Padron ’Ntoni
might close his eyes in peace.

Nunziata and Anna, their cousin, came to sit on the stones with them in
the evenings to talk over old times, for they, too, were left lonely and
desolate, so that they seemed like one family. Nun-ziata felt as if she
were at home in the house, and came with her brood running after her,
like a hen with her chickens. Alessio, sitting down by her, would say,
“Did you finish your linen?” or “Are you going on Monday to Master
Filippo to help with the vintage? Now that the olive harvest is coming
you’ll always find a day’s work somewhere, even when you haven’t any
washing to do; and you can take your brother, too; they’ll give him two
soldi a day.” Nunziata talked to him gravely, and asked his advice with
regard to her plans, and they talked apart together, as if they had
already been a gray-haired old couple.

“They have grown wise in their youth because they have had so much
trouble,” said Padron ’Ntoni. “Wisdom comes of suffering.”

Alessio, with his arms round his knees like his grandfather, asked
Nunziata, “Will you have me for a husband when I grow up?”

“Plenty of time yet to think about that,” replied she.

“Yes, there’s time, but one must begin to think about it now, so that
one may settle what is to be done. First, of course, we must marry Mena,
and Lia when she is grown up. Lia wants to be dressed like a woman now,
and you have your boys to find places for. We must buy a boat first; the
boat will help us to buy the house. Grandfather wants to buy back the
house by the medlar, and I should like that best, too, for I know my way
all about it, even in the dark, without running against anything; and
the court is large, so that there’s plenty of room for the tackle; and
in two minutes one is at the sea. Then, when my sisters are married,
grandfather can stay with us, and we’ll put him in the big room that
opens on the court, where the sun comes in; so, when he isn’t able to
go to sea any longer, poor old man! he can sit by the door in the court,
and in the summer the medlar-tree will make a shade for him. We’ll take
the room on the garden. You’ll like that? The kitchen is close by,
so you’ll have everything under your hand, won’t you? When my brother
’Ntoni comes back we’ll give him that room, and we’ll take the one
up-stairs; there are only the steps to climb to reach the kitchen and
the garden.”

“In the kitchen there must be a new hearth,” said Nunziata. “The last
time we cooked anything there, when poor Cousin Maruzza was too unhappy
to do it herself, we had to prop up the pot with stones.”

“Yes, I remember,” said Alessio, sitting with his chin in his hands, and
nodding gravely, with wide dreamy eyes as if he saw Nunziata at the fire
and his poor mother weeping beside the bed.

“And you, too,” said he, “can find your way in the dark about the house
by the medlar, you have been there so often. Mamma always said you were
a good girl.”

“Now they have sown onions in the garden, and they’re grown as big as
oranges.”

“Do you like onions?”

“I must; I have no choice. They help the bread down, and they are cheap.
When we haven’t money enough to buy macaroni we always eat them--I and
my little ones.”

“For that they sell so well. Uncle Crucifix doesn’t care about planting
cabbages or lettuce at the house by the medlar, because he has them at
his own house, and so he puts nothing there but onions. But we’ll plant
broccoli and cauliflower. Won’t they be good, eh?”

The girl, with her arms across her knees, curled upon the threshold,
looked out with dreaming eyes, as well as the boy; then after a while
she began to sing, and Alessio listened with all his ears. At last she
said, “There’s plenty of time yet.”

“Yes,” assented Alessio; “first we must marry Mena and Lia, and we must
find places for the boys, but we must begin to talk it over now.”

“When Nunziata sings,” said Mena, coming to the door, “it is a sign that
it will be fair weather, and we can go to-morrow to wash.”

Cousin Anna was in the same mind, for her field and vineyard was the
washing-tank, and her feast-days were those on which she had her hands
full of clothes to be washed; all the more now that her son Rocco was
feasting himself every day, after his fashion, at the tavern, trying
to drown his regret for the Mangiacarubbe, who had thrown him over for
Brasi Cipolla, like a coquette as she was.

“‘It’s a long lane that has no turning,’” said Padron ’Ntoni. “Perhaps
this may bring your son Rocco to his senses. And it will be good for my
’Ntoni, too, to be away from home for a while; for when he comes back,
and is tired of wandering about the world, everything will seem as it
should be, and he will not complain any more. And if we succeed in once
more putting our own boat at sea--and it’s putting our own beds in the
old places that we know so well--you will see what pleasant times we
shall have resting on the door-steps there, when we are tired after our
day’s work, when the day has been a good one. And how bright the light
will look in that room where you have seen it so often, and have known
all the faces that were dearest to you on earth! But now so many are
gone, and never have come back, that it seems as if the room would be
always dark, and the door shut, as if those who are gone had taken the
key with them forever. ’Ntoni should not have gone away,” added the
old man, after a long silence. “He knew that I was old, and that when I
am gone the children will have no one left.”

“If we buy the house by the medlar while he is gone,” said Mena, “he
won’t know it, and will come here to find us.”

Padron ’Ntoni shook his head sadly. “But there’s time enough yet,” he
said at last, like Nun-ziata; and Cousin Anna added, “If ’Ntoni comes
back rich he can buy the house.”

Padron ’Ntoni answered nothing, but the whole place knew that ’Ntoni
would come back rich, now he had been gone so long in search of fortune;
and many envied him already, and wanted to go in search of fortune too,
like him. In fact they were not far wrong. They would only leave a few
women to fret after them, and the only ones who hadn’t the heart to
leave their women were that stupid son of La Locca, whose mother was
what everybody knew she was, and Rocco Spatu, whose soul was at the
tavern. Fortunately for the women, Padron ’Ntoni’s ’Ntoni was
suddenly discovered to have come back, by night, in a bark from Catania,
ashamed to show himself, as he had no shoes. If it were true that he had
come back rich he had nowhere to put his money, for his clothes were all
rags and tatters. But his family received him as affectionately as if he
had come back loaded with gold. His sisters hung round his neck, crying
and laughing for joy, and ’Ntoni did not know Lia again, so tall she
was, and they all said to him, “Now you won’t leave us again, will you?”

The grandfather blew his nose and growled, “Now I can die in peace--now
that these children will not be left alone in the world.”

But for a whole week ’Ntoni never showed himself in the street. Every
one laughed when they saw him, and Goosefoot went about saying, “Have
you seen the grand fortune that Padron ’Ntoni’s ’Ntoni has brought
home?” And those who had not been in such a terrible hurry to make up
their bundles of shirts and stockings, to leave their homes like a lot
of fools, could not contain themselves for laughing.

Whoever goes in search of fortune and does not find it is a fool.
Everybody knows that. Don Silvestro, Uncle Crucifix, Padron Cipolla,
Master Filippo, were not fools, and everybody did their best to please
them, because poor people always stand with their mouths open staring
at the rich and fortunate, and work for them like Cousin Mosca’s ass,
instead of kicking the cart to pieces and running off to roll on the
grass with heels in the air.

The druggist was quite right when he said that it was high time to kick
the world to pieces and make it over again. And he himself, with his big
beard and his fine talk about making the world over again, was one of
those who had known how to make a fortune, and to hold on to it too, and
he had nothing to do but to stand at his door and chat with this one and
that one; for when he had done pounding that little bit of dirty water
in his mortar his work was finished for the day. That fine trade he had
learned of his father--to make money out of the water in the cistern.
But ’Ntoni’s grandfather had taught him a trade which was nothing but
breaking one’s arms and one’s back all day long, and risking one’s life,
and dying of hunger, and never having, a day to one’s self when one
could lie on the grass in the sun, as even Mosca’s ass could sometimes
do; a real thieves’ trade, that wore one’s soul out, by Our Lady! And
he for one was tired of it, and would rather be like Rocco Spatu, who at
least didn’t work. And for that matter he cared nothing for Barbara, nor
Sara, nor any other girl in the world. They care for nothing but fishing
for husbands to work worse than dogs to give them their living, and buy
silk handkerchiefs for them to wear when they stand at their doors of a
Sunday with their hands on their full stomachs. He’d rather stand there
himself, Sunday and Monday too, and all the other days in the week,
since there was no good in working all the time for nothing. So ’Ntoni
had learned to spout as well as the druggist--that much at least he had
brought back from abroad--for now his eyes were open like a kitten’s
when it is nine days old. “The hen that goes in the street comes home
with a full crop.” If he hadn’t filled his crop with anything else, he
had filled it with wisdom, and he went about telling all he had learned
in the piazza in Pizzuti’s shop, and also at Santuzza’s tavern. Now
he went openly to the tavern, for after all he was grown up, and his
grandfather wasn’t likely to come there after him and pull his ears, and
he should know very well what to say to anybody who tried to hinder him
from going there after the little pleasure that there was to be had.

His grandfather, poor man, instead of pulling his ears, tried to touch
his feelings. “See,” he said, “now you have come, we shall soon be able
to manage to get back the house.” Always that same old song about the
house. “Uncle Crucifix has promised not to sell it to any one else. Your
mother, poor dear, was not able to die there. We can get the dowry for
Mena on the house. Then, with God’s help, we can set up another boat;
because, I must tell you, that at my age it is hard to go out by the
day, and obey other people, when one has been used to command. You were
also born of masters. Would you rather that we should buy the boat first
with the money, instead of the house? Now you are grown up, and can
have your choice, because you have seen more of the world, and should be
wiser than I am now I am old. What would you rather do?”

He would rather do nothing, that’s what he would rather do. What did
he care about the boat or the house? Then there would come another bad
year, another cholera, some other misfortune, and eat up the boat and
the house, and they would have to begin all over again, like the ants.
A fine thing! And when they had got the boat and the house, could they
leave off working, or could they eat meat and macaroni every day? While
instead, down there where he had been, there were people that went about
in carriages everyday; that’s what they did. People beside whom Don
Franco and the town-clerk were themselves no better than beasts of
burden, working, as they did, all day long, spoiling paper and beating
dirty water in a mortar. At least he wanted to know why there should be
people in the world who had nothing to do but to enjoy themselves,
and were born with silver spoons in their mouths, and others who had
nothing, and must drag a cart with their teeth all their lives. Besides
which, that idea of going out by the day was not at all to his taste; he
was born a master--his grandfather had said so himself. He to be ordered
about by a lot of people who had risen from nothing, who, as everybody
in the place knew, had put their money together soldo after soldo,
sweating and struggling! He had gone out by the day only because his
grandfather took him, and he hadn’t strength of mind to refuse. But when
the overseer stood over him like a dog, and called out from the stern,
“Now, then, boy, what are you at?” he felt tempted to hit him over the
head with the oar, and he preferred to weave baskets or to mend nets,
sitting on the beach, with his back against a stone, for then if he
folded his arms for a minute nobody called out at him.

Thither came also Rocco Spatu to yawn and stretch his arms, and Vanni
Pizzuti, between one customer and another, in his idle moments; and
Goosefoot came there too, for his business was to mix himself up with
every conversation that he could find in search of bargaining; * and
they talked of all that happened in the place.

* Senserie--a sort of very small brokerage, upon which a tiny percentage
is paid.

From one thing to another they got talking of Uncle Crucifix, who had,
they said, lost more than thirty scudi, through people that had died
of the cholera and had left pledges in his hands. Now, Dumb-bell, not
knowing what to do with all these ear-rings and finger-rings that had
remained on his hands, had made up his mind to marry Vespa; the thing
was certain, they had been seen to go together to write themselves up at
the Municipality, in Don Silvestro’s presence.

“It is not true that he is marrying on account of the jewellery,” said
Goosefoot, who was in a position to know; “the things are of gold or of
silver, and he could go and sell them by weight in the city; he would
have got back a good percentage on the money he had lent on them. He
marries Vespa because she took him to the Municipality to show him the
paper that she had had drawn up, ready to be signed before the notary,
with Cousin Spatu here, now that the Mangiacarubbe has dropped him for
Brasi Cipolla. Excuse me. Eh, Cousin Rocco?”

“Oh, I don’t mind, Cousin Tino,” answered Rocco Spatu. “It is nothing to
me; for whoever trusts to one of those false cats of womankind is worse
than a pig. I don’t want any sweetheart except Santuzza, who lets
me have my wine on credit when I like, and she is worth two of the
Mangiacarubbe any day of the week. A good handful, eh, Cousin Tino?”

“Pretty hostess, heavy bill,” said Pizzuti, spitting in the sand.

“They all look out for husbands to work for them,” added ’Ntoni.
“They’re all alike.”

“And,” continued Goosefoot, “Uncle Crucifix ran off panting to the
notary, with his heart in his mouth. So he had to take the Wasp after
all.”

Here the apothecary, who had come down to the beach to smoke his pipe,
joined in the conversation, and went on pounding in his usual way upon
his usual theme that the world ought to be put in a mortar and pounded
to pieces, and made all over again. But this time he really might
as well have pounded dirty water in his mortar, for not one of them
understood a word he said, unless, perhaps, it were ’Ntoni. He at
least had seen the world, and opened his eyes, like the kittens; when he
was a soldier they had taught him to read, and for that reason he, too,
went to the drug-shop door and listened when the newspaper was read, and
stayed to talk with the druggist, who was a good-natured fellow, and did
not give himself airs like his wife, who kept calling out to him, “Why
will you mix yourself up with what doesn’t concern you?”

“One must let the women talk, and manage things quietly,” said Don
Franco, as soon as his wife was safe up-stairs. He didn’t mind taking
counsel even with those who went barefoot, provided they didn’t put
their feet on the chairs, and explained to them word for word all
that there was printed in the newspaper, following it with his finger,
telling them that the world ought to go, as it was written down there.



XIII.


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“They are rich, they are.”

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

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

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

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

“What should I do in town?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Now Mena turned red too, when he asked what her brother ’Ntoni was
doing, for he was doing nothing. And Don Michele went on: “I am afraid
he will do something that you will not like, your brother ’Ntoni. I am
your friend, and I take no notice; but when another brigadier comes in
my place he will be wanting to know what your brother is always about
with Cinghialenta and that other pretty specimen, Rocco Spatu, down by
the Rotolo in the evening, or walking about the downs, as if they had
nothing to do but to wear out their shoes. Look after him well, Cousin
Mena, and listen to what I tell you tell him not to go so much with that
meddling old wretch Goosefoot, in Vanni Pizzuti’s shop, for we know
everything; and he will come to harm among them. The others are old
foxes. And you had better tell your grandfather to stop him from walking
so much up and down the beach, for the beach is not meant to walk about
on; and the cliffs of the Rotolo have ears, tell him; and one can see
very well, even without glasses, the boats that put out from there at
dusk, as if they were going to fish for bats. Tell him this, Cousin
Mena; and tell him, too, that this warning comes from one who is your
friend. As for Master Cinghialenta, and Rocco Spatu, and Vanni Pizzuti
as well, we have our eye on them. Your brother trusts old Goosefoot, but
he does not know that the coastguards have a percentage on smuggled
goods, and that they always manage to get hold of some one of a gang,
and give him a share to spy on them that they may be surprised.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“He told you nothing else?”

“No, he told me nothing else.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

’Ntoni, now that he was in bad luck, was not ashamed to show himself
everywhere with Rocco Spatu, and with Cinghialenta, on the downs and by
the Rotolo, and was seen whispering to them mysteriously, like a lot of
wolves. Don Michele came back to Mena, saying, “Your brother will play
you an ugly trick some day, Cousin Mena.” Mena was driven to going out
to look for her brother on the downs, or towards the Rotolo, or at the
door of the tavern, sobbing and crying, and pulling him by the sleeve.
But he replied:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Don Michele has something else in his head,” repeated Goosefoot,
running his tongue out behind Padron ’Ntoni’s back, and making a sign
towards his grandson, who was leaning against the wall, with a ragged
jacket over one shoulder, and casting furious looks at Uncle Santoro,
who had taken to coming to mass to hold out his hand to the faithful in
the intervals of muttered Glorias and Ave Marias, knowing them all very
well as they passed him on their way out, saying to one, “The Lord bless
you;” to another, “God give you health;” and as Don Michele passed,
he said to him, “Go to her, she is waiting for you in the garden. Holy
Mary, pray for us! Lord be merciful to me a sinner!” When Don Michele
began to go back to the tavern people said: “Look if the cat and
dog haven’t made friends! There must have been some reason for their
quarrelling. And Master Filippo has gone back too. He seems to have been
fonder of Don Michele than of Santuzza! Some people wouldn’t care to be
alone, even in Paradise.”

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

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

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

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

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

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



XIV.


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

La Locca’s son felt greatly inclined to cry.

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

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

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

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

“You’re all a lot of cowards,” said ’Ntoni.

“You’re afraid of Don Michele.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Yes; we saw him too.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Are you drunk already?” asked Cinghialenta.

“No,” he replied, “I did not drink.”

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

“One moment,” cried Pizzuti, with the door in his hand. “I don’t mean
for the money for the bitters; that I have given you freely, because
you are my friends; but listen, between ourselves, eh? If you are
successful, mind, I am here, and my house. You know I’ve a room at the
back, big enough to hold a ship-load of goods, and nobody likely to
think of it, for Don Michele and his guards are hand-and-glove with me.
I don’t trust Cousin Goosefoot; the last time he threw me over, and put
everything into Don Silvestro’s house. Don Silvestro is never contented
with a reasonable profit, but asks an awful price, on the ground that
he risks his place; but I have no such motive, and I ask no more than
is reasonable. And I never refused Goosefoot his percentage, either, and
give him his drinks free, and shave him for nothing. But, the devil take
him! if he plays me such a trick again I’ll show him that I am not to be
fooled in that way. I’ll go to Don Michele and blow the whole business.”

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

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

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

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

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

The others went off surlily, close to the wall, in the rain. “And that
one, too!” muttered Cinghialenta. “And he’s to get off because he has
nobody in the world, and abuses Goosefoot. At least Goosefoot has a
wife. And I have a wife, too. But the balls are good enough for me.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“I hear nothing,” said Cinghialenta.

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

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

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

“But I hear nothing,” observed ’Ntoni.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

In fact, those poor things did not sleep, but stood at the door and
watched in the rain, as if their hearts had told them what had happened;
while the neighbors, hearing the shots, turned sleepily over in their
beds and muttered, yawning, “We shall know to-morrow what has happened.”
 Very late when the day was breaking, a crowd gathered in front of
Vanni Pizzuti’s shop, where the light was burning and there was a great
chattering.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“By no means everybody,” answered Don Silvestro, turning red with fury.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cousin Grazia went off home, running, and reached there sooner than the
others, panting with speed, for ill news always comes on wings. Hardly
had she caught sight of Lia, who stood waiting at the door like a soul
in purgatory, than she caught her by both hands, exclaiming: “Wretched
girl! what have you done? They have told the judge that you had an
understanding with Don Michele, and your grandfather had a stroke when
he heard it.” Lia answered not a word any more than if she had not heard
or did not care. She only stared with wide eyes and open mouth. At last
she sank slowly down upon a chair, as if she had lost the use of her
limbs. So she remained for many minutes without motion or speech, while
Cousin Grazia threw water in her face until she began to stammer, “I
can’t stay here! I must go--I must go away!” Her sister followed her
about the room, weeping and trying to catch her by the hands, while she
went on saying to the cupboard and to the chairs, like a mad creature,
“I must go!”

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



XV.


|People said that Lia was gone to live with Don Michele; that the
Malavoglia, after all, had nothing left to lose, and Don Michele would
give her bread to eat. Padron ’Ntoni was of no use to anybody any
more. He did nothing but wander about, bent almost double, and uttering
at intervals proverbs without sense or meaning, like, “A hatchet for the
fallen tree”; “Who falls in the water gets wet”; “The thinnest horse
has the most flies”; and when they asked him why he was always wandering
about, he said, “Hunger drives the wolf out of the wood,” or, “The
hungry dog fears not the stick,” but no one asked how he was, or seemed
to care about him, now he was reduced to such a condition. They teased
him, and asked him why he stood waiting with his back against the
church-tower, like Uncle Crucifix when he had money to lend; or sitting
under the boats which were drawn up on the sand, as if he had Padron
Fortunato’s bark out at sea. And Padron ’Ntoni replied that he was
waiting for Death, who would not come to take him, for “Long are the
days of the unhappy.” No one in the house ever spoke of Lia, not even
Sant’Agata, who, if she wished to relieve her feelings, went and wept
beside her mother’s bed when she was alone in the house. Now this house,
too, had become as wide as the sea, and they were lost in it. The money
was gone with ’Ntoni, Alessio was always away here or there at work,
and Nunziata used to be charitable enough to come and kindle the
fire when Mena used to have to go out towards evening and lead her
grandfather home in the dusk, because he was half blind. Don Silvestro
and others in the place said that Alessio would do better to send
his grandfather to the poor-house, now that he was of no more use
to anybody; but that was the only thing that frightened the poor old
fellow. Every time that Mena led him out by the hand in the morning to
take him where the sun shone, “to wait for Death,” he thought that they
were leading him to the poor-house, so silly was he grown, and he went
on stammering, “But will Death never come?” so that some people used to
ask him, laughing, where he thought Death had gone.

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

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

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

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

One evening there came and stopped in the black street Alfio Mosca, with
the cart, to which was now harnessed a mule; and he had had the fever at
Bicocca and had nearly died, so that his face was yellow as saffron, and
he had lost his fine, straight figure, but the mule was fat and shining.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Necessity abases nobility,” said Padron Cipolla, and Santuzza repeated
an Ave Maria for the poor old man. Only the cousin Anna and Cousin Grace
Goosefoot wiped their eyes with their aprons as the cart moved slowly
away, jolting on the stones. But Uncle Tino chid his wife: “What are you
whining about? Am I dead? What is it to you?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“You’re going?”’

“Yes,” replied ’Ntoni.

“And where will you go?” asked Alessio.

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

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

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

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

“I did not see Lia.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


THE END.





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