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46 Water Upon Fire

GiGI.

Fetch me my potatoes, mamma, or I'll go to sleep
again!

Riga.

Sleep? You cabbage-stalk! Here's j^our potatoes!
Didn't you hear what father said just now? You
must lock up the sheep tonight.

Leopoldo.

[Outside, knocking on the door.]
May I come in?

BiSTONE.

[Through a mouth crammed with food.]
Come in.

Riga.

[Turning to her husband, in a low voice.]

Who is it?

BiSTONE.

Who do you think? Somebody on his way!
[Aloud.] Come in!

Leopoldo.

[Enters. He wears a heavy, dark blue jacket and
a Basque cap. Those who have seen his kind
at once recognize a sailor from the large
merchant vessels. He is about thirty; the
sea, the sun, the wind have engraved a few
deep wrinkles upon his countenance, render-
ing it more solid, more handsome.

Good evening, shepherds! [He shakes the water off
him and goes to hang his cap upon a chair near the



Water Upon Fire 47

fireplace, saying] May I? For a downpour like this
I should have had m}^ oilskin along!

BiSTONE.

You're a stranger, eh? Won't you sit down and
have something with us? . . . But no, first . . .
take off that jacket. It's soaking wet. I'll get you a
dry one ... a bit ripped, of course . . . the best
that we poor shepherd folk can afford . . . but it's
dry!

Leopoldo.

No, no, thanks! Don't disturb yourself.

BiSTONE.

You'll do well to change . . . Take my advice.
No use talking, when . . .

Leopoldo.

Let me have my way; never fear. My shoulders
are well accustomed to the weather! I'd far rather
take off these shoes for a moment; I bought them
specially for tramping over these mountains. They
must be made of elephant hide! Ah, that's better!
. . . I'm too used to feeling my feet free!

GiGI.

[Looks at the newcomer with diffident indiffer-
ence, and crunches his potatoes.



48 Water Upon Fire

Riga.
[Examines the stranger closely^ with great
difficulty holding hack the questions that
come to her lips. She seems not very well dis-
posed toward him.

Leopoldo.

[With his naturally swift movements he has
taken from his valise a pair of Spanish
ZAPATiLLAS and has exchanged them for his
coarse, mountaineers' hoots. He strides
downstage from the fireplace with satisfied
gait.

BiSTONE.

To' ! There's a lively chap for you! ... By
Diana! How quick you are! I wish you could teach
a little of that to my son there!

[Points to Gigi.]

Riga.

[Coming to a resolution.]

But . . . here ... in a manner of speaking
. . . How under the sun did you ever land up in
these parts? . . . You could have been so comfort-
able in the city!

BiSTONE.

[Shouting.]

And what business is that of yours, busybody?
[To Leopoldo]. Don't say a word. Understand?
Not a breath! . . . For I don't care to know a
thing! ... No use talking! . . . Take a seat here



Water Upon Fire 49

right away [strikes the table with his palm] and have a
bite. Afterwards, if it please you to talk, you'll
tell us who you are, so that we may remember you.
Understand? [To Riga, irritated.] Since when, in
this humble cabin of mine, has any one ever asked
''Who are you?" of a Christian who comes for
shelter? The longer a man lives, the more he learns
of a woman's queer ways! Give him a slice of cheese,
Riga . . . the cheese we started yesterday! [Riga,
with ill grace, does as she is hidden.] Here you are,
and welcome . . . Shepherd folks' food . . . No
use talking . . . My dear sir . . . How shall I call
you?

Leopoldo.
Leopoldo.

BiSTONE.

My dear Signer Leopoldo! . . . Just taste a bit of
our mountaineers' fare!

Leopoldo.

If we only could have it always at seia! When
we're ashore we see to it that we eat like lords, sure
enough! But at sea . . . ! You wouldn't eat what
we have to take sometimes!

[Riga, seated in a corner of the fireplace, cocks
her ear. — Gigi has finished his potatoes and
bread, and placing the plate upon the floor
resumes his sleeping posture. Leopoldo
extracts from his pocket a Catalonian knife
that glistens like a mirror; he opens it, and
Bistone and Riga are stricken with admira-



50 Water Upon Fire

tion for its three springs. Riga^s amazement
is compounded of fear and mistrust.]

BiSTONE.

A fine instrument!

Leopoldo.
Fine, eh? ... I bought this in America. Did you
ever hear of America?

BiSTONE.

All of eighteen years ago. I had just been married.
One day a fellow came up this way and told a heap
of tales. . . You should have heard him! . . .

Leopoldo.
He wanted to take you to America, too, didn't
he?

BiSTONE.

Sure enough! How do you know? . . .

Leopoldo.
My good man! You don't have to be a magician to
guess that! There must be hundreds Mke him scour-
ing all Italy in search of laborers to take back to
America! But why didn't you go? . . . It's a great
coxmtry! You who Uve on sheep . . . There's a
kind of sheep yonder that has tails so long and thick
that they have to be tied to the animals' crupper!
I've seen some fine specimens . . . The tail alone
weighed eight kilos! . . .



Water Upon Fire 51

BiSTONE AND RiGA.

[Together.]
Oo-o-o-ooh!

[Gigi begins to snore.]

Leopoldo.

Upon my word! As far as I'm concerned, to tell
the truth, I'm indifferent . . . But you! . . . Who
can say how delighted you would have been! We
sailors are too used to seeing a world of wonderful
things. There's nothing now that can take us by
surprise . . . except beautiful maidens!

BiSTONE.

[Without enthusiasm, and even with a slight
trace of instinctive hostility.]

So you're a man of the sea, are you? One of those
who sails in the ships . . . and goes all around the
world . . . and carry goods ... I see, now . . .
I see ! And how does it happen that you come up here
to visit us shepherd folk, who are born and die inside
a tiny cabin? [From the distance comes the sound of a
sheep hell. He turns at once to Riga.] Do you hear the
bell, Riga? [Then to Gigi.] Gigi, by Diana! What did
I tell you before? Go and lock up the sheep and call
Oliva . . . Tell her to come here at once. [With an
effort, Gigi rises and leaves, adjusting his sash around
his waist. — To Gigi.] Oh, and see to it that ''la
Rossaccia" is there. Don't do as you did this past
Saturday . . . [As if to himself.] With all this fine
talk I'd half forgotten about the little goat.



52 Water Upon Fire

[Gigi has left the door open. The rain has
ceased. The sky, covered with dark clouds,
has hastened night.]

Leopoldo.
Is this Oliva a daughter of yours?

BiSTONE.

[Nods affirmatively.]
Gigi.

[Outside.]
Oliva-a-a-a-a! . . .

Leopoldo.
A pretty name!

Oliva.

[Outside, from a distance.]
E-e-e-e-h! . . .

Gigi.

[Outside, as he returns.]

Come ho-o-o-o-ome ! . . . I'm locking up the
sheep toni-i-i-i-ight! . . .

Leopoldo.

And who can tell how many children you have!
You shepherds economize on everything . . .
except that!

BiSTONE.

No, no. I haven't so many! Only six of them
Hving.

Riga.

[Inquisitive.]
And you? Have you any children?



Water Upon Fire 53

[Oliva enters, almost running and somewhat out
of breath. She has heard her mother's
question, and turns her eijes to see to whom it
is addressed. She hears the reply which comes
instantly, hut distractedly, from Leopoldo,
whose eyes are fixed upon Oliva' s beautiful
face and shapely person.

Leopoldo.
I? No, no, no! Free as a fish! [Then, with sailor-
like gallantry.] Good evening, Oliva! ...

Oliva.

[In surprise, she eyes Leopoldo from top to
toe, then blushing all over she lowers her
glance and murmurs.]

Happy evening.

Riga.

Father wants to take you to see la Monica. He
says she's ill. But you must eat first.

Oliva.

La Monica ill? I must go to her at once. . . .

What*s the matter with her, father?

BiSTONE.

[To Riga.]

There! See? . . . She has more sense than you!

Riga.

And such sense . . . Oliva's^ got to eat now. I
must have my way sometimes! [To Oliva.] And you
listen to what he says, ninny! Can't you see that



54 Water Upon Fire

if we'd have believed him all the time those three
little goats would have died ten times over . . .
Once it was la Calzetta Nera who couldn't swallow
any more; another time, la Rosa was certain to
die while giving birth. Remember, Oliva? Still
another. . . .

BiSTONE.

That's right! ... A fine time for your long
speeches! . . . Listen to me, Oliva. Your Monica is
a goner for sure! No use talking! . . .

Oliva.

Be good, father! You run to her in the meantime.
I'll satisfy mamma. I'll eat a bite and then come
right away. All right?

BiSTONE.

Uhm! . . .

[He goes out grumbling. Oliva takes a slice of
bread from the table and begins chewing it
without sitting down before Bistone's place,
where Riga has put the plate of potato salad.
She seems agitated ^ intimidated, but also
fairly drawn by the glance of the guest, who,
since her arrival, has not ceased for an
instant to stare at her.]

Riga.

So much the better . . . He's gone!

[She sets to work polishing some milk buckets
with ashes from ihe hearth. — Pause.]



Water Upon Fire 55

Leopoldo.

[Breaks the silence with a tender voice that does
not seem to he his own.]

Why don't you have a seat, beautiful Oliva? Are
you afraid of the sailor man? . . . The sailor man
has a hard skin, but a soft heart! . . .

Oliva.
Thanks.

[Timidly she approaches the table, hui does not
take a seat. At the word ''sailor'^ a slight
gesture of admiration escapes her.]

Leopoldo.

You're in a hurry to see your little goat . . . eh?
You are so fond of them, aren't you? ... of those
little creatures of yours!

Oliva.

I'm a shepherdess! After mother and father, they
are closest to my heart ... I don't suppose you're
over fond of them. . .

Leopoldo.

And you, just tell me — are you fond of the
sear ...

Oliva.

I? . . . Why . . . but first I should Uke to know
whether a certain thing is true .. . . Can you read?

Leopoldo.
Yes.



56 Water Upon Fire

Oliva.
Then . . . [louder] Mother, give him Memmo's
letter. [To Leopoldo.] That's my brother, who's a
soldier. They've just sent him to such a far country!
Perhaps you've been there? Ge . . . Genoa. . .

Leopoldo.
Eh! Genoa! The deuce! To us sailors that's as
familiar and homehke a place as your hut to you
shepherds !

[During a pause, until Riga returns from the
adjoining room with the letter^ he gazes
fixedly at Oliva.]

Riga.
Poor Memmo. There was a real son for you. Not
the scamp you saw there. [Poi7its to the pallet.]
Couldn't they have taken this one? ... I don't
know what to do with him! No. They had to take
just that one and no other.

Oliva.
Console yourself, mother! Only five months more.
. . . They'll pass quickly enough.

Riga.
Here. [Kisses the letter, hands it to Leopoldo, and
then, to herself.] If he'd only write again at once!

Oliva.
See if you can find the place where he speaks of the
sea. . . It must be after. . .



Water Upon Fire 57

Leopoldo.

[Reading with effort.]

Here it is, if I'm not mistaken: ''At last, after
having heard so much talk of it, I've seen the ocean
with my own eyes. What a meadow that would
make if God had created it of earth instead of water.
How can I ever make you understand it all, OUva? "

Oliva.
How big is the ocean?

Leopoldo.

My dear girl! You could travel for months and
months over it, without ever seeing land in any
direction! And then the ocean is deep . . . how
can I explain it? . . . If you took all these moun-
tains of yours, and threw them in, not even a tree
top would be left sticking out of the water. Can
you imagine that? . . .

Oliva.

Poor little me! It gets me crazy to think of it!
. . . Read a Httle more . . . I do so like to hear you
read . . .

Leopoldo.

Yes? . . . Imagine that, now! ... ''A friend of
mine, a sailor, just married a good-looking girl who's
the daughter of a fisherman. What a celebration!
they invited me and I certainly had a great time!
. . . But then, think of a sailor's^ hfe! After a single
month of wedded life, he sets sail and is away for a
year!"



58 Water Upon Fire

Oliva.
But can that be true? . . . You tell me! . . .

Leopoldo.

Of course! That's the kind of Ufe we lead, my
dear Uttle girl. It's all a saying good-bye from the
time you're born till you die! . . . Those who love
us must be forever weeping! . . . You, Ohva —
you wouldn't marry a sailor, would you? . . .

Oliva.

[Hesitating.]
Weeping is no sin.

Leopoldo.

Well said! But suppose you were to choose
between a shepherd who comes home every evening
. . . and a sailor who goes away and is never sure
of returning. And he goes so far away that you read
his letters a month after they were written . . .
And even if he writes, " I am well, and have had a
fine voyage!" you're unable to smile, because even
as you read ... he may be the prey of some shark!

Oliva.

{Becoming serious and almost offended at these
last words.]

Don't say such horrid things! . . . Read just a
tiny bit more, rather . . . Does he say anything else
about the ocean?



Water Upon Fire 59

Leopoldo.

[Glancing through the letter.]

Here . . . ''And how these fellows do love the
sea! We men of the mountain aren't very much in
their eyes! [He laughs.] They'd wish to have all the
world one big ocean! But I say to myself: then what
would become of our little creatures? Where would
they find pasture?"

Oliva.

There! You see, it's true that you're not fond of
sheep! . . .

Leopoldo.

That's because we have our own sheep! ... If
you could only see them, Oliva! . . When the
fresh breeze rises, they swarm over the sea's great
plain. . . . They're whiter than yours, and there's
millions of them. . . . And no one watches over
them, for they all flock together. . . They have
no master, nobody knows whence they come nor
whither they're bound, they don't let themselves
be shorn, nor even milked . . . But they're so
beautiful ... so free . . . yonder . . . upon the
water! If you could only see them, Oliva . . .

Oliva.
What kind of sheep can they be?

Leopoldo.

They're made of white foam, Oliva! And the wind
creates them, and they dash and leap over the
waves! . . . Sometimes, when I'm not on watch,



6o Water Upon Fire

instead of sleeping I gaze at them, leaning like this
[he rests his elbows upon the table and presses his fists
against his temples] against the gunwale for an hour
at a time! . . .

Oliva.

Then do as I do! . , . When I sit on the hill top
and watch over my poor Uttle darhngs . . . who
walk hither and thither so softly . . . and turn
about me . . . browsing among the rocks, and
gazing at me every other moment out of those clear
little eyes . . . There's no danger of my gro^dng
weary under that sun! . . . And all you hear is a
wasp buzzing through the air . . . Eh! If you were
to stay a little while yonder on that hill, you'd learn
to love those little darhngs of mine. . . .

Leopoldo.

Eh! ... If I were there . . . Oliva! ... it
would be far easier for me to learn to love you ! . . .

[While this conversation has been going on,
Riga has twice gone into and returned from
the adjoining room where her little ones are
abed. Twice she has resumed her hard
chores, when anew comes the sounds of an
infant's whimpering,]

Riga.

Go see what's ailing Settimo, will you, Oliva? He
won't give me a moment's rest this evening. . .



Water Upon Fire 6i

Oliva.

[Rudely waked from a heautifid vision into
which Leopoldo's words had lulled her. She
hardly understands her mother's words, then,
with a short exclamation runs into the room.]

Riga.

[Leaving her work for a moment and turning to
Leopoldo.]

Now you'll tell me, won't you, Signor Leopoldo?
Whatever put it into your head to climb up into
these mountains? I didn't want to offend you
before . . . You understood! .». . That blockhead
of a Bistone doesn't know what he's about . . .
Was there anything wrong in my asking? . . .

Leopoldo.

Wrong? The deuce! I'll tell you right away:
I accompanied a friend of mine, poor devil . . .
One of those friends whose like can never be found!
[Very sad.]

Riga.

What happened to him? . , . Dead? . . .

Leopoldo.

No . . . But to me it's the same as if he had
died ! He married a country girl : a certain Virginia
. . . fromRifiglio . . . Perhaps you know her? . . .

Riga.
[Pauses for a moment j then shakes her head.]



62 Water Upon Fire

Leopoldo.

A beautiful blonde . . . Enough said! He fell
in love with her one day in Florence. They went
out together and from that day on he has had eyes
for nothing else! . . . But she didn't want to
marry a sailor. . . and he — nobody could stop
him — looked about until he found a job in a factory.
And yesterday they were married! . . .

Riga.

You don't say!

Oliva.

[After having heard Leopoldo^ s tale from behind
the partition door, unseen.]

You'd better go to him, mamma. He pays no
attention to me . . . Hear him?

Riga.

Benedetto! . . . What can be the matter with
him this evening? Someone must have cast an evil
eye upon him! ...

Leopoldo.

But such an evil eye! . . . [Looking upon Oliva
with desire, and happy to be left for a moment alone
with her.] He wants his mother. . . that's easily
understood !

Riga.

[Goes into the next room ill-humoredly.
Oliva returns to her former position, and
remains standing. The mesh of dreams in
which she has been caught weaves all around



Water Upon Fire 63

her soul. She stares fixedly at the floor, follow-
ing some happy fancy of hers.]

Leopoldo.

[After a brief silence.]
What are you thinking of, OHva?

Riga.

[Singing in the next room.]

" I saw a siren in mid-ocean
Upon a reef, and she was weeping, weeping."

Oliva.
I was thinking that there are some happy persons
in the world! ...

Riga.

[As above.]
"I've seen so many fishes cry
At the sad words she said!"

Leopoldo.
How beautiful you are, OHva! Perhaps . . . who
knows ... if you loved me, I, too, might be happy!
[Arises and approaches her from behind, glancing
furtively toward the partition door and the door at the
rear.]

Riga.

[As above.]

" My handsome little son, never fall in love,
Who falls in love can never be saved!"



64 Water Upon Fire

Leopoldo.

Eh! . . . Oliva! ... do you hear that song?
Who can tell how it ever came up to these heights!
It's the song that all the mothers sing where I
come from! . . . They all say, Don't fall in
love! . . . And we sail all around the globe, escape
from the mouths of sharks . . . and on one fine
day look into two eyes, and if they look back, we're
done for . . . They must have sung the same song
to you, Oliva, when you were a little one . . .
Otherwise ... ,

Oliva.

I? Who told you so?

Leopoldo.

[Embracing her.]

Don't you think that when this little heart cries
out it can be heard even outside? . . . When you see
a nest, do you have to break it to find out whether
there's a brood inside? . . .

Oliva.

[Girlishly.]

I never break them. . . . understand? I never,
never break nests ! When I was a little girl, well , . .
I did, then, for I was bad . . . But it's a long time
since there's been any danger of that . . . Some-
times, do you know what I do? I climb up to a
nest, and every fledgling I find I kiss on its little
head . . . Then I leave it twittering and run
away! . . .



Water Upon Fire 65

Leopoldo.

[With a rapid gesture he encircles Oliva's head.]
A kiss upon its little head! . . . Let me give you
one, too! . . [He kisses her passionately upon the
cheek.]

[Bistone's heavy steps are heard. Leopoldo
frees Oliva, who runs toward the room in
which Riga is putting the children to sleep.]



Oliva.

[With forced calm,]
Mamma . . . Has he fallen asleep?

[While Leopoldo drops into a chair, his head
resting upon his right palm and his elbow
\upon the table, Bistone comes in with the
[goat across his shoulder.]

Bistone.

[Stopping as soon as he enters.]

Oliva? . . . Riga? . . . What? They've left you
here all alone? . . . And I was going to wait for her.
Much thought these women give to the animals,
eh? If it weren't for me! No use talking! Here
she is [laying the goat upon the pallet.] She might
have died.

Leopoldo. ^

[Gathering his wits, somewhat distractedly.]
It's very ill, eh? . . .



66 Water Upon Fire

BiSTONE.

[As if recalling.]

I had you in mind, too, you may be sure. I told

"Dente di legno" to pass this way, so that he can

mount you on a donkey ... In a couple of hours

you'll reach the Quattro Strade.

Leopoldo.
But . . . with this heavy downpour . . .

BiSTONE.

[Laughing.]

To'! What have you been doing all this time?

Haven't you seen how starry the sky is? Just come

and take a look. See how many there are . . . And

it's not yet night.

Leopoldo.

By God ! [Arises and steps outside the door, followed
by Bistone.]

BiSTONE.

If I were to present you with as many sheep as
there are stars in the sky this minute, I'll wager
my head that you'd become a shepherd, too.

Leopoldo.

How beautiful! And what a delicious cool
breeze! . . . [He remains gazing at the horizon about
him while Bistone strides grumblingly to the door at
the right.]

BiSTONE.

[Shouting.]
Oliva! By Diana!



Water Upon Fire 67

Riga.

[From within, her voice stifled with rage.]
Stop that bawling! ... I had just fallen asleep,
too! Go, Oliva!

[In a moment Oliva appears, still utterly con-
fused. As if shunning her father's glances
she sits down beside the goat.]

BiSTONE.

[Takes the oil lamp from the table and carries
it near to the pallet.]

And I was going to wait for you, Oliva! Even you
no longer care for these poor little creatures. Just
look at it ... it doesn't move . . . and the red
eyes it has! . . . And she's burning as if she were
baked! What do you think ails her? . . .



Oliva.



[Murmuring.]



Why! [Continues to stroke the goat.]

Riga.

[Coming in.]

Very well . . . Let's have a look . . . Let's see
. . Is she dead yet? [Ironically.]

Leopoldo.

[Returns. — The yearning for some distant
port has already transfigured his counte-
nance. He approaches Oliva and she, for a
moment, suspends her examination, without
however raising her eyes.]



68 Water Upon Fire

So then? She's really very sick . . Poor little
creature! . . .

BiSTONE.

What do you say to that? Oliva ought to under-
stand! The other time she gave la Rosa a certain
drink of her own brewing . . . No use talking . . .
The creature got well and was better than ever ! But
today . . . She seems half in tears . . . What do I
know? . . . There must be something on her
mind! . . .

Riga. '

Well, Oliva! We're waiting to hear what you have
to say. Why so silent?

Oliva.

She . . . she's sick, all right . . . But I . . •
I can't say what's the trouble with her.

Riga.

[Laughing.]
She must be in love, then!

[Dragging footsteps are heard. Leopoldo is the
only one who turns to look at the newcomer.
It is Gigi. The youth sees them all staring
at the pallet, so he looks, too. Having learned
what the matter is, he turns without a word
toward the fireplace, where the wood is still
burning, and sits down as comfortably as
possible upon the stone.]



Water Upon Fire 69

BiSTONE.

Examine her well, Oliva. It doesn't seem possible!
This time it seems you don't care to cure her. Look
into her ears. Try to make her drink something,
and see how she swallows it . . . No use talking . . .
Just look at her.

Leopoldo.

[Takes a hasin, fills it from a jug and hands it
to Oliva.]

Here, Oliva. See if it's her throat that's bothering
her.

[Oliva, in the greatest confusion, takes the basin
and thrusts the goafs snout into it, while the
three bend over to watch the result. Pause.]

Riga.

She swallows it real well! I told you so! She's in
love! . . . That's all that ails her! Let her have a
good sleep, and tomorrow she'll be romping about . . .
Better go to milk, for the night's already an hour
old . . . [Goes to the fireplace, hurriedly gets the
milk pails readij, while Bistone, sulking, empties the
basin of water.]

Leopoldo.

An hour? It must be eight! By God! How
quickly the time flew! [As if in meditation.] And
tomorrow evening ... at this hour ... on the
sea again!



70 Water Upon Fire

Oliva.

[With a piercing cry.]
Oh the sea . . . Tomorrow evening! . . .

[Leopoldo looks distractedly at Riga and
Bistone, so that Oliva may gaze at him to her
heart's content. She fixes her desperate virginal
eyes upon his hardy, handsome features.
During this instant, amidst the stupidity
of Gigi, the unconscious egoism of Leopoldo
and the simplicity of her parents, a silent
drama reaches its climax in Oliva's tender


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