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The Moro immediately fired off, with all placidity and sweetness, three
or four sacrilegious oaths against God and the sacraments, as if he
were reciting an Ave, and drew the conclusion that he knew as much
about it as a member of the clergy.

"There, there, you see!" said Don Rocco, squirming more than ever. "You
are beginning badly, my son. You want to confess, and you blaspheme!"

"Oh, you mustn't notice little things like that," answered the Moro. "I
assure you that the Lord doesn't bother about it. It is a habit, so to
speak, of the tongue, nothing more."

"Beastly habits, beastly habits," pronounced Don Rocco, frowning and
looking into his handkerchief, which he held under his nose with both

"In fine, I am going to confess," insisted the man. "Hush, now, don't
say no! You will hear some stiff ones."

"Not now, really not now," protested Don Rocco, rising. "You are not
prepared at present. We will now thank the Lord and the Virgin who have
touched your heart, and then you will go home. To-morrow you will come
to holy Mass, and after Mass we will meet together again."

"Very well," answered the Moro. "Go ahead."

Don Rocco got down on his knees near the lounge and, with his head
turned, seemed to wait for the other to follow his example.

"Go ahead," said the Moro. "I have a bad knee and will say my prayers

"Very well; sit here on the sofa, near me, where you will be more
comfortable; accompany my words with your heart, and keep your eyes
fixed on that crucifix in front of you. Come, like a good fellow, and
we will pray the Lord and the Virgin to keep you in so good a state of
mind that you may have the fortune to make a good confession. Come,
like a good, devout fellow!"

Having said this, Don Rocco began to recite Paters and Aves, often
devoutly raising his knitted brows. The Moro answered him from his seat
on the sofa. He seemed to be the confessor and the priest the penitent.

Finally, Don Rocco crossed himself and got up.

"Now sit right here while I confess," said the Moro, as if there were
nothing against it. But Don Rocco caught him up. Had they not already
arranged that he should confess the next day? But the other would not
listen with that ear, and continued hammering away at his request with
obstinate placidity.

"Let us stop this," he said, all at once. "Pay attention, for I am

"But I tell you that it is not possible and that I will not have it,"
replied Don Rocco. "Go home, I tell you! I am going to bed at once."

He started to leave; but the Moro was too quick for him, rushed to the
door, locked it, and put the key in his pocket.

"No, sir! you don't go out of here! Might I not die to-night? Wouldn't
I, if the Lord just blew on me like this?"

And he blew on the petroleum lamp and put it out.

"And if I go to hell," he continued in a sepulchral voice, in the dark,
"you will go there too!"

The poor priest, at this unexpected violence, in the midst of this
darkness, lost his presence of mind. He no longer knew where he was,
and kept saying, "Let us go, let us go," trying to find the sofa,
beating the air with his extended hands. The Moro lighted a match on
his sleeve, and Don Rocco had a glimpse of the table, of the chairs,
and of his strange penitent, before it became darker than ever.

"Could you see? Now I shall begin; with the biggest sin. It is fifteen
years since I have been to confession, but my biggest sin is that I
have made love to that ugly creature, your servant."

"Body of Bacchus!'" involuntarily exclaimed Don Rocco.

"If I am familiar with the kitchen," continued the Moro, "it is because
I must have come here fifty times of an evening when you were not here,
to eat and drink with Lucia. Perhaps you have even found that some few
francs were missing..."

"I know nothing about it; no, I know nothing about it!" mumbled Don

"Some of those few small bills in your box, first compartment to the
left at the bottom."

Don Rocco gave forth a low exclamation of surprise and pain.

"Now, as for me, I have gotten through stealing," continued he; "but
that witch would carry off even your house. She is a bad woman, a bad
woman! We must get rid of her. Do you remember that shirt that you
missed last year? I have it on now and she gave it to me. I cannot give
it back because..."

"Never mind, don't bother, never mind," interrupted Don Rocco. "I'll
give it to you."

"Then there were some glasses of wine, but I didn't drink them all
myself. And then there is the silver snuff-box with the portrait of
Pius Ninth."

"Body of Bacchus!" exclaimed Don Rocco, who thought he still had in his
box that precious snuff-box given him by an old colleague. "That also?"

"I drank it; yes, sir, it took me fifteen days. Do not get excited, for
we are in confession."

"What's that?"

It was a noise against the gate of the courtyard. A hard knock or a

"It is evil-doers," said the Moro. "Rascally night-birds. Or perhaps
some sick person. I'll go at once to find out."

"Yes, yes," said Don Rocco hastily.

"I will go and return to-morrow," continued the other, "for I see that
you certainly do not care to confess me to-night."

He took out some matches and re-lighted the lamp, saying:

"Listen, Don Rocco, I want to be an honest man and work; but I must
change my residence, and for the first few days how can I get along?
You understand what I mean."

Don Rocco scratched his head.

"You are to come to-morrow morning of course," he said.

"Naturally! But I have a few debts here; and going around in broad
daylight, I should like to show my face without being ashamed."

"Very well," responded Don Rocco, frowning considerably, but in a
benevolent tone. "Wait a moment."

He took a lamp, left the sitting-room, and returned immediately with a
ten-franc bill.

"Here you are," said he.

The man thanked him and left, accompanied by the priest, who carried
the lamp as far as the middle of the courtyard and waited there until
the Moro called to him from outside the gateway that no one was there.
Then Don Rocco went to close the gate, and re-entered the house.

He could not go to bed at once. He was too agitated. Body of Bacchus!
he kept repeating to himself. Body of Bacchus! One could hardly have
imagined so extraordinary a case, and for it to happen to him, of all
men! His head felt as confused as when he played at tresette and did
not understand the game and every one badgered him. What a chaos there
was in that head of good and of bad, of bitterness and of consolation!
The more extraordinary did the thing appear to him, with the greater
faith, with the more timorous reverence, did he refer it all to the
hand of God. In thinking over his entrance into the kitchen, and that
man seated at the hearth, memory gave him a stronger spasm of fear than
the reality had, and it was immediately succeeded by mystic admiration
of the hidden ways of the Lord. Certainly Lucia's fault was a bitter
one, but how clearly the design of Providence could be seen in it! It
led a man to the house of the priest; through sin to grace. What a
great gift he had received from God, he the last of the priests of the
parish, one of the last of the diocese! A soul so lost, so hardened in
evil! He felt scruples at having allowed himself to be moved too
strongly by the deception of his servant, the loss of the snuff-box.
Kneeling by his bed, he recited, amid rapid winks, an interminable
series of Paters, Aves, and Glorias, and prayed the Lord, St. Luke, and
St. Rocco to help him in properly directing this still immature
confession. Heavens! to come to confession with a string of oaths and
to accuse others more than himself! To Don Rocco the heart of the Moro
appeared under an image which pleased him, it seemed so new and clear.
A healthy fruit with a first spot of decay; only in his case the image
was reversed.

When he had gone to bed and was lying on his side, ready to sleep, it
occurred to him that the next day Lucia would arrive. This thought
immediately suggested another, and made him turn right over flat on his

It brought up, in fact, a grave problem. Had the Moro spoken of Lucia
in confession or not? Don Rocco remembered that he had made no remark
when the man, having blown out the light, declared that he wished to
confess. Neither had he done so later when the man said: "Don't get
excited, for we are in confession." Therefore, there was at least a
grave doubt that this had been a real confession; and even if the
penitent had afterwards interrupted it, this did not in the least
detract from its sacramental character, had it existed; and,
consequently, what about Lucia? And his answer to the Countess
Carlotta? Body of Bacchus! It seemed the case of Sigismondo. Don Rocco
cast a formidable frown at the ceiling.

He remembered the pereat mundus, and the arguments of that well of
science, that extraordinary man, the professor. It would be impossible
now to send away Lucia. And finally the dark words of Countess Carlotta
were quite clear to him. He himself must leave: pereat Rochus.

The hour was striking in the clock tower. The voice of the clock was
dear to him by night. His rugged heart softened somewhat, and Satan saw
his chance to show him the peaceful little church surrounded by the
cypresses, his own, all his own, and a certain fig tree that was dear
to him under the bell-tower; he made him feel the sweetness of the
cells rendered holy by so many pious souls of old, the sweetness of
living in that quiet niche of St. Luke, so well suited to his humble
person, in the exercise of a ministry of deed and of word, without
worldly aims and without responsibility of souls. Satan further showed
him the difficulty of finding a good place; reminded him of the needs
of his old father and his sister, poor peasants, one of them now too
old and the other too infirm to gain their livelihood by working. And
Satan finally turned casuist and sought to prove that, without
betraying the secret, he could still send away the servant on some
pretext, or even with none. But at this suggestion of profiting by the
confession Don Rocco raised such a frightful frown that the devil fled
without waiting for more. Let him keep Lucia, then, and let her see to
it that she followed the sacred text: Nemo potest duobus dominis
servire. Just see how the words of holy writ fitted the occasion! Don
Rocco sought to mentally stitch together the last sentences of his
sermon, but it was too fatiguing an attempt for him. He might have
succeeded, however, had he not fallen asleep in the midst of a most
difficult passage.


He slept little and arose at dawn. Before going down he stepped to the
window to consult the weather. In stepping back his eyes fell on the
entrance to the cellar. It was open.

Don Rocco went down to the cellar, and came out again with a most
unusual expression. The wine was no longer there. Neither wine nor
cask. But outside there were fresh marks of wheels.

Don Rocco followed these as far as the main road. There they
disappeared. There remained but a short curve from the edge to the
middle of the road into the labyrinth of all the other wheel tracks.
Don Rocco did not think at that time to go in search of the authorities
in order to make a complaint. Ideas came to him very slowly, and
perhaps this particular one would not be due before midday.

On the contrary he returned, wrapped in meditation, to St. Luke. "Those
blows," said he to himself, "that stone thrown! It is fortunate that
the Moro was with me then; otherwise, he would have been suspected." He
went back to the cellar entrance, examined minutely the fractured door,
contemplated the place where the cask had stood, and, scratching his
head, went into the church to repeat some prayers.


At Mass there was a crowd. Both before and after it there was a great
deal of talk of the theft. Everybody wanted to see the empty cellar,
the broken door, the traces of the wheels.

Two bottles which had escaped the thieves disappeared into the pockets
of one of the faithful. No one understood how the priest could have
avoided noticing something; because he did assert without further
explanation that he had heard nothing. The women were sorry for him,
but the men for the most part admired the deed and laughed at the poor
priest, who had the great fault, in their eyes, of being abstemious and
not knowing how to mingle with people with that easy-going fraternity
which comes only from emptying the wine glass together.

They laughed, especially during the sermon, at the deep frown on the
priest's face, which they attributed to the empty cellar.

No one mentioned the Moro. Neither did he appear at St. Luke, either at
the Mass or afterwards; so that poor Don Rocco was full of scruples and
remorse, fearing that he had not conducted the affair properly. But
quite late the police arrived, examined everything, and questioned the
priest. Had he no suspicions? No, none. Where did he sleep? How did it
happen that he had not heard? Really, he did not know himself; there
had been people in the house. At what time? Some time between eleven
and one o'clock. One of the police smiled knowingly, but Don Rocco,
innocent as a child, did not notice it. The other one asked if he did
not suspect a certain Moro, knowing, as they did, that shortly before
eleven o'clock he had been seen going up to St. Luke. At once Don Rocco
showed great fervor in protesting that the man was certainly innocent,
and, somewhat pressed by questions, brought forth his great reason: it
was precisely the Moro who had visited him at that hour, on his own
business. "Perhaps it was not on the business that you think," said the
policeman. "If you knew what I think!" Don Rocco did not know, and in
his humble placidity did not wish to know. He never bothered himself
with the thoughts of others. It was sufficiently difficult for him to
get a little lucidity into his own. They asked him a few more
questions, and then left, carrying with them the only object that they
found in the cellar, a corkscrew, which the scrupulous Don Rocco was
not willing, through the uncertainty of his memory, to claim as
belonging to him, although he had paid his predecessor twice the value
of it. And now his cellar and his conscience were equally clear.

Towards dusk on the same day Don Rocco was reading the office, walking
up and down for a little exercise without going far from the house. Who
could tell? Perhaps that man might yet come. Every now and then Don
Rocco would stop and listen. He heard nothing but the voices of
wagon-drivers on the plain below, the noise of wheels, the barking of
dogs. Finally there was a step on the little path that led down through
the cypress trees; a step slow but not heavy, a lordly step, with a
certain subdued creak of ecclesiastical shoes; a step which had its
hidden meaning, expressing to the understanding mind a purpose which,
though not urgent, was serious.

The gate opened, and Don Rocco, standing in the middle of the
courtyard, saw the delicate, ironical face of Professor Marin.

The professor, when he perceived Don Rocco, came to a stand, with his
legs well apart, his hands clasped behind his back, silently wagging
his head and his shoulders from right to left, and smiling with an
inexpressible mixture of condolence and banter. Poor Don Rocco on his
side looked at him, also silent, smiling obsequiously, red as a tomato.

"The whole business, eh?" finally said the professor, cutting short his
mimicry and becoming serious.

"Yes, the whole business," answered Don Rocco in sepulchral tones.
"They didn't leave a drop."

"Thunder!" exclaimed the other, stifling a laugh; and he came forward.

"It is nothing, nothing at all, you know, my son," said he with sudden
good nature. "Give me a pinch. It is nothing," he continued, taking the
snuff. "These are things that can be remedied. The Countess Carlotta
has made so much wine that, as I say, for her a few casks more, a few
casks less... You understand me! She is a good woman, my son, the
Countess Carlotta; a good woman."

"Yes, good, good," mumbled Don Rocco, looking into his snuff-box.

"You are a lucky man, my dear," continued Marin, slapping him on the
shoulder. "You are as well off here as the Pope."

"I am satisfied, I am satisfied," said Don Rocco, smiling and smoothing
out his brows for a moment. It pleased him to hear these words from an
intimate friend of the Countess Carlotta.

The professor gazed around admiringly as if he saw the place for the
first time. "It is a paradise!" said he, letting his eyes pass along
the dirty walls of the courtyard and then raising them to the fig tree
picturesquely hidden under the bell-tower in the high corner between
the gateway and the old convent.

"Only for that fig tree!" he added. "Is it not a beauty? Does it not
express the poetry of the southern winter, tepid and quiet? It is like
a word of sweetness, of happy innocence, tempering the severity of the
sacred walls. Beautiful!"

Don Rocco looked at his fig tree as if he saw it for the first time. He
was fond of it, but he had never suspected that it possessed such
wonderful qualities.

"But it gives little figs," said he, in the tone of a father who hears
his son praised in his presence and rejoices, but says something severe
lest he become puffed up, and also to hide his own emotion. Then he
invited the professor to make himself at home in the house.

"No, no, my dear," answered the professor, silently laughing at that
phrase about the little figs. "Let us take a short stroll: it is

Passing slowly across the courtyard, they came out into the vineyard,
whose festoons crowned both declivities of the hill, and they passed
along the easy, grassy ascent between one declivity and the other.

"It is delicious!" said the professor.

Between the immense cold sky and the damp shadows of the plain the last
glimpses of light were softly dying away on the grayish hill, on the
red vines, all at rest. The air was warm and still.

"Is all this yours?" asked the professor.

Don Rocco, perhaps through humility, perhaps through apprehension of
what the immediate future might bring, kept silence.

"Make up your mind to stay here, my son," continued he. "I know very
well, believe me, there is not another place as fortunate as this in
the whole diocese."

"Well, as for me!..." began Don Rocco.

Professor Marin stopped.

"By the way!" said he, "Countess Carlotta has spoken to me. Look here,
Don Rocco! I really hope that you will not be foolish!"

Don Rocco gazed savagely at his feet.

"Goodness!" continued the professor. "Sometimes the countess is
impossible, but this time, my dear son, she is right. You know that I
speak frankly. You are the only one here who does not know these
things. It is a scandal, my son! The whole village cries out against

"I have never heard, I have not..." mumbled Don Rocco.

"Now I tell you of it myself! and the countess has told you more than

"You know what I answered her last night?"

"They were absurd things that you said to her."

At this blow Don Rocco shook himself a little, and with his eyes still
lowered spoke up eagerly in his own defence.

"I answered according to my convictions, and now I cannot change."

He was humble-hearted, but here was a question of justice and truth. To
speak according to truth, according to what one believes to be the
truth, is a duty; therefore, why did they persecute him?

"You cannot change?" said the professor, bending over him and fixing on
his face two squinting eyes. "You cannot change?"

Don Rocco kept silent.

The professor straightened up and started on his walk again.

"Very well," he said, with ostentatious quiet. "You are at liberty to
do so."

He suddenly turned to Don Rocco, who was following him with heavy steps.

"Gracious!" he exclaimed with annoyance, "do you really think that you
have in your house a regular saint? Do you take no account of the
gossip, of the scandal? To go against the whole country, to go against
those who give you your living, to go against your own good, against
Providence, for that creature? Really, if I did not know you, my dear
Don Rocco, I would not know what to think."

Don Rocco squirmed, winking furiously, as if he were fighting against
secret anguish, and breathless, as if words were trying to break forth

"I cannot change; it is just that," said he when he got through his
grimaces. "I cannot."

"But why, in the name of heaven?"

"Because I cannot, conscientiously."

Don Rocco finally raised his eyes. "I have already told the countess
that I cannot go against justice."

"What justice! Your justice is blind, my dear. Blind, deaf, and bald.
And if you said a foolish thing yesterday do you wish to repeat it
again to-day? And if you do not believe what is said of Lucia are there
lacking reasons for sending away a servant? Send her away because she
does not take the spots off your coat, because she does not darn your
stockings. Anything! Send her away because she cooks your macaroni
without sauce, and your squash without salt."

"The real reason would always be the other one," answered Don Rocco

Even Professor Marin could not easily answer an argument of this kind.
He could only mumble between his teeth: "Holy Virgin, what a pig-head!"

They reached the few consumptive cypresses along the ridge that led
from the hill to another still higher hill. There they stopped again;
and the professor, who was fond of Don Rocco on account of his simple
goodness, and also because he could make him the butt of amiable
banter, made him sit down by his side on the grass, and attempted a
final argument, seeking in every way to extract from him his reasons
for continuing so long to believe in the innocence of Lucia; but he did
not succeed in getting at any result. Don Rocco kept always referring
to what he had said the evening before to Countess Carlotta, and
repeated that he could not change.

"Then, good-bye St. Luke, my son," said the resigned Marin.

Don Rocco began to wink furiously, but said not a word.

"The Countess Carlotta was expecting you today," said the professor,
"but you did not go to her. She therefore charged me to tell you that
if you did not immediately consent to send away Lucia on the first of
December, you will be free for the new year, and even before if you

"I cannot leave before Christmas," said Don Rocco timidly. "The parish
priest always needs assistance at that time."

The professor smiled.

"What do you suppose?" said he. "That Countess Carlotta hasn't a priest
ready and waiting? Think it over, for there is still time."

Don Rocco communed with himself. It rarely happened that he went
through so rapid a process of reasoning. Granted, that this woman was a
cause for scandal in the country, and that the countess had another
priest at her disposal, the decision to be taken was obvious.

"Then," he answered, "I will leave as soon as possible. My father and
my sister were to come and visit me one of these days. So that now it
will be I who will visit them instead."

He even had in his heart the idea of taking this woman away from the
village with him. His people had no need of a servant, and he, if he
delayed finding a place, would not be able to keep her. But certain
reasonable ideas, certain necessary things, never reached his heart,
and reached his head very late, and when they did Don Rocco would
either give himself a knock on the forehead, or a scratch behind, as if
it bothered him.

In returning to St. Luke the professor told how the police were in
search of the Moro, who was suspected as an accomplice in a recent
highway murder, certain authors of which had fallen that very morning
into the hands of justice. Don Rocco heard this not without
satisfaction; for he now was able to explain why the man had not come.
"Who knows," he made bold to say, "that he may not have gone away, and
that he may not return? And then all this gossip will come to an end.
Do you not think so?"

"Yes, my dear," answered the professor, who understood the point of his
discourse, "but you know the Countess Carlotta. Henceforth whether the
Moro goes or remains is of no consequence to her. Lucia must be

Don Rocco said no more, neither did the professor. The former
accompanied the latter as far as the church cypresses, stood looking
after him until he disappeared at the end of the lane, and then
returned, sighing, to his house. Later, when, bending under the weight

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Online LibraryVariousStories by Foreign Authors: Italian → online text (page 3 of 8)