Various.

Stories by Foreign Authors: Italian online

. (page 5 of 8)
Online LibraryVariousStories by Foreign Authors: Italian → online text (page 5 of 8)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook


balsamic odor of incense spread quickly to the nostrils of the devotees.

"Te rogamus, audi nos!"

But when the arm was carried back and the tolling stopped, in that
moment of silence a tinkling of little bells was heard near at hand
coming from the river road. Then of a sudden the crowd rushed in that
direction and many voices cried:

"It is Pallura with the candles! It is Pallura coming! Here's Pallura!"

The wagon came screeching over the gravel, drawn at a walk by a heavy
gray mare, over whose shoulders hung a great shining brass horn, like a
half-moon. When Giacobbe and the others made towards her, the pacific
animal stopped and breathed hard. Giacobbe, who reached the wagon
first, saw stretched out on its floor the bloody body of Pallura, and
screamed, waving his arms towards the crowd, "He is dead! He is dead!"



III.

The sad news spread like lightning. People crowded around the wagon,
and craned their necks to see, thinking no longer of the threats in the
sky, because struck by the unexpected happening and filled with that
natural ferocious curiosity which the sight of blood awakens.

"He is dead? What killed him?"

Pallura lay on his back upon the boards, with a broad wound in the
middle of his forehead, with one ear torn, with gashes on his arms, his
sides, and one thigh. A warm stream flowed down to his chin and neck,
staining his shirt and forming dark, shining clots on his breast, his
leathern belt, and even his breeches. Giacobbe hung over the body; all
the rest waited around him; an auroral flush lighted up their perplexed
faces; and at that moment of silence, from the river-bank arose the
song of the frogs, and bats skimmed back and forth above the heads of
the crowd.

Suddenly Giacobbe, straightening up, with one cheek bloody, cried:

"He is not dead. He still breathes."

A hollow murmur ran through the crowd, and the nearest strained forward
to look. The anxiety of those at a distance commenced to break into
clamor. Two women brought a jug of water, another some strips of linen.
A youth held out a gourd full of wine.

The wounded man's face was washed; the flow of blood from his forehead
was checked; his head was raised. Then voices inquired loudly the cause
of this deed. The hundred pounds of wax were missing; only a few
fragments of candles remained in the cracks of the wagon-bed.

In the commotion their minds grew more and more inflamed, exasperated,
and contentious. And as an old hereditary hatred burned in them against
the town of Mascalico, on the opposite bank of the river, Giacobbe said
venomously, in a hoarse voice:

"What if the candles have been offered to San Gonselvo?"

It was like the first flash of a conflagration! The spirit of
church-rivalry awoke all at once in these people brutalized by many
years of blind, savage worship of their own one idol. The fanatic's
words flew from mouth to mouth. And beneath the tragic dull-red sky,
the raging multitude resembled a tribe of mutinous gypsies.

The name of the saint broke from all throats, like a war-cry. The most
excited hurled curses towards the river, and waved their arms and shook
their fists. Then all these faces blazing with anger, and reddened also
by the unusual light, - all these faces, broad and massive, to which
their gold ear-rings and thick overhanging hair gave a wild, barbaric
character, - all these faces turned eagerly towards the man lying there,
and grew soft with pity. Women, with pious care, tried to bring him
back to life. Loving hands changed the cloths on his wounds, sprinkled
water in his face, set the gourd of wine to his lips, made a sort of
pillow under his head.

"Pallura, poor Pallura, won't you answer?" He lay supine, his eyes
closed, his mouth half open, with brown soft hair on his cheeks and
chin, the gentle beauty of youth still showing in his features
contracted with pain. From beneath the bandage on his forehead a mere
thread of blood trickled down over his temples; at the corners of his
mouth stood little beads of pale red foam, and from his throat issued a
faint broken hiss, like the sound of a sick man gargling. About him
attentions, questions, feverish glances multiplied. The mare from time
to time shook her head and neighed in the direction of the houses. An
atmosphere as of an impending hurricane hung over the whole town.

Then from the square rang out the screams of a woman, of a mother. They
seemed all the louder for the sudden hushing of all other voices, and
an enormous woman, suffocated in her fat, broke through the crowd and
hurried to the wagon, crying aloud. Being heavy and unable to climb
into it, she seized her son's feet, with sobbing words of love, with
such sharp broken cries and such a terribly comic expression of grief,
that all the bystanders shuddered and averted their faces.

"Zaccheo! Zaccheo! My heart, my joy!" screamed the widow unceasingly,
kissing the feet of the wounded man and dragging him to her towards the
ground.

The wounded man stirred, his mouth was contorted by a spasm, but
although he opened his eyes and looked up, they were veiled with damp,
so that he could not see. Big tears began to well forth at the corners
of his eyelids and roll down over his cheeks and neck. His mouth was
still awry. A vain effort to speak was betrayed by the hoarse whistling
in his throat. And the crowd pressed closer, saying:

"Speak, Pallura! Who hurt you? Who hurt you? Speak! Speak!"

Beneath this question was a trembling rage, an intensifying fury, a
deep tumult of reawakened feelings of vengeance; and the hereditary
hatred boiled in every heart.

"Speak! Who hurt you? Tell us! Tell us!"

The dying man opened his eyes again; and as they were holding his hands
tightly, perhaps this warm living contact gave him a momentary
strength, for his gaze quickened and a vague stammering sound came to
his lips. The words were not yet distinguishable. The panting breath of
the multitude could be heard through the silence. Their eyes had an
inward flame, because all expected one single word.

"Ma - Ma - Mascalico - "

"Mascalico! Mascalico!" shrieked Giacobbe, who was bending over him,
with ear intent to snatch the weak syllables from his dying lips.

An immense roar greeted the cry. The multitude swayed at first as if
tempest-swept. Then, when a voice, dominating the tumult, gave the
order of attack, the mob broke up in haste. A single thought drove
these men forward, a thought which seemed to have been stamped by
lightning upon all minds at once: to arm themselves with some weapon.
Towering above the consciousness of all arose a sort of bloody
fatality, beneath the great tawny glare of the heavens, and in the
electric odor emanating from the anxious fields.



IV.

And the phalanx, armed with scythes, bill-hooks, axes, hoes, and guns,
reunited in the square before the church. And all cried: "San
Pantaleone!"

Don Consolo, terrified by the din, had taken refuge in a stall behind
the altar. A handful of fanatics, led by Giacobbe, made their way into
the principal chapel, forced the bronze grille, and went into the
underground chamber where the bust of the saint was kept. Three lamps,
fed with olive oil, burned softly in the damp air of the sacristy,
where in a glass case the Christian idol glittered, with its white head
surrounded by a broad gilt halo; and the walls were hidden under the
wealth of native offerings.

When the idol, borne on the shoulders of four herculean men, appeared
at last between the pillars and shone in the auroral light, a long gasp
of passion ran through the waiting crowd, and a quiver of joy passed
like a breath of wind over all their faces. And the column moved away,
the enormous head of the saint oscillating above, with its empty
eye-sockets turned to the front.

Now through the sky, in the deep, diffused glow, brighter meteors
ploughed their furrows; groups of thin clouds broke away from the hem
of the vapor zone and floated off, dissolving slowly. The whole town of
Radusa stood out like a smouldering mountain of ashes. Behind and
before, as far as eye could reach, the country lay in an indistinctly
lucent mass. A great singing of frogs filled the sonorous solitude.

On the river-road Pallura's wagon blocked the way. It was empty, but
still soiled, here and there, with blood. Angry curses broke suddenly
from the mob. Giacobbe shouted:

"Let us put the saint in it!"

So the bust was placed in the wagon-bed and drawn by many arms into the
ford. The battleline thus crossed the frontier. Metallic gleams ran
along the files. The parted water broke in luminous spray, and the
current flamed away red between the poplars, in the distance, towards
the quadrangular towers. Mascalico showed itself on a little hill,
among olive trees, asleep. The dogs were barking here and there, with a
persistent fury of reply. The column, issuing from the ford, left the
public road and advanced rapidly straight across country. The silver
bust was borne again on men's shoulders, and towered above their heads
amid the tall, odorous grain, starred with bright fireflies.

Suddenly a shepherd in his straw hut, where he lay to guard the grain,
seized with mad panic at sight of so many armed men, started to run up
the hill, yelling, "Help! Help!" And his screams echoed in the olive
grove.

Then it was that the Radusani charged. Among tree-trunks and dry reeds
the silver saint tottered, ringing as he struck low branches, and
glittering momentarily at every steep place in the path. Ten, twelve,
twenty guns, in a vibrating flash, rattled their shot against the mass
of houses. Crashes, then cries, were heard; then a great commotion.
Doors were opened; others were slammed shut. Window-panes fell
shattered. Vases fell from the church and broke on the street. In the
track of the assailants a white smoke rose quietly up through the
incandescent air. They all, blinded and in bestial rage, cried, "Kill!
kill!"

A group of fanatics remained about San Pantaleone. Atrocious insults
for San Gonselvo broke out amid waving scythes and brandished hooks:

"Thief! Thief! Beggar! The candles! The candles!"

Other bands took the houses by assault, breaking down the doors with
hatchets. And as they fell, unhinged and shivered, San Pantaleone's
followers leaped in, howling, to kill the defenders.

The women, half-naked, took refuge in corners, imploring pity. They
warded off the blows, grasping the weapons and cutting their fingers.
They rolled at full length on the floor, amid heaps of blankets and
sheets.

Giacobbe, long, quick, red as a Turkish scimitar, led the persecution,
stopping ever and anon to make sweeping imperious gestures over the
heads of the others with a great scythe. Pallid, bare-headed, he held
the van, in the name of San Pantaleone. More than thirty men followed
him. They all had a dull, confused sense of walking through a
conflagration, over quaking ground, and beneath a blazing vault ready
to crumble.

But from all sides began to come the defenders, the Mascalicesi, strong
and dark as mulattos, sanguinary foes, fighting with long spring-bladed
knives, and aiming at the belly and the throat, with guttural cries at
every blow.

The melee rolled away, step by step, towards the church. From the roofs
of two or three houses flames were already bursting. A horde of women
and children, wan-eyed and terror-stricken, were fleeing headlong among
the olive trees. Then the hand-to-hand struggle between the males,
unimpeded by tears and lamentations, became more concentrated and
ferocious.

Under the rust-colored sky, the ground was strewn with corpses. Broken
imprecations were hissed through the teeth of the wounded; and
steadily, through all the clamor, still came the cry of the Radusani:

"The candles! The candles!"

But the enormous church door of oak, studded with nails, remained
barred. The Mascalicesi defended it against the pushing crowd and the
axes. The white, impassive silver saint oscillated in the thick of the
fight, still upheld on the shoulders of the four giants, who refused to
fall, though bleeding from head to foot. It was the supreme desire of
the assailants to place their idol on the enemy's altar.

Now while the Mascalicesi fought like lions, performing prodigies on
the stone steps, Giacobbe suddenly disappeared around the corner of the
building, seeking an undefended opening through which to enter the
sacristy. And beholding a narrow window not far from the ground, he
climbed up to it, wedged himself into its embrasure, doubled up his
long body, and succeeded in crawling through. The cordial aroma of
incense floated in the solitude of God's house. Feeling his way in the
dark, guided by the roar of the fight outside, he crept towards the
door, stumbling against chairs and bruising his face and hands.

The furious thunder of the Radusan axes was echoing from the tough oak,
when he began to force the lock with an iron bar, panting, suffocated
by a violent agonizing palpitation which diminished his strength,
blind, giddy, stiffened by the pain of his wounds, and dripping with
tepid blood.

"San Pantaleone! San Pantaleone!" bellowed the hoarse voices of his
comrades outside, redoubling their blows as they felt the door slowly
yield. Through the wood came to his ears the heavy thump of falling
bodies, the quick thud of knife-thrusts nailing some one through the
back. And a grand sentiment, like the divine uplift of the soul of a
hero saving his country, flamed up then in that bestial beggar's heart.



V.

By a final effort the door was flung open. The Radusani rushed in, with
an immense howl of victory, across the bodies of the dead, to carry the
silver saint to the altar. A vivid quivering light was reflected
suddenly into the obscure nave, making the golden candlesticks shine,
and the organ-pipes above. And in that yellow glow, which now came from
the burning houses and now disappeared again, a second battle was
fought. Bodies grappled together and rolled over the brick floor, never
to rise, but to bound hither and thither in the contortions of rage, to
strike the benches, and die under them, or on the chapel steps, or
against the taper-spikes about the confessionals. Under the peaceful
vault of God's house the chilling sound of iron penetrating men's flesh
or sliding along their bones, the single broken groan of men struck in
a vital spot, the crushing of skulls, the roar of victims unwilling to
die, the atrocious hilarity of those who had succeeded in killing an
enemy, - all this re-echoed distinctly. And a sweet, faint odor of
incense floated above the strife.

The silver idol had not, however, reached the altar in triumph, for a
hostile circle stood between. Giacobbe fought with his scythe, and,
though wounded in several places, did not yield a hand's breadth of the
stair which he had been the first to gain. Only two men were left to
hold up the saint, whose enormous white head heaved and reeled
grotesquely like a drunken mask. The men of Mascalico were growing
furious.

Then San Pantaleone fell on the pavement, with a sharp, vibrant ring.
As Giacobbe dashed forward to pick him up, a big devil of a man dealt
him a blow with a bill-hook, which stretched him out on his back. Twice
he rose and twice was struck down again. Blood covered his face, his
breast, his hands, yet he persisted in getting up. Enraged by this
ferocious tenacity of life, three, four, five clumsy peasants together
stabbed him furiously in the belly, and the fanatic fell over, with the
back of his neck against the silver bust. He turned like a flash and
put his face against the metal, with his arms outspread and his legs
drawn up. And San Pantaleone was lost.






IT SNOWS

BY

ENRICO CASTELNUOVO

The Translation by Edith Wharton.


The thermometer marks barely one degree above freezing, the sky is
covered with ominous white clouds, the air is harsh and piercing; what
can induce Signor Odoardo, at nine o'clock on such a morning, to stand
in his study window? It is true that Signor Odoardo is a vigorous man,
in the prime of life, but it is never wise to tempt Providence by
needlessly risking one's health. But stay - I begin to think that I have
found a clue to his conduct. Opposite Signor Odoardo's window is the
window of the Signora Evelina, and Signora Evelina has the same tastes
as Signor Odoardo. She too is taking the air, leaning against the
window-sill in her dressing-gown, her fair curls falling upon her
forehead and tossed back every now and then by a pretty movement of her
head. The street is so narrow that it is easy to talk across from one
side to the other, but in such weather as this the only two windows
that stand open are those of Signora Evelina and Signor Odoardo.

There is no denying the fact: Signora Evelina, who within the last few
weeks has taken up her abode across the way, is a very fascinating
little widow. Her hair is of spun gold, her skin of milk and roses, her
little turned-up nose, though assuredly not Grecian, is much more
attractive than if it were; she has the most dazzling teeth in the most
kissable mouth; her eyes are transparent as a cloudless sky, and - well,
she knows how to use them. Nor is this the sum total of her charms:
look at the soft, graceful curves of her agile, well-proportioned
figure; look at her little hands and feet! After all, one hardly wonder
that Signor Odoardo runs the risk of catching his death of cold,
instead of closing the window and warming himself at the stove which
roars so cheerfully within. It is rather at Signora Evelina that I
wonder; for, though Signer Odoardo is not an ill-looking man, he is
close upon forty, while she is but twenty-four. So young, and already a
widow - poor Signora Evelina! It is true that she has great strength of
character; but six months have elapsed since her husband's death, and
she is resigned to it already, though the deceased left her barely
enough to keep body and soul together. Happily Signora Evelina is not
encumbered with a family; she is alone and independent, and with those
eyes, that hair, that little upturned nose, she ought to have no
difficulty in finding a second husband. In fact, there is no harm in
admitting that Signora Evelina has contemplated the possibility of a
second marriage, and that if the would-be bridegroom is not in his
first youth - why, she is prepared to make the best of it. In this
connection it is perhaps not uninstructive to note that Signor Odoardo
is in comfortable circumstances, and is himself a widower. What a
coincidence!

Well, then, why don't they marry - that being the customary denouement
in such cases?

Why don't they marry? Well - Signor Odoardo is still undecided. If there
had been any hope of a love-affair I fear that his indecision would
have vanished long ago. Errare humanum est. But Signora Evelina is a
woman of serious views; she is in search of a husband, not of a
flirtation. Signora Evelina is a person of great determination; she
knows how to turn other people's heads without letting her own be moved
a jot. Signora Evelina is deep; deep enough, surely, to gain her point.
If Signor, Odoardo flutters about her much longer he will! singe his
wings; things cannot go on in this; way. Signor Odoardo's visits are
too frequent; and now, in addition, there are the conversations from
the window. It is time for a decisive step to be taken, and Signor
Odoardo is afraid that he may find himself taking the step before he is
prepared to; this very day, perhaps, when he goes to call on the widow.

The door of Signor Odoardo's study is directly opposite the window in
which he is standing, and the opening of this door is therefore made
known to him by a violent draught.

As he turns a sweet voice says:

"Good-bye, papa dear; I'm going to school."

"Good-bye, Doretta," he answers, stooping to kiss a pretty little maid
of eight or nine; and at the same instant Signora Evelina calls out
from over the way:

"Good-morning, Doretta!"

Doretta, who had made a little grimace on discovering her papa in
conversation with his pretty neighbor, makes another as she hears
herself greeted, and mutters reluctantly, "Good-morning."

Then, with her little basket on her arm, she turns away slowly to join
the maid-servant who is waiting for her in the hall.

"I am SO fond of that child," sighs Signora Evelina, with the sweetest
inflexion in her voice, "but she doesn't like me at all!"

"What an absurd idea!...Doretta is a very self-willed child."

Thus Signor Odoardo; but in his heart of hearts he too is convinced
that his little daughter has no fondness for Signora Evelina.

Meanwhile, the cold is growing more intense, and every now and then a
flake of snow spins around upon the wind. Short of wishing to be frozen
stiff, there is nothing for it but to shut the window.

"It snows," says Signora Evelina, glancing upward.

"Oh, it was sure to come."

"Well - I must go and look after my household. Au revoir - shall I see
you later?"

"I hope to have the pleasure - "

"Au revoir, then."

Signora Evelina closes the window, nods and smiles once more through
the pane, and disappears.

Signor Odoardo turns back to his study, and perceiving how cold it has
grown, throws some wood on the fire, and, kneeling before the door of
the stove, tries to blow the embers into a blaze. The flames leap up
with a merry noise, sending bright flashes along the walls of the room.

Outside, the flakes continue to descend at intervals. Perhaps, after
all, it is not going to be a snowstorm.

Signor Odoardo paces up and down the room, with bent head and hands
thrust in his pockets. He is disturbed, profoundly disturbed. He feels
that he has reached a crisis in his life; that in a few days, perhaps
in a few hours, his future will be decided. Is he seriously in love
with Signora Evelina? How long has he known her? Will she be sweet and
good like THE OTHER? Will she know how to be a mother to Doretta?

There is a sound of steps in the hall; Signor Odoardo pauses in the
middle of the room. The door re-opens, and Doretta rushes up to her
father, her cheeks flushed, her hood falling over her forehead, her
warm coat buttoned up to her chin, her hands thrust into her muff.

"It is snowing and the teacher has sent us home."

She tosses off her hood and coat and goes up to the stove.

"There is a good fire, but the room is cold," she exclaims.

As a matter of fact, the window having stood open for half an hour, the
thermometer indicates but fifty degrees.

"Papa," Doretta goes on, "I want to stay with you all day long to-day."

"And suppose your poor daddy has affairs of his own to attend to?"

"No, no, you must give them up for to-day."

And Doretta, without waiting for an answer, runs to fetch her books,
her doll, and her work. The books are spread out on the desk, the doll
is comfortably seated on the sofa, and the work is laid out upon a low
stool.

"Ah," she cries, with an air of importance, "what a mercy that there is
no school to-day! I shall have time to go over my lesson. Oh, look how
it snows!"

It snows indeed. First a white powder, fine but thick, and whirled in
circles by the wind, beats with a dry metallic sound against the
window-panes; then the wind drops, and the flakes, growing larger,
descend silently, monotonously, incessantly. The snow covers the
streets like a downy carpet, spreads itself like a sheet over the
roofs, fills up the cracks in the walls, heaps itself upon the
window-sills, envelops the iron window-bars, and hangs in festoons from
the gutters and eaves.

Out of doors it must be as cold as ever, but the room is growing
rapidly warmer, and Doretta, climbing on a chair, has the satisfaction
of announcing that the mercury has risen eleven degrees.

"Yes, dear," her father replies, "and the clock is striking eleven too.
Run and tell them to get breakfast ready."

Doretta runs off obediently, but reappears in a moment.

"Daddy, daddy, what do you suppose has happened? The dining-room stove
won't draw, and the room is all full of smoke!"

"Then let us breakfast here, child."

This excellent suggestion is joy to the soul of Doretta, who hastens to
carry the news to the kitchen, and then, in a series of journeys back
and forth from the dining-room to the study, transports with her own
hands the knives, forks, plates, tablecloth, and napkins, and, with the
man-servant's aid, lays them out upon one of her papa's tables. How
merry she is! How completely the cloud has vanished that darkened her
brow a few hours earlier! And how well she acquits herself of her
household duties!


1 2 3 5 7 8

Online LibraryVariousStories by Foreign Authors: Italian → online text (page 5 of 8)