Tony Cyriax.

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The society paid four lire the kilo so Rosina had earned exactly
224 lire, which is all but 9.



BERTOLDI TONI was burning lime. For weeks past he and his son
Vittorio had been carting stones and building up the furnace on
the Ridge of Chestnuts. It was a singularly barren spot, and the
chestnut-trees, after which it had been named, were long ago hewa
down and had left no descendants.

One afternoon I walked up to see what Toni was at. As I
struggled up the steep path I caught sight of Vittorio wheeling a
barrow, but when I arrived at the top he had disappeared. The barrow
was still there, together with some runners for dragging stones, but
Vittorio was gone. He was shy, I knew that, and had gone off to
avoid me. I looked round and wondered where he had hidden him-
self. Close by was a heap of stones, and the beginnings of the kiln
and beyond, right up to the crags, was an unbroken slope of loose
stones. Behind me was a precipice. On my left a path followed the
edge. Trees were growing half-way down the cliff, and I could see
Giuseppe in very blue trousers hewing them down. The place was
so steep he had to cling to a tree with one hand whilst he hacked
at the next one, and tree after tree went crashing down the slope.

I walked along the path until it was cut in two by a dry torrent
bed. I concluded people walked over it, for I could see the path go

on beyond a few feet away. The torrent bed bore no sign of footsteps,



probably the stones rolled down when they were touched. It was
very steep, and I could see the edge of the cliff at the bottom. Here
the water came to the surface, trickled over and splashed down on
to the rocks by the roadside, forty feet below. Last spring, a land-
slip had buried the road at this point, and Riccardo had barely
escaped with his life.

I went back. Giuseppe saw me, and ceased his chopping to shout
a greeting. Far below him I could see San Lorenzo, and heard Rosina
abusing Riccardo. . . . But I didn't find Vittorio. How any one
so big could hide in such a place I do not know.

One day Rosina informed me that Toni had already lighted the
fire of the kiln, but she advised me not to go up until the evening,
as the flames looked best in the dark. So I waited until after supper
before toiling up the path. It had been mended and improved so
that a wagon could get nearly as far as the kiln, but the last part
of the road was impossible of much improvement, it was much too
steep, and I floundered rather than walked up it.

Toni caught sight of me, and I could hear him say to his com-
panion, ' La si'ora e venii la si'ora,' and he greeted me warmly when
I arrived at the top. Tona, who was working for him, was equally
cordial. Vittorio, they told me, and the expert from afar who knew
all about lime-burning, were asleep now. They took their turn to
work whilst Toni and Tona rested.

The stones had been built up into a large hollow bee-hive
structure, which was embedded in the slope, except the front and
part of the sides. The furnace glowed within, and could be seen
through a small square opening. A rough roof covered the space
in front. At the side was an enormous stack of faggots.


Tona was the right sort of man for lime-burning. He was strong,
tough, and patient, and, what was also very important, he never
shirked anything.

Toni dusted a large stone and bade me sit down. It was exceedingly
hot so close to the furnace, but it was a good place from which to
watch, and get some idea of the work.

Toni picked up one end of a long thick iron rod which lay on
the ground. It was about twelve feet long. Tona brought a bundle
of faggots and jammed it into the opening. Toni raised the rod and
fixing it in the faggot pushed it through. It went unwillingly and
dropped on to the hearth, which was at a lower level. Then it stood
on end, crackled, roared, and toppled over, adding its remains to
the heap of white hot ash which lay vibrating. The blaze dazzled
my eyes. Then another faggot went in, and another and another.
Occasionally there was a short respite, but the furnace had to be
continually fed for five days and nights.

They took it in turns to put the faggots in, the other climbed up
to throw down bundles from the stack, or rested on a stone near the

It was very fascinating to watch the faggots go in and be con-
sumed. Sometimes a big and obstinate one would refuse to be
pushed through the opening, but usually there was no trouble, and
the flames would blaze up and change from green to yellow and pink,
and then break out blue again.

I wanted to try to put in a faggot, but Toni would not hear of
it. I would be scorched, he said, I had not the strength; but first
and last I would be scorched. It was impossible. I asked whether
my trying would in any way spoil the burning, but he shook his head.



There was nothing to spoil. The furnace must be fed, that was all,
but he could not allow me to be burnt.

We went up the slope, and he showed me the furnace glowing
through the stones on the roof, every now and then breaking into
little blue flames. Close by was the bunk where Vittorio and the
expert were sleeping. It was quite dark, and the mountain towered
black and solid above us.

'It will be fine to-morrow,' remarked Toni, looking at the stars.
It was important that it should be, and he was a little nervous and
anxious. I don't think he spent many hours in the bunk resting
during the following days.

We walked down, and I went to the edge and looked away to the
distant lights of the town. Below were trees, and I could feel them
in the downy blackness. San Lorenzo lay invisible and silent.
Riccardo must have gone to sleep by the fire.

I turned and walked back to the patch of light where Tona was
working. Toni was nowhere to be seen. This was my chance.

' Come on, Tona,' I said with determination, ' a faggot ! '

'Yes, signora,' was all he said. There was something in these
people which always responded to a command. He fetched a bundle
and put it at my feet. I had hoped he would have stuffed it into the
opening for me, but as he hadn't, I picked it up and tried to myself.
It was frightfully hot so near the furnace, and at first I couldn't get
it in because the sticks all spread out and caught on the wall and it
would not go into the opening. It set on fire whilst I was trying.
Then I stepped back, and, seizing the rod, lifted it, and, thrusting
it into the faggot, pushed. The rod ran right through it, but the
faggot never budged.


Tona watched me silently, never attempting to help or advise.
But I felt that the whole honour of England was at stake, and that
I simply must do the thing.

After several futile thrusts with the unwieldy rod it caught
in the faggot and through it went. I ran it into the centre of the
hearth then quickly drawing back the rod, I retreated, for my
hands were nearly at the furnace mouth, and the rod was getting
too hot.

Tona laid another faggot at my feet. I had not done so badly
then. It went in more easily and so did a third and a fourth. I
seemed to have caught the trick. But my arms were tired, the rod
was so heavy. Tona brought me a fifth faggot and I felt I had
scarcely strength enough to tackle it. However, in it went, in grand
style but I was utterly exhausted.

'It is enough/ I said, and putting down the rod turned round.
Toni was standing next to Tona. I felt like a naughty child caught
in the act, but Toni's face reassured me. His blue eyes shone with

'Well done, si'ora,' he said, 'I never doubted you could do it.'

'Orca cane,' exclaimed Tona, 'she did it as if she had never done
anything else all her life.'

'The expert said he'd never seen anything like it

'The expert?' I asked. 'I thought he was asleep

' So he was, si'ora, but when I saw what you were doing I awoke
him and Vittorio they watched you from above.'

Ah, that was why Tona had been so liberal with the faggots.

It was hard work and I did not envy the men. Toni was quite
right, one could get badly scorched, it was inevitable if one worked


for hours. Hands and arms were continually exposed to frightful
heat, the rod became heated and sparks flew about on to one's clothes.
But neither Toni nor Tona were downhearted, they worked on
steadily and cheerfully.

I went up to see them every evening. Each time Toni and Tona
looked grubbier and the worse for wear. They wore the shabbiest
clothes for a job like this, because everything got spoilt. Toni grew
thin with worry and fatigue he couldn't trust any one but himself;
when he rested, I don't know.

On the fourth night I was amazed to find Toni and Tona in
spotless, clean shirts. It was so surprising that I stood and stared.
It seemed so out of place, these two grubby men on the mountain
side in clean shirts beautifully ironed.

So this was the result of my insatiable curiosity ! Dear, sensitive
Tona was ashamed that the signora should see him in his rags. He
would never have changed if he hadn't expected me to come. . . .
No sane man would change his clothes the last day of lime burning.
And what was more wonderful, he had persuaded Tona to do the
same, only Tona had gone one better and changed his trousers as well.

I stood and gazed, feeling grateful and guilty in one. After all,
Toni and Tona hadn't many shirts. . . .

We talked together for a while. Toni was restless and anxious.
Things were not going quite as they should, the lime ought to be
ready in another twelve hours, but it didn't look as if it would be.
Toni mopped his face in a perplexed way. They were going to rake
out the ashes now, and Tona went off to fetch a long-handled iron
tool. I retreated to a safe distance and stood watching.


They worked together, both holding the long tool, pushing it
forwards and backwards, to and fro, until the whole hearth was
disturbed. A heap of ashes was raked through the opening, the heat
from them was tremendous, and every inflammable thing caught
fire. Their hands passed close over the ashes. At last, when the
handle was too heated to be held any longer they stopped, and Toni
put it aside. Tona carried the ashes away on a shovel and they both
stamped out the flames that had sprung up round about.

Another faggot was run in and Toni stood watching as soon
as he had his breath back he went running up to the top again. What
was wrong? At this stage the flames at the top ought to have been
higher and steadier. Instead they flared up as each faggot went in
and then died down. They oughtn't to do that but why did they?
Toni didn't know. He was afraid something was wrong, perhaps
the whole thing would turn out a failure. . . .

The next evening, which was Saturday, I found them still at work,
although the job should have been finished by midday.

Lucia was there. She stood well back from the kiln, a dark, dis-
hevelled figure against the night sky, her face glowing in the light
from the furnace. She scarcely moved.

Tona was stoking, Toni was up at the top, watching the flames.
They shot up as each faggot went in, and were sucked back and flared
out of the opening below where Tona stood, and then blazed out
again at the top. In and out they flared, making an alarming roar
like a giant out of breath. Something was wrong, I could see

Toni turned and came down towards us. A glance at his face


showed me that he was living through moments of intense anxiety.
He was wellnigh exhausted with work and lack of sleep. I went and
stood beside Lucia, and we watched without speaking. From where
we stood we could watch the faggots put in, as well as see the flames
flare out at the top. We were on the brink of a black abyss.

Toni feared the worst. The perspiration trickled down his
blackened face. He spoke frequently to Lucia in an excited way
just a few words, with a gesticulation and a shrug. She answered
quietly and sympathetically. Sometimes he just caught her eye,
and she would answer with a look. How well she understood him.
She must have been very anxious herself, yet she was splendidly
calm and gentle; her presence buoyed him up. She hardly noticed
me, nor did I speak to Toni, but I had a few words with Tona.

He told me that the lime ought to have been ready, but that
something was wrong, and the fire would have to be kept up until
the morning, he supposed. It was possible that the lime was spoilt,
but it was not at all certain. He himself didn't think it was.

All the time the flames rocked to and fro. Toni could hardly
trust Tona to put in the faggots, he worked nearly all the time him-
self. Tona was disgusted didn't he know how to stoke just as well
as Toni? Toni was too fussy. He was sick of doing nothing but
fetch faggots, and Toni was only wearing himself out. In spite of
his annoyance he treated Toni with the greatest consideration.

'You must be tired by now,' I said to Tona.

'Signora,' he answered, just a little scornfully, 'I am never tired.
But I shall be pleased when it's over.'

Toni's anxiety irritated him. I was also infected by it. My
heart beat quickly and I felt half suffocated. Poor Toni, his mouth


trembled when he spoke, and it would not need much more to send
the tears streaming down his face.

What an awful disaster if anything happened to the lime. It
was his chief source of income, and he had spent weeks getting it
ready. Every spare day and every Sunday he had been in the town
looking for buyers. But he wasn't thinking of that, his thoughts
were for the future. . . . He mopped his face and spoke to Lucia
in jerks. He was irritable to the last degree but not with her. She
looked at him, and her look was hopeful in a deferential sort of way,
as if it were treason to hope when he was in such despair. There
was something great over her that evening and over Toni too, for
there was nothing petty in his anxiety. They were in such contact
with each other.

I left them with a heavy heart.

Next morning we all went to mass together. Even Rosina was
of the party. On Sunday mornings she could usually think of nothing
but preparing dinner, but to-day she had a pious turn. Once before
I had been to mass with her, and on that occasion she had been very
dissatisfied with me.

'It is not usual/ she had said, 'to sit down flop in your seat
like you did without first kneeling and saying a prayer. Secondly,
you should not stare at the organist the whole time.' (It had been
the first time I had heard Toni play, and the way he rattled through
the tunes was fascinating.) 'Now you know you did; about the
Holy Water I shall say nothing/

'As for you/ I had retorted, 'you didn't kneel half as much as

the others/

I.P. i


' Signora when you are as fat as I am '

' Heaven preserve us ! '

Here Bortolo put in a word. 'The signora is at liberty to behave
as she likes.' The old dear always took my part, but he was so
serious we both burst out laughing.

As we walked up to mass we came unexpectedly on Toni. He
was standing by his front door, dressed in his shabby Sunday clothes.
His face was washed, and he looked as fresh as if he'd had a holiday.
He smiled at us.

'Toni/ I called, 'and what happened to the lime?'

'It turned out all right after all,' he said, 'we finished this morning.'
He looked quite happy.

'And you've had a sleep?'

'Sleep, signora?'

'Yes after all that fatigue. Aren't you tired?'

'Perhaps,' he answered, 'but we didn't get home until after
breakfast, and I play the organ at mass, and again at the afternoon
service. It will be time to sleep when the night comes.'

I remembered yesterday evening and his haggard face. I suppose
the relief at finding the lime unspoilt had been as good as a night's
rest to him.

We passed on and entered the church. During the service an
incident occurred which did not add to the popularity of the priest.
All went as usual until that part of thg service had been reached
where the priest sits in the large chair by the altar whilst the organist
plays and we all listen.

With a sudden movement the priest got up out of his chair and
walked quickly down the altar steps to where the congregation sat.


He pounced upon a boy sitting in the front row, seized him by the
collar, and hit him several times viciously on the head . . . then he
walked back and sat down again in the large chair by the altar.

The men, who all sat in the front benches, became rigid and a
great silence fell over the congregation. Anger took the place of
amazement. The benches creaked. What would the priest do next?
Women shyly exchanged glances, but the men stared stolidly in
front of them, nursing angry thoughts. How long must they put
up with that priest? How dare he . . . ! The boy had only been
whispering to his neighbour.

Toni played on, and the priest continued the service. After
receiving his blessing we all walked out into the piazza. Rosina, her
thoughts fixed on dinner, hurried me back to San Lorenzo.



THE morning was clear and beautiful.

It was the second Sunday in July, the day specially set apart
for the Festival of the Madonna. The holy image was to be carried
in procession through the street of Campia, and there was to be a
special service and every one would beseech God and the Holy Virgin
to stave off the great calamity, and let this year at least be free from
a devastating hailstorm. Everything was being done to make the
day acceptable to God, there was no one in Campia who underrated
its importance. Raimondo, just before he left for America, told
me that it was the plain duty of every one to subscribe to the Festival
Fund, and when a few days later a peasant called with the subscription
list we all gave something. Sums from a half to two and a half lire
had been subscribed, so Rosina, who aspired to be better than her
neighbours, gave three.

Long before ten o'clock we started for the village, but it was
already hot and there was very little shade on the road. Rosina and
the boys carried large baskets full of provisions, for they had no
intention of returning to San Lorenzo before night. The Cominelli's
house was still empty, and Rosina meant to cook the meals there.
To judge by the large number of wine bottles, she must also be hoping
to do a little illicit trade.

1 20


The band struck up before we reached the first houses and the
children hurried on. Rosina, however, could not be hurried. She
flapped her handkerchief over her face, and perspired and groaned,
and implored me to walk slower. At last we reached the Cominelli's
house, and she threw open the doors and shutters and busied about.

I stood on the back stairway which led to the courtyard and
enjoyed the sun. It seemed to saturate the white buildings and
everything was hot to the touch. Across the water Monte Moro
looked cool and majestic.

All at once some one began to sing next door, beginning boldly
in the middle of a song :

'Guarda che bel colore
Senti che buon profumo '

'Ghita,' I shouted, 'Ghita.'

'Ah, it is la signora,' she said, coming into the stairway and
leaning her arms on the parapet. 'You are getting sunburnt,' she

'Yes/ I answered, rather proud of my tanned skin, 'look at my

'Italian ladies,' she said, 'are afraid of the sun.'

'Yes I've seen them,' I answered, 'they all look as if they'd
been brought up in the cellars.'

Ghita laughed, and her white teeth shone in the sun. Then she
picked a faded carnation from one of the pots on the parapet and
threw it down into the yard.

'Then you must think my dark skin quite beautiful? I've always
been ashamed of it ! '


'If you weren't in good health,' I answered, 'you wouldn't have
such a glorious colour/

'You are right,' she said, 'the signore are always ailing.' Just
then the band struck up another tune. 'Let's go to hear the music
together, I won't be a moment.'

I walked down the passage into the shady street and round to
the front door of their house. I had meant to go in and wait for
Ghita, instead, I stood looking up the street.

What were they hanging out of the windows? I could see
Giacomina busy upstairs. She was holding out a bedspread, a
beautiful thing all red and yellow. She let it hang right down and
on the sill ; in order to keep it in place, she put a pillow, an ordinary
pillow, in a clean white pillow-case. Every house was being decorated
in the same way. Just above me, from the window of the room
where Toni kept the piano, hung a large white bedspread. Next
door, the house of Renzi Faustino, there were several windows and
not enough bedspreads to go round, it seemed. The girl had just
hung out a dark blanket and was suspending a lace curtain over it.
Then she put a pillow on the sill, just as Giacomina had done, and
as every one else was doing. Some of the pillow-cases had pink check
covers, and a very few were pale blue.

It was a simple but very effective form of decoration. The whole
street looked gay. No doubt housewives vied with each other in the
possession of bright bedspreads, and I understood now why Giacomina
had once shown me the red and yellow one with such pride; it was
one of her most cherished possessions.

I did not wait for Ghita, but walked on to the fountain. The
street had been swept and tidied. Decorative arches had been put


up at intervals, covered with green twigs and paper flowers. A prickly
plant, 1 which grew higher up on the mountain, had been gathered
and dipped in whitewash. Stuck among the green it looked like

There was a good sprinkling of people by the fountain, but the
street leading to the piazza was crowded. A great many villagers
were there, and a great many other people who had come from neigh-
bouring places. On every side I saw happy, expectant faces. Every
one was dressed in their best, all the male part of the population had
on new shirts, or they ought to have, for such was the custom.
Rosina had sat up until midnight finishing shirts for the boys. The
women all had their hair carefully dressed, and lovely thick hair
they had too, but the men usually grew prematurely bald on account
of their habit of always wearing a hat, both indoors and out. I once
asked Nino whether he slept with his hat on, but he shook his head.
I am certain, however, that he never took his hat off until he was in
the bedroom, and that first thing in the morning it was clapped on

The band, which had finished playing in the piazza., came
trooping up the street to the fountain, and formed up in a circle.
People crowded after and stood round whilst it played. One or two
favoured small boys were allowed to stand within the ring and hold
up a sheet of music. After playing a few tunes the band trooped off
to the new road and played a few tunes there, and then off again to
another spot.

I met Nino hi the road and greeted him.

'Tell me/ I asked, 'the procession is to be this morning, isn't it?'

1 Butcher 's-broom.


'No, signora, between four and five this afternoon/

'But why so late?'

'Because,' he answered, 'it will be hot, and the Madonna is

The bells pealed out and every one moved towards the church,
where two babies were being christened. The band had taken up
its place close to the doors and was playing a gay tune. We loitered
in the sunny piazza until the tune was finished.

Then we hurried into the church, anxious to find a seat. Men
and boys crowded in at the side door, the women all entered the
large door at the back. Every seat was filled.

Coming from the bright sunshine the church seemed like a
cavern, but my eyes soon became accustomed to the mysterious
dunness. I could see the decorations and the suspended draperies,
and the special altar which had been erected in the body of the
church. On it stood the image of the Madonna, dressed in blue and

Mass was conducted by two priests from neighbouring villages,
and although present our priest took but a minor part. Toni was
absent from the organ loft, his place being taken by a blind organist,
specially engaged for the occasion. He played very well, but I
missed Toni's spirited tunes.

Beside me sat two girls. They both wore hats, and for this reason
they ought to have been ladies, for no peasant woman wore a hat
in church; but their manners betrayed them. The stout one, with

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Online LibraryTony CyriaxAmong Italian peasants → online text (page 8 of 17)