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Rustic Chivalry

Giovanni Carmelo Verga | from: Italian

Translated by : Anonymous*

Turiddu Macca, the son of mistress Nunzia, when he came home from being a soldier, every afternoon strutted about the piazza with his bersagliere uniform and his red cap, that looked like a fortune-teller’s when he sets up his bench with the cage of canaries. The girls looked longingly at him as they went to mass with their roses in their mantles, and the urchins buzzed about him like flies. He had brought with him a pipe with the king on horseback on it, like life, and he lighted matches on the seat of his trousers, raising one leg as if to give a kick. But with all that Massaro Angelo’s Lola had not shown herself either at mass or on the balcony, for she had betrothed herself to a man from Licodia who was a carter and had four mules from Sortino in his barn. At first when Turiddu learned it, holy great devil! he would cut out the heart of that man from Licodia, he would! However he 2 did nothing of the kind, and vented his anger by going to sing all the songs of disdain which he knew, under the window of the beauty.

“Hasn’t mistress Nunzia’s Turiddu anything to do?” said the neighbors, “that he passes the nights singing like a solitary sparrow?”

Finally he came upon Lola who was returning from a visit to the Madonna of Peril, and at seeing him she turned neither white nor red, as if it was no matter of hers.

“Blessed is he who sees you!” he said to her.

“Oh, Compare Turiddu, they told me that you came back the first of the month.”

“To me they told other things yet!” he answered. “It is true that you marry Compare Alfio the carter?”

“If it is the will of God!” replied Lola, drawing the two ends of her kerchief over her chin.

“The will of God, you do it fast and loose, as it suits you! And the will of God was that I must come back from so far away to find these fine tidings, mistress Lola!”

The poor fellow tried to appear brave, but his voice had turned hoarse; and he went behind the girl, with a swinging walk, while the tassel of his cap danced here and there on his shoulders. She, in her conscience, was grieved to see him with such a long face. However, she had not the heart to flatter him with fine words.

“Listen, Compare Turiddu,” she said to him at last, “let me rejoin my companions. What would they say if they saw me with you?–”

“That is right,” replied Turiddu. “Now that you are to marry Compare Alfio, who has four mules in the stall, people must not be set talking. My mother instead, poor woman, had to sell our bay mule and that little piece of vineyard on the highway, in the time that I was a soldier. The times are past when Bertha span, and you think no more of the time when we talked to each other at the window upon the courtyard and you presented me that handkerchief, before I went away, and heaven knows how 3 many tears I have wept in it, going away so far that even the name of our town was lost. Now farewell, mistress Lola; let us consider it a good riddance and our friendship ended.”

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Mistress Lola married the carter; and Sunday she placed herself on the balcony with her hands before her to show all the heavy gold rings that her husband had presented to her. Turiddu continued to pass and repass through the narrow street, with his pipe in his mouth and his hands in his pockets, with an air of indifference, and eying the girls; but within, it gnawed him to think that the husband of Lola should have all that gold, and that she should feign not to see him when he passed.

“I will play her a trick under her very eyes, that jade!” he muttered.

Opposite to Compare Alfio lived Massaro Cola, the vine-dresser, who was rich as a hog, they said, and had a daughter at home. Turiddu said and did so much that he was taken into employment by Massaro Cola, and began to frequent the house and to say sweet little words to the girl.

“Why don’t you go to say to mistress Lola these fine things?” answered Santa.

“Mistress Lola is a great lady! Mistress Lola has married a crowned king, now!”

“I don’t merit crowned kings.”

“You are worth a hundred Lolas; and I know a man who wouldn’t look at mistress Lola, nor her saint, when you are there, for mistress Lola is not worthy to bring your shoes, she is not worthy!”

“The fox when he could reach the grape–”

“Said: how beautiful you are, my little bunch of grapes!”

“Oh! Those hands, Compare Turiddu.”

“Are you afraid that I shall eat you?”

“I am not afraid of you nor of your saint.”

“Eh, your mother was from Licodia, we know! You have quarrelsome blood! I could eat you with my eyes!”

“Eat me with your eyes, for we shall make no crumbs; but meanwhile draw up this fagot for me.”

“For you I would draw up the whole house, I would!”

She, in order not to blush, threw him a log that she had under her hand, and it did not hit him by a miracle.

“Let us make haste, for talk does not bind twigs.”

“If I were rich, I would seek a wife like you, mistress Santa.”

“I shall not marry a crowned king like mistress Lola, but I have my dowry, too, when the Lord shall send me someone.”

“We know that you are rich, we know it!”

“If you know it, then make haste, for papa is coming and I would not like to be found in the courtyard.”

The father began to make a wry face, but the daughter feigned not to observe it, for the tassel of the cap of the bersagliere had made a tickling within her heart, and danced always before her eyes. When the father put Turiddu out of the door, the daughter opened the window and stayed talking with him the whole evening, so that all the neighborhood talked of nothing else.

“For you I am going mad,” said Turiddu, “and I lose sleep and appetite.”

“Talk.”

“I would like to be the son of the king to marry you!”

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“Talk!”

“By the Madonna, I could eat you like bread!”

“Talk!”

“Ah! On my honor!”

“Ah; mamma mia!”

Lola, who listened every evening, hidden behind a pot of basil, and turned pale and red, one day called Turiddu.

“And so, Compare Turiddu, old friends never salute each other any more?”

“But!” sighed the young man, “Blessed is he who can salute you!”

“If you have the intention to salute me, you know where I live!” replied Lola.

Turiddu returned so often to salute her that Santa noticed it, and slammed the window in his face. The neighbors pointed him out to each other with a smile or a motion of the head, when the bersagliere passed. The husband of Lola was away at the fairs with his mules.

“Sunday I will go to confession, for last night I dreamed of black grapes,” said Lola.

“Let it be! Let it be,” begged Turiddu.

“No, now that Easter is approaching, my husband would want to know why I did not go to confession.”

“Ah,” murmured Massaro Cola’s Santa, waiting upon her knees for her turn before the confessional where Lola was doing the wash of her sins. “On my soul I will not send you to Rome for a penance!”

Compare Alfio returned with his mules, loaded with pence, and brought as a present to his wife a beautiful new gown for the festival.

“You are right to bring her presents,” neighbor Santa told him, “because while you are away your wife dishonors your house.”

Compare Alfio was one of those carters who wear their cap over their ears, and to hear speech like that about his wife he changed color as if he had been stabbed. “Holy great devil!” he exclaimed, “if you have not seen right, I will not leave you eyes to weep! You and all your kinsfolk!”

“I am not accustomed to weep!” replied Santa. “I did not weep even when I have seen with these eyes mistress Nunzia’s Turiddu entering your wife’s house at night.”

“It’s well,” answered Compare Alfio. “Many thanks.”

Turiddu, now that the cat had returned, did not frequent any more by day the little street, and dissolved his gloom at the inn with his friends; and on Easter eve they had on the table a plate of sausages. When Compare Alfio entered, only by the way in which he set his eyes upon him, Turiddu understood that he was come about that affair, and laid down his fork upon his plate.

“Have you commands to give me, Compare Alfio?” he said.

“No favor to ask Compare Turiddu. It was some time that I had not seen you, and I wished to speak of that thing which you know.”

Turiddu at first offered him a glass, but Compare Alfio put it aside with his hand.

The Turiddu arose and said to him:

“I am here, Compare Alfio.”

The carter threw his arms around the neck of Turiddu. “If tomorrow you will come among the Indian fig trees of the Canziria, we can speak about that affair, neighbor.”

“Wait for me on the highway at sunrise, and we will go together.”

With these words they exchanged the kiss of challenge. Turiddu pressed between his teeth the ear of the carter, and so made him a solemn promise not to fail.

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The friends had silently quitted the sausage, and they accompanied Turiddu home. Mistress Nunzia, poor woman, waited until late every evening for him.

“Mamma,” said Turiddu to her, “do you remember, when I went for a soldier, that you believed I should never come back? Give me as fine a kiss as then, because tomorrow morning I shall go far away.”

Before daybreak he took his clasp-knife, which he had hidden under the hay when he went as a conscript, and set forth for the Indian fig trees of Canziria.

“O Gesù Maria! Where are you going in such haste?” whimpered Lola, frightened, as her husband was about to leave the house.

“I am going near here,” replied Compare Alfio; “but for you it would be better that I should never return.”

Lola, in her shift, prayed at the foot of the bed and pressed to her lips the rosary that Fra Bernardino had brought her from the Holy Places, and recited all the Ave Marias it would hold.

“Compare Alfio,” began Turiddu, after he had gone some way into the wood beside his companion, who was 7 silent, with his cap over his eyes, “as true as the Lord, I know that I am in the wrong, and I would let myself be killed. But before coming here, I have seen my old mother who had gotten up in order to see me go away – with pretext of looking after the hen-house — as if her heart spoke to her; and as true as the Lord I would kill you, so as not to make my little old woman weep.”

“That is well,” replied Compare Alfio, taking off his jacket. “We will hit hard, both of us.”

Both were brave hitters; Turiddu got the first blow, and was in time to take it on the arm; and when he returned it, he gave a good one, and struck at the body.

“Ah! Compare Turiddu, you really have the intention to kill me!”

“Yes, I told you so; now that I have seen my old woman in the hen-house, I seem to have her always before my eyes.”

“Open your eyes well!” Compare Alfio cried to him, “for I am about to give you back good measure.”

As he stood on guard, drawn together to keep his left hand upon the hurt which pained him, and almost touched his elbow to the ground, he caught up quickly a handful of dust and threw it in his adversary’s eyes.

“Ah!” howled Turiddu, blinded, “I’m dead.”

He tried to save himself by making desperate leaps backward; but Compare Alfio reached him with another blow in the stomach, and a third in the throat.

“And there! That is for the house that you have dishonored. Now your mother will let the hens alone.”

Turiddu groped with his hands in the air for a while, here and there among the Indian fig trees, and then fell like a stone. The blood gurgled foaming in his throat, and he could not even utter: “Ah, mamma mia!”


*Via elfinspell

*Image: Julian Merrow Smith

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