The Man From Aidone


ALONG the road which leads up the mountain to Castrogiovanni, the men were returning from the day’s work in the fields. The tramp of weary feet and the voices talking made a dull sound, like the noise of a forest before a storm. It was Saturday, so that Felice Mendola, the herder of horses in the meadow below Aggira, was coming to pass the holiday at his father’s house. But contrary to his custom, he did not announce himself by a song before he could be seen at the turn of the road.

“What’s the matter with Felice, that he does n’t give us the voice ?" said the father, master Calogero, who sat in the doorway smoking a pipe.

The mother, comare Nunziata, could not say ; and the daughter, Caterina, who was dishing the minestra, let fall the wooden spoon, and ran along the road to meet her brother.

“ What is the matter with you, little brother, that you don’t sing this evening ? ”

“ And what should it be ? Nothing.”

But in the house Felice remained with a clouded face, talked little and ate less ; and after supper he went out, and stood with his shoulders against the hay-rick, his hands thrust into his trousers pockets, staring at the ground.

“ See, mamma,” said Caterina, “ to me it seems that Felice may have certain thoughts in his head. Perhaps he would like to talk to you about a marriage.”

“ Eh, these girls ! Always marriage and marriage. Instead, take up those crumbs of Heaven’s mercy from the floor, so that at least the hens may eat them. If not, before issuing from purgatory, bless you, you will have to pick them all up with your eyelashes. Give them to me here in my hand, that I may carry them to the coop.”

With the pretext of the bread crumbs, Nunziata went out to find her son, who stood there making a great show of ill humor.

“ And you, Felice, tell your mamma what is the matter with you.”

“ And what should it be ? Nothing, I tell you, nothing.”

“Who knows? There’s Caterina who says that you must be thinking about a bride.”

“ That is true. She has hit the mark. It is this way: until I can know that comare Agata Borello’s Marina will have me, I cannot give myself peace. Rather, this blessed evening I ‘ll go to find Marina.”

“ Was ever seen such a mad boy ! Oh, why will you be in such a haste? Wait until I go there first for propriety. ”

“ Will you go there for me, mamma ? ”

“ Surely. Monday morning, if the Lord sends us the day, I ’ll go to borrow the weaving-comb from comare Agata. Give yourself peace about it, my little son, and come into the house, for your father will be glad to talk with you.”

Felice straightened those stout arms and legs of his that leaned inert against the hay-rick, and smiled, showing his teeth, white and square like kernels of unripe maize. All that melancholy, all that ill humor, which meant, according to the custom of Sicilian lads, “ Mamma, go speak to the mamma of my girl,” was suddenly past, like a cloud from over a meadow. Felice followed his mother to the house, and seated himself on the doorstep beside his father. Caterina came near him.

“ Look, little brother, I made you a cake this morning, while I waited for the oven to heat for the bread, which santa Zita sent to us well baked, crust and crumb. And then I forgot to put the cake before you at supper.”

Felice, who had fasted that evening, in order to make the figure of a despairing lover, now ate his cake willingly. “Thank you, little sister,” said he. As he broke the cake, he talked with the father, who had filled the clay pipe again. Washing the dishes, indoors, the two women exchanged certain glances.

“ Who is it, and who is n’t it, mamma?” whispered Caterina.

“ ’T is comare Agata’s Marina. Monday, I told Felice, I will go to borrow the weaving-comb.”

“ Are you pleased, mamma ? ”

“ And why not ? If Felice is content, content am I. Comare Agata has brought up Marina as she ought. That girl does n’t wear the mantellina halfway to the back of the head, or stretch her neck out of the window to look at those who pass by.”

“ You know that with Marina I made a little-finger friendship, so that we are true comari between ourselves. I would willingly call her sister-in-law.”

Between master Calogero and his son nothing was said about any marriage. They talked of the weather that promised well for the fields, where the grain was already rather tall and of a fine green color ; and about the horses of master Turi Lucernini, of which Felice was herder. At the end of the week, provided there were no horse or colt ill, — a thing which rarely happened with those beautiful robust animals, — Felice could leave them in care of Pietro, the boy, and come home to pass Sunday, have his clothes mended, and put a provision of bread and onions in his bag.

“ Do you know, daddy. I ‘m almost inclined to quit the life of a herder. Down there I feel myself too lonely, and I ’m growing dumb as a beast. One can talk to the horses, it is true ; they understand you just like Christians. They look at you with kind eyes, and nod ‘Yes, yes,’ with their heads, and they rub against you with their noses, as if they would say, ‘A pity that we haven’t speech.’ But, all the same, speech they have not, poor beasts! I run beside them all day ; and at night I sleep under the stars, with my head on the shoulder of the roan, that fine threeyear colt of la Baia. And I take the frost and the heat there as Heaven sends them, for I’m all one with the horses; for me, they are like so many persons of my own town. And they are all good. There is none that bites or fires off kicks. I love them like so many brothers, — I love them. But here’s the trouble : to wander so over the plains and the hills, how shall I do in order to become a little instructed, so as not to remain a simpleton ? Of learning I have n’t any, except the A B C book of sail Francesco di Paola which was thrust into my swaddling-clothes the day that I was born.”

“ And if so much has been enough for me, it might serve also for you, one would say. But do as you will, for a good lad you have been always.”

“ Next week, perhaps, I will talk with master Turi, to take leave and get my pay. And if I can bargain for the roan colt, then I will buy me a cart and be a carrier. On the road to Caltanisetta there is always enough to do.”

“ Do what you think best, my son. I don’t oppose it.”

Now, even into the head of daddy Calogero, who thought over things slowly, as cattle chew the cud, there entered the idea that, since Felice complained of feeling lonely, and wished to change his trade, the young fellow might be thinking of marriage.

The father said as much, in the night, to his wife. But she did not wish her husband to squeeze those grapes before they were ripe, talking about the affair that was not yet settled, among his cronies in the piazza Sunday afternoon. So she answered him : —

“ ’T is twenty-nine years, my old man, since you have talked about brides. You are turning silly again, as in the days when you used to wait for me beside the font of holy water at the church door. If our son were troubled with love, do you believe that he could snore up there in the loft, like the blessed pig of sant’ Antonio ? It must have been some annoyance about the horses, or some displeasure with Pietro.” She pushed her husband in the ribs with her elbow. “ You have more notions in your head than there are holes in a sieve. Holy night and the saints watch you, Calò.”

Sunday morning, Marina came into the church with her mother and the little sister Rosaria. Marina appeared to compare Felice like a ray of the sun that made everything into gold. She was tall and graceful as a palm-tree, and walked as if she were a princess. When Felice hastened to offer her the holy water, the drops on her fingers sparkled like diamonds.

“ Come to-morrow,” he said in his heart, “ my mother goes to ask for you, beauty! ” He stayed in the church until mass was over. He would not have been surprised if padre Serafino, walking up and down the platform as he preached the sermon, had addressed praises to comare Marina. For she looked like the blessed santa Matilde, whose day it was, descended from heaven on purpose. All must admire Marina, even the dogs that strayed into the church. Don Neddu Longo, the sacristan, did his best, however, to drive the dogs out, passicani, passicani; pushing them with his stick, but quietly, in order not to make confusion among the devout.

The beautiful March sun was shining to make the grain grow. For it is not true that the sun lives like a lord, with his hands on his belt doing nothing. In the afternoon the men of Castrogiovanni met as usual in the piazza. Daddy Calogero had found compare Gianpaolo Burgio and uncle Mommu Bricca the carpenter, and mastro Neddu Longo. They sat together on the steps, and delivered their opinions. Comare Nunziata, when she met mistress Agata and her daughters, was bursting with the wish to say four words in favor of her son. But things ought to be done in order ; and one does not borrow weavingcombs on Sunday.

“ ‘T is a long time that I have not seen you, comare Agata,”she said. " Indeed, I have the intention to come to visit you to-morrow.”

“ And you will be welcome, comare Nunziata.”

But Caterina, who had not so many scruples, asked Marina,"Are there blossoms on the carnation plant on your window-sill ? ”

“ There is a bud that already shows a red streak.”

“ Make it bloom before my brother comes home the next time, I counsel you, cumaredda.”

For these girls had vowed themselves comari, when they were children : each had pulled out a hair of her head, and with these hairs twisted together in their hands they had hooked their little fingers, and swung their arms in cadence. “Fly away, hair, into the sea, we are comari, comari are we,” they had sung, as little girls do, in order to establish a friendship.

At those words about the carnation Marina turned scarlet, so much so that the flower could hardly have outdone her. Rosaria, Marina’s little sister, who had not yet begun to think about lovers, opened her eyes wide, for she saw no point to the discourse.

Meanwhile, Felice, not to lose time, had begun to ingratiate himself with master Peppi Crocco, the carrier, who, it was said, was going to America, and therefore would sell his cart.

“Master Peppi, if I come before dawn to disturb you about the cart, it is because I must be early with the horses.”

“ Sunday it is ; but I will say that I would sell my cart to you rather than to another, for you are the son of a respected father. And also, I would let you have the harness at a low price, if we should come to terms.”

Now, on a day that is not a holiday, few compliments are made when people bargain. But it is always a pleasure to hear words of esteem to one’s address ; and Felice already saw himself on that cart, with a load of wine or grain, driving the roan along the Caltanisetta road. When, later, he joined his family to go to the house, Caterina pulled his sleeve.

“ Comare Agata did not appear at all displeased when mamma spoke of visiting her to-morrow ; and also I did not fail to speak a little word in the ear of Marina,” she told him.

“You are a good little sister,” he said, thrusting aside the pig of comare Santa Burgio, that had planted itself on the stones of the narrow lane, as if it would have people walk in the mire.

Now that the ground was broken, so to say, there was no longer any reason to be silent before daddy Calogero. He certainly had a right to know it when they intended to bring a daughter-in-law into his house.

“ Do you know. Calò,” said his wife, “ that to-morrow I go to borrow the weaving-comb of comare Agata Borello?”

“ And how much dowry does she give her daughter ? ”

“ What do I know about it ? If we come to agreement, comare Agata will send me the estimate in writing; and she is not a woman to wish to make a poor figure when she marries her girl.”

“ That is true. Listen, Felice. You may tell master Turi to give you the wages all in money; because for the roan colt I will pay, myself, and make you a present of him. But bargain carefully, for if that horse is well trained it is because you have taught him ; and you must make master Turi observe as much, when the price is talked about.”

“ If I can have Marina and the roan, I shall feel myself equal to more than Charlemagne ! ”

“ And don’t boast; otherwise you will draw envies on yourself.”

Now that the mother would speak for him, Felice could hope everything. While the morning star was still in the sky, he went to master Crocco, and made the bargain for the cart and harness. Then, singing fit to split his throat, he went down the mountain, and followed the road toward Aggira.

Far off he recognized Pietro, and called him : “ Ohè, Pietro ! How are the horses ? ”

“ Well they are.”

And even before Pietro’s voice he heard the neigh of some horses that expected him. “ That is Baia, and that is the dapple-gray; and that, like music, is my roan ! ”

As Felice came near, the horses ran toward him, galloping in circles, with their manes to the wind. The old Baia, the mare that wore the bell, mother of many colts, stood still and waited for him. The roan trotted near, and rubbed his muzzle against the shoulders of Felice.

“ Here I am back again, my fine Riuzzu ! ”

And the horse answered him in the trilling whinny that seems like the speech of one of those towns where they talk a sort of Greek, but you understand that they mean well by you all the same.

Riuzzu — that had rightly his name, for indeed he appeared a prince among horses — returned to nibble clover. The others stood eating, or lay on the thick grass. The mares had their young colts beside them.

“ If you were to have the care of the horses, Pietro, would you treat them like the gentry that they are, never throwing stones or shouting at them without manners? ”

“ What is come into your mind, master Felice ? Do you think to go away from here ? ”

“ If it is the will of Heaven.”


Meanwhile, after daddy Calogero was gone into the fields, mamma Nunziata betook herself to the tavern of comare Agata Borello. There was a fresh bush over the door, which stood open to invite customers. Nunziata knocked, tuppi, tuppi.

Who is there ? ” cried comare Agata within. Then she opened the door.

“ Oh, good-day, comare Nunziata.”

“ Thank the Lord,” she responded, entering.

The hostess brought forward the best chair.

“ Accommodate yourself, comare.”

“ If I come so early to inconvenience you, mistress Agata, it is because I would ask the favor that you lend me a weaving-comb, like this, either of sidici (sixteen) or of nove (nine). And I don’t conceal from you that the former would suit me best.”

“ Run, Marina ! ” said comare Agata. “ It seems to me that the fowls cackle as if a weasel were near the coop. And you, Rosaria, go to the cellar to bring a pitcher of wine, of that good sort, that mistress Nunziata may moisten her mouth.”

The girls sent off, comare Agata looked her visitor in the face. “ I go to get the comb of sidici for you, comare.”

Of course, the more or less teeth of the weaving-comb that she did not need mattered nothing to comare Nunziata. But to hear from the mouth of Marina’s mother a fine “ si ” instead of an ugly “ no ” made her as content as if she herself were the accepted bridegroom. Instead of going at once to seek the weaving-comb, mistress Agata went down to find Rosaria among the casks. “You stay here and do a little cleaning. Or else go out and search for eggs. I have to talk of affairs with comare Nunziata Mendola.”

“ And what affairs, mamma ? ”

“ That you don’t come into ; and if you stick your nose in, I ‘ll call the black babau to come to take you,” answered the mother in the best humor.

Rosaria narrowed her eyes, remembering the evening before, when Caterina had said that foolishness about the carnations. It seemed to her that she understood something. “ Mistress Nunziata is come about a marriage for my sister,” she said within herself.

To Marina there was no need to say anything. She comprehended very well, and would not show herself until comare Nunziata should be gone away ; for she was a well-educated girl. Meanwhile, comare Agata took the weaving-comb, the first that came under her hand, without heeding the number of its teeth, and carried it into the room where comare Nunziata awaited her. The latter, like a good housewife, had looked around her. Everything was well kept. The linen on the table was woven without ugly knots, and clean enough to be a pleasure to see, even to the angel that passes, when the tablecloth is spread, to put the mercies of Heaven upon it.

“ One sees that in your house the art of weaving is known, comare Agata.”

“My daughter Marina it is who does so well.”

“And because you have taught her.”

“ She is only eighteen, and already she has spun and woven a chest full of linen and woolen cloth.”

“ So that she is not unprovided, if there should arrive the husband to her liking.”

“ Ob, for that there ’s time. I am not sorry to keep her yet like a carnation-flower at my window.”

“ But of those that are always at the window, comare Agata, your daughter is not. As I have observed to my son Felice, that girl is at the loom in the house, and with her nose inside the mantellina in the street.”

“That is just, comare. And your son, what is he doing ? ”

“ He is gone back this morning to the pastures. But he has told his father that he means to buy a horse and cart, to be a carrier on the Caltanisetta road. He is a good boy, who has never given us displeasures. Now, when he shall have the cart he will be a serious man, and he could take a wife.”

Now they were coming to the point. Comare Agata Borello nodded, to show that she understood.

“ I confess that to every girl I would n’t say, Welcome, daughter-in-law ! But if Marina ” —

“ You do her honor, comare Nunziata.”

“ Also Calogero would be disposed to love her like a daughter of his own.”

“ He has a great heart, like a mountain, has compare Calogero.”

“So say I, who am his woman these twenty-eight years. And for disposition, Felice is all his father, good as bread.”

“ Also my Marina, I don’t say it for the sake of talking, is mild so that she lets herself be guided, until now by the mother, as in future by the husband. If that is the will of Heaven.”

At this point, Rosaria entered with a pitcher of wine and poured a glass for comare Nunziata, who, after the due compliments, took leave, and went home quite content.

When Marina went with her jar to get water at the fountain, there were already comare Nunziata’s Caterina, and Sabedda and Arcangela Burgio, and master Neddu Longo’s daughters, Grazia and Peppa, all chattering together like sparrows on a threshing-floor.

“ I will help you to fill your jar, Marina,” said Caterina joyously.

“ And you do me a favor, cumaredda.”

As they filled the jar, Caterina spoke in the ear of Marina. “ My brother wishes to marry you.”

“ Me ? Compare Felice wants me? But I’m brown and ugly, you know.”

She said it with feigned surprise and loud enough for the others to hear.

“ But you are beautiful as a princess,” Felice’s sister told her.

“ Pepper is black, but is worth so much gold,” added Arcangela Burgio.

“ The night is dark, but it wears the moon and the stars.” This fine compliment was from master Neddu’s Grazia.

“‘T is really the will of Heaven,” said Sabedda. “ Do you remember, Marina, a year ago, when your mamma put your garter under the dust of the road, fate willed that he who passed there first was master Turi Lucernini. A sign that also your bridegroom would be a herder of horses. It was written above that you were to marry compare Felice Mendola.”

And the girls made her so many fine speeches that Marina believed certainly that the will of Heaven was that she should marry compare Felice. Upon this she was quite in accord with Providence. Also, she had heard songs under the window at night and had recognized the beautiful voice of Felice, with whom she had so many times alternated verses on the threshing-floor, or of winter evenings in the barns. So what comare Caterina said did not come as news to her.

“ What have I to say to my brother from you, Marina?”

“ You will tell him that I thank him for so much esteem.”And, with the jar of water on her head, Marina went home and Caterina accompanied her.

Now that those two were gone away, the other girls redoubled the chatter, so that it seemed like sparrows when they come to a quarrel over a choice morsel. Says the proverb : Who is born is beautiful, who weds is good, who dies is holy. But it is also true that when a girl is newly courted or betrothed, the others say things of all colors about her and about the lad. A little for envy, on the part of those who have n’t seen even the shadow of a lover for themselves ; a little for curiosity ; and also because in talk, vinegar has more taste than honey. And they commiserate the young man who, it appears, has made a poor choice. Although, it is true, no other girl would have had him, not even were he made of gold.

“ Oh, what sort of a trade has compare Felice, that he thinks to marry ? He will have to leave his wife alone in the house, while he stays away with the horses until Saturday evening.”

“ But have n’t you heard, Sabedda, how he has bought the cart and harness of master Crocco, who goes to America ? And his father, Caterina says, will give him the horse, that he may be carrier on the Caltanisetta road.”

“And who knows if he will do a good business ? A new trade is always a risk. To sell figs to-day and pottery to-morrow, there’s a chance to lose by it. For me, I prefer certainties.”

“ And it appears that you have them,” murmured Grazia Longo with malice. For in fact, comare Sabedda was the eldest of master Burgio’s children, and was getting a little mouldy, according to those girls.

“ I would like to know whether compare Felice leaves master Turi of his own will, or whether he was dismissed. And why should master Turi send him away ? Certainly Felice would be good with the horses.”

“ Good, yes. Even too much so. But he might have a little more wit; it seems as if don Serafino, baptizing him, had taken too scant a pinch of salt.”

So they rent the garments of the neighbor, as is the saying; yet truly those girls wished no harm to anybody. Talk and talk — by way of not letting their tongues rust.

The betrothal of Felice Mendola with comare Agata Borello’s Marina was soon known. Everybody, even the mammas who would not have been sorry to send the list of their own daughters’ dowry to the house of master Calogero, spoke well of the young pair. And little by little the spites of the girls changed into that curious worship which they pay to one who is soon to be a wife.

The next Saturday evening, compare Felice sang with full lungs as he came up the mountain. He was in the best humor, and did not disdain the supper that his mother and sister put on the table. Daddy Calogero had, in course oi the week, made an errand to Aggira about some lupines that he wished to sell to master Turi. He told Felice that mistress Agata Borello was content as Easter day to have him for son-in-law, and it only remained for him to talk to the girl. Then the father and son together had bargained with master Turi for the roan. The horse-owner said that Felice must stay with the animals until after the fair of Castrogiovanni, for he himself was old and Pietro was but a boy. Felice would be needed to lead the horses up the mountain, in midst of that crowd of beasts and carts and carriages and people, so noisy that it would appear like the end of the world !

Therefore Felice agreed to herd the horses until after the fair in May, to lead the string to be sold, and bring back those that should remain after the three days of the sale were ended.

“ I have thought, daddy, that Lorenzo Burgio might take my place, and so I told master Lucernini. To-morrow, in the piazza, I will talk about it with Lorenzo. If he will, I can readily tell him the disposition of the different horses : the gray, that is wild until he is sure that you are his friend ; the little bay mare, that nips the others and then squeals as if she were hurt; old Baia, who tells you beforehand by her ways when there is to be wind or rain; the black, gentle as a lamb, but if you give him the word he flies like an eagle. They are all good, those horses. But the best is my Riuzzu! ”

After supper, Felice went to the tavern of comare Agata. There at a table were some men that he knew, eating sausages and macaroni. As he entered, they called him.

“ Ohè, compare Felice! Sit at table to eat a mouthful with us.” For they wished to congratulate him.

“ Thanks, so many. Excuse me this time, for I have already eaten at home. I come on a message from my mother to comare Agata.”

So, for manners, they said no more and contented themselves with drinking the health of compare Felice. He, standing near, drank a little glass and thanked the friends. Then he went into the kitchen where comare Agata was toasting sausages. The daughters were beside her. He saluted them, in midst of the smoke and hiss of the frying-pan.

“ Blessed are they who see you, compare Felice. Now, let us hope, you will no longer make yourself so wished for.

I have heard from your mother that you are leaving master Turi.”

“ It is true.”

“ Here, Rosaria, take these sausages to the table. For Lorenzo Burgio and company have an appetite ! ” Rosaria carried away the platter.

Marina, quite red, stood twisting the corner of her apron ; while Felice, from the other side of the room, turned certain sweet glances upon her through the unctuous smoke.

“ ‘T is very warm here,” he stammered, partly because he felt so, to be near to the oven and near to Marina, and also because he wished to say something in order not to appear awkward.

“ Go, you others that have n’t this job of the sausages, to seat yourselves in the doorway. At least one can breathe there,” said mistress Agata.

This was a sign of very great favor to Felice, and so he esteemed it. The young people went to sit on the threshold, each pressing against a side of the doorway, withdrawing from one another for shyness. Marina spoke first: —

“ If Heaven please, compare Felice, this year your father will have a fine crop of grain. And also the vineyards will do well, as was seen in the rainbow of last evening.”

“ That is true. In the arcobaleno there was much of yellow and of red. Little of green, however — which is a bad sign for the olives.”

“ It must have been really by miracle that Noah made the beasts ascend, two by two, upon that ark! Because to look at it now, it seems as if not even a goat could climb it, more than upon a cupola.”

“ You say well, comare Marina.”

“ Shall you have many horses to bring to the fair?”

“ A fine string of them, between horses and colts. But the best, Riuzzu the roan, has been bought by my father, who has made me the gift of him. So, with the cart of master Crocco, I can earn enough, in case ” —

Felice, quite red, feared to have said too much. Marina — who while they were talking about Noah’s ark, which now and then appears in the skies to rejoice Christians after the rain, and about the horses, had remained stiff against the doorway — now made herself a little more comfortable without minding that her shoulder approached that of compare Felice. The mamma, every now and then, gave a glance with the tail of the eye at the lovers.

However awkward Felice might be, he was able to perceive that Marina did not take it amiss, that “ in case of his. So he took courage and went on :

“ If I have thought best to change my trade, comare Marina, it is in order to plant a beautiful palm-tree at the door of my father’s house, to call a dove to alight upon his roof.”

Felice was all in a perspiration with this fine speech. So it is that love can make, for once, a poet of a peasant, who before was dumb like his beasts.

“If you will do me the honor to marry me, comare Marina, I will carry you in my hands like the banner of a saint. And rough as I am, I will do my best to make you content.”

Between the ornate phrases that belonged to the occasion and the sober words which came from the heart, Marina let herself be persuaded.

“Oh, why do you want me? I ’m ugly, as I made your sister observe when she brought me your compliments, compare Felice.”

“You are beautiful, so that you appear like the morning-star. And I want you, comare Marina.”

“ What will your mother say to it ? ” “You know very well that she came willingly for the weaving-comb. You will do her a pleasure if you take me. Also to my father and to Caterina, your comare of the little-finger. Look, I love you so much, so much, Marina ! And to me will you not say a little word ? ” Marina gave him a smiling look which was worth a hundred words. Compare Felice, against his duty, let off a great kiss upon her cheek, the sound of which was smothered by the sputter of the sausages, and therefore did not reach the ears of comare Agata. Other customers were arriving, some men from Catania, and mistress Agata and Rosaria must make themselves into four to prepare the supper.

“ And why don’t you make Marina give us a hand, mamma?”

“ Oh, have n’t you a crumb of brain ? There’s compare Felice discoursing with her.”

“ He might talk with her another time.”

“ Would you like to eat wedding sugarplums, — yes or no ? So it is ; one must speak clearly to you, Rosaria. Compare Felice will marry Marina.”

Yes, I would willingly eat sugarplums,” said little Rosaria quite gravely. And she went into the next room, carrying a dish of lasagne to the table.

Now it was for mistress Agata to cause the estimate of the dowry to be made ; and if this should content the parents of Felice, as indeed she could not doubt, the betrothal would be made before the eyes of people, and the young pair could be married after the wheat harvest. For ‘t is unlucky to wed in May ; and then there would be the fair of Castrogiovanni, to which customers come from all Sicily, from Calabria, from Naples, from Rome, and from places still more distant. Afterward, they must stand ready from day to day to cut the wheat; for, says the proverb, In May, sharpen the scythe. So mistress Agata told the neighbors, who took it as an invitation, that on the next Thursday the dowry would be appraised.

There came donna Maria Alimena, the dressmaker, who was an expert and knew the just value of every thread. There came don Egidio Russo, the notary, long and lean as a cane of the vineyard, with his bag of papers, to write the list as donna Maria would prompt him. All the women and girls of the neighborhood were at the tavern; not one was missing. They came for curiosity to see all that linen and woolen, the gowns stretched across the room, the sheets and pillowcases and towels and tablecloths and chemises, folded in piles of four and four, upon comare Agata’s bed. The walnut-wood chest of drawers, the chairs and table, the dishes and pans, were set in order. The women crowded about, feeling the quality of the linen, examining the furniture, everybody saying her say. The girls were certain that they too, one day, would have an outfit which should make this of comare Marina appear a poor thing. Donna Maria Alimena was quite glorious: she had power to appraise everything, and there was no appeal, as if she were a pope. She ran back and forth, speaking in the ear of don Egidio, who wrote just as she dictated, so much for this and for that, on a large sheet of paper with the initials of the Holy Family written at the top, while the women strained their ears, but without avail, to hear some of those ciphers. Don Egidio wrote deliberately, now and then passing the nib of the pen over the edge of his thumbnail, because the ink was thick. But what a beautiful caligraphy —whoever had instruction enough to read it!

Marina stood at one side of the room, modest, with her eyes cast down, as if she wished to appear without interest in the matter. The girls, now that certainly none of them could marry compare Felice Mendola, — as if they would ! — seemed to enjoy her good fortune. The mammas said various kind things to comare Agata and also to Marina, so that her cheeks became red as embers. Now donna Maria Alimena had estimated everything, down to the last skein of yarn.

“An outfit, mistress Agata, that is a pleasure to appraise. It can’t be said that your daughter goes empty-handed to the husband.”

And don Egidio Russo wiped the pen on the side of his black trousers, and replaced the papers in his bag. Then he consigned the estimate to mistress Agata.

“ There has been something to write, we may say. I wish good fortune to the happy pair.”

He accepted the glass of wine that was offered to him. Then he went away on the horse that had awaited him, tied to a fig-tree near the door.

As soon as the notary was gone, the women, who had spoken softly from respect for him, began to buzz like bees. They surrounded donna Maria Alimena, who told of a visit lately made by her to Catania, where, in a shop, she had seen some gowns that came from Paris of France. “Certain fashions,however, that, on her conscience, she could n’t recommend to Christians.” But even the devout showed much curiosity to learn how those gowns were cut.

” Low-necked, so that they appeared fit only for puppets, not to offend the ears of these girls by naming worse,” said donna Maria.

Comare Santa Bnrgio crossed herself, to hear about such things ; although truly donna Maria Alimena was a judicious person, who spoke with due reserve. After the dressmaker was gone to her own house, the women who remained at the tavern, all in the vein of talking, told the seven wonders about their poultry, their pigs, their husbands, their spinning and weaving. Each had a story to outrank the others. Finally, one saw by the shadow on the mountain that it was near to Ave Maria, so that she must run home, not to let her man lack a dish of hot minestra; for, poor fellow, he worked enough for ten men, and some refreshment, Heaven knew, he needed. Also another felt the kettle upon her mind. A neighbor, a poor housekeeper, who was n’t ashamed to bake on Thursday that it was, instead of Saturday as is the custom, remembered that she had left the bread in the oven. Santa Zita send that it wasn’t reduced to a cinder !

The women departed, and comare Agata was left alone with her daughters, content as a general after a victory.

The estimate of the dowry having been sent to the parents of Felice, they got it read to them by the apothecary, who told them that they were making an excellent affair. On the next Saturday evening, Felice, with relatives and friends, came to the tavern of mistress Agata for the betrothal. He brought the gold ring and the ribbon of a beautiful dark red. His mother parted the hair of Marina and combed it, braiding in the ribbon. They ate raisins and nuts, and drank to the bride and the bridegroom. Marina gave a silk handkerchief to Lorenzo Burgio and to those other fellows who were friends of Felice. They said that they were his men, and would respect his rights when he should be away at the pastures of Aggira.

There, in the hours while he watched the horses, it seemed to him a thousand years before he could leave the service of master Turi and return to Castrogiovanni, where, every day, he would be able to see Marina. Saturdays, however, he always came home; and, after supper, riding Riuzzu, in order to make a fine show of himself, he went to visit his bride. But it was always Rosaria who first said, “ There comes compare Felice.” And when Marina, a little vexed, would ask, “And how do you know it?" Rosaria answered, “ I can distinguish the sound of Riuzzu’s hoofs.” For between the little sister and the horse was established a great friendship.

Now, unluckily, Felice could no longer find beautiful words as in that evening when certainly some saint must have loosened his tongue. Instead, he talked with Marina about the room that they would have in his father’s house, and of the trade on the Caltanisetta road that would bring twice as much as herding horses. Or she told him of the new piece of cloth that she had begun to weave. They had come to facts; but even facts appeared to them beautiful. Meanwhile the mamma sat near, knitting, but she took care not to hear with the ear which was turned toward the lovers. Rosaria would take her scissors and go out to cut handfuls of grass for the good roan, that followed her like a lamb. Also Marina wished well to the horse; sometimes she caressed his neck and spoke to him with her soft voice. But the girl at sight of whom Riuzzi whinnied for joy was Rosaria.


Now, along the roads of Castrogiovanni, vast droves of cattle and sheep and goats and pigs were coming to the fair, amid clouds of dust, under the sun of May. The herders rode on horses or mules, or went on foot, back and forth beside the beasts. There were great armies of donkeys that took to running, with their necks stretched out, braying as if the wolves were after them. Flocks of sheep came, crowding their sides against each other, the lambs doing their best not to be left behind their mothers. Herds of cattle came tossing their horns and trampling, some sullen, some pushing each other for play. Here a beautiful heifer loitered, turning her slow eyes to right and left, while the bell on her neck tinkled. Peasants, men and women, guided a donkey cart loaded with poultry, cackling and fluttering, or with fruit and vegetables. Some poor fellows had a single sheep, or one ass, or sole pig to sell. A swineherd and his boy passed with a great drove of pigs, which ran squealing this way and that, so that there was needed the hand of sant’ Antonio himself to keep them together. Companies of beautiful horses were seen, deep-chested, with delicate heads and clean limbs. Of these none were better than the horses of master Turi Lucernini, with their shining coats and hoofs that seemed to scorn the earth as they trod it. Felice rode the fine black, Mureddu, which was all decked with tassels and ribbons, flame-red against the skin that was the color of coal.

Also Pietro was on horseback, in the saddle of a gray mare ; whose sister that resembled her, dapple for dapple, ran beside. The horses distrusted the cattle, that bellowed and raised the dust, like rude beasts as they are, and the herders had to reassure them. “ O my beauty ! O son of a golden mare ! Be tranquil, for I ‘11 avert the danger from you! Quiet, O skin of spun silk ! ” And they ran them in, sometimes throwing pebbles not bigger than a bean to urge them. “ o hoofs of silver! O legs of the four

winds ! My fine little horse, cavadduzzu beddu !

So, at last, they reached the tableland a little to the south of Castrogiovanni. Now there was wanted the justice of King Solomon to divide the land so everybody could have a place. The noise of all those feet and voices of men and beasts was fit to stun people. The herdsmen rode about at full gallop to choose their places, dashing through droves of animals, so that it was by miracle that no harm was done.

“With permission, I take a place for my goats near your horses, master herder.”

As he was spoken to, compare Felice turned to look at the man who stood beside him. This one was tall and dark, so that he appeared like a Turk, and had great black eyes which put one in awe of him. Certainly he had omertà and would make justice for himself without recourse to anybody. He had crisp black hair, and a smile that was like a ray of the sun from a heavy cloud.

“At the service of your excellency,” replied Felice.

“ I call myself Antonio Morreale, from Aidone; and I am a renter of the landowner, don Cosimo Mascarelli.”

“ My name is Felice Mendola, and I am a herder of the horses of master Turi Lucernini, of Aggira.”

So they exchanged names, and herded their animals near each other. Felice took care to leave room enough for master Antonio. The latter had already seen how beautiful was the black horse, that had not a single white hair, and whose tail touched the ground.

“Master Felice, if we can come to terms, it appears to me that that horse suits my case.”

“ And why not, master Antonio?”

Now these words were so much air and no more, because, as is known, at the fair of Castrogiovanni, the first day they look, the second they talk, and the third they buy. But every time that Antonio Morreale looked at that horse he said. “You’re to my taste.” And soon Mureddu took to wishing him well, so much so that he rubbed his muzzle against Antonio’s jacket as if to say, “ I should he glad if you would buy me, since destiny wills that I quit master Felice.”

Also, in the town, everything was active. At the inn of comare Agata there was so much to be done, that mistress Nunziata Mendola and her daughter Caterina were come to give a hand, as if they were already relatives. Comare Santa Burgio was obliged to help her husband and Lorenzo in the wine-shop, but she sent her girls, Sabedda and Arcangela, dressed in their holiday clothes, to be useful to comare Agata in the kitchen or at the tables. Days beforehand, they had prepared the various mercies of Heaven. The fire of the oven was never out, except when at night they veiled it with ashes. There were kneading-trays full of lasagne, and loaves piled up like the stones of a well, and cakes with nuts and honey and raisins mixed with fine flour, to please the gentry. Master Crocco, who would not go away down there to America without enjoying one more fair, had brought such loads of wine to comare Agata that nobody need go with a dry mouth, provided one had a few soldi to pay for a glass. After the fair, master Crocco would leave his cart in the stable of daddy Calogero. There it would be painted, and stand ready for Felice when he could leave the horses of master Turi.

The town was changed, so that it did not seem real. Booths everywhere, with fruit and cloth and kettles and knives and trinkets, the sellers crying their goods. People shouted and bargained in tongues not only of Sicily, but also of the peninsula, of which you could not understand a blessed word, so that they were obliged often to talk with gestures, which everybody comprehends. The women, who usually made themselves heard from windows and doorways across the streets and at a distance, — for the town was so quiet that you could not crack a nut without letting it be known in the next parish, — now put their heads together and raised their voices if they wanted to hear the news. Uncle Burgio, at the door of the wine-shop, observed everything: —

“ Were ever seen so many foreigners ! What manners, what clothes, Heaven save us ! They must spend the eyes out of their heads, to wear such broadcloth. How handsome that Calabrian baron, with his wide hat of gray felt, and his tall boots, making his horse caracole to get himself looked at by the pretty girls at the door of comare Agata’s tavern ! Did you observe that old man from the plain of Catania ? That one has property as far as the eye can reach, grainfields and olives and vines. Last year, a townsman of his told me that one of his barns burst with the crop, and the peasants crawled among the ruins to take out the grain, while he and the overseers rode about, with pistols in their belts, so that not even a woman should rob him of an apronful of it. Only the doves and the sparrows got some, lifting their heads to thank the Lord for the mouthful.”

At the tavern, comare Agata was full of business. “ Run my girls, more customers are coming! For there is no time, these days, to stand and chatter. There comes compare Felice Mendola, with another! Go to serve them, Sabedda.”

But Sabedda feigned not to hear, and kept on wiping with a cloth a table where the glasses had left wet rings and little pools. “That’s your affair, Marina,” said Arcangela, “ go you, rather.”

Not to appear whimsical, Marina went forward. “ Good day, Marina,” said Felice. “ Here is master Antonio Morreale from Aidone, who has his goats near my horses, that will do me the favor to eat something! ”

Master Antonio looked at her with eyes that said, “ I would like to eat you, that resemble a beautiful peach,” and at that ardent glance of his, Marina was quite confused.

“ Signora Marina, if you do us the honor to pour the wine, it will seem like that which the king drinks !”

And he, so tall and powerful, had an air of such humility and spoke so gently that Marina hardly knew how to answer, and was in awe of him.

Once, as she set before him a dish, he pressed her hand slightly with the pretext of helping her with that heavy platter. She was angry a little with him, who was so bold ; and a little also with Felice, so stupid that he did not perceive anything. Caterina passed by, with bottles in her hands, and stopped to tell her brother about the hen that had hatched a brood of chickens, and the pig that had taken on flesh as if he knew that he was to help forward the payment of the cart and harness. Meanwhile, Antonio Morreale talked with Marina, saying things that were not out of the common, only with glances which seemed to her like a mirror that showed her beauty to herself.

He had a tongue that dropped honey and oil, that man from Aidone ! He made her compliments and jests, showing her always respect as if to a lady. He told her about Girgenti, where he once worked in the sulphur-mines, and of a voyage as far as Tunis. He had seen Rome and the holy places, and Naples and Palermo. Master Antonio was better than a story-teller of the piazza.

Then Marina gave a glance at Felice to see if he were displeased. Caterina had gone away to serve some Calabrians, who sat at table with their black cloaks in a heap on the floor by their side, and Felice was listening with a serene brow to the discourse of master Antonio. The meal finished, Felice went to pay for both. But mistress Agata would take nothing for what he had eaten, only for the other.

“We shall see, Felice, whether one has to pay at the table of his mother-inlaw ! ” And she laughed good-humoredly as she counted the change in her hand.

“It has been told me, mistress Marina, that you are to marry Felice Mendola,” said the man from Aidone.

“ If it is the will of Heaven.”

“ I wish you happiness and kiss your hands.”

Then Antonio Morreale went to rejoin Felice at the door ; and Marina saw them go away together toward the field of the animals.

“ How handsome that Christian is,” said Arcangela Burgio, with her hands on Marina’s shoulders. “ He looked like the image of san Cristoforo ! ”

“ To me, he looked more like a Moor,” replied Marina, a little annoyed, she did not know why.

“ Ohè, girls ! ” cried comare Agata from the kitchen, “ take these eggs from the pan, quick.”

Among his horses, Felice was content and tranquil as if he had been on the sunny pasture below Aggira, with no noise to be heard except the rustling of the leaves or the gurgling of the brook.

He had seen Marina beautiful and admired in her mother’s house, in company with his own mother and sister, busy with homely cares—as one day, please the Lord, he would see her when she should have become his wife. It appeared to him to have before his eyes her smooth wrists and the little thumb in the bowl of minestra as she had set it before him upon the table.

While Antonio Morreale was thinking, “ That girl would do for me, just like the black horse. The horse I ‘ll buy from that simpleton of a Felice. And by this blessed day, I ‘11 rob him of the bride ! At least, between us two she shall make her choice. However, it will need more than the three days of the fair to conclude that bargain.”

Master Turi Lucernini came riding his favorite bay horse, a brother to Riuzzu the roan. He praised Felice for the excellent appearance of the horses. He also said that in case Felice judged best to lower the price of some of them, he should do so.

“ But neither shall I be discontent if you bring back the pair of grays and also the black. For poor is he that has nothing to sell after the fair, says the proverb.”

To which Felice answered that one Antonio Morreale from Aidone was bargaining for that horse. “ So much the better that Mureddu already seems to be fond of him.”

Now that Felice was with the horses, Pietro could go about in his turn to see a little of the fair: the snake-charmers, and the men that told fortunes with canaries on a hand-organ, and the booths of sweetmeats, and the pretty girls. But at the girls he scarcely dared look, for he was shyer than a colt before it has felt the bit and bridle, and he avoided the petticoats.

Daddy Calogero came to the field, and neighbor Gianandrea Burgio, for now that the crowd was around the herds of animals, the latter had not so many customers at the wine-shop. With them was uncle Mommu Bricca, who shook his head and swore that oxen were not what they were in his young days, when they had the heart to drag a mountain, they had ! Daddy Calogero said that the weather would be fair ; there might be showers, just enough to lay the dust, but no more. Uncle Mommu told his story of a waterspout that he once saw ; if he had n’t run with his scythe to meet it and cut it across, there would have been great damage. Then, upon questions from daddy Calogero, who never failed to prompt him at this point, he said that the “ dragoness ” was first like a woman, that rose up from the ground a great way off, and as she approached changed into a black cloud like a column — from wind and bad weather sant’ Antonio deliver us !

“ Talk, talk,” muttered neighbor Burgio.

Then they began to examine the horses, felt them all over, and gave their opinions. And when they discuss horses, people never come to an end.

The second day of the fair was like the first. It was necessary to stay near one’s herd to haggle over the prices with the buyers, — “ What do you give,” and “What do you take,” losing time over every penny more or less. At noon, Felice accompanied Antonio Morreale to the tavern and they dined there together. But this time Antonio would absolutely pay with his own money for what he had, because in his heart he thought,

“ I will not eat the bread of Felice, now that I intend to pay court to mistress Marina who is promised to him. That way would stain my honor.”

And as they walked back together to their herds, Antonio said to Felice, —

“ Master Felice, it will not displease you if I take the most beautiful creature that you have ? ”

“ Rather, since Mureddu has to be sold, I am pleased that you will be his master. What matters to me is that the horse likes you already and that you will be kind to him. Therefore I am glad of it.”

And Antonio said within himself, “ That answer must do also as regards Marina. Surely I will be kind to her, and I believe that she likes me a little, already.” With such reasonings he put his conscience to sleep, and soon came to believe that he had warned Felice, loyally.

In the afternoon, without saying a word to the horse-herders, Antonio went back to the tavern and had occasion to exchange a few phrases with Marina. All that he said, Sabedda Burgio, standing beside them, could hear; it was nothing particular.

But at night, when everything was silent, Marina tossed and stretched herself on her bed, because her bones ached with the fatigues of the day. And with closed eyes it seemed to her she saw that dark face of the man from Aidone, and heard the voice that had said to her words which were little and yet sounded like so much. Finally, having recommended to the Madonna Felice and herself, and their families, she fell asleep.

The last day of the fair, business became serious. People talked of prices ; the sellers pretended less and the buyers offered more. Antonio did not wish to lose the purchase of Mureddu. He wanted the horse ; and also, not to take it from Felice would have seemed to him an ill augury for that other wish that he had at heart. Therefore, early in the morning he bought the black. Other customers came, and Felice sold all his horses at his own figures ; and those were not too great, because, as the proverb says, A horse for which you ask too high will lose his luck, go lame or die. When he had no more to sell, and the money was tied up in a leather bag, he sought master Turi and handed the bag to him.

“Now that I have finished with the horses, I ’ll run to find my girl,” said Felice, jumping for joy.

Antonio Morreale, bargaining with a man from Licodia about the goats, was stretching the price all that he could without making his customer have a fly on his nose, as the saying is, for the Licodia ns are quarrelsome. He saw Felice going toward the tavern of comare Agata.

“ Go with the saints,” he sneered. “ Once for you and once for me ! You ’re a simpleton, and don’t know how to make yourself loved by a beautiful girl. Marina shall marry me, in the face of you and your saint! ”

And because of these thoughts which sent the blood to his head, Antonio let himself be cheated out of several lire in the bargain with that man from Licodia.

Meanwhile, Felice had an air of such content, that it was a pleasure to see him. He went through the streets singing until he reached the tavern. Marina came to the door to throw away some onion-parings in a pan of dirty water, so that she nearly splashed him.

“ Look out there, my little girl! Don’t soak me, you know ! ”

Marina did not know why, but now that the dark man from Aidone frequented the tavern of mistress Agata, she felt a need to see Felice, even more than usual.

“You have eyes like the little bay filly that, at twilight, shies if the leaves stir in the bushes. What’s the matter Marina ? ”

“ Nothing, nothing indeed. I’m rather tired. This fair is no joke, here in mamma’s tavern.”

“ Listen ; I shall tell your mamma to let you stay idle for a half-hour, for I want to talk with you.”

And so he did. Marina had, as it were, a fear in her heart, and could not have given herself a reason for it. Sometimes it appeared to her that she had done a little wrong to Felice ; but to think of it, the idea vanished. It must be weariness that suggested these ideas to her.

Felice, for his part, had no such whims, and gradually, as he talked, those slight fears of Marina’s melted away like the clouds which rest among the streets of Castrogiovanni, high upon the mountain, then move and finally pass off into the air. When the grain should have been threshed and stored, after the festival of the Madonna del Carmine, the beautiful Queen of Castrogiovanni — then with her blessing Felice would marry Marina.

As they sat there on a log in the dooryard, Antonio Morreale went by, on Mureddu.

“ I salute you, signora Marina. I have sold my goats and am going home. We shall see each other one of these days, master Felice ; I hope you ’ll come to find me, since from Aggira ’t is not very far to Aidone.” And he rode away, strong and dark, so that he appeared like a Moorish king on the back of that fine black horse.

“ Good-evening,” said Marina to him ; and Felice saluted him. “ May your saint accompany you.”

The day after, the town appeared stripped of everything, dispeopled. On the tableland not a blade of grass remained ; the beasts had eaten it all, and trampled the earth so that the loosened soil blew in dust in every wind. Scraps of paper, broken halters, fragments of wood, rinds of lemons and oranges, shreds of cloth, wisps of hay, — all the ugly and sordid leavings of the fair strewed the bare field. Nobody sang any longer ; all were weary and silent, amid the melancholy of the deserted town. The only pleasure now was to count the money taken during the three days.

Elisabeth Cavazza.