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Short Story Classics




Giovanni Verga


Cavalleria Rusticana

by Giovanni Verga


Turiddu Macca, gnà Nunzia's son, after returning from the army, used every Sunday to strut like a peacock through the square in his bersegliere uniform and red cap, looking like the fortune-teller as he sets up his stand with his cage of canaries. The girls on their way to Mass gave stolen glances at him from behind their mantellinas, and the urchins buzzed round him like flies.

He had brought back with him, also, a pipe with the king on horseback carved so naturally that it seemed actually alive, and he scratched his matches on the seat of his trousers, lifting his leg as if he were going to give a kick.

But in spite of all this, Lola, the daughter of massaro Angelo, had not shown herself either at Mass or on the balcony, for the reason that she was going to wed a man from Licodia, a carter who had four Sortino mules in his stable.

At first, when Turiddu heard about it, santo diavolone! he threatened to disembowel him, threatened to kill him—that fellow from Licodia! But he did nothing of the sort; he contented himself with going under the fair one's window, and singing all the spiteful songs he knew.

"Has gnà Nunzia's Turiddu nothing else to do," asked the neighbors, "except spending his nights singing like a lone sparrow?"

At length, he met Lola on her way back from the pilgrimage to the Madonna del Pericolo, and when she saw him, she turned neither red nor white, just as if it were none of her affair at all.

"Oh, compare Turiddu, I was told that you returned the first of the month."

"But I have been told of something quite different!" replied the other. "Is it true that you are to marry compare Alfio, the carter?"

"Such is God's will," replied Lola, drawing the two ends of her handkerchief under her chin.

"God's will in your case is done with a snap and a spring; to suit yourself! And it was God's will, was it, that I should return from so far to find this fine state of things, gnà Lola!"

The poor fellow still tried to bluster, but his voice grew hoarse, and he followed the girl, tossing his head so that the tassel of his cap swung from side to side on his shoulders. To tell the truth, she felt really sorry to see him wearing such a long face, but she had not the heart to deceive him with fine speeches.

"Listen, compare Turiddu," she said to him at last, "Let me join my friends. What would be said in town if I were seen with you?"

"You are right," replied Turiddu, "Now that you are going to marry compare Alfio, who has four mules in his stable, it is best not to let people's tongues wag about you. But my mother, poor soul, was obliged to sell our bay mule, and that little plot of vineyard on the highway while I was off in the army. The time 'when Berta spun,' is over and gone, and you no longer think of the time when we used to talk together from the window looking into the yard, and you gave me that handkerchief before I went away, and God knows how many tears I shed into it at going so far that even the name of our place is lost! So good-by, gnà Lola,—Let's pretend it's rained and cleared off, and our friendship is ended."

Gnà Lola married the carter, and on Sundays used to go out on the balcony with her hands crossed on her stomach, to show off all the heavy gold rings that her husband gave to her. Turiddu kept up his habit of going back and forth through the street with his pipe in his mouth, his hands in his pockets, and an air of unconcern, and ogling the girls; but it gnawed his heart that Lola's husband had so much money, and that she pretended not to see him when he passed.

"I'll get even with her, under her very eyes; the vile beast," he muttered.

Opposite compare Alfio lived massaro Cola, the vinedresser, who was as rich as a pig, and had one daughter at home. Turiddu said and did all he could to become massaro Cola's workman, and he began to frequent the house, and make sweet speeches to the girl.

"Why don't you go and say sweet things to gnà Lola?" asked Santa.

"Gnà Lola is a fine lady. Gnà Lola has married a crowned king now!"

"I don't deserve crowned kings!"

"You are worth a hundred Lolas, and I know some one who wouldn't look at la gnà Lola or her saint when you are by, for gnà Lola isn't worthy to wear your shoes, no, she isn't!"

"The fox when he couldn't get at the grapes said, 'How beautiful you are, racinedda mia,' my little grape!"

"Ohè! hands off, compare Turiddu!"

"Are you afraid that I will eat you?"

"I'm not afraid of you or of your God."

"Eh! your mother was from Licodia, we all know that! You have quarrelsome blood. Uh! How I could eat you with my eyes!"

"Eat me then with your eyes, for we should not have a crumb left, but meantime help me up with this bundle."

"I would lift up the whole house for you, yes, I would!"

She, so as not to blush, threw at him a stick of wood which was within reach, and by a miracle didn't hit him.

"Let's have done, for chattering never picked grapes."

"If I were rich I should try to get a wife like you, gnà Santa."

"I shall never marry a crowned king like gnà Lola, but I have my dowry as well as she, whenever the Lord shall send me anyone."

"We know you are rich, we know it."

"If you know it, say no more, for father is coming, and I shouldn't like to have him find me in the court-yard."

The old father began to turn up his nose, but the girl pretended not to notice it, because the tassel of the bersegliere's cap had set her heart to fluttering, and was constantly dancing before her eyes. When the babbo put Turiddu out of the house, his daughter opened the window for him, and stood chatting with him all the evening long, so that the whole neighborhood talked of nothing else.

"I'm madly in love with you," said Turiddu, "and I am losing my sleep and my appetite."

"How absurd!"

"I wish I were Victor Emmanuel's son, so as to marry you."

"How absurd!"

"By the Madonna, I would eat you like bread!"

"How absurd!"

"Ah! on my honor!"

"Ah! mamma mia!"

Lola, who was listening every evening, hidden behind the vase of basil, and turning red and white, one day called Turiddu:—

"And so, compare Turiddu, old friends don't speak to each other any more?"

"Ma!" sighed the young man, "blessed is he who can speak to you."

"If you have any desire to speak to me, you know where I live," replied Lola.

Turiddu went to see her so frequently that Santa noticed it, and shut the window in his face. The neighbors looked at him with a smile or with a shake of the head when the bersegliere passed. Lola's husband was making a round of the fairs with his mules.

"Sunday I am going to confession, for last night I dreamed of black grapes," said Lola.

"Put it off, put it off" begged Turiddu.

"No, Easter is coming, and my husband will want to know why I haven't been to confession."

"Ah," murmured massaro Cola's Santa, as she was waiting on her knees before the confessional for her turn, while Lola was making a clean breast of her sins. "On my soul, I will not send you to Rome for your punishment!"

Compare Alfio came home with his mules; he was loaded with money, and he brought to his wife for a present, a handsome new dress for the holidays.

"You are right to bring her gifts," said his neighbor Santa, "because while you are away your wife adorns your house for you."

Compare Alfio was one of those carters who wear their hats over one ear, and when he heard his wife spoken of in such a way he changed color as if he had been knifed.

"Santo diavolone!" he exclaimed, "if you haven't seen aright, I will not leave you eyes to weep with, you or your whole family."

"I am not used to weeping!" replied Santa, "I did not weep even when I saw with these eyes gnà Nunzia's Turiddu going into your wife's house at night!"

"It is well," replied compare Alfio, "many thanks!"

Turiddu, now that the cat was at home, no longer went out on the street by day, and he whiled away the tedium at the inn with his friends; and on Easter eve they had on the table a dish of sausages.

When compare Alfio came in, Turiddu realized, merely by the way in which he fixed his eyes on him, that he had come to settle that affair, and he laid his fork on the plate.

"Have you any commands for me, compare Alfio?" he asked.

"No favors to ask, compare Turiddu; it's some time since I have seen you, and I wanted to speak concerning something you know about."

Turiddu at first had offered him a glass, but compare Alfio refused it with a wave of his hand. Then Turiddu got up and said to him,—

"Here I am, compare Alfio."

The carter threw his arms around his neck.

"If to-morrow morning you will come to the prickly pears of la Canziria, we can talk that matter over, compare."

"Wait for me on the street at daybreak, and we will go together."

With these words they exchanged the kiss of defiance. Turiddu bit the carter's ear, and thus made the solemn oath not to fail him.

The friends had silently left the sausages, and accompanied Turiddu to his home. Gnà Nunzia, poor creature, waited for him till late every evening.

"Mamma," said Turiddu, "do you remember when I went as a soldier, that you thought I should never come back any more? Give me a good kiss as you did then, for to-morrow morning I am going far away."

Before daybreak he got his spring-knife, which he had hidden under the hay, when he had gone to serve his time in the army, and started for the prickly-pear trees of la Canziria.

"Oh, Gesummaria! where are you going in such haste!" cried Lola in great apprehension, while her husband was getting ready to go out.

"I am not going far," replied compare Alfio. "But it would be better for you if I never came back."

Lola in her nightdress was praying at the foot of the bed, and pressing to her lips the rosary which Fra Bernardino had brought to her from the Holy places, and reciting all the Ave Marias that she could say.

"Compare Alfio," began Turiddu, after he had gone a little distance by the side of his companion, who walked in silence with his cap down over his eyes, "as God is true I know that I have done wrong, and I should let myself be killed. But before I came out, I saw my old mother, who got up to see me off, under the pretence of tending the hens. Her heart had a presentiment, and as the Lord is true, I will kill you like a dog, so that my poor old mother may not weep."

"All right," replied compare Alfio, stripping off his waistcoat. "Then we will both of us hit hard."

Both of them were skilful fencers. Turiddu was first struck, and was quick enough to receive it in the arm. When he returned it, he returned it well, and wounded the other in the groin.

"Ah, compare Turiddu! so you really intend to kill me, do you?"

"Yes, I gave you fair warning; since I saw my old mother in the hen-yard, it seems to me I have her all the time before my eyes."

"Keep them well open, those eyes of yours," cried compare Alfio, "for I am going to give you back good measure."

As he stood on guard, all doubled up, so as to keep his left hand on his wound, which pained him, and almost trailing his elbow on the ground, he swiftly picked up a handful of dust, and flung it into his adversary's eyes.

"Ah!" screamed Turiddu, blinded, "I am dead."

He tried to save himself, by making desperate leaps backwards, but compare Alfio overtook him with another thrust in the stomach, and a third in the throat.

"And that makes three! that is for the house which you have adorned for me! Now your mother will let the hens alone."

Turiddu staggered a short distance among the prickly pears, and then fell like a stone. The blood foaming, gurgled in his throat, and he could not even cry, "Ah! mamma mia!"