One day – oh, finally! – one day he would reappear in those desolate stanzoni of his palace, but victorious, with full right of authority and command, master of Cento-Salme ripped to the Marquis of Camutello; and without a word, with a single gesture, he would have driven away, indeed wiped out all those who they were not worthy to carry the honored and haughty name of the Zingàli; and there he would be locked up, alone, as in a fortress; and he would have turned that desolation into a palace, almost with a stroke of a magic wand! … He would not have had only one hundred-Psalms, but fifty thousand onces of income badly perceived by the Marquis of Camutello! Fifty thousand onze, in gold, in silver! … A river of sound money, which he could have spent immediately, in spite of all, without anyone being tempted to ban him … Here is if he had been mad! Here is if he had ranted by bringing the dispute, using all the resources of the house for this supreme purpose!
And he lay under the covers of the miserable bed, turning off the tallow candle, continuing in the dark the fantastic dream that had made him taste with pleasure, like exquisite supper, that little bit of bread and cheese saved from what should have been his lunch at noon!
The baroness and her daughters, when the baron no longer appeared in the house, had remained frightened by their audacious attempt and had left the application for interdiction.
Hercules resumed his hunts; Marco did not leave the baroness alone to give him the means of building the great mill of his invention in their house; Feliciano had replaced his father in the administration, hard and inexorable with the peasants of his mother’s dowry, also fixed in the idea of freeing all the family property from the burdensome mortgages that absorbed the fruit. He revealed himself to be the pure race of the Zingàli, stubborn, stubborn, imperious even with his mother, who did not dare to resist him.
– He knows better than us what he does! Said the baroness to Rosaria who often mumbled against her brother.
A pure Zingàli also she, mute, impenetrable, with those eyes that appalled when they remained fixed in space, almost attracted by fearful visions that others could not see.
Since the baron had left the house, she had wanted to occupy his room.
– So you’re not afraid to sleep alone there? – the mother told her.
During the day, the mother wanted her in the room, even for the rosary and for other common prayers, when the canon Rametta came to confess, as usual, the lady baroness, and to talk about holy things and gossip. The Canon had believed that the absence of the baron would have given life to the sad and oppressive aspect of that house; and the holy priest now saw with almost remorse that the sadness had increased rather. The man who was locked up in his room, buried among the old scriptures, of nothing else occupied except for them, had left a great emptiness in the vast palace, of which the poor canon could not be made right.
– No news? He asked timidly at the baroness.
– None! – Mariangela repeated, raising the tired and dreamy pupils to the sky.
– The Lord will open his eyes, his heart will soften! We pray for him! – the canon replied.
Rosaria frowned, her full lips were biting, and it was impossible to understand whether for absentee or for regret of the absentee. Often, during the conversation, she would suddenly sit up and go and lock herself in her new room.
One morning Mariangela had surprised him by the bed, suffocated by sobs. Her hands were convulsively clawing at the blankets, and the black and long tresses had been dissolved and ruffled in the disordered agitation of her head.
– Oh, God! … What do you have? Rosaria! …
At her sister’s cry, she stood up quickly, throwing back her hair backwards, which fell on her face and shoulders; and opening his eyes wide, he had brought his index finger to his mouth, imposing silence.
– Do not say anything to the mother! … It’s nothing! … Send to call the canon Rametta … I need him … I want to confess … do not say anything to my mother! Bada; do not tell her anything!
Mariangela, stunned, frightened, had waited for the canon at the top of the stairs, and had him tiptoed, because the baroness did not notice his coming.
– Leave us; go there, – Rosaria had ordered her sister.
– Bad news? Then asked the canon.
Rosaria, closed the door and put the internal stake, stopped in front of the priest, who looked at her waiting anxiously for the answer.
– I’m damned! She exclaimed, bringing her hands around her mouth, as if to suppress the sound of her voice and make it at the same time more vibrant.
– Damned? My daughter! Damned?
She pushed him onto the arm-chair at the table and fell down to his knees.
– Damned? … It’s not possible! … What did you have to despair of God’s forgiveness? Oh, my daughter! …
With her head upside down, covering her face with her hands, Rosaria repeated harrowing:
– Damn! … Damn!
The confessor stroked her hair, tried to comfort her.
– Speak, my daughter! Now you are in front of God … Forget the miserable person of his unworthy servant … Speak!
Never the canon Rametta, who had been authorized to administer the Sacrament of Penance, had never found himself before such a scene; and trembling, lost, he did not know how to induce that daughter to calm down.
Terrible, unbelievable things he had then heard.
– You, my daughter? … You invoked the devil? … Why? Such as?
And Rosaria, with her head bowed, her face in her hands that barely allowed the word to pass free, had revealed the secret that had weighed on her heart for two years, and which had formed her happiness and her despair at the same time; that terrible secret that had seemed to her several times if they had guessed or wanted to investigate her mother, sister, brothers, and that she had that is more angry at the bottom of his chest! … But now … now he could not take it anymore!
And so a ray of sunshine had penetrated the dark burial of their house. She had loved, riamata! … Why, because the Lord had given birth to a Zingàli? Because of this, he had never dared to let her know directly … And maybe even for the state of their family!
“How did you know, my daughter?”
– A hint, two words dictate to me by a poor woman …
– What, my daughter?
And hearing the naive tale, the expert confessor understood little or little what pertinent work of the young imagination had been able to weave the fallacious flattery of that love in the silence, in the dim light, in the solitude of those melancholy stanzoni, where the sounds of life that was fervent out, they were amortized, weakened, or did not arrive at all. And for this she had rebelled against destiny; for this he protested against the tyranny of Jesus Christ who condemned her to be a Zingàli, that is a shadow, a ghost, a name and nothing else.
– Yes, yes father! … I cursed Jesus! … I cursed the Madonna!
– And did you lie in confession? And did you eat sacrilegiously of the immaculate flesh of the Redeemer?
– Yes, yes father! …
One day, rummaging through a bookshelf of old books, behind the sheet volumes bound in parchment, he had found a book wrapped in a sheet of paper and sealed. Yellowed, squadernated, without a frontispiece, with strange figures almost on every page, that little volume had tempted his curiosity. Sealed with five large seals, hidden there, behind the other books, was then something forbidden? And if he had brought it to his room, and had hidden it between the mattress of his bed, under the bedside … And the night, pretending to say the prayers, she started reading …
– He said: Way to make your loved one appear in your room . A long Latin prayer was to be performed for three consecutive nights … Adonai, onnipotens sempiterne Deus … I know it all by heart!
– The devil, my daughter! … The devil! …
– What did it matter to me? Abandoned by God, I turned to the devil who at least promised me that happiness … Ah! I was also deceived by him! … I felt dying with terror, and I read, I read that prayer of which I understood only a few words, with my forehead wet with sweat, with a heart that almost no longer beat me, with the voice that he was dying in my throat, knees at the open window of that room where I went late at night, groping in the dark, carrying matches and the candle of Candlemas, because a candle was needed … And then I continued for months and months, here, in this room, invoking, persistent , the one who did not appear, who never appeared! Never!…
– Domine, ignosce illae! – the canon stammered, raising his eyes mercifully. And he added: – God is merciful … You, poor daughter, did not know what you were doing.
– I knew it, father; I did it in the mail! …
– But it was an aberration, a suggestion of the devil! … Now that you accuse of sin, now that, repentant, you ask for forgiveness …
– I’m damned! … I’m damned! Rosaria sobbed in despair.
– Ah, daughter! This, this is even greater sin: despair of God’s mercy! … You are already forgiven! In the name of him who gave me power, ego te absolvo ! … And now what do you intend to do, my daughter?
– I want to go away, far away, Sister of Charity! … To leave immediately … soon! …
* * *
The baron had received a letter from Rosaria asking him for forgiveness and announcing himhis departure for Syracuse, where he was the home of the Sisters of Charity who were to receive her first vows. He had darkly waved his head reading; then, tore the sheet, he had thrown the pieces into a corner; and he had not answered.
Two months later, Hercules, in a hunting party, was hit by mistake by a friend. He had been blinded, and perhaps would not have survived the misfortune!
– It’s God’s hand! – the baron had replied to Don Emanuele Cerrotta, who had been asked to participate cautiously in the news. – I’ll have to see something else! … The hand of God is slow in striking, but infallible! …
For two nights he had not closed his eyes, agitated by the thought of the next discussion of the dispute before the Grand Court. Finally the big day arrived! You had to run from one judge to another and from the president, to give information along with the lawyer and the attorney. And the president of the Grand Court, hearing him speak and talk – already knew him very well; who did not know him now in the courts and in the Grand Court? – that morning he told him in his frank Neapolitan:
– But dear baron, ‘in Corte v’arrarrìa gives you reason to raise na mala pimmicia da cuollo!
And the next day, in the audience hall, the baron was crying with consolation during the splendid arrogance of the lawyer De Paolis, and he smiled in tears, approving with his head, with his hands, with his torso, applauding under the voice with frequent good! well! very well! that had annoyed the famous lawyer, because they distracted him from the complicated argument of his reasoning.
– But, my baron! … – he turned to the last one.
The baron seemed to want to disappear under the ground, so much was seen curling up on the chair to the rebuke of the lawyer.
But then he cocked his head, glared at the lawyer of the opposite party, as soon as he began to harangue with a loud voice and broad gestures.
– Stories! … Nonsense! … And the act of exchange? Ah! Ah! … Bravo! Good! … Very well! …
He writhed, shrugged, approved with an ironic accent; he held his head in his hands; his ears were robbed so as not to hear those quibbles prematurely debunked by the unsurpassable arrogance of De Paolis … A God! … He had spoken like a God! … And he made the judges yawn! … And the Marquis cousin was to listen to it by closing my eyes. – And here, dear cousin! … We saw each other in Gran  Court! … And who laughs the last one will laugh well! Ah! Ah! – What did that lawyer arruffone say now? … – But yes, but yes … With the marriage of a woman Querinta Soldano … precisely! … Baroness of Cantorìa! … – He just refuted him stammering words, and could hardly contain …
Suddenly he turned pale, leaned forward and fell down on the ground, with a faint gasp.
* * *
They had believed him struck by apoplexy; instead he had simply fainted from exhaustion, from excessive emotion and weakness; he had only eaten some bread for two days!
– What are you doing here, baron? – Don Emanuele Cerrotta had told him. – Now we wait for the sentence … favorable … I trust you in one ear … I did not know a while ago. It will be published in a month. We are right in everything and for everything … As if we had written it to us. Go back to your home; dear baron; do you want to kill yourself with this wine? Forgive and do not think about it anymore. Be generous!
– The Zingàli never forgive! They go to hell, but they do not forgive! Never! The baron had answered.
– Are you not a Christian then?
– Christian baptized; but Jesus Christ, who forgave everyone and was a son of God, Jesus Christ did not forgive Judas!
– Go to confession! … Do not you know that your son Marco …
– The miller? … I know! I know!
– There was little that the big wheel of his mill did not have it thrown in the air and stripped!
– The hand of God! … And again! … Again! …
– One of your country told me about it. And, in a few minutes, everything has collapsed, it has been shattered by too much motorbike violence. Two floors collapsed …
– The whole building will collapse! You’ll see!
– Do not be a prophet of bad luck! Finally they are your children. And that poor baroness! She is sick, almost dying … Go there, forgive everyone, be generous! Do you need money? Two ounces? They are the last ones. In a few months you will have the crates full of shields; you will not know what to do with it … And in January do not forget to send me the salty black olives, those of Cento-Salme.
– There are no olive trees in Cento-Salme. I know where to find them.
– And forgive. Forgiving is great – concluded Don Emanuele.
No, he could not forgive! Now that the quarrel was won, now that the wealth was returning to bloom again the name of the Zingàli, all the suffering, all the humiliations suffered in the throat, the mouths, almost as if they had been indigestible for more than two years. And that stink that he no longer noticed, and that filth of the underwear and the dress that he no longer cared about, and of which he had often treated the matter of pride in his character, now, only now, that stench blew his breath; now, only now, that filth on his back gave him nausea!
And the next morning he climbed into the cart of a fellow countryman, like a miserable man brought up for charity, and fed himself together with the carter in a country tavern. The sun was cooking it, the shakes of the cart hurt the bones. But, lying almost still on the hard boards of fir tree in which the cart was loaded, he thought of the day that he would return to his palace as a true master, a true baron of Fontane Asciutte and Cantorìa; he who had come out with four plates in his pocket and a bunch of writings under his arm! He wanted to be banned because it ruined the family! He who had been abandoned by his wife, his daughters, his children like a mangy, like a plague!
– Ah, certainly they are already preparing to represent the comedy! Now that I’m not more crazy to forbid, now that they are no longer a mangy, now that they are no longer a plague, now they will come to ask for forgiveness, they will humble themselves, they will commit all the cowardice … There is Cento-Salme in sight. There are ten thousand onze for him of the mill … and ten for the lawyer don Felicianino … the hypocrite, the Jesuit! … Go! … I am no longer a husband! … I am no longer a father! … I am only Don Pietro Paolo Zingàli, baron of Fontane Asciutte and Cantorìa … no, indeed, Baron of Cento-Salme; I’ll get a decree for the new title! …
It was already evening; the mule tiredly dragged the cart along the dusty road. The carter sang.
The baron lifted his head; he saw, far away, standing out black on the reddish sky, the bell towers, the domes of the little town he had been missing for three years, and an unexpected strong emotion invaded him.
During the trip he had exchanged a few words with the carter; but at that point he felt the need to talk to him, to question him.
– What do they say about me?
– They say that covetousness has won the cause. Now Don Marco will no longer think of the mill …
– It was crazy. The gentlemen must be gentlemen, and I who are a carter the carter; do I say good, bad ?
– Stop; I come down here. Do not let anyone know you brought me.
– As you want to know.
And he climbed slowly up the path that climbed right up the hill. The dogs barked a little later, a peasant appeared at the edge:
– Shut up! – he said – I am tired; the climb is steep.
* * *
The fevers had exhausted him. He slept on some litter; there was not even a straw mattress in that ancient olive mill that was no longer needed for years and years. Every evening the peasants returned to the village, and he remained alone there, waiting for the parcel of the prosecutor Cerrotta, who had to bring him the legal copy of the decision of the Grand Court.
– How do you feel, ignorance ?
– Better! Better. It’s nothing! I have hard skin.
He spent the day and part of the evening sitting on a large rock in front of the door, with a kind of coma that made his eyes narrow and leave his head on his chest. The old farmer, who had been an old farmer from the Zingàli house, was finally one evening went to the baroness, notwithstanding the prohibition of the baron.
“Will he have to die there, like a dog?
– What can we do? … Have you talked about us?
– Never, never! He says he is waiting for a lawyer’s letter. Send at least one doctor … and a bed. He sleeps dressed on the straw, in a song of the trappítu … It makes pity!
One morning he was sitting on that rock since dawn, stubborn to remain in that building by the cracked walls, the broken roof, on that bit of straw, which served as a bed, until the day when he would have held the legal copy of the sentence. He had slammed his teeth at the fever of fever during the night; now he felt his head explode from the heat, almost the blood had turned into burning liquid in his veins, though the morning air was fresh. Feeling a scare of cars, he turned his head.
– Ah, Mr. Baron! … Ah, Mr. Baron! …
The canon Rametta extended his arms from afar, Dr. La Barba greeted him with his hat. He made an effort to stand up and avoid receiving them, but he fell back on the stone, leaning his shoulders against the wall as they descended from his horse.
– I do not need a doctor; I’m not dying to have to confess, sir canon. Did you come like the crows to the corpse’s odor? No, no … I’m more alive than all those who send you … Go and tell him.
“We came on our own, Mr. Baron; for the good we want you, for the respect we owe you …
– I have a package here for you, from Catania. My brother-in-law brought him last night …
– Thank you! Give it here … Thanks!
His troubled and tired eyes revived him a little. His hands felt the caress with a trembling of caress, but they did not try to open it. The emotion had taken away all his strength … He smiled, waved his lips, but could not speak. He nodded to the doctor who opened it and read …
– What is it, doctor? – interrupted him – Here! … Here! …
He mentioned the heart. He suffered a painful frenzy, a sharp sting.
– I do not want to die! … I must not die! He stammered.
The doctor and the canon looked at each other.
While the doctor held him by the shoulders, the canon, bending over him thoughtfully, whispered in a shrill voice:
– Do the will of God, Mr. baron! God is the master of life and death! …
The baron’s eyes widened.
– I do not want to die! I do not want to die! … I suffocate! … Doctor!
He desperately begged for help.
– Resign yourself, do the will of God! – repeated the canon kneeling before him.
The poor dying man shook his head, gathered his strength:
– Ah! … This, no, Christ did not have to do it!
And bringing his hands to his heart and trying to tear his clothes off, his eyebrows furrowed and the hard and proud expression of the Zingàli in his eyes, he added, stuttering almost with threat:
– But … we’ll see it up there! … Not … had to … do …
And the gasp of agony cut off the word on his convulsed lips.