To the neighbor, who asked him about his service, he responded with the impetus of a conscience open to all the duties and dangers of the office. And to better demonstrate its severity, he added:
– Provisional worker!
Even the voice, loud, sonorous, was an expression of vigor.
– Where do you come from?
– From Trentino.
– And are you licensed?
– Yes. Eight days of extraordinary license. I’m going home to have fun.
Now he smiled; but irony suited so badly to that face of a healthy and flourishing man and to those eyes that were clarified by the frank and simple soul, that the listeners remained uncertain.
– My wife died almost suddenly. – Wagging his head meant: – This must have happened to me!
When the door was reopened, the train was already in motion.
– Oh! Pug!
– Oh! Saverio! You are here?
The survivor set his face in sadness; in the other, the pleasure of the meeting seemed to overcome the sadness of the occasion.
– I traveled all night. I arrived, from Verona, at noon, and I just had time to run from my brother-in-law to the arsenal.
– Stolen! – exclaimed the friend. – It was stolen, Xavier! Not even the doctor can understand the how and why of disgrace, so suddenly.
– What does it matter to know how and why? – the soldier said even louder. – She’s dead, here!
– You are right.
Needless to investigate; subject matter. They could move on to something else.
– Tell me, Carlino. Your nephew?
– Injured to one leg; he will have it for a few weeks.
– I rejoice, that it is not much. And the friends? Eight months that I have not new! Michele Costa?
– He is a prisoner.
– Prisoner! Michele? – The news contained for him such a contrast between the idea of imprisonment and the image of a braggart or gaudante, that the soldier laughed. And hearing him and seeing him laugh, more than one, in the next places, he thought: – Nice sorrow has he of remaining a widower!
But the dialogue continued.
– And Luigi dell’Osteria Grande?
– Son of a dog! And Isidoro?
– Is dead; in Bainsizza. Giovanni del Poggio too: he left his skin in Albania.
The mule-driver stood a little open-mouthed; and added:
“I do not find it to die here or die there be the same. I would prefer the end of Isidore.
Not everyone was of his opinion, and a debate arose; of which he took advantage of his friend, who was standing, to go to a place, at the back of the carriage.
– Hey, Carlino! – Saverio shouted at him. – Thank you for what you did for my old woman.
And then turning to the woman opposite him:
– If all were gentlemen like Carlino, there would be no war.
“There would not be many pained families,” the woman sighed.
The muleteer resumed:
– War can not be done without killing others, and it is no wonder that many have to suffer. It is no wonder that one is saved and one remains. According to destiny! One day I was leading the mule up a mountain beaten by machine guns. I held the bridle a left-handed man, from the lower part of the path. A blow, and the mula collapsed with a smashed head. If I was standing upright, the shot was my turn. Well; who had told me that day: – You have escaped; your wife will not escape – I would have given him crazy.
Always with the tone of one that tells a story not his, the soldier continued:
“I was crazy instead of me, from the other night until today, until the time I spoke with my brother-in-law. The other night my companion and I, Biagini, a Tuscan, had already loaded the animals (we went to the ward, in the light of the moon), when they gave me a letter. I light a sulfur ring. I see that it is not my wife’s writing; it’s mother’s. – Um! – I say. “Write my mom?” It makes me suspicious. – Do not think about it – Biagini does. – We’re at Christmas e all mothers write to their children. – And I did not think about it anymore. Back in the shack, I had a piece of candle. I read. Is it persuaded? It occurred to me that it was a scam of my mother with someone from the City to get my license. Even the death certificate seemed to me a fole! But today I had to believe. My wife on Saturday before the Feasts came to Bologna to see her sister; he was fine; cheerful; the portrait of health. He came home, and went to bed, which was not her anymore. My brother ran to the doctor, and she was expiring at that moment.
A short break; and then:
– What does it matter to know how and why? She is dead: here!
The woman asked:
– Do you have children?
– One; of six years. The day I left, I wanted to eat, before starting. My wife – she cried – started cutting ham. – That’s enough! I said. And the child: – No, mother; cut a lot, of the ham, to the father, who will not eat any more. – Soon the child will meet me and tell me: – Mother is dead.
The neighbor of the place looked at the muleteer: unchanged in his face as in his voice. Only he saw a tear, firm, between eyelash and eyelash, at the corner of the eye.
Then he spoke:
“Do you know why you lost her, your woman?” Because it was honest. The others, who do not realize they have a husband far away, those, be sure, do not die!
The listeners approved, and the conversation took a pleasant course. Saverio laughed no less than the others, and louder.
No one felt a strange excitement in him: for insomnia – three nights he did not sleep -; for the hunger – since the night before he had eaten half a loaf of bread -; for the pleasure itself that, in contrast to his misfortune, tried to re-interpret his dialect, to find himself among people of his parts, in view of the well-known places, far from the life of war. No one, not even the neighbor, doubted that he was not a resounding testimony to the motto: “He who is dead lies; and who is alive, peace is given “.
Carlino and Saverio descended to the San Niccolò station. A handshake; good evening !, and they parted.
The soldier marched along the solitary lane.
Twilight fell rapidly; the light escaped from the gloom of the plowed, damp and black fields; rows of skeletal elms; of the mist that concealed the mountains and veiled desolation of the farmhouses and houses lost in the cold. The pappi of the vitalbe covered the bare hedges with a funereal whiteness. And Saverio went for the mud.
In anticipation of his thoughts he saw his brother, older than several years, always the same: taciturn, crude, and robust and patient like the oxen, to whom he liked more than men; he saw, aged, mother; raised his son. What a maniac to tighten it on the heart! – George! George! – But the fear of hearing him cry, invoke his mother, became a sense of enormous weight, on him.
And yet he had the way of quelling it in his haversack. – See what I brought you! A pastorino with the lamb! – He had bought it in Bologna, under the portico of the Servi church, where sellers of crib figurines lingered beyond the Epiphany. Four money! For four money, once, there were four of the terracotta figures.
The world, no doubt about it, goes wrong; but those who want to work will always find us doing well. And the war, if many carry it up, many carry it down; the price of the land will fall, and lucky those who have capital to invest in the countryside! When the war is over, he and his brother could leave the sharecropping and rent a good farm; and grow old with cattle. Merchant of oxen: it had been his dream since he was a boy. A sure eye, cunning, a word of a gentleman; the whip in his hand, and the wallet full of hundred-dollar bills.
So, dreaming to get home in a good mood, he finally got home.
The dog seemed crazy; he jumped up and yelped; he ran furiously around and barked; He called.
The brother, who had already redone the bed to the beasts, left the stable with the lit lantern. He was not moved.
– What’s your license?
– Eight days.
– All right. You will help me to prune.
The mother, having abandoned the polenta to the fire, opened her arms wide.
– How long to wait, my son!
– Hey, Mom !, I do not want to cry – the soldier warned as he enters. – Fists to heaven do not give it: so …. And George?
– I put him to bed; tired out; asleep. It never stays in all day!
The soldier took off the roll of his cloak, which he had on his shoulder, and placed it on the caisson; he set his knapsack on a nail; he took the lantern from his hand, and said, “Empty the polenta, which I have died of hunger,” went up the wooden staircase upstairs. Come down again soon.
– He is sleeping. It’s nice. I’m happy.
His eyes flashed, but his brother and mother pretended not to notice.
They sat; the two men at the table, the old one, on the hearth; and swallowed the smoking slices.
– Did you hear about Michele Costa? – asked his brother.
– Yes, Carlino told me by train.
Then the mother took courage.
“Did you also say, Carlino, that we did what we could?
– Yes. We will not talk about it anymore.
– And the war? – the brother asked, after a while.
Saverio shrugged. There was something else to think about, to say! He spoke in a firm voice.
– Mom is old; and of a young woman in the family we need it. Take you wife.
“No,” replied the brother, resolutely. – Tribulate rather.
– I’ll take another one. But mind you: I can not find one like that anywhere in the world.
“It’s true,” the mother confirmed. He added: “As long as I live, a stepmother will not treat him badly, the child.
“And afterwards,” cried Saverio, “I would not miss a club to break them on your back if you did not respect my blood!”
The old woman got up quickly; he went to lay the plate in the bucket; he wiped his eyes with the back of his hand, and Saverio pretended not to notice.
– Now – the brother said filling his pipe – I show you the accounts. Carlino iersera made them. Twice he came to console us.
And he came back with the papers. Saverio pulled the oil lamp close to him and began to track down and add up his income and expenses. Finally, the costs of mortuary: a lot, in torches; so much, in the masses; a lot, in the rest.
– Even priests do not joke! – comment.
But the yields of wheat and grapes were great.
– Do you warm up your bed? – suggested the mother.
– No, I’m going to sleep in the barn.
The lantern was rekindled and the brothers went out.
In the stable Saverio looked at the black oxen. Fe ‘to raise the new manzoli; he touched them; he caressed them.
– Beautiful! From gain.
Then one threw himself on the cot; the other – the soldier – in the pile of straw: he immersed himself; he covered himself with a boy’s pleasure.
And the snoring of the men did not take long to be confused with the deep breathing of the oxen.
When, the next morning, Saverio entered the house, a beautiful fire flamed in the fireplace.
– Mom, get me your clothes, change me.
“And I’ll raise Giorgio,” the old woman smiled. – Excursion for time.
The soldier remained alone. The kitchen seemed broader and more black in the contrast of the two lights: the red and reverberating flame, and the dawn, which came through the window tarnished.
And suddenly, in that uncertain lightening, he had before him the image of the dead: so obvious as to call it. He turned his head; and suddenly a memory came back to him. The day they got married, in the town hall, one of those who wrote exclaimed, serious: – A beautiful married couple!
A shiver ran for his life; she felt guilty about rethinking her beautiful without thinking of her good. And he began to speak, in a low voice, as if someone were listening to the lesson of his experience.
– Passion is not controlled. Is it in the heart? And even if you do not mind, even if you talk about something else, even if you joke and laugh, even if you do not realize it, little by little, the passion grows inside, grows ….
He saw himself on the journey on foot to the depot, on the journey by truck to Verona, on the journey from Verona to Bologna, and from Bologna to San Niccolò, in pleasant company.
Who would have said that the heart, meanwhile, was filled in this way? And along the road from San Niccolò did not he make his way home to castles in the air? And in the meeting with his brother and his mother, and during dinner did not he feel like lightening a weight? Had not he slept all night, tasteful, without dreams? But meanwhile, little by little, the passion grew, followed to fill his heart. And when it’s full, just a nothing because it overflows.
No! It was contained. The child, above, called: – Father! dad! -; down.
The moves meet; he took him by the hand shouting: – Come and see, Giorgio, what I brought you!
And with him he went to staccato the bag from the nail; he sat down next to him at the table by the window; he put his hand into the haversack, slowly, to increase the joyous expectation.
Ma – goodbye terracotta pasteboard! -: the hand touched two, three pieces.
Perhaps he had slammed his bag by climbing the train, or coming down? It did not matter knowing how and why; it was broken, here!
He took the pieces out of them, looked at them, and then – nothing is enough when the heart is too full – then holding the son with his right arm, stretched his left arm over the table, rested his forehead and broke into sobs.
The child was silent. Amazed, he considered the broken figurine and the crying father. But he struggled.
– Wait, dad! Let me go! Let me go!
He escaped and climbed the ladder. He returned that the outburst had not ceased.
– Look, dad! Look! This is more beautiful than yours! My mother brought it to me from Bologna, before dying. Do not Cry! I’ll give it to you. Take it.
The father raised his head; he smiled in the big tears; he saw in the eyes of his son, while he offered him the figurine, the eyes of his woman; and began to storm him with kisses.
And the baby began to cry too.