And the cry

When the first confused clamour of the rebellion reached Don Filippo
Cassaura, he suddenly opened his eyelids, that weighed heavily upon his
eyes, inflamed around the upturned lids, like those of pirates who sail
through stormy seas.

“Did you hear?” he asked of Mazzagrogna, who was standing nearby, while
the trembling of his voice betrayed his inward fear.

The majordomo answered, smiling, “Do not be afraid, Your Excellency.
Today is St. Peter’s day. The mowers are singing.”

The old man remained listening, leaning on his elbow and looking
over the balcony. The hot south wind was fluttering the curtains. The
swallows, in flocks, were darting back and forth as rapidly as arrows
through the burning air. All the roofs of the houses below glared with
reddish and greyish tints. Beyond the roofs was extended the vast, rich
country, gold in colour, like ripened wheat.

Again the old man asked, “But Giovanni, have you heard?”

And indeed, clamours, which did not seem to indicate joy, reached their
ears. The wind, rendering them louder at intervals, pushing them and
intermingling with its whistling noise, made them appear still more
strange.

“Do not mind that, Your Excellency,” answered Mazzagrogna. “Your ears
deceive you.”

“Keep quiet.” And he arose to go towards one of the balconies.

He was a thick-set man, bow-legged, with enormous hands, covered with
hair on the backs like a beast. His eyes were oblique and white, like
those of the Albinos. His face was covered with freckles. A few red
hairs straggled upon his temples and the bald top of his head was
flecked with dark projections in the shape of chestnuts.

He remained standing for a while, between the two curtains, inflated
like sails, in order to watch the plain beneath. Thick clouds of
dust, rising from the road of the Fara, as after the passing of
immense flocks of sheep, were swept by the wind and grew into shapes
of cyclones. From time to time these whirling clouds caused whistling
sounds, as if they encompassed armed people.

“Well?” asked Don Filippo, uneasily.

“Nothing,” repeated Mazzagrogna, but his brows were contracted.

Again the impetuous rush of wind brought a tumult of distant cries.

One of the curtains, blown by the wind, began to flutter and wave in
the air like an inflated flag. A door was suddenly shut with violence
and noise, the glass panel trembled from the shock. The papers,
accumulated upon the table, were scattered around the room.

“Do close it! Do close it!” cried the old man, with emotional terror.

“Where is my son?”

He was lying upon the bed, suffocated by his fleshiness, and unable to
rise, as all the lower part of his body was deadened by paralysis. A
continuous paralytic tremor agitated his muscles. His hands, lying on
the bed sheets, were contorted, like the roots of old olive trees. A
copious perspiration dripped from his forehead and from his bald head,
and dropped from his large face, which had a pinkish, faded colour,
like the gall of oxen.

“Heavens!” murmured Mazzagrogna, between his teeth, as he closed the
shutters vehemently. “They are in earnest!”

One could now perceive upon this road of Fara, near the first house, a
multitude of men, excited and wavering, like the overflow of rivulets,
which indicated a still greater multitude of people, invisible, hidden
by the rows of roofs and by the oak trees of San Pio. The auxiliary
legion of the country had met the one of the rebellion. Little by
little the crowd would diminish, entering the roads of the country
and disappearing like an army of ants through the labyrinth of the ant
hill.

The suffocated cries, echoing from house to house, reached them now,
like a continuous but indistinct rumbling. At moments there was silence
and then you could hear the great fluttering of the ash trees in front
of the palace, which seemed as if already abandoned.

“My son! Where is he?” again asked the old man, in a quivering,
squeaking voice. “Call him! I wish to see him.”

He trembled upon his bed, not only because he was a paralytic, but also
because of fear.

At the time of the first seditious movement of the day before, at the
cries of about a hundred youths, who had come under the balcony to
shout against the latest extortions of the Duke of Ofena, he had been
overcome by such a foolish fright, that he had wept like a little girl,
and had spent the night invoking the Saints of Paradise. The thought
of death and of his danger gave rise to an indescribable terror in that
paralytic old man, already half dead, in whom the last breaths of life
were so painful. He did not wish to die.

“Luigi! Luigi!” he began to cry in his anguish.

All the place was filled with the sharp rattling of the window glasses,
caused by the rush of the wind. From time to time one could hear the
banging of a door, and the sound of precipitate steps and sharp cries.

“Luigi!”

The Duke ran up. He was somewhat pale and excited, although
endeavouring to control himself. He was tall and robust, his beard
still black on his heavy jaws. From his mouth, full and imperious, came
forth explosive outbursts; his voracious eyes were troubled; his strong
nose, covered with red spots, quivered.

“Well, then?” asked Don Filippo, breathlessly, with a rattling sound,
as though suffocated.

“Do not fear, father, I am here,” answered the Duke, approaching the
bed and trying to smile.

Mazzagrogna was standing in front of one of the balconies, looking out
attentively. No cries reached them now and no one was to be seen.

The sun, gradually descending in the clear sky, was like a rosy circle
of flames, enlarging and glaring over the hill-tops. All the country
around seemed to burn and the southwest wind resembled a breath from
the fire. The first quarter of the moon arose through the groves of
Lisci. Poggio, Revelli, Ricciano, Rocca of Forca, were seen through the
window panes, revealed by distant flashes of lightning, and from time
to time the sound of bells could be heard. A few incendiary fires began
to glow here and there. The heat was suffocating.

“This,” said the Duke of Ofena, in his hoarse, harsh voice, “comes from
Scioli, but——”

He made a menacing gesture, then he approached Mazzagrogna.

He felt uneasy, because Carletto Grua could not yet be seen. He paced
up and down the hall with a heavy step. He then detached from a hook
two long, old-fashioned pistols, examining them carefully. The father
followed his every movement with dilated eyes, breathing heavily,
like a calf in agony, and now and then he shook the bed cover with his
deformed hands. He asked two or three times of Mazzagrogna, “What can
you see?”

Suddenly Mazzagrogna exclaimed, “Here comes Carletto, running with
Gennaro.”

You could hear, in fact, the furious blows upon the large gate. Soon
after, Carletto and the servant entered the room, pale, frightened,
stained with blood and covered with dust.

The Duke, on perceiving Carletto, uttered a cry. He took him in his
arms and began to feel him all over his body, to find the wounds.

“What have they done to you? What have they done to you? Tell me!”

The youth was weeping like a girl.

“There,” said he, between his sobs. He lowered his head and pointed
on the top, to some bunches of hair, sticking together with congealed
blood.

The Duke passed his fingers softly through the hair to discover the
wounds. He loved Carletto Grua, and had for him a lover’s solicitude.

“Does it hurt you?” he asked.

The youth sobbed more vehemently. He was slender, like a girl, with an
effeminate face, hardly shaded by an incipient blond beard, his hair
was rather long, he had a beautiful mouth, and the sharp voice of an
eunuch. He was an orphan, the son of a confectioner of Benevento. He
acted as valet to the Duke.

“Now they are coming,” he said, his whole frame trembling, turning
his eyes, filled with tears, towards the balcony, from which came the
clamours, louder and more terrible.

The servant, who had a deep wound upon his shoulder, and his arm up
to the elbow all stained with blood, was telling falteringly how they
had both been overtaken by the maddened mob, when Mazzagrogna, who had
remained watching, cried out, “Here they are! They are coming to the
palace. They are armed!”

Don Luigi, leaving Carletto, ran to look out.

In truth, a multitude of people, rushing up the wide incline with such
united fury, shouting and shaking their weapons and their tools, did
not resemble a gathering of individuals, but rather the overflow of a
blind mass of matter, urged on by an irresistible force.

In a few moments, the mob was beneath the palace, stretching around it
like an octopus, with many arms, and enclosing the whole edifice in a
surging circle.

Some among the rebels carried large bunches of lighted sticks,
like torches, casting over their faces a mobile, reddish light and
scattering sparks and burning cinders, which caused noisy, crackling
sounds. Some, in a compact group, were carrying a pole, from the top
of which hung the corpse of a man. They were threatening death, with
gestures and cries. With hatred they were shouting the name, “Cassaura!
Cassaura!”

The Duke of Ofena threw up his hands in despair upon recognising on the
top of the pole the mutilated body of Vincenzio Murro, the messenger he
had sent during the night to ask for help from the soldiers. He pointed
out the hanging body to Mazzagrogna, who said, in a low voice, “It is
the end!”

Don Filippo, however, heard him, and began to give forth such a
rattling sound that they all felt their hearts oppressed and their
courage failing them.

The servants, with pale faces, ran to the threshold, and were held
there by cowardice. Some were crying and invoking their Saints, while
others were contemplating treachery. “If we should give up our master
to the people, they might, perhaps, spare our lives.”

“To the balcony! To the balcony!” cried the people, breaking in. “To
the balcony!”

At this moment, the Duke spoke aside, in a subdued voice, to
Mazzagrogna.

Turning to Don Filippo, he said, “Place yourself in a chair, father; it
will be better for you.”

A slight murmur arose among the servants. Two of them came forward to
help the paralytic to get out of bed. Two others stood near the chair,
which ran on rollers. The work was painful.

The corpulent old man was panting and lamenting loudly, his arm
clinging to the neck of the servant who supported him. He was dripping
with perspiration, while the room, the shutters being closed, was
filled with an unbearable stench. When he reached the chair, his feet
began to tap on the floor with a rhythmical motion. His loose stomach
hung on his knees, like a half filled leather bag.

Then the Duke said to Mazzagrogna, “Giovanni, it is your turn!”

And the latter, with a resolute gesture, opened the shutters and went
out onto the balcony.

A sonorous shouting greeted him. Five, ten, twenty bundles of lighted
sticks were simultaneously thrust beneath the place where he was
standing. The glare illuminated the animated faces, eager for carnage,
the steel of the guns, the iron axes. The faces of the torch-bearers
were sprinkled with flour, as a protection from the sparks, and in the
midst of their whitened faces their reddish eyes shone singularly. The
black smoke arose in the air, fading away rapidly. The flames whistled
and, stretching up on one side, were blown by the wind like infernal
hair. The thinnest and dryest reeds bent over quickly, reddening,
breaking down and cracking like sky-rockets. It was a gay sight.

“Mazzagrogna! Mazzagrogna! To death with the seducer! To death with
the crooked man!” they all cried, crowding together to throw insults at
him.

Mazzagrogna stretched out his hands, as though to subdue the clamour;
he gathered together all his vocal force and began, in the name of the
king, as if promulgating a law to infuse respect into the people.

“In the name of His Majesty, Ferdinando II, and by the grace of God,
King of both Sicilies, of Jerusalem——”

“To death with the thief!”

Two or three shots resounded among the cries, and the speaker, struck
on his chest and on his forehead, staggered, throwing his hands above
his head and falling downward. Upon falling, his head stuck between
two of the spikes of the iron railing and hung over the edge like a
pumpkin. The blood began to drip down upon the soil beneath.

This spectacle rejoiced the people. The uproar arose to the stars.
Then the bearer of the pole holding the hanging corpse came under
the balcony and held the body of Vincenzio Murro near to that of
the majordomo. The pole was wavering in the air and the people,
dumbfounded, watched as the two bodies jolted together. An improvised
poet, alluding to the Albino-like eyes of Mazzagrogna and to the
bleared ones of the messenger, shouted these lines:

“_Lean over the window, you fried eyes,_
_That you may look upon the open skies!_”

A great outburst of laughter greeted the jest of the poet and the
laughter spread from mouth to mouth like the sound of water falling
down a stony valley.

A rival poet shouted:

“_Look, what a blind man can see!_
_If he closes his eyes and tries to flee._”

The laughter was renewed.

A third one cried out:

“_Oh, face of a dead brute!_
_Your crazy hair stands resolute!_”

Many more imprecations were cast at Mazzagrogna. A ferocious joy
had invaded the hearts of the people. The sight and smell of blood
intoxicated those nearest. Tomaso of Beffi and Rocco Fuici challenged
each other to hit with a stone the hanging head of the dead man, which
was still warm, and at every blow moved and shed blood. A stone, thrown
by Rocco Fuici, at last, hit it in the centre, causing a hollow sound.
The spectators applauded, but they had had enough of Mazzagrogna.

Again a cry arose, “Cassaura! Cassaura! To death! To death!”

Fabrizio and Ferdinandino Scioli, pushing their way through the crowd,
were instigating the most zealous ones. A terrible shower of stones,
like a dense hailstorm, mingled with gun-shots, beat against the
windows of the palace, the window panes falling upon the assailing
hoards and the stones rebounding. A few of the bystanders were hurt.

When they were through with the stones and had used all their bullets,
Ferdinandino Scioli cried out, “Down with the doors!”

And the cry, repeated from mouth to mouth, shook every hope of
salvation out of the Duke of Ofena.