Through all the country of Pescara, San Silvestro, Fontanella, San
Rocco, even as far as Spoltore, and through all the farms of Vallelonga
beyond Allento and particularly in the little boroughs where sailors
meet near the mouth of the river,—through all this country, where
the houses are built of clay and of reeds, and the fire material
is supplied by drift wood from the sea, for many years a Catholic
rhapsodist with a barbarian and piratical name, who is as blind as the
ancient Homer, has been famous.
Mungia begins his peregrinations at the beginning of spring, and ends
them with the first frosts of October. He goes about the country,
conducted by a woman and a child. Into the peaceful gardens and
the serenity of the fields he brings his lamenting religious songs,
antiphonies, preludes and responses of the offices of the dead. His
figure is so familiar to all, that even the dogs in the backyards do
not bark at his approach. He announces his advent with a trill from his
clarionet, and at the well-known signal, the old wives come out upon
the thresholds to welcome him, place his chair under the shade of a
tree in the yard, and make inquiries as to his health. All the peasants
come from their work, and form a subdued and awed circle about him,
while with their hard hands they wipe the perspiration of toil from
their foreheads, and, still holding their implements, assume a reverent
attitude. Their bare arms and legs are knotted and misshapen from the
severe toil of the fields; their twisted bodies have taken on the hue
of the earth—working in the soil from the dawn of day, they seem to
have something in common with the trees and the roots.
A sort of religious solemnity is thrown over everything by this blind
man. It is not the sun, it is not the fulness of the earth, not the joy
of spring vegetation, not the sounds of the distant choruses that gives
to all the feeling of admiration, of devotion, and more than all, the
sadness of religion. One of the old women gives the name of a departed
relative to whom she wishes to offer songs and oblations. Mungia
uncovers his head.
His wide shining cranium appears encircled with white hair; his whole
face, which in its quiet calm has the appearance of a mask, wrinkles
up when he takes the clarionet in his mouth. Upon his temples, under
his eyes, beside his ears, around his nostrils and at the corners
of his mouth, a thousand lines become visible, some delicate, some
deep, changing with the rhythm of the music by which he is inspired.
His nerves are at a tension, and over his jaw bones the purple veins
show, like those of the turning vine-leaves in the autumn, the lower
eyelid is turned outward, showing a reddish line, over his whole face
the tough skin is tightly drawn, giving the appearance of a wonderful
carving in relief; the light plays over the face with its short, stiff,
and badly shaved beard, and over the neck, with its deep hollows,
between the long still cords which stand out prominently, flashing
like dew upon a warty and mouldy pumpkin; and, as he plays, a thousand
vibrating minor notes float out upon the air, and the humble head takes
on an appearance of mystery. His fingers press the unsteady keys of the
box-wood clarionet, and the notes pour out. The instrument itself seems
almost human, and to breathe with life, as inanimate objects which have
been long and intimately associated with men often do; the wood has an
unctuous glare; the holes, which in the winter months become the nests
of little spiders, are still filled with cobwebs and dust; the keys are
stained with verdigris; in places beeswax has been employed to cover
up breaks; the joints are held together with paper and thread, while
about the edge one can still see the ornaments of its youth. The blind
man’s voice rises weak and uncertain, his fingers move mechanically,
searching for the notes of a prelude, or an interlude of days long
His long, deformed hands, with knots upon the phalanges of the first
three fingers, and with the nails of his thumbs depressed and white
in colour, resemble somewhat the hands of a decrepit monkey; the backs
are of the unhealthy colour of decayed fruit, a mixture of pink, yellow
and blue shades; the palms show a net-work of lines and furrows, and
between the fingers the skin is blistered.
When he has finished the prelude, Mungia begins to sing, “_Libera Me
Domine_,” and “_Ne Recorderis_,” slowly, and upon a modulation of five
notes. The Latin words of the song are interspersed with his native
idioms, and now and then, to fill out the metrical rhythm, he inserts
an adverb ending in _ente_, which he follows with heavy rhymes; he
raises his voice in these parts, then lowers it in the less fatiguing
lines. The name of Jesus runs often through the rhapsody; not without
a certain dramatic movement. The passion of Jesus is narrated in verses
of five lines.
The peasants listen with an air of devotion, watching the blind man’s
mouth as he sings. In the season, the chorus of the vintagers comes
from the fields, vieing with the notes of the pious songs; Mungia,
whose hearing is weak, sings on of the mysteries of death; his lips
adhere to his toothless gums, and the saliva runs down and drips
from his chin; placing the clarionet again to his lips, he begins the
intermezzo, then takes up the rhymes again, and so continues to the
end. His recompense is a small measure of corn and a bottle of wine or
a bunch of onions, and sometimes a hen.
He rises from his chair, a tall, emaciated figure, with bent back and
knees turning a little backward. He wears upon his head a large green
cap, and no matter what the season, he is wrapped in a peasant cloak
falling from his throat below his knees and fastened with two brass
buckles. He moves with difficulty, at times stopping to cough.
When October comes, and the vineyards have been vintaged and the yards
are filled with mud and gravel, he withdraws into a garret, which he
shares with a tailor who has a paralytic wife, and a street pauper
with nine children who are variously afflicted with scrofula and the
rickets. On pleasant days he is taken to the arch of Portanova, and
sits upon a rock in the sun, while he softly sings the “_De Profundis_”
to keep his throat in condition. On these occasions, mendicants of
all sorts gather around him, men with dislocated limbs, hunchbacks,
cripples, paralytics, lepers, women covered with wounds and scabs,
toothless women, and those without eyebrows and without hair; children,
green as locusts, emaciated, with sharp, savage eyes, like birds of
prey; taciturn, with mouths already withered; children who bear in
their blood diseases inherited from the monster Poverty; all of that
miserable, degenerate rabble, the remnants of a decrepit race. These
ragged children of God come to gather about the singer, and speak to
him as one of themselves.
Then Mungia graciously begins to sing to the waiting crowd. Chiachiu,
a native of Silvi, approaches, dragging himself with great difficulty,
helping himself with the palms of his hands, on which he wears a
covering of leather; when he reaches the group about Mungia, he
stops, holding in his hands his right foot, which is twisted and
contorted like a root. Strigia, an uncertain, repugnant figure, a
senile hermaphrodite with bright red carbuncles covering neck and
grey locks on the temples, of which the creature seems to be proud,
the top and back of the head covered with wool like a vulture, next
approaches. Then come the Mammalucchi, three idiot brothers, who seem
to have been brought forth from the union of man and goat, so manifest
in their faces are the ovine features. The oldest of the three has
some soft, degenerated bulbs protruding from the orbs of his eyes,
of a bluish colour, much like oval bags of pulp about to rot. The
peculiar affliction of the youngest is in his ear, the lobe of which
is abnormally inflated, and of the violet hue of a fig. The three come
together, with bags of strings upon their backs.
The Ossei comes also, a lean, serpent-like man with an olive-coloured
face, a flat nose with a singular aspect of malice and deceit, which
betrays his gipsy origin, and eyelids which turn up like those of
a pilot who sails over stormy seas. Following him is Catalana di
Gissi, a woman of uncertain age, her skin covered with long reddish
blisters, and on her forehead spots looking like copper coins,
hipless, like a bitch after confinement: she is called the Venus of
the Mendicants,—the fountain of Love at which all the thirsty ones are
Then comes Jacobbe of Campli, an old man with greenish-coloured hair
like some of the mechanics’ work in brass; then industrious Gargala in
a vehicle built of the remains of broken boats, still smeared with tar;
then Constantino di Corropoli, the cynic, whose lower lip has a growth
which gives him the appearance of holding a piece of raw meat between
his teeth. And still they come, inhabitants of the woods who have moved
along the course of the river from the hills to the sea; all gather
around the rhapsodist in the sun.
Mungia then sings with studied gestures and strange postures. His soul
is filled with exaltation, an aureole of glory surrounds him, for now
he gives himself freely to his Muse, unrestrained in his singing. He
scarcely hears the clamour of applause which arises from the swarming
mendicants as he closes.
At the end of the song, as the warm sun has left the spot where the
group is assembled and is climbing the Corinthian columns of the arch
of the Capitol, the mendicants bid the blind man farewell and disperse
through the neighbouring lands. Usually Chiachiu di Silvi, holding his
deformed foot, and the dwarfed brothers remain after the others have
gone, asking alms of passers-by, while Mungia sits silent, thinking,
perhaps, of the triumphs of his youth when Lucicoppelle, Golpo di
Casoli, and Quattorece were alive.
Oh, the glorious band of Mungia! The small orchestra had won through
all the lower valley of Pescara a lofty fame. Golpo di Casoli played
the viola. He was a greyish little man, like the lizards on the rocks,
with the skin of his face and neck wrinkled and membranous like that of
a turtle boiled in water. He wore a sort of Phrygian cap which covered
his ears on the sides. He played on his viola with quick gestures,
pressing the instrument with his sharp chin and with his contracted
fingers hammering the keys in an ostentatious effort, as do the monkeys
of wandering mountebanks.
After him came Quattorece with his bass viol slung over his stomach by
a strap of ass-leather; he was as tall and thin as a wax candle, and
throughout his person was a predominance of orange tints; he looked
like one of those monochromatic painted figures in stiff attitudes
which ornament some of the poetry of Castelli; his eyes shone with
the yellow transparency of a shepherd dog’s, the cartilage of his
great ears opened like those of a bat against which an orange light
is thrown, his clothes were of some tobacco-coloured cloth, such as
hunters usually wear; while his old viol, ornamented with feathers,
with silver adornments, bows, images, and medals, looked like some
barbarian instrument from which one might expect strange sounds
to issue. But Lucicoppelle, holding across his chest his rough,
two-stringed guitar, well tuned in diapason, came in last, with the
bold, dancing step of a rustic Figaro. He was the joyful spirit of the
orchestra, the greenest one in age and strength, the liveliest and the
brightest. A heavy tuft of crisp hair fell over his forehead under
a scarlet cap, and in his ears shone womanlike, two silver clasps.
He loved wine as a musical toast. To serenades in honour of beauty,
to open-air dances, to gorgeous, boisterous feasts, to weddings, to
christenings, to votive feasts and funeral rites, the band of Mungia
would hasten, expected and acclaimed. The nuptial procession would move
through the streets strewn with bulrush blossoms and sweet-scented
herbs, greeted with joyful shouts and salutes. Five mules, decorated
with wreaths, carried the wedding presents. In a cart drawn by two oxen
whose harness was wound with ribbons, and whose backs were covered
with draperies, were seated the bridal couple; from the cart dangled
boilers, earthen vessels, and copper pots, which shook and rattled with
the jolting of the vehicle; chairs, tables, sofas, all sorts of antique
shapes of household furniture oscillated, creaking, about them; damask
skirts, richly figured with flowers, embroidered waist-coats, silken
aprons, and all sorts of articles of women’s apparel shone in the sun
in bright array, while a distaff, the symbol of domestic virtue, piled
on top with the linen, was outlined against the blue sky like a golden
The women relatives, carrying upon their heads baskets of grain,
upon the top of which was a loaf, and upon the loaf a flower, came
next in hierarchical order, singing as they walked. This train of
simple, graceful figures reminded one of the canephoræ in the Greek
bas-reliefs. Reaching the house, the women took the baskets from their
heads, and threw a handful of wheat at the bride, pronouncing a ritual
augury, invoking fecundity and abundance. The mother, also, observed
the ceremony of throwing grain, weeping copiously as with a brush she
touched her daughter on the chest, shoulders and forehead, and speaking
doleful words of love as she did so.
Then in the courtyard, under a roof of branches, the feast began.
Mungia, who had not yet lost his eyesight nor felt the burden of
years upon him, erect in all the magnificence of a green coat,
perspiring and beaming, blew with all the power of his lungs upon
his clarionet, beating time with his foot. Golpo di Casoli struck his
violin energetically, Quattorece exerted himself in a wild endeavour to
keep up with the crescendo of the Moorish dance, while Lucicoppelle,
standing straight with his head up, holding aloft in his left hand
the key of his guitar, and with the right pricking on two strings
the metric chords, looked down at the women, laughing gaily among the
Then the “Master of Ceremonies” brought in the viands on large
painted plates and the cloud of vapour rising from the hot dishes
faded away among the foliage of the trees. The amphoras of wine, with
their well-worn handles, were passed around from one to another, the
men stretched their arms out across the table between the loaves of
bread, scattered with anise seeds, and the cheese cakes, round as full
moons, and helped themselves to olives, oranges and almonds. The smell
of spice mingled with the fresh, vaporous odour of the vegetables;
sometimes the guests offered the bride goblets of wine in which were
small pieces of jewelry, or necklaces of great grape stones like a
string of golden fruit. After a while the exhilarating effects of the
liquor began to be felt, and the crowd grew hilarious with Bacchic joy
and then Mungia, advancing with uncovered head and holding in his hands
a glass filled to the rim, would sing the beautiful deistic ritual
which to feasters throughout the land of Abruzzi gave a disposition for
“To the health of all these friends of mine, united, I drink this wine
so pure and fine.”
Three days after the customary Easter banquet, which in the house
Lamonica was always sumptuous and crowded with feasters by virtue of
its traditions, Donna Cristina Lamonica counted her table linen and
silver while she placed each article systematically in chest and safe,
ready for future similar occasions.
With her, as usual, at this task and aiding, were the maid Maria
Bisaccia and the laundress Candida Marcanda, popularly known as
“Candia.” The large baskets heaped with fine linen rested in a row
on the pavement. The vases of silver and the other table ornaments
sparkled upon a tray; they were solidly fashioned, if somewhat rudely,
by rustic silversmiths, in shape almost liturgical, as are all of the
vases that the rich provincial families hand down from generation to
generation. The fresh fragrance of bleached linen permeated the room.
Candia took from the baskets the doilies, the table cloths and the
napkins, had the “signora” examine the linen intact, and handed one
piece after another to Maria, who filled up the drawers while the
“signora” scattered through the spaces an aroma, and took notes in a
book. Candia was a tall woman, large-boned, parched, fifty years of
age; her back was slightly curved from bending over in that position
habitual to her profession; she had very long arms and the head of a
bird of prey resting upon the neck of a tortoise. Maria Bisaccia was an
Ortonesian, a little fleshy, of milk-white complexion, also possessing
very clear eyes; she had a soft manner of speaking and made slow,
delicate gestures like one who was accustomed habitually to exercise
her hands amongst sweet pastry, syrups, preserves and confectionery.
Donna Cristina, also a native of Ortona, educated in a Benedictine
monastery, was small of stature, dressed somewhat carelessly, with hair
of a reddish tendency, a face scattered with freckles, a nose long and
thick, bad teeth, and most beautiful and chaste eyes which resembled
those of a priest disguised as a woman.
The three women attended to the work with much assiduity, spending thus
a large part of the afternoon.
At length, just as Candia went out with the empty baskets, Donna
Cristina counted the pieces of silver and found that a spoon was
“Maria! Maria!” she cried, suddenly panic-stricken. “One spoon is
lacking…. Count them! Quick!”
“But how? It cannot be, Signora,” Maria answered. “Allow me a glance
at them.” She began to re-sort the pieces, calling their numbers
aloud. Donna Cristina looked on and shook her head. The silver clinked
“An actual fact!” Maria exclaimed at last with a motion of despair.
“And now what are we to do?”
She was quite above suspicion. She had given proof of fidelity and
honesty for fifteen years in that family. She had come from Ortona with
Donna Cristina at the time of her marriage, almost constituting a part
of the marriage portion, and had always exercised a certain authority
in the household under the protection of the “signora.” She was full
of religious superstition, devoted to her especial saint and her
especial church, and finally, she was very astute. With the “signora”
she had united in a kind of hostile alliance to everything pertaining
to Pescara, and especially to the popular saint of these Pescaresian
people. On every occasion she quoted the country of her birth, its
beauties and riches, the splendours of its basilica, the treasures
of San Tomaso, the magnificence of its ecclesiastical ceremonies
in contrast to the meagreness of San Cetteo, which possessed but a
solitary, small, holy arm of silver.
At length Donna Cristina said, “Look carefully everywhere.”
Maria left the room to begin a search. She penetrated all the angles
of the kitchen and loggia, but in vain, and returned at last with empty
“There is no such thing about! Neither here nor there!” she cried.
Then the two set themselves to thinking, to heaping up conjectures, to
searching their memories.
They went out on the loggia that bordered the court, on the loggia
belonging to the laundry, in order to make a final examination. As
their speech grew louder, the occupants of the neighbouring houses
appeared at their windows.
“What has befallen you? Donna Cristina, tell us! Tell us!” they cried.
Donna Cristina and Maria recounted their story with many words and
“Jesu! Jesu! then there must be thieves among us!” In less than no
time the rumour of this theft spread throughout the vicinity, in fact
through all of Pescara. Men and women fell to arguing, to surmising,
whom the thief might be. The story on reaching the most remote house of
Sant’ Agostina, was huge in proportions; it no longer told of a single
spoon, but of all the silver of the Lamonica house.
Now, as the weather was beautiful and the roses in the loggia had
commenced to bloom, and two canaries were singing in their cages, the
neighbours detained one another at the windows for the sheer pleasure
of chattering about the season with its soothing warmth. The heads of
the women appeared amongst the vases of basil, and the hubbub they made
seemed especially to please the cats in the caves above.
Donna Cristina clasped her hands and cried, “Who could it have been?”
Donna Isabella Sertale, nicknamed “The Cat,” who had the stealthy,
furtive movements of a beast of prey, called in a twanging voice, “Who
has been with you this long time, Donna Cristina? It seems to me that I
have seen Candia come and go.”
“A-a-a-h!” exclaimed Donna Felicetta Margasanta, called “The Magpipe,”
because of her everlasting garrulity.
“Ah!” the other neighbours repeated in turn.
“And you had not thought of her?”
“And did you not observe her?”
“And don’t you know of what metal Candia is made?”
“We would do well to tell you of her!”
“That we would!”
“We would do well to tell you!”
“She washes the clothes in goodly fashion, there is none to dispute
that. She is the best laundress that dwells in Pescara, one cannot help
saying that. But she holds a defect in her five fingers. Did you not
know that, now?”
“Once two of my doilies disappeared.”
“And I missed a tablecloth.”
“And I a shift shirt.”
“And I three pairs of stockings.”
“And I two pillow-cases.”
“And I a new skirt.”
“And I failed to recover an article.”
“I have lost——”
“And I, too.”
“I have not driven her out, for who is there to fill her place?”
“Each worse than the other!”
“One must have patience.”
“But a spoon, think of that!”
“It’s too much! it is!”
“Don’t remain silent about it, Donna Cristina, don’t remain silent!”
“Whether silent or not silent!” burst out Maria Bisaccia, who for
all her placid and benign expression never let a chance escape her to
oppress or put in a bad light the other servants of the house, “we will
think for ourselves!”
In this fashion the chatter from the windows on the loggia continued,
and accusation fled from mouth to mouth throughout the entire district.
The following morning, when Candia Marcanda had her hands in the
soap-suds, there appeared at her door-sill the town guard Biagio Pesce,
popularly known as “The Corporal.” He said to her, “You are wanted by
Signor Sindaco at the town-hall this very moment.”
“What did you say?” asked Candia, knitting her brows without
discontinuing her task.
“You are wanted by Signor Sindaco at the town-hall this very moment.”
“I am wanted? And why?” Candia asked in a brusque manner. She did not
know what was responsible for this unexpected summons and therefore
reared at it like a stubborn animal before a shadow.
“I cannot know the reason,” answered the Corporal. “I have received but
The woman because of an obstinacy natural to her could not refrain from
questions. She was unable to realise the truth.
“I am wanted by Signor Sindaco? And why? And what have I done? I have
no wish to go there. I have done nothing unseemly.”
Then the Corporal cried impatiently, “Ah, you do not wish to go there?
You had better beware!” And he went away muttering, with his hand on
the hilt of his shabby sword.
Meanwhile several who had heard the dialogue came from their doorways
into the street and began to stare at the laundress, who was violently
attacking her wash. Since they knew of the silver spoon they laughed
at one another and made remarks that the laundress did not understand.
Their ridicule and ambiguous expressions filled the heart of the
woman with much uneasiness, which increased when the Corporal appeared
accompanied by another guard.
“Now move on!” he said resolutely.
Candia wiped her arms in silence and went. Throughout the square
everyone stopped to look. Rosa Panara, an enemy, from the threshold of
her shop, called with a fierce laugh, “Drop the bone thou hast picked
The laundress, bewildered, unable to imagine the cause of this
persecution, could not answer.
Before the town-hall stood a group of curious people who waited to see
her pass. Candia, suddenly seized with a wrathful spirit, mounted the
stairs quickly, came into the presence of Signor Sindaco out of breath,
and asked, “Now, what do you want with me?”
Don Silla, a man of peaceable temperament, remained for a moment
somewhat taken aback by the sharp voice of the laundress and turned a
beseeching look upon the faithful custodians of the communal dignity.
Then he took some tobacco from a horn-box and said, “Be seated, my
Candia remained upon her feet. Her hooked nose was inflated with
choler, and her cheeks, roughly seamed, trembled from the contraction
of her tightly compressed jaws.
“Speak quickly, Don Silla!” she cried.
“You were occupied yesterday in carrying back the clean linen to Donna
“Well, and what of it? Is she missing something? Everything was counted
piece by piece … nothing was lacking. Now, what is it all about?”
“One moment, my daughter! The room had silver in it…!”
Candia, divining the truth, turned upon him like a viper about to
sting. At the same time her thin lips trembled.
“The room had silver in it,” he continued, “and now Donna Cristina
finds herself lacking one spoon. Do you understand, my daughter? Was it
taken by you … through mistake?”
Candia jumped like a grasshopper at this undeserved accusation. In
truth she had stolen nothing. “Ah, I? I?” she cried. “Who says I took
it? Who has seen me in such an act? You fill me with amazement … you
fill me with wonder! Don Silla! I a thief? I? I?…”
And her indignation had no limit. She was even more wounded by this
unjust accusation because she felt herself capable of the deed which
they had attributed to her.
“Then you have not taken it?” Don Silla interrupted, withdrawing
prudently into the depths of his large chair.
“You fill me with amazement!” Candia chided afresh, while she shook her
long hands as if they were two whips.
“Very well, you may go. We will see in time.” Without saying good-bye,
Candia made her exit, striking against the door-post as she did so.
She had become green in the face and was beside herself with rage.
On reaching the street and seeing the crowd assembled there, she
understood at length that popular opinion was against her, that no one
believed in her innocence. Nevertheless she began publicly to exculpate
herself. The people laughed and drifted away from her. In a wrathful
state of mind she returned home, sank into a condition of despair and
fell to weeping in her doorway.
Don Donato Brandimarte, who lived next door, said to her by way of a
“Cry aloud, Candia. Cry to the full extent of your strength, for the
people are about to pass now.”
As there were clothes lying in a heap waiting to be boiled clean she
finally grew quiet, bared her arms and set herself to work. While
working, she brooded on how to clear her character, constructed
a method of defence, sought in her cunning, feminine thoughts an
artificial means for proving her innocence; balancing her mind
subtly in mid-air, she had recourse to all of those expedients which
constitute an ignorant argument, in order to present a defence that
might persuade the incredulous.
Later, when she had finished her task, she went out and went first to
Donna Cristina would not see her. Maria Bisaccia listened to Candia’s
prolific words and shook her head without reply and at length left her
in a dignified way.
Then Candia visited all of her customers. To each one she told her
story, to each one she laid bare her defence, always adding to it a new
argument, ever increasing the size of the words, becoming more heated
and finally despairing in the presence of incredulity and distrust as
all was useless. She felt at last that an explanation was no longer
possible. A kind of dark discouragement fastened upon her mind. What
more could she do! What more could she say!
Donna Cristina Lamonica, meanwhile, sent for La Cinigia, a woman of the
ignorant masses, who followed the profession of magic and unscientific
medicine. Previously, La Cinigia had several times discovered stolen
goods and some said that she had underhand dealings with the thieves.
Donna Cristina said to her, “Recover the spoon for me and I will give
you a rich present.”
La Cinigia answered, “Very well. Twenty-four hours will suffice me.”
And after twenty-four hours she brought the news, “The spoon is to be
found in the court in a hole adjacent to the sewer.” Donna Cristina and
Maria descended to the court, searched, and to their great astonishment
found the missing piece.
The news spread rapidly throughout Pescara. Then in triumph, Candia
Marcanda immediately began to frequent the streets. She seemed taller,
held her head more erect and smiled into the eyes of everyone as if to
say, “Now you have seen for yourselves?”
The people in the shops, when she passed by, murmured something and
then broke into laughter. Filippo Selvi, who was drinking a glass of
brandy in the Café d’Angeladea, called to Candia, “Over here is a glass
waiting for Candia.”
The woman, who loved ardent liquor, moved her lips greedily.
Filippo Selvi added, “And you are deserving of it, there is no doubt of
A crowd of idlers had assembled before the café. All wore a teasing
expression upon their countenances. Filippo La Selvi having turned to
his audience while the woman was drinking, vouchsafed, “And she knew
how to find it, did she? The old fox….”
He struck familiarly the bony shoulder of the laundress by way of
Magnafave, a small hunchback, defective in body and speech and halting
on the syllables, cried:
“Ca-ca-ca—Candia—a—and—Cinigia!” He followed this with
gesticulations and wary stutterings, all of which implied that Candia
and La Cinigia were in league. At this the crowd became convulsed with
Candia remained dazed for a moment with the glass in her hand. Then of
a sudden she understood. They still did not believe in her innocence.
They were accusing her of having secretly carried back the spoon, in
agreement with the fortune-teller as to the placing of it, in order to
At this thought, the blind grip of rage seized her. She could not
find words for speech. She threw herself upon the weakest of her
tormentors, which was the small hunchback, and belaboured him with
blows and scratches. The crowd, taking a cruel pleasure in witnessing
the scuffle, cheered itself into a circle as if watching the struggle
of two animals, and encouraged both combatants with cries and
Magnafave, terrified by her unexpected madness, sought to flee, dodging
like a monkey; but, detained by those terrible hands of the laundress,
he whirled with ever-increasing velocity, like a stone from a sling,
until at length he fell upon his face with great violence.
Several ran forward to raise him. Candia withdrew in the midst of
hisses, shut herself up in her house, threw herself across her bed,
weeping and biting her fingers. This latest accusation burnt into her
more than the former, particularly because she realised that she was
capable of such a subterfuge. How to disentangle herself now? How make
the truth clear? She grew desperate on thinking that she could not
bring to the aid of her argument any material difficulties that might
have hindered the execution of such a deceit. Access to the court was
very easy; a never closed door was on the first landing-place of a
large staircase and in order to dispose of waste matter and to attend
to other diverse duties, a quantity of people passed freely in and
out of that doorway. Therefore she could not close the mouths of her
accusers by saying, “How could I have got in there?” The means for
accomplishing such an undertaking were many and simple, and on this
very lack of obstacles popular opinion chose to establish itself.
Candia therefore sought different persuasive arguments; she sharpened
all her cunning, imagined three, four, five separate circumstances
that might easily account for the finding of the spoon in that hole;
she took refuge in mental turnings and twistings of every kind and
subtilised with singular ingenuity. Later she began to go around from
shop to shop, from house to house, straining in every way to overcome
the incredulity of the people.
At first they listened to her enticing arguments for a diversion.
At last they said, “Oh, very well! Very well!” But with a certain
inflection of the voice which left Candia crushed. All her efforts then
were useless. No one believed!
With an astonishing persistency, she returned to the siege. She
passed entire nights pondering on new reasons, how to construct
new explanations, to overcome new obstacles. Little by little, from
the continuous absorption, her mind weakened, could not entertain
any thought save that of the spoon, and had scarcely any longer any
realisation of the events of every day life. Later, through the cruelty
of the people, a veritable mania arose in the mind of the poor woman.
She neglected her duties and was reduced almost to penury. She washed
the clothes badly, lost and tore them. When she descended to the bank
of the river under the iron-bridge where the other laundresses had
collected, at times she let escape from her hands garments which the
current snatched and they were gone forever. She babbled continuously
on the same subject. To drown her out the young laundresses set
themselves to singing and to bantering one another from their places
with impromptu verses. She shouted and gesticulated like a mad woman.
No one any longer gave her work. Out of compassion for her, her former
customers sent her food. Little by little the habit of begging settled
upon her. She walked the streets, ragged, bent, and dishevelled.
Impertinent boys called after her, “Now tell us the story of the spoon,
that we may know about it, do, Candia!”
She stopped sometimes unknown passersby to recount her story and to
wander into the mazes of her defence. The scapegoats of the town hailed
her and for a cent made her deliver her narration three, four times;
they raised objections to her arguments and were attentive to the end
of the tale for the sake of wounding her at last with a single word.
She shook her head, moved on and clung to other feminine beggars and
reasoned with them, always, always indefatigable and unconquerable. She
took a fancy to a deaf woman whose skin was afflicted with a kind of
reddish leprosy, and who was lame in one leg.
In the winter of 1874 a malignant fever seized her. Donna Cristina
Lamonica sent her a cordial and a hand-warmer. The sick woman,
stretched on her straw pallet, still babbled about the spoon. She
raised on her elbows, tried to motion with her hands in order to assist
in the summing up of her conclusions. The leprous woman took her hands
and gently soothed her.
In her last throes, when her enlarged eyes were already being veiled
behind some suffusing moisture that had mounted to them from within,
Candia murmured, “I was not the one, Signor … you see … because …