Thus, Violetta Kutufa made a conquest of Pescara. For more than a
month performances of the opera of the Cavalier Petrella, continued
with ever increasing popularity. The theatre was always full, even
packed. Applause for Leonora broke out furiously at the end of every
song. A singular phenomenon occurred; the entire population of Pescara
seemed seized with a species of musical mania; every Pescarenican soul
became inclosed in the magic circle of one single melody, that of the
butterfly that sports among the flowers.
In every corner, at every hour, in every way, in every possible
variation, on every instrument, with an astounding persistency,
that melody was repeated; and the person of Violetta Kutufa became
the symbol of those musical strains, just as—God pardon the
comparison—the harmony of the organ suggests the soul of paradise.
The musical and lyrical comprehension, which in the southern people
is instinctive, expanded at this time without limit. The street gamins
whistled everywhere; all the amateur musicians put forth their efforts,
Donna Lisitta Menuma played the tune on the harpsichord from dawn
until dusk, Don Antonio Brattella played it on the flute, Don Domenico
Quaquino, on the clarionette, Don Giacomo Palusci, the priest, on an
old rococo spinet, Don Vincenzio Rapagneta on his violoncello, Don
Vincenzio Ranieri on the trumpet, Don Nicola d’Annunzio, on his violin.
From the towers of Sant’ Agostino to the Arsenal, and from Pescheria
to Dogana the multifold sounds mingled together and became a discord.
In the early hours of the afternoon the district had the appearance of
some large hospital for incurable madness. Even the grinders sharpening
knives on their wheels tried to maintain a rhythm in the shriek of the
metal and the whetstone.
As it was the time of the carnival, a public festival was given in the
theatre. Shrove Thursday, at ten in the evening, the room blazed with
wax-candles, smelt strongly of myrtle and glittered with mirrors. The
masked revellers entered in crowds. Punchinellos predominated. From a
platform enveloped in green draperies, marked with constellations of
stars of silver paper, the orchestra began to play and Don Giovanni
He was dressed like a grandee of Spain, and had the appearance of a
very fat Count of Lara. A blue cap with a long, white plume covered his
baldness, a short coat of red velvet garnished with gold rippled over
his shoulders. This costume accentuated the prominence of his stomach
and the skinniness of his legs. His locks, shining with cosmetic oils,
resembled an artificial fringe bound around his cap, and they were
blacker than usual.
An impertinent Punchinello, on passing him, cried in a disguised voice:
He made a gesture of horror, so clownish, at this metamorphosis of
“Don Giovanni,” that much laughter burst forth from everyone in the
vicinity. La Cicarina, all red paint under the black hood of her
domino, like a beautiful flower of the flesh, laughed sonorously, while
she tripped with two ragged harlequins.
Don Giovanni, filled with anger, lost himself in the crowd and sought
Violetta Kutufa. The sarcasms of the other revellers pursued and
wounded him. Suddenly he encountered another grandee of Spain, another
count of Lara. He recognised Don Antonio Brattella and, at this,
received a thrust in the heart. Already, between these two men, rivalry
had broken loose.
“How is the medlar?” Don Donato Brandimarte screamed venomously,
alluding to the fleshy protuberance that the member of the Areopagus of
Marseilles had on his left ear. Don Giovanni took a fierce pleasure in
The rivals met face to face, scanned each other from head to foot, and
kept their respective stations, the one always slightly withdrawn from
the other, as they wandered through the crowd.
At eleven, an agitated flutter passed over the crowd. Violetta Kutufa
entered. She was dressed in Mephistophelian costume, in a black domino
with long scarlet hood, and with a scarlet mask over her face. The
round, swan-like chin, the thick red mouth, shone through her thin
veil. The eyes, lengthened and rendered slightly oblique because of the
mask, seemed to smile.
All instantaneously recognised her and almost all made way for her; Don
Antonio Brattella advanced caressingly on one side. On the other came
Don Giovanni; Violetta Kutufa made a hasty survey of the rings that
adorned the fingers of the latter, then took the arm of Brattella.
She laughed and walked with a certain sprightly undulation of the hips.
Brattella, while talking to her in his customary, silly, vainglorious
manner, called her “Contessa,” and interspersed their conversation with
the lyrical verses of Giovanni Peruzzini.
She laughed and leaned toward him, and pressed his arm suggestively,
since the weaknesses of this ugly, vain man amused her. At a certain
point, Brattella, when repeating the words of the Count of Lara in the
melodrama of Petrella, said or rather sang submissively:
“Shall I then hope?”
Violetta Kutufa answered in the words of Leonora:
“Who forbids you…? Good-bye.”
Then, seeing Don Giovanni not far away, she detached herself from this
bewitching chevalier, and fastened upon the other, who already for some
time had pursued with eyes full of envy and dislike, the windings of
this couple through the crowd of dancers.
Don Giovanni trembled like a youth under the glance of his first
sweetheart. Then, seized with a superabundant pride, he drew the opera
singer into the dance. He whirled breathlessly around, with his nose
against the woman’s chest, his cloak floating out behind, his plume
fluttering to the breeze, streams of perspiration mixed with cosmetic
oils filtering down his temples.
Exhausted, he stopped at length. He reeled with giddiness. Two hands
supported him and a sneering voice whispered in his ear, “Don Giovà,
stop and recover your breath for a minute!”
The voice was that of Brattella, who in turn drew the fair lady into
the dance. He danced, holding his left arm arched over his hips,
beating time with his feet, endeavouring to appear as light as a
feather, with motions meant to be gracious, but instead so idiotic, and
with grimaces so monkey-like, that everywhere the laughter and mockery
of the Punchinellos began to pelt down upon him.
“Pay a cent to see it, gentlemen!”
“Here is the bear of Poland that dances like a Christian! Gaze on him,
“Have a medlar? Have a medlar?”
“Oh, see! See! An orangoutang!”
Don Antonio Brattella controlled himself with much dignity, still
continuing his dance. Other couples wheeled around him.
The room was filled with all kinds of people, and in the midst of the
confusion the candles burned on, with their reddish flames lighting up
the festoons of immortelles. All of this fluttering reflected itself in
La Ciccarina, the daughter of Montagna, the daughter of Suriano, the
sisters Montarano, appeared and disappeared, while enlivening the crowd
with the beams of their fresh country loveliness. Donna Teodolinda
Pomarici, tall and thin, clothed in blue satin, like a madonna,
permitted herself to be borne about in a state of transport as her
hair, loosened from its bands, waved upon her shoulders. Costanzella
Coppe, the most agile and indefatigable of the dancers, and the palest,
flew from one extremity of the room to the other in a flash; Amalia
Solofra, with hair almost aflame in colour, clothed like a rustic,
her audacity almost unequalled, had her silk waist supported by a
single band that outlined the connecting point of her arm; and during
the dance, at intervals, one could see dark stains under her armpits.
Amalia Gagliano, a beautiful, blue-eyed creature, in the costume of
a sorceress, resembled an empty coffin walking vertically. A species
of intoxication held sway over all these girls. They were fermenting
in the warm, dense air, like adulterated wine. The laurel and the
immortelles gave out a singular odour, almost ecclesiastical.
The music ceased, now all mounted the stairs leading to the
refreshment-room. Don Giovanni Ussorio came to invite Violetta to
the banquet. Brattella, to show that he had reached a state of close
intimacy with the opera-singer, leaned toward her and whispered
something in her ear, and then fell to laughing about it. Don Giovanni
no longer heeded his rival.
“Come, Contessa,” he said, with much ceremony, as he offered his arm.
Violetta accepted. Both mounted the stairs slowly with Don Antonio in
“I am in love with you!” Don Giovanni hazarded, trying to instil
into his voice that note of passion, rendered familiar to him by the
principal lover of a dramatic company of Chieti.
Violetta Kutufa did not answer. She was amusing herself by watching the
concourse of people near the booth of Andreuccio, who was distributing
refreshments, while shouting the prices in a loud voice as if at a
country-fair. Andreuccio had an enormous head with polished top, a
nose that curved wondrously over the projection of his lower lip; he
resembled one of those large paper lanterns in the shape of a human
head. The revellers ate and drank with a bestial greediness, scattering
on their clothes crumbs of sweet pastry and drops of liquor. On seeing
Don Giovanni, Andreuccio cried, “Signor, at your service.”
Don Giovanni had much wealth, and was a widower without blood
relations; for which reasons everybody was desirous to be of service to
him and to flatter him.
“A little supper,” he answered. “And take care…!” He made an
expressive sign to indicate that the thing must be excellent and rare.
Violetta Kutufa sat down, and with a languid effort removed her mask
from her face and opened her domino a little. Her face, surrounded by
the scarlet hood, and animated with warmth, seemed even more saucy.
Through the opening of the domino one saw a species of pink tights that
gave a suggestion of living flesh.
“Your health!” exclaimed Don Pompeo Nervi, lingering before the
well-furnished table, and seating himself at length, allured by a plate
of juicy lobsters.
Then Don Tito de Sieri arrived and took a place without ceremony;
also Don Giustino Franco, together with Don Pasquale Virgilio and Don
Federico Sicoli appeared. The group of guests at the table continued to
swell. After much tortuous tracing and retracing of his steps, even Don
Antonio Brattella came finally. These were, for the most part, habitual
guests of Don Giovanni; they formed about him a kind of adulatory
court, gave their votes to him in the town elections, laughed at every
witticism of his, and called him by way of nickname, “The Director.”
Don Giovanni introduced them all to Violetta Kutufa. These parasites
set themselves to eating with their voracious mouths bent over their
Every word, every sentence of Don Antonio Brattella was listened to
in hostile silence. Every word, every sentence of Don Giovanni, was
recognised with complacent smiles and nods of the head. Don Giovanni
triumphed in the centre of his court. Violetta Kutufa treated him with
affability, now that she felt the force of his gold; and now, entirely
free from her hood, with her locks slightly dishevelled on forehead
and neck, she indulged in her usual playfulness, somewhat noisy and
childish. Around them the crowd moved restlessly.
In the centre of it, three or four harlequins walked on the pavement
with their hands and feet, and rolled like great beetles. Amalia
Solofra, standing upon a chair, with her long arms bare to the elbows,
shook a tambourine. Around her a couple hopped in rustic fashion,
giving out short cries, while a group of youths stood looking on with
eager eyes. At intervals, from the lower room ascended the voice of Don
Ferdinando Giordano, who was ordering the quadrille with great bravado.
“Balance! Forward and back! Swing!”
Little by little Violetta Kutufa’s table became full to overflowing.
Don Nereo Pica, Don Sebastiano Pica, Don Grisostomo Troilo and others
of this Ussorian court arrived; even to Don Cirillo d’Amelio, Don
Camillo d’Angelo and Don Rocco Mattace.
Many strangers stood about with stupid expressions, and watched them
eat. Women were envious. From time to time a burst of rough laughter
arose from the table, and from time to time corks popped and the foam
of wine overflowed.
Don Giovanni took pleasure in splashing his guests, especially the
bald ones, in order to make Violetta laugh. The parasites raised their
flushed faces, and, still eating, smiled at their “Director” from under
the foamy rain. But Don Antonio Brattella, having taken offence, made
as if to go. All of the feasters opposite him gave a low cry like a
Violetta called, “Stay.” Don Antonio remained. After this he gave a
toast rhyming in quintains. Don Federico Sicoli, half intoxicated,
gave a toast likewise in honour of Violetta and of Don Giovanni, in
which he went so far as to speak of “divine shape” and “jolly times.”
He declaimed in a loud voice. He was a man long, thin and greenish in
colour. He lived by composing verses of Saints’ days and laudations for
all ecclesiastical festivals. Now, in the midst of his drunkenness, the
rhymes fell from his lips without order, old rhymes and new ones. At
a certain point, no longer able to balance on his legs, he bent like a
candle softened by heat and was silent.
Violetta Kutufa was overcome with laughter. The crowd jammed around the
table as if at a spectacle.
“Let us go,” Violetta said at this moment, putting on her mask and hood.
Don Giovanni, at the culmination of his amorous enthusiasm, all red and
perspiring, took her arm. The parasites drank the last drop and then
arose confusedly behind the couple.
A few days after, Violetta Kutufa was inhabiting an apartment in one
of Don Giovanni’s houses on the town square, and much hearsay floated
through Pescara. The company of singers departed from Brindisi without
the Countess of Amalfi. In the solemn, quiet Lenten days, the Pescaresi
took a modest delight in gossip and calumny. Every day a new tale made
the circuit of the city, and every day a new creation arose from the
Violetta Kutufa’s house was in the neighbourhood of Sant’ Agostino,
opposite the Brina palace and adjoining the palace of Memma. Every
evening the windows were illuminated and the curious assembled beneath
Violetta received visitors in a room tapestried with French fabrics on
which were depicted in French style various mythological subjects. Two
round-bodied vases of the seventeenth century occupied the two sides
of the chimney-piece. A yellow sofa extended along the opposite wall
between two curtains of similar material. On the chimney-piece stood a
plaster Venus and a small Venus di Medici between two gilt candelabra.
On the shelves rested various porcelain vases, a bunch of artificial
flowers under a crystal globe, a basket of wax fruit, a Swiss cottage,
a block of alum, several sea-shells and a cocoanut.
At first her guests had been reluctant, through a sense of modesty,
to mount the stairs of the opera singer. Later, little by little, they
had overcome all hesitation. Even the most serious men made from time
to time their appearance in the _salon_ of Violetta Kutufa; even men
of family; and they went there almost with trepidation, with furtive
delight, as if they were about to commit a slight crime against their
wives, as if they were about to enter a place of soothing perdition
and sin. They united in twos and threes, formed alliances for greater
security and justification, laughed among themselves and nudged one
another in turn for encouragement. Then the stream of light from
the windows, the strains from the piano, the song of the Countess of
Amalfi, the voices and applause of her guests excited them. They were
seized with a sudden enthusiasm, threw out their chests, held up their
heads with youthful pride and mounted resolutely, deciding that after
all one had to taste of life and cull opportunities for enjoyment.
But Violetta’s receptions had an air of great propriety, were almost
formal. She welcomed the new arrivals with courtesy and offered
them syrups in water and cordials. The newcomers remained slightly
astonished, did not know quite how to behave, where to sit, what to
say. The conversations turned upon the weather, on political news,
on the substance of the Lenten sermons, on other matter-of-fact and
Don Giuseppe Postiglioni spoke of the pretensions of the Prussian
Prince Hohenzollern to the throne of Spain; Don Antonio Brattella
delighted in discoursing on the immortality of the soul and other
inspiring matters. The doctrine of Brattella was stupendous. He spoke
slowly and emphatically, from time to time, pronouncing a difficult
word rapidly and eating up the syllables. To quote an authentic
report, one evening, on taking a wand and bending it, he said: “Oh,
how fleible!” for flexible; another evening, pointing to his plate and
making excuses for not being able to play the flute, he vouchsafed: “My
entire p-l-ate is inflamed!” and still another evening, on indicating
the shape of a vase, he said that in order to make children take
medicine, it was necessary to scatter with some sweet substance the
_origin_ of the glass.
At intervals Don Paolo Seccia, incredulous soul, on hearing singular
matters recounted, jumped up with: “But Don Antò, what do you mean to
Don Antonio repeated his remark with a hand on his heart and a
challenging expression, “My testimony is ocular! Entirely ocular.” One
evening he came, walking with great effort and carefully, painstakingly
prepared to sit down; he had “a cold, the length of the spine!” Another
evening he arrived with the right cheek slightly bruised; he had fallen
“underhand”; in other words, he had slipped and struck his face on the
ground. Thus were the conversations of these gatherings made up. Don
Giovanni Ussorio, always present, had the airs of a proprietor; every
so often he approached Violetta with ostentation and murmured something
familiarly in her ear. Long intervals of silence occurred, during which
Don Grisostomo Troilo blew his nose and Don Federico Sicoli coughed
like a consumptive, holding both hands to his mouth and then shaking
The opera-singer revived the conversation with accounts of her
triumphs at Corfu, Ancona and Bari. Little by little she grew animated,
abandoned herself to her imagination; with discreet reserve she spoke
of princely “_amours_,” of royal favours, of romantic adventures; she
thus evoked all of those confused recollections of novels read at other
times, and trusted liberally to the credulity of her listeners. Don
Giovanni at these times turned his eyes upon her full of inquietude,
almost bewildered; moreover experiencing a singular irritation that had
an indistinct resemblance to jealousy. Violetta at length ended with a
stupid smile and the conversation languished anew.
Then Violetta went to the piano and sang. All listened with profound
attention; at the end they applauded. Then Don Brattella arose with
the flute. An immeasurable melancholy took hold of his listeners at
that sound, a kind of swooning of body and soul. They rested with heads
lowered almost to their breasts in attitudes of sufferance. At last all
left, one after the other. As they took the hand of Violetta a slight
scent from the strong perfume of musk remained on their fingers, and
this excited them further. Then, once more in the street, they reunited
in groups, holding loose discourse. They grew inflamed, lowered their
voices and were silent if anyone drew near. Softly they withdrew from
beneath the Brina palace to another part of the square. There they
set themselves to watching Violetta’s windows, still illuminated.
Across the panes passed indistinct shadows; at a certain time the
light disappeared, traversed two or three rooms and stopped in the
last window. Shortly, a figure leaned out to close the shutters. Those
spying thought they recognised in it the figure of Don Giovanni. They
still continued to discuss beneath the stars and from time to time
laughed, while giving one another little nudges, and gesticulating.
Don Antonio Brattella, perhaps from the reflection of the city-lamps,
seemed a greenish colour. The parasites, little by little in their
discourse spit out a certain animosity toward the opera-singer, who
was plucking so gracefully their lord of good times. They feared lest
those generous feasts might be in peril; already Don Giovanni was more
sparing of his invitations.
“It will be necessary to open the eyes of the poor fellow. An
adventuress! Bah! She is capable of making him marry her. Why not? And
then what a scandal!”
Don Pompeo Nervi, shaking his large calf’s head, assented:
“You are right! You are right! We must bethink ourselves.”
Don Nereo Pica, “The Cat,” proposed a way, conjured up schemes; this
pious man, accustomed to the secret and laborious skirmishes of the
sacristy was crafty in the sowing of discord.
Thus these complainers treated together and their fat speeches
only returned again into their bitter mouths. As it was spring the
foliage of the public gardens smelt and trembled before them with
white blossoms and through the neighbouring paths they saw, about to
disappear, the figures of loosely-dressed prostitutes.
When, therefore, Don Giovanni Ussorio, after having heard from Rosa
Catana of the departure of Violetta Kutufa, re-entered his widower’s
house and heard his parrot humming the air of the butterfly and the
bee, he was seized by a new and more profound discouragement.
In the entrance a girdle of sunlight penetrated boldly and through
the iron grating one saw the tranquil garden full of heliotropes. His
servant slept upon a bench with a straw hat pulled down over his face.
Don Giovanni did not wake the servant. He mounted the stairs with
difficulty, his eyes fixed upon the steps, pausing every now and then
to mutter: “Oh, what a thing to happen! Oh, oh, what luck!”
Having reached his room he threw himself upon the bed and with his
mouth against the pillows, began again to weep. Later he arose; the
silence was deep and the trees of the garden as tall as the window
waved slightly in the stillness. There was nothing of the unusual in
the things about him; he almost wondered at this.
He fell to thinking and remained a long time calling to mind the
positions, the gestures, the words, the slightest motions of the
deserter. He saw her form as clearly as if she were present. At every
recollection his grief increased until at length a kind of dulness
benumbed his mind. He remained sitting on the bed, almost motionless,
his eyes red, his forehead blackened from the colouring matter of his
hair mixed with perspiration, his face furrowed with wrinkles that
had suddenly become more evident; he had aged ten years in an hour, a
change both amusing and pathetic.
Don Grisostomo Troilo, who had heard the news, arrived. He was a man
of advanced age, of short stature and with a round, swollen face from
which spread out sharp, thin whiskers, well waxed and resembling the
two wings of a bird. He said:
“Now, Giovà, what is the matter?”
Don Giovanni did not answer, but shook his shoulders as if to repel all
sympathy. Don Grisostomo then began to reprove him benevolently, never
speaking of Violetta Kutufa.
In came Don Cirillo d’Amelio with Don Nereo Pica. Both, on entering,
showed almost an air of triumph.
“Now you have seen for yourself, Don Giovà! We told you so! We told
you so!” they cried. Both had nasal voices and a cadence acquired from
the habit of singing with the organ, because they belonged to the choir
of the Holy Sacrament. They began to attack the character of Violetta
without mercy. She did this and that and the other thing, they said.
Don Giovanni, outraged, made from time to time a motion as if he would
not hear such slanders, but the two continued. Now, also, Don Pasquale
Virgilio arrived, with Don Pompeo Nervi, Don Federico Sicoli, Don Tito
de Sieri; almost all of the parasites came in a group. Supporting one
another they became ferocious. Did he not know that Violetta Kutufa had
abandoned herself to Tom, Dick and Harry…? Indeed she had! Indeed!
They laid bare the exact particulars, the exact places.
Now Don Giovanni heard with eyes afire, greedy to know, invaded by a
terrible curiosity. These revelations instead of disgusting him, fed
his desire. Violetta seemed to him more enticing, even more beautiful;
and he felt himself inwardly bitten by a raging jealousy that blended
with his grief. Presently the woman appeared in his mind’s eye
associated with a certain soft relaxation. That picture made him giddy.
“Oh Dio! Oh Dio! Oh! Oh!” He commenced to weep again. Those present
looked at one another and restrained their laughter. In truth the grief
of that man; fleshy, bald, deformed, expressed itself so ridiculously
that it seemed unreal.
“Go away now!” Don Giovanni blubbered through his tears.
Don Grisostomo Troilo set the example; the others followed him and
chattered as they passed down the stairs.
Toward evening the prostrated man revived little by little. A woman’s
voice called at his door: “May I come in, Don Giovanni?”
He recognised Rosa Catana’s voice and experienced suddenly an
instinctive joy. He ran to let her in. Rosa Catana appeared in the dusk
of the room.
“Come in! Come in!” he cried. He made her sit down beside him, had
her talk to him, asked her a thousand questions. He seemed to suffer
less on hearing that familiar voice in which, under the spell of an
illusion, he found some quality of Violetta’s voice. He took her hands
“You helped her to dress! Did you not?”
He caressed those rugged hands, closing his eyes and wandering
slightly in his mind on the subject of those abundant, unbound locks
that so many times he had touched with his hands. Rosa at first
did not understand. She believed this to be some sudden passion of
Don Giovanni, and withdrew her hands gently, while she spoke in an
ambiguous way and laughed. But Don Giovanni murmured:
“No, no!… Stay! You combed her, did you not? You bathed her, did you
He fell to kissing Rosa’s hands, those hands that had combed, bathed
and clothed Violetta. He stammered, while kissing them, composed verses
so strange that Rosa could scarcely refrain from laughter. But at last
she understood and with feminine perception forced herself to remain
serious, while she summed up the advantages that might ensue from this
foolish comedy. She grew docile, let him caress her, let him call her
Violetta, made use of all that experience acquired from peeping through
key-holes many times at her mistress’s door; she even sought to make
her voice more sweet.
In the room one could scarcely see them. Through the open windows
a red reflection entered and the trees in the garden, almost black,
twisted and turned in the wind. From the sloughs around the arsenal
came the hoarse croak of the frogs. The noises of the city street were
Don Giovanni drew the woman to his knees, and, completely confused
as if he had swallowed some very’ strong liquor, murmured a thousand
childish nothings and babbled on without end, drawing her face close to
“Ah, darling little Violetta!” he whispered. “Sweetheart! Don’t
go away, dear…! If you go away your Nini will die, Poor Nini…!
Thus he continued stupidly, as he had done before with the
opera-singer. Rosa Catana patiently offered him slight caresses, as
if he were a very sick, perverted child; she took his head and pressed
it against her shoulder, kissed his swollen, weeping eyes, stroked his
bald crown, rearranged his oiled locks.
Thus, Rosa Catana, little by little, earned her inheritance from Don
Giovanni Ussorio, who, in the March of 1871, died of paralysis.
The group was walking along the seashore. Down the hills and over the
country Spring was coming again. The humble strip of land bordering the
sea was already green; the various fields were quite distinctly marked
by the springing vegetation, and every mound was crowned with budding
trees. The north wind shook these trees, and its breath caused many
flowers to fall. At a short distance the heights seemed to be covered
with a colour between pink and violet; for an instant the view seemed
to tremble and grow pale like a ripple veiling the clear surface of a
pool, or like a faded painting.
The sea stretched out its broad expanse serenely along the coast,
bathed by the moonlight, and toward the north taking on the hue of a
turquois of Persia, broken here and there by the darker tint of the
currents winding over its surface.
Turlendana, who had lost the recollection of these places through a
long absence, and who in his long peregrinations had forgotten the
sentiments of his native land, was striding along with the tired,
regular step of haste, looking neither backward nor around him.
When the camel would stop at a tuft of wild grass, Turlendana would
utter a brief, hoarse cry of incitement. The huge reddish quadruped
would slowly raise his head, chewing the morsel heavily between his
The she-ass, the little snowy white Susanna, protesting against the
tormenting of the monkey, from time to time would bray lamentingly,
asking to be freed of her rider.
But the restless Zavali gave her no peace; as though in a frenzy, with
quick, short gestures of wrath, she would run over the back of the
beast, jump playfully on her head, get hold of her large ears; then
would lift her tail and shake the hairs, hold it up and look through
the hairs, scratch poor Susanna viciously with her nails, then lift
her hands to her mouth and move her jaws as though chewing, grimacing
frightfully as she did so. Then suddenly, she would jump back to her
seat, holding in her hands her foot, twisted like the root of a bush,
and sit with her orange coloured eyes, filled with wonder and stupor,
fixed on the sea, while wrinkles would appear on her head, and her thin
pinkish ears would tremble nervously. Without warning she would make a
malicious gesture, and recommence her play.
The camel heard and started to walk again.
When the group reached the willow tree woods, at the mouth of the River
Pescara, figures could be seen upon its right bank, above the masts of
the ships anchored in the docks of Bandiera. Turlendana stopped to get
a drink of water from the river.
The river of his native place carried to him the peaceful air of the
sea. Its banks, covered with fluvial plains, lay stretched out as
though resting from their recent work of fecundity. The silence was
profound. The cobwebs shone tranquilly in the sun like mirrors framed
by the crystal of the sea. The seaweed bent in the wind, showing its
green or white sides.
“Pescara!” said Turlendana, with an accent of curiosity and
recognition, stopping still to look at the view.
Then, going down to the shore where the gravel was clean, he kneeled
down to drink, carrying the water to his mouth in his curled up palm.
The camel, bending his long neck, drank with slow, regular draughts.
The she-ass, too, drank from the stream, while the monkey, imitating
the man, made a cup of her hands, which were violet coloured like
unripe India figs.
“Hu, Barbara!” The camel heard and ceased to drink. The water dripped
unheeded from his mouth onto his chest; his white gums and yellowish
teeth showed between his open lips.
Through the path marked across the wood by the people of the sea,
the little group proceeded on its way. The sun was setting when they
reached the Arsenale of Rampigna. Turlendana asked of a sailor who was
walking beside the brick parapet:
“Is that Pescara?”
The sailor, astonished at the sight of the strange beasts, answered
“It is that,” and left his work to follow the stranger.
The sailor was soon joined by others. Soon a crowd of curious people
had gathered and were following Turlendana, who went calmly on his
way, unmindful of the comments of the people. When they reached the
boat-bridge, the camel refused to pass over.
“Hu, Barbara! Hu, hu!” Turlendana cried impatiently, urging him on, and
shaking the rope of the halter by which he led the animal. But Barbara
obstinately lay down upon the ground, and stretched his head out in the
dust very comfortable, showing no intention of moving.
The people jesting gathered about, having overcome their first
amazement, and cried in a chorus:
As they were somewhat familiar with monkeys, having seen some which
the sailors had brought home, together with parrots, from their long
cruises, they were teasing Zavali in a thousand different ways, handing
her large greenish almonds, which the monkey would open, gluttonously
devouring the sweet fresh meat.
After much urging and persistent shouting, Turlendana succeeded
in conquering the stubbornness of the camel, and that enormous
architecture of bones and skin rose staggering to his feet in the midst
of the instigating crowd.
From all directions soldiers and sailors flocked over the boat bridge
to witness the spectacle. Far behind the mountain of Gran Sasso the
setting sun irradiated the spring sky with a vivid rosy light, and
from the damp earth, the water of the river, the seas, and the ponds,
the moisture had arisen. A rosy glow tinted the houses, the sails,
the masts, the plants, and the whole landscape, and the figures of the
people, acquiring a sort of transparency, grew obscure, the lines of
their contour wavering in the fading light.
Under the weight of the caravan the bridge creaked on its tar-smeared
boats like a very large floating lighter. Turlendana, halting in the
middle of the bridge, brought the camel also to a stop; stretching
high above the heads of the crowd, it stood breathing against the wind,
slowly moving its head like a fictitious serpent covered with hair.
The name of the beast had spread among the curious people, and all of
them, from an innate love of sensation, and filled with the exuberance
of spirits inspired by the sweetness of the sunset and the season of
the year, cried out gleefully:
“Barbara! Barbara!” At the sound of this applauding cry and the
well-meant clamour of the crowd, Turlendana, who was leaning against
the chest of his camel, felt a kindly emotion of satisfaction spring up
in his heart.
The she-ass suddenly began to bray with such high and discordant
variety of notes, and with such sighing passion that a spontaneous
burst of merriment ran through the crowd.
The fresh, happy laughter spread from one end of the bridge to the
other like the roar of water falling over the stones of a cataract.
Then Turlendana, unknown to any of the crowd, began to make his way
through the throng. When he was outside the gates of the city, where
the women carrying reed baskets were selling fresh fish, Binchi-Banche,
a little man with a yellow face, drawn up like a juiceless lemon,
pushed to the front, and as was his custom with all strangers who
happened to come to the place, offered his services in finding a
Pointing to Barbara, he asked first:
“Is he ferocious?”
Turlendana, smiling, answered, “No.”
“Well,” Binchi-Banche went on, reassured, “there is the house of
Rosa Schiavona.” Both turned towards the Pescaria, and then towards
Sant’ Agostino, followed by the crowd. From windows and balconies
women and children leaned over, gazing in astonishment at the passing
camel, admiring the grace of the white ass, and laughing at the comic
performances of Zavali.
At one place, Barbara, seeing a bit of green hanging from a low loggia,
stretched out his neck and, grasping it with his lips, tore it down.
A cry of terror broke forth from the women who were leaning over the
loggia, and the cry spread to other loggias. The people from the river
laughed loudly, crying out, as though it were the carnival season and
they were behind masks:
They were intoxicated by the novelty of the spectacle, and by the
invigourating spring air. In front of the house of Rosa Schiavona, in
the neighbourhood of Portasale, Binchi-Banche made a sign to stop.
“This is the place,” he said.
It was a very humble one-story house with one row of windows, and the
lower walls were covered with inscriptions and ugly figures. A row of
bats pinned on the arch formed an ornament, and a lantern covered with
reddish paper hung under the window.
This place was the abode of a sort of adventurous, roving people. They
slept mixed together, the big and corpulent truckman, Letto Manoppello,
the gipsies of Sulmona, horse-traders, boiler-menders, turners of
Bucchianico, women of the city of Sant’ Angelo, women of wicked
lives, the bag-pipers of Atina, mountaineers, bear-tamers, charlatans,
pretended mendicants, thieves, and fortune-tellers. Binchi-Banche acted
as a go-between for all that rabble, and was a great protégé of the
house of Rosa Schiavona.
When the latter heard the noise of the newcomers, she came out upon the
threshold. She looked like a being generated by a dwarf and a sow. Very
diffidently she put the question:
“What is the matter?”
“There is a fellow here who wants lodging for his beasts, Donna Rosa.”
“How many beasts?”
“Three, as you see, Donna Rosa—a monkey, an ass, and a camel.”
The crowd was paying no attention to the dialogue. Some of them were
exciting Zavali, others were feeling of Barbara’s legs, commenting
on the callous spots on his knees and chest. Two guards of the salt
store-houses, who had travelled to the sea-ports of Asia Minor, were
telling in a loud voice of the wonderful properties of the camel,
talking confusedly of having seen some of them dancing, while carrying
upon their necks a lot of half-naked musicians and women of the Orient.
The listeners, greedy to hear these marvellous tales, cried:
“Tell us some more! Tell us some more!” They stood around the
story-tellers in attentive silence, listening with dilated eyes.
Then one of the guards, an old man whose eyelids were drawn up by the
wind of the sea, began to tell of the Asiatic countries, and as he went
on, his imagination became excited by the stories which he told, and
his tales grew more wonderful.
A sort of mysterious softness seemed to penetrate the sunset. In the
minds of the listeners, the lands which were described to them rose
vividly before their imaginations in all their strange splendour.
Across the arch of the Porta, which was already in shadow, could be
seen boats loaded with salt rocking upon the river, the salt seeming to
absorb all the light of the evening, giving the boats the appearance of
palaces of precious crystals. Through the greenish tinted heavens rose
the crescent of the moon.
“Tell us some more! Tell us some more!” the younger of those assembled
In the meanwhile Turlendana had put his beasts under cover and
supplied them with food. This being done, he had again set forth with
Binchi-Banche, while the people remained gathered about the door of the
barn where the head of the camel appeared and disappeared behind the
On the way Turlendana asked:
“Are there any drinking places here?”
Binchi-Banche answered promptly:
“Yes, sir, there are.” Then, lifting his big black hands he counted off
on his fingers:
“The Inn of Speranza, the Inn of Buono, the Inn of Assau, the Inn of
Zarricante, the Inn of the Blind Woman of Turlendana….”
“Ah!” exclaimed the other calmly.
Binchi-Banche raised his big, sharp, greenish eyes.
“You have been here before, sir?”
Then, with the native loquacity of the Pescarese he went on without
waiting for an answer:
“The Inn of the Blind Woman is large, and they sell there the
best wine. The so-called Blind Woman is a woman who has had four
He stopped to laugh, his yellowish face wrinkling into little folds as
he did so.
“The first husband was Turlendana, a sailor on board the ships of the
King of Naples, sailing from India to France, to Spain, and even as
far as America. He was lost at sea, no one knows where, for the ship
disappeared and nothing has ever been heard from it since. That was
about thirty years ago. Turlendana had the strength of Samson; he could
pull up an anchor with one finger … poor fellow! He who goes to sea
is apt to have such an end.”
Turlendana was listening quietly.
“The second husband, whom she married after five years of widowhood,
was from Ortona, a son of Ferrante, a damned soul, who was in
conspiracy with smugglers in Napoleon’s time, during the war with
England. They smuggled goods from Francavilla up to Silvi and
Montesilvano—sugar and coffee from the English boats. In the
neighbourhood of Silvi was a tower called ‘The Tower of Saracini,’ from
which the signals were given. As the patrol passed, ‘Plon, plon, plon,
plon!’ came out from behind the trees….” Binchi-Banche’s face lighted
up at the recollection of those times, and he quite lost himself in the
pleasure of describing minutely all those clandestine operations, his
expressive gestures and exclamations adding interest to the tale.
His small body would draw up and stretch out to its full height as he
“At last the son of Ferrante was, while walking along the coast one
night, shot in the back by a soldier of Murat, and killed.
“The third husband was Titino Passacantando, who died in his bed of a
“The fourth still lives, and is called Verdura, a good fellow who does
not adulterate the wine of the inn. Now, you will have a chance to try
When they reached the much praised inn, they separated.
“Good night, sir!”
Turlendana entered unconcernedly, unmindful of the curious attention of
the drinkers sitting beside the long tables. Having asked for something
to eat, he was conducted to an upper room where the tables were set
ready for supper.
None of the regular boarders of the place were yet in the room.
Turlendana sat down and began to eat, taking great mouthfuls without
pausing, his head bent over his plate, like a famished person. He was
almost wholly bald, a deep red scar furrowed his face from forehead to
cheek, his thick greyish beard extended to his protruding cheek bones,
his skin, dark, dried, rough, worn by water and sun and wrinkled by
pain, seemed not to preserve any human semblance, his eyes stared into
the distance as if petrified by impassivity.
Verdura, inquisitive, sat opposite him, staring at the stranger. He
was somewhat flushed, his face was of a reddish colour veined with
vermilion like the gall of oxen. At last he cried:
“Where do you come from?”
Turlendana, without raising his head, replied simply:
“I come from far away.”
“And where do you go?” pursued Verdura.
“I remain here.”
Verdura, amazed, was silent.
Turlendana continued to lift the fishes from his plate, one after
another, taking off their heads and tails, and devouring them, chewing
them up, bones and all. After every two or three fishes he drank a
draught of wine.
“Do you know anybody here?” Verdura asked with eager curiosity.
“Perhaps,” replied the other laconically.
Baffled by the brevity of his interlocutor, the wine man grew silent
again. Above the uproar of the drinkers below, Turlendana’s slow and
laboured mastication could be heard. Presently Verdura again Ventured
to open his mouth.
“In what countries is the camel found? Are those two humps natural? Can
such a great, strong beast ever be tamed?”
Turlendana allowed him to go on without replying.
“Your name, Mister?”
The man to whom this question was put raised his head from his plate,
and answered simply, as before:
“I am called Turlendana.”
The amazement of the inn keeper was unbounded. A sort of a vague terror
shook his innermost soul.
“What? Turlendana of this place?”
“Of this place.”
Verdura’s big azure eyes dilated as he stared at the man.
“Then you are not dead?”
“No, I am not dead.”
“Then you are the husband of Rosalba Catena?”
“I am the husband of Rosalba Catena.”
“And now,” exclaimed Verdura, with a gesture of perplexity, “we are two
“We are two!”
They remained silent for an instant. Turlendana was chewing the last
bit of bread tranquilly, and through the quiet room you could hear his
teeth crunching on it. Either from a natural benignant simplicity or
from a glorious fatuity, Verdura was struck only by the singularity
of the case. A sudden impulse of merriment overtook him, bubbling out
“Let us go to Rosalba! Let us go! Let us go!”
Taking the newcomer by the arm, he conducted him through the group of
drinkers, waving his arms, and crying out:
“Here is Turlendana, Turlendana the sailor! The husband of my wife!
Turlendana, who is not dead! Here is Turlendana! Here is Turlendana!”