seven consecutive sneezes

The last glass had been drunk, and two o’clock in the morning was about
to strike from the tower clock of the City Hall.

Said Biagio Quaglia, his voice thick with wine, as the strokes sounded
through the silence of the night filled with clear moonlight:

“Well! Isn’t it about time for us to go?”

Ciavola, stretched half under the bench, moved his long runner’s legs
from time to time, mumbling about clandestine hunts-in the forbidden
grounds of the Marquis of Pescara, as the taste of wild hare came up in
his throat, and the wind brought to his nostrils the resinous odour of
the pines of the sea grove.

Said Biagio Quaglia, giving the blond hunter a kick, and making a
motion to rise:

“Let us go.”

Ciavola with an effort rose, swaying uncertainly, thin and slender like
a hunting hound.

“Let us go, as they are pursuing us,” he answered, raising his hand
high in a motion of assent, thinking perhaps of the passage of birds
through the air.

Turlendana also moved, and seeing behind him the wine woman,
Zarricante, with her flushed raw cheeks and her protruding chest, he
tried to embrace her. But Zarricante fled from his embrace, hurling at
him words of abuse.

On the doorsill, Turlendana asked his friends for their company and
support through a part of the road. But Biagio Quaglia and Ciavola, who
were indeed a fine pair, turned their backs on him jestingly, and went
away in the luminous moonlight.

Then Turlendana stopped to look at the moon, which was round and red
as the face of a friar. Everything around was silent and the rows of
houses reflected the white light of the moon. A cat was mewing this May
night upon a door step. The man, in his intoxicated state, feeling a
peculiarly tender inclination, put out his hand slowly and uncertainly
to caress the animal, but the beast, being somewhat wild, took a jump
and disappeared.

Seeing a stray dog approaching, he attempted to pour out upon it the
wealth of his loving impulses; the dog, however, paid no attention to
his calls, and disappeared around the corner of a cross street, gnawing
a bone. The noise of his teeth could be heard plainly through the
silence of the night.

Soon after, the door of the inn was closed and Turlendana was
left-standing alone under the full moon, obscured by the shadows of
rolling clouds. His attention was struck by the rapid moving of all
surrounding objects. Everything fled away from him. What had he done
that they should fly away?

With unsteady steps, he moved towards the river. The thought of that
universal flight as he moved along, occupied profoundly his brain,
changed as it was by the fumes of the wine. He met two other street
dogs, and as an experiment, approached them, but they too slunk away
with their tails between their legs, keeping close to the wall and when
they had gone some little distance, they began to bark. Suddenly, from
every direction, from Bagno da Sant’ Agostino, from Arsenale, from
Pescheria, from all the lurid and obscure places around, the roving
dogs ran up, as though in answer to a trumpet call to battle and the
aggressive chorus of the famishing tribe ascended to the moon.

Turlendana was stupefied, while a sort of vague uneasiness awoke in his
soul and he went on his way a little more quickly, stumbling over the
rough places in the ground. When he reached the corner of the coopers,
where the large barrels of Zazetta were piled in whitish heaps like
monuments, he heard the heavy, regular breathing of a beast. As the
impression of the hostility of all beasts had taken a hold on him, with
the obstinacy of a drunken man, he moved in the direction of the sound,
that he might make another experiment.

Within a low barn the three old horses of Michelangelo were breathing
with difficulty above their manger. They were decrepit beasts who had
worn out their lives dragging through the road of Chieti, twice every
day, a huge stage-coach filled with merchants and merchandise. Under
their brown hair, worn off in places by the rubbing of the harness,
their ribs protruded like so many dried shingles through a ruined
roof. Their front legs were so bent that their knees were scarcely
perceptible, their backs were ragged like the teeth of a saw, and their
skinny necks, upon which scarcely a vestige of mane was left, drooped
towards the ground.

A wooden railing inside barred the door.

Turlendana began encouragingly:

“Ush, ush, ush! Ush, ush, ush!”

The horses did not move, but breathed together in a human way. The
outlines of their bodies appeared dim and confused through the bluish
shadow within the barn, and the exhalations of their breath blent with
that of the manure.

“Ush, ush, ush!” pursued Turlendana in a lamenting tone, as when he
used to urge Barbara to drink. Again the horses did not stir, and
again:

“Ush, ush, ush! Ush, ush, ush!” One of the horses turned and placed his
big deformed head upon the railing, looking with eyes which seemed in
the moonlight as though filled with troubled water. The lower skin of
the jaw hung flaccid, disclosing the gums. At every breath the nostrils
palpitated, emitting moist breath, the nostrils closing at times, and
opening again to give forth a little cloud of air bubbles like yeast in
a state of fermentation.

At the sight of that senile head, the drunken man came to his senses.
Why had he filled himself with wine, he, usually so sober? For a
moment, in the midst of his forgetful drowsiness, the shape of his
dying camel reappeared before his eyes, lying on the ground with his
long inert neck stretched out on the straw, his whole body shaken from
time to time by coughing, while with every moan the bloated stomach
produced a sound such as issues from a barrel half filled with water.

A wave of pity and compassion swept over the man, as before him rose
this vision of the agony of the camel, shaken by strange, hoarse sobs
which brought forth a moan from the enormous dying carcass, the painful
movements of the neck, rising for an instant to fall back again heavily
upon the straw with a deep, indistinct sound, the legs moving as if
trying to run, the tense tremor of the ears, and the fixity of the
eyeballs, from which the sight seemed to have departed before the rest
of the faculties. All this suffering came back clearly to his memory,
vivid in its almost human misery.

He leaned against the railing and opened his mouth mechanically to
again speak to Michelangelo’s horse:

“Ush, ush, ush! Ush, ush, ush!” Then Michelangelo, who from his bed had
heard the disturbance, jumped to the window above and began to swear
violently at the troublesome disturber of his night’s rest.

“You damned rascal! Go and drown yourself in the Pescara River! Go away
from here. Go, or I will get a gun! You rascal, to come and wake up
sleeping people! You drunkard, go on; go away!”

Turlendana, staggering, started again towards the river. When at the
cross-roads by the fruit market, he saw a group of dogs in a loving
assembly. As the man approached, the group of canines dispersed,
running towards Bagno. From the alley of Gesidio came out another horde
of dogs, who set off in the direction of Bastioni.

All of the country of Pescara, bathed in the sweet light of the full
moon of the springtime, was the scene of the fights of amorous canines.
The mastiff of Madrigale, chained to watch over a slaughtered ox,
occasionally made his deep voice heard, and was answered by a chorus of
other voices. Occasionally a solitary dog would pass on the run to the
scene of a fight. From within the houses, the howls of the imprisoned
dogs could be heard.

Now a still stranger trouble took hold upon the brain of the drunken
man. In front of him, behind him, around him, the imaginary flight
of things began to take place again more rapidly than before. He
moved forward, and everything moved away from him, the clouds, the
trees, the stones, the river banks, the poles of the boats, the very
houses,—all retreated at his approach. This evident repulsion and
universal reprobation filled him with terror. He halted. His spirit
grew depressed. Through his disordered brain a sudden thought ran.
“The fox!” Even that fox of a Ciavola did not wish to remain with him
longer! His terror increased. His limbs trembled violently. However,
impelled by this thought, he descended among the tender willow trees
and the high grass of the shore.

The bright moon scattered over all things a snowy serenity. The trees
bent peacefully over the bank, as though contemplating the running
water. Almost it seemed as though a soft, melancholy breath emanated
from the somnolence of the river beneath the moon. The croaking of
frogs sounded clearly. Turlendana crouched among the plants, almost
hidden. His hands trembled on his knees. Suddenly he felt something
alive and moving under him; a frog! He uttered a cry. He rose and began
to run, staggering, amongst the willow trees impeding his way. In his
uneasiness of spirit, he felt terrified as though by some supernatural
occurrence.

Stumbling over a rough place in the ground, he fell on his stomach,
his face pressed into the grass. He got up with much difficulty, and
stood looking around him at the trees. The silvery silhouette of the
poplars rose motionless through the silent air, making their tops seem
unusually tall. The shores of the river would vanish endlessly, as if
they were something unreal, like shadows of things seen in dreams. Upon
the right side, the rocks shone resplendently, like crystals of salt,
shadowed at times by the moving clouds passing softly overhead like
azure veils. Further on the wood broke the horizon line. The scent of
the wood and the soft breath of the sea were blended.

“Oh, Turlendana! Ooooh!” a clear voice cried out.

Turlendana turned in amazement.

“Oh, Turlendana, Turlendanaaaaa!”

It was Binchi-Banche, who came up, accompanied by a customs officer,
through the path used by the sailors through the willow-tree thicket.

“Where are you going at this time of night? To weep over your camel?”
asked Binchi-Banche as he approached.

Turlendana did not answer at once. He was grasping his trousers
with one hand; his knees were bent forward and his face wore a
strange expression of stupidity, while he stammered so pitifully
that Binchi-Banche and the customs officer broke out into boisterous
laughter.

“Go on! Go on!” exclaimed the wrinkled little man, grasping the drunken
man by the shoulders and pushing him towards the seashore. Turlendana
moved forward. Binchi-Banche and the customs officer followed him at a
little distance, laughing and speaking in low voices.

He reached the place where the verdure terminated and the sand began.
The grumbling of the sea at the mouth of the Pescara could be heard. On
a level stretch of sand, stretched out between the dunes, Turlendana
ran against the corpse of Barbara, which had not yet been buried. The
large body was skinned and bleeding, the plump parts of the back, which
were uncovered, appeared of a yellowish colour; upon his legs the skin
was still hanging with all the hair; there were two enormous callous
spots; within his mouth his angular teeth were visible, curving over
the upper jaw and the white tongue; for some unknown reason the under
lip was cut, while the neck resembled the body of a serpent.

At the appearance of this ghastly sight, Turlendana burst into tears,
shaking his head, and moaning in a strange unhuman way:

“Oho! Oho! Oho!”

In the act of lying down upon the camel, he fell. He attempted to
rise, but the stupor caused by the wine overcame him, and he lost
consciousness.

Seeing Turlendana fall, Binchi-Banche and the customs officer came over
to him. Taking him, one by the head and the other by the feet, they
lifted him up and laid him full length upon the body of Barbara, in the
position of a loving embrace. Laughing at their deed, they departed.

And thus Turlendana lay upon the camel until the sun rose.

Passacantando entered, rattling the hanging glass doors violently,
roughly shook the rain-drops from his shoulders, took his pipe from his
mouth, and with disdainful unconcern looked around the room.

In the tavern the smoke of the tobacco was like a bluish cloud, through
which one could discern the faces of those who were drinking: women of
bad repute; Pachio, the invalided soldier, whose right eye, affected
with some repulsive disease, was covered by a greasy greenish band;
Binchi-Banche, the domestic of the customs officers, a small, sturdy
man with a surly, yellow-hued face like a lemon without juice, with
a bent back and his thin legs thrust into boots which reached to his
knees; Magnasangue, the go-between of the soldiers, the friend of
comedians, of jugglers, of mountebanks, of fortune-tellers, of tamers
of bears,—of all that ravenous and rapacious rabble which passes
through the towns to snatch from the idle and curious people a few
pennies.

Then, too, there were the belles of the Fiorentino Hall, three or four
women faded from dissipation, their cheeks painted brick colour, their
eyes voluptuous, their mouths flaccid and almost bluish in colour like
over-ripe figs.

Passacantando crossed the room, and seated himself between the women
Pica and Peppuccia on a bench against the wall, which was covered with
indecent figures and writing. He was a slender young fellow, rather
effeminate, with a very pale face from which protruded a nose thick,
rapacious, bent greatly to one side; his ears sprang from his head
like two inflated paper bags, one larger than the other; his curved,
protruding lips were very red, and always had a small ball of whitish
saliva at the corners. Over his carefully combed hair he wore a soft
cap, flattened through long use. A tuft of his hair, turned up like
a hook, curled down over his forehead to the roots of his nose, while
another curled over his temple. A certain licentiousness was expressed
in every gesture, every move, and in the tones of his voice and his
glances.

“Ohe,” he cried, “Woman Africana, a goblet of wine!” beating the table
with his clay pipe, which broke from the force of the blow.

The woman Africana, the mistress of the inn, left the bar and came
forward towards the table, waddling because of her extreme corpulence,
and placed in front of Passacantando a glass filled to the brim
with wine. She looked at him as she did so with eyes full of loving
entreaty.

Passacantando suddenly flung his arm around the neck of Peppuccia,
forced her to drink from the goblet, and then thrust his lips against
hers. Peppuccia laughed, disentangling herself from the arms of
Passacantando, her laughter causing the unswallowed wine to spurt from
her mouth into his face.

The woman Africana grew livid. She withdrew behind the bar, where the
sharp words of Peppuccia and Pica reached her ears. The glass door
opened, and Fiorentino appeared on the threshold, all bundled up in a
cloak, like the villain of a cheap novel.

“Well, girls,” he cried out in a hoarse voice, “it is time for you to
go.” Peppuccia, Pica, and the others rose from their seats beside the
men and followed their master.

It was raining hard, and the Square of Bagno was transformed into a
muddy lake. Pachio, Magnasangue, and the others left one after another
until only Binche-Banche, stretched under the table in the stupor of
intoxication, remained. The smoke in the room gradually grew less,
while a half-plucked dove pecked from the floor the scattered crumbs.

As Passacantando was about to rise, Africana moved slowly towards
him, her unshapely figure undulating as she walked, her full-moon face
wrinkled into a grotesque and affectionate grimace. Upon her face were
several moles with small bunches of hair growing out from them, a thick
shadow covered her upper lip and her cheeks. Her short, coarse, and
curling hair formed a sort of helmet on her head; her thick eyebrows
met at the top of her flat nose, so that she looked like a creature
affected with dropsy and elephantiasis.

When she reached Passacantando, she grasped his hands in order to
detain him.

“Oh, Giuva! What do you want? What have I done to you?”

“You? Nothing.”

“Why then do you cause me such suffering and torment?”

“I? I am surprised!… Good night! I have no time to lose just now,”
and with a brutal gesture, he started to go. But Africana threw herself
upon him, pressing his arms, and putting her face against his, leaning
upon him with her full weight, with a passion so uncontrolled and
terrible that Passacantando was frightened.

“What do you want? What do you want? Tell me! What do you want? Why do
I do this? I hold you! Stay here! Stay with me! Don’t make me die of
longing; don’t drive me mad! What for? Come,—take everything you find
…”

She drew him towards the bar, opened the drawer, and with one gesture
offered him everything it contained. In the greasy till were scattered
some copper coins, and a few shining silver ones, the whole amounting
to perhaps five lire.

Passacantando, without saying a word, picked up the coins and began
to count them slowly upon the bar, his mouth showing an expression of
disgust. Africana looked at the coins and then at the face of the man,
breathing hard, like a tired beast. One heard the tinkling of the coins
as they fell upon the bar, the rough snoring of Binchi-Banche, the soft
pattering of the dove in the midst of the continuous sound of the rain
and the river down below the Bagno and through the Bandiera.

“Those are not enough,” Passacantando said at last. “I must have more
than those; bring out some more, or I will go.”

He had crushed his cap down over his head, and from beneath his
forehead with its curling tuft of hair, his whitish eyes, greedy and
impudent, looked at Africana attentively, fascinating her.

“I have no more; you have seen all there is. Take all that you find
…” stammered Africana in a caressing and supplicating voice, her
double chin quivering and her lips trembling, while the tears poured
from her piggish eyes.

“Well,” said Passacantando softly, bending over her, “well, do you
think I don’t know that your husband has some gold pieces?”

“Oh, Giovanni! … how can I get them?”

“Go and take them, at once. I will wait for you here. Your husband is
asleep, now is the time. Go, or you’ll not see me any more, in the name
of Saint Antony!”

“Oh, Giovanni!… I am afraid!”

“What? Fear or no fear, I am going; let us go.”

Africana trembled; she pointed to Binchi-Banche still stretched under
the table in a heavy sleep.

“Close the door first,” she said submissively.

Passacantando roused Binchi-Banche with a kick, and dragged him,
howling and shaking with terror, out into the mud and slush. He came
back and closed the door. The red lantern that hung on one of the
shutters threw a rosy light into the tavern, leaving the heavy arches
in deep shadow, and giving the stairway in the angle a mysterious look.

“Come! Let us go!” said Passacantando again to the still trembling
Africana.

They slowly ascended the dark stairway in the corner of the room,
the woman going first, the man following close behind. At the top of
the stairway they emerged into a low room, planked with beams. In a
small niche in the wall was a blue Majolica Madonna, in front of which
burned, for a vow, a light in a glass filled with water and oil. The
other walls were covered with a number of torn paper pictures, of as
many colours as leprosy. A distressing odour filled the room.

The two thieves advanced cautiously towards the marital bed, upon which
lay the old man, buried in slumber, breathing with a sort of hoarse
hiss through his toothless gums and his dilated nose, damp from the
use of tobacco, his head turned upon one cheek, resting on a striped
cotton pillow. Above his open mouth, which looked like a cut made in a
rotten pumpkin, rose his stiff moustache; one of his eyes, half opened,
resembled the turned over ear of a dog, filled with hair, covered with
blisters; the veins stood out boldly upon his bare emaciated arm which
lay outside the coverlet; his crooked fingers, habitually grasping,
clutched the counterpane.

Now, this old fellow had for a long time possessed two twenty-franc
pieces, which had been left him by some miserly relative; these he
guarded jealously, keeping them in the tobacco in his horn snuff-box,
as some people do musk incense. There lay the shining pieces of gold,
and the old man would take them out, look at them fondly, feel of them
lovingly between his fingers, as the passion of avarice and the lust of
possession grew within him.

Africana approached slowly, with bated breath, while Passacantando,
with commanding gestures, urged her to the theft. There was a noise
below; both stopped. The half-plucked dove, limping, fluttered to its
nest in an old slipper at the foot of the bed, but in settling itself,
it made some noise. The man, with a quick, brutal motion, snatched up
the bird and choked it in his fist.

“Is it there?” he asked of Africana.

“Yes, it is there, under the pillow,” she answered, sliding her hand
carefully under the pillow as she spoke. The old man moved in his
sleep, sighing involuntarily, while between his eyelids appeared a
little rim of the whites of his eyes. Then he fell back in the heavy
stupor of senile drowsiness.

Africana, in this crisis, suddenly became audacious, pushed her hand
quickly forward, grasped the tobacco box and rushed towards the stairs,
descending with Passacantando just behind her.

“Lord! Lord! See what I have done for you!” she exclaimed, throwing
herself upon him. With shaking hands, they started together to open the
snuff-box and look among the tobacco for the gold pieces. The pungent
odour of the tobacco arose to their nostrils, and both, as they felt
the desire to sneeze, were seized with a strong impulse to laugh.
In endeavouring to repress their sneezes, they staggered against one
another, pushing and wavering. But suddenly an indistinct growling was
heard, then hoarse shouts broke forth from the room above, and the old
man appeared at the top of the stairs. His face was livid in the red
light of the lantern, his form thin and emaciated, his legs bare, his
shirt in rags. He looked down at the thieving couple, and, waving his
arms like a damned soul, cried:

“The gold pieces! The gold pieces! The gold pieces!”

When seven consecutive sneezes of Mastro Peppe De Sieri, called La
Brevetta, resounded loudly in the square of the City Hall, all the
inhabitants of Pescara would seat themselves around their tables
and begin their meal. Soon after the bell would strike twelve, and
simultaneously, the people would become very hilarious.

For many years La Brevetta had given this joyful signal to the people
daily, and the fame of his marvellous sneezing spread through all the
country around, and also through the adjoining countries. His memory
still lives in the minds of the people, for he originated a proverb
which will endure for many years to come.

Mastro Peppe La Brevetta was a plebeian, somewhat corpulent, thick-set,
and clumsy; his face shining with a prosperous stupidity, his eyes
reminded one of the eyes of a sucking calf, while his hands and
feet were of extraordinary dimensions. His nose was long and fleshy,
his jaw-bones very strong and mobile, and when undergoing a fit of
sneezing, he looked like one of those sea-lions whose fat bodies, as
sailors relate, tremble all over like a jelly-pudding.

Like the sea-lions, too, he was possessed of a slow and lazy motion,
their ridiculously awkward attitudes, and their exceeding fondness for
sleep. He could not pass from the shade to the sun, nor from the sun
to the shade without an irrepressible impulse of air rushing through
his mouth and nostrils. The noise produced, especially in quiet spots,
could be heard at a great distance, and as it occurred at regular
intervals, it came to be a sort of time-piece for the citizens of the
town.

In his youth Mastro Peppe had kept a macaroni shop, and among the
strings of dough, the monotonous noise of the mills and wheels, in the
mildness of the flour-dusty air, he had grown to a placid stupidity.
Having reached maturity, he had married a certain Donna Pelagia of
the Commune of Castelli, and abandoning his early trade, he had since
that time dealt in terra cotta and Majolica ware,—vases, plates,
pitchers, and all the poor earthenware which the craftsmen of Castelli
manufactured for adorning the tables of the land of Abruzzi. Among the
simplicity and religiousness of those shapes, unchanged for centuries,
he lived in a very simple way, sneezing all the time, and as his wife
was a miserly creature, little by little her avaricious spirit had
communicated itself to him, until he had grown into her penurious and
miserly ways.

Now Mastro Peppe was the owner of a piece of land and a small farm
house, situated upon the right bank of the river, just at the spot
where the current of the river, turning, forms a sort of greenish
amphitheatre. The soil being well irrigated, produced very abundantly,
not only grapes and cereals, but especially large quantities of
vegetables. The harvests increased, and each year Mastro Peppe’s pig
grew fat, feasting under an oak tree which dropped its wealth of acorns
for his delectation. Each year, in the month of January, La Brevetta,
with his wife, would go over to his farm, and invoke the favour of San
Antonio to assist in the killing and salting of the pig.

One year it happened that his wife was somewhat ill, and La Brevetta
went alone to the slaughtering of the beast. The pig was placed upon a
large board and held there by three sturdy farm-hands, while his throat
was cut with a sharp knife. The grunting and squealing of the hog
resounded through the solitude, usually broken only by the murmuring of
the stream, then suddenly the sounds grew less, and were lost in the
gurgling of warm vermilion blood which was disgorged from the gaping
wound, and while the body was giving its last convulsive jerks, the new
sun was absorbing from the river the moisture in the form of a silvery
mist. With a sort of joyous ferocity La Brevetta watched Lepruccio
burn with a hot iron the deep eyes of the pig, and rejoiced to hear the
boards creak under the weight of the animal, thinking of the plentiful
supply of lard and the prospective hams.

The murdered beast was lifted up and suspended from a hook, shaped
like a rustic pitchfork, and left there, hanging head downward. Burning
bundles of reeds were used by the farm-hands to singe off the bristles,
and the flames rose almost invisible in the greater light of the
sun. At length, La Brevetta began to scrape with a shining blade the
blackened surface of the animal’s body, while one of the assistants
poured boiling water over it. Gradually the skin became clean, and
showed rosy-tinted as it hung steaming in the sun. Lepruccio, whose
face was the wrinkled and unctuous face of an old man, and in whose
ears hung rings, stood biting his lips during the performance, working
his body up and down, and bending upon his knees. The work being
completed, Mastro Peppe ordered the farm-hands to put the pig under
cover. Never in his life had he seen so large a bulk of flesh from one
pig, and he regretted that his wife was not there to rejoice with him
because of it.

Since it was late in the afternoon, Matteo Puriello and Biagio Quaglia,
two friends, were returning from the home of Don Bergamino Camplone, a
priest who had gone into business.

These two cronies were living a gay life, given to dissipation, fond of
any kind of fun, very free in giving advice, and as they had heard of
the killing of the pig, and of the absence of Pelagia, hoping to meet
with some pleasing adventure, they came over to tantalise La Brevetta.
Matteo Puriello, commonly called Ciavola, was a man of about forty, a
poacher, tall and slender, with blond hair and a yellow tinted skin,
with a stiff and bristling moustache. His head was like that of a
gilded wooden effigy, from which the gilding had partly worn off. His
eyes round and restless, like those of a race-horse, shone like two
new silver coins, and his whole person, usually clad in a suit of earth
colour, reminded one, in its attitudes and movements and its swinging
gait, of a hunting dog catching hares as he ran across the plain.

Biagio Quaglia, so-called Ristabilito, was under medium height,
a few years younger than his friend, with a rubicund face, of the
brilliancy and freshness of an almond tree in springtime. He possessed
the singular faculty of moving his ears and the skin of his forehead
independently, and with the skin of the cranium, as does a monkey. By
some unexplained contraction of muscles, he was in this way enabled
greatly to change his aspect, and this, together with a happy vocal
power of imitation, and the gift of quickly catching the ridiculous
side of men and things, gave him the power to imitate in gesture and in
word the, different groups of Pescara, so that he was greatly in demand
as an entertainer. In this happy, parasitical mode of life, by playing
the guitar at festivals and baptismal ceremonies, he was prospering.
His eyes shone like those of a ferret, his head was covered with a sort
of woolly hair like the down on the body of a fat, plucked goose before
it is broiled.

When La Brevetta saw the two friends, he greeted them gently, saying:

“What wind brings you here?”

After exchanging pleasant greetings, La Brevetta took the two friends
into the room where, upon the table, lay his wonderful pig, and asked:

“What do you think of such a pig? Eh? What do you think about it?”

The two friends were contemplating the pig in wondering silence, and
Ristabilito made a curious noise by beating his palate with his tongue.

Ciavola asked:

“And what do you expect to do with it?”

“I expect to salt it,” answered La Brevetta, his voice full of
gluttonous joy at the thought of the future delights of the palate.

“You expect to salt it?” cried Ristabilito. “You wish to salt it?
Ciavola, have you ever seen a more foolish man than this one? To allow
such an opportunity to escape!”

Stupefied, La Brevetta was looking with his calf-like eyes first at one
and then at the other of his interlocutors.

“Donna Pelagia has always made you bow to her will,” pursued
Ristabilito. “Now, when she is not here to see you, sell the pig and
eat up the money.”

“But Pelagia?—Pelagia?——” stammered La Brevetta, in whose mind arose
a vision of his wrathful wife which brought terror to his heart.

“You can tell her that the pig was stolen,” suggested the ever-ready
Ciavola, with a quick gesture of impatience.

La Brevetta was horrified.

“How could I take home such a story? Pelagia would not believe me. She
will throw me out of doors! She will beat me! You don’t know Pelagia.”

“Uh, Pelagia! Uh, uh, Donna Pelagia!” cried the wily fellows
derisively. Then Ristabilito, mimicking the lamenting voice of Peppe
and the sharp, screeching voice of the woman, went through a scene of a
comedy in which Peppe was bound to a bench, and soundly spanked by his
wife, like a child.

Ciavola witnessed this performance in great glee, laughing and jumping
about the pig, unable to restrain himself. The man who was being
laughed at was just at this moment taken with a sudden paroxysm of
sneezing, and stood waving his arms frantically toward Ristabilito,
trying to make him stop. The din was so great that the window panes
fairly rattled as the light of the setting sun fell on the three faces.

When Ristabilito was silenced at last, Ciavola said:

“Well, let’s go now!”

“If you wish to stay to supper with me …” Mastro Peppe ventured to
say between his teeth.

“No, no, my beauty,” interrupted Ciavola, turning toward the door.
“Remember me to Pelagia,—and do salt the pig.”

The two friends walked together along the shore of the river. In the
distance the boats of Barletta, loaded with salt, scintillated like
fairy palaces of crystal; a gentle breeze was blowing from Montecorno,
ruffling the limpid surface of the water.

“I say,” said Ristabilito to Ciavola, halting, “are we going to steal
that pig to-night?”

“And how can we do it?” asked Ciavola.

Said Ristabilito:

“I know how to do it if the pig is left where we last saw it.”

Said Ciavola:

“Well, let us do it! But after?”

Ristabilito stopped again, his little eyes brilliant as two carbuncles,
his flushed face wrinkling between the ears like a fawn’s, in a grimace
of joy.

“I know it …” he said laconically.

In the distance, his form showing black through the naked trees of the
silver poplar grove, Don Bergamino Camplone approached the two. As soon
as they saw him, they hastened toward him. Noticing their joyful mien,
the priest, smiling, asked them:

“Well, what good news have you?”

Briefly, they communicated to him their purpose, to which he
delightedly assented. Ristabilito concluded softly:

“We shall have to use great cunning. You know that Peppe, since he
married that ugly woman, Donna Pelagia, has become a great miser, but
he likes wine pretty well. Now then let us get him to accompany us to
the Inn of Assau. You, Don Bergamino, treat us to drinks and pay for
everything. Peppe will drink as much as he can get without having to
pay anything for it, and will get intoxicated. We can then go about our
business with no fear of interruption.”

Ciavola favoured this plan, and the priest agreed to his share in the
bargain. Then all together returned to the house of Peppe, which was
only about two gun-shots away, and as they drew near, Ciavola raised
his voice:

“Hello-o! La Brevetta! Do you wish to come to the Inn of Assau? The
priest is here, and he is ready to pay for a bottle or two—Hello!” La
Brevetta did not delay in coming down the path, and the four set out
together, in the soft light of the new moon. The quiet was occasionally
broken by the caterwauling of love-stricken cats. Ristabilito turned to
Peppe, asking in jest:

“Oh, Peppe, don’t you hear Pelagia calling you?”

Upon the left side of the river shone the lights of the Inn of Assau,
mirrored by the water. As the current of the river was not very strong
here, Assau kept a little boat to ferry over his customers. In answer
to their calls, the boat approached over the luminous water to meet the
new-comers. When they were seated and engaged in friendly chat, Ciavola
with his long legs began to rock the boat, and the creaking of the wood
frightened La Brevetta, who, affected by the dampness of the river,
broke forth in another paroxysm of sneezing.

Arrived at the inn, seated around an oaken table, the company became
more jovial, laughing and jesting loudly, and pouring the wine into
their victim, who found it easy to let the good red juice of the vines,
rich in taste and colour, run down his throat.

“Another bottle,” ordered Don Bergamino, beating his fist upon the
table.

Assau, an essentially rustic, bow-legged man, brought in the ruby
coloured bottles. Ciavola sang with much Bacchic freedom, striking the
rhythm upon the glasses. La Brevetta, his tongue now thick and his eyes
swimming from the effects of the wine, was holding the priest by the
sleeve to make him listen to his stammering and incoherent praises of
his wonderful pig. Above their heads lines of dried, greenish pumpkins
hung from the ceiling; the lamps, in which the oil was getting low,
were smoking.

It was late at night and the moon was high in the sky when the friends
again crossed the river. In landing, Mastro Peppe came near falling in
the mud, for his legs were unsteady and his eyesight blurred.

Ristabilito said:

“Let us do a kind act. Let us carry this fellow home.”

Holding him up under the arms, they took him home through the poplar
grove, and the drunken man, mistaking the white trunks of the trees in
the night, stammered thickly:

“Oh, how many Dominican monks I see!…”

Said Ciavola, “They are going to look for San Antonio.”

The drunken man went on, after an interval:

“Oh, Lepruccio, Lepruccio, seven measures of salt will be enough. What
shall we do?”

The three conspirators, having conveyed Mastro Peppe to the door of
his house, left him there. He ascended the steps with much difficulty,
mumbling about Lepruccio and the salt. Then, not noticing that he had
left the door open, he threw himself into the arms of Morpheus.

Ciavola and Ristabilito, after having partaken of the supper of Don
Bergamino, provided with certain crooked tools, set cautiously to
work. The moon had set, the sky was glittering with stars, and through
the solitude the north wind was blowing sharply. The two men advanced
silently, listening for any sound, and halting now and then, when the
skill and agility of Matteo Puriello would be called into use for the
occasion.

When they reached the place, Ristabilito could scarcely withhold an
exclamation of joy on finding the door open. Profound silence reigned
through the house, except for the deep snoring of the sleeping man.
Ciavola ascended the stairs first, followed by Ristabilito. In the
dim light they perceived the vague outlines of the pig lying upon the
table. With the utmost caution, they raised the heavy body and dragged
it out by main force. They stood listening for a moment. The cocks
could be heard crowing, one after another, in the yards.

Then the two thieves, laughing at their prowess, took the pig upon
their shoulders and made their way up the path; to Ciavola it seemed
like stealing through a wood with poached game. The pig was heavy, and
they reached the house of the priest in a breathless state.

The next morning, having recovered from the effects of the wine, Mastro
Peppe awoke, stood up in bed, and stretched himself, listening to the
bells saluting the eve of San Antonio. Already in his mind, in the
confusion of the first awakening, he saw Lepruccio cut into pieces and
cover his beautiful fat pork-meat with salt, and his soul was filled
with happiness at this thought. Impatient for the anticipated delight,
he dressed hastily and went out to the stair-case, wiping his eyes to
see more clearly. Upon the table where he had left the pig, the morning
sun was smiling in, but nothing was there save a stain of blood!

“The pig? Where is the pig?” cried the robbed man in a hoarse voice.

In a frenzy, he descended the stairs, and noticing the open door,
striking his forehead, he ran out crying, and called the labourers
around him, asking every one if they had seen the pig, if they had
taken it. His queries came faster and faster and his voice grew louder
and louder, until the sound of the uproar came up the river to Ciavola
and Ristabilito.

They came tranquilly upon the group to enjoy the spectacle and keep up
the joke. As they came in sight, Mastro Peppe turned to them, weeping
in his grief, and exclaimed:

“Oh, dear me! They have stolen my pig! Oh, dear me! What am I to do
now? What am I to do?”

Biagio Quaglia stood a moment considering the appearance of the unhappy
fellow, his eyes half-closed in an expression which was half sneer,
half admiration, his head bent sideways, as though judging of the
effect of this acting. Then approaching, he said:

“Yes indeed!… One cannot deny it … You play your part well!”

Peppe, not understanding, lifted his face, streaked with tears.

“Yes, yes indeed! You are becoming very cunning!” continued Ristabilito
with an air of confidential friendship.

Peppe, not yet understanding, stared stupidly at Ristabilito, and his
tears stopped flowing.

“But truly, I did not think you were so malicious!” went on
Ristabilito. “Good fellow! My compliments!”

“What do you mean?” asked La Brevetta between his sobs. “What do you
mean?… Oh, poor me! How can I now return home?”

“Good! Good! Very well done!” cried Ristabilito. “Play your part! Play
your part! Weep louder! Pull your hair! Make every one hear you! Yes,
that way! Make everybody believe you!”

Peppe, still weeping, “But I am telling you the truth! My pig has been
stolen from me! Oh, Lord! Poor me!”

“Go on! Go on! Don’t stop! The more you shout, the less I believe you.
Go on! Go on! Some more!”

Peppe, beside himself with anger and grief, swore repeatedly.

“I tell you it is true! I hope to die on the spot if the pig has not
been stolen from me!”

“Oh, poor innocent fellow!” shrieked Ciavola, jestingly. “Put your
finger in your mouth! How can we believe you, when last night we saw
the pig there? Has San Antonio given him wings to fly?”

“San Antonio be blest! It is as I tell you!”

“But how can it be?”

“So it is!”

“It can’t be so!”

“It is so!”

“No!”

“Yes, yes! It is so! It is so, and I am a dead man! I don’t know how
I can ever go home again! Pelagia will not believe me; and if she
believes me, she will never give me any peace … I am a dead man!”

“Well, we’ll try to believe you,” said Ristabilito. “But look here,
Peppe. Ciavola suggested the trick to you yesterday. Is it not so that
you might fool Pelagia, and others as well? You might be capable of
doing that.”

Then La Brevetta began to weep and cry and despair in such a foolish
burst of grief that Ristabilito said:

“Very well, keep quiet! We believe you. But if this is true, we must
find a way to repair the damage.”

“What way?” asked La Brevetta eagerly, a ray of hope coming into his
soul.

“I will tell you,” said Biagio Quaglia. “Certainly someone living
around here must have done it, for no one has come over from India to
take your pig away. Is not that so, Peppe?”

“It is well, it is well!” assented the man, his voice still filled with
tears.

“Well, then, pay attention,” continued Ristabilito, delighted at
Peppe’s credulity. “Well, then, if no one has come from India to rob
you, then certainly someone who lives around here must have been the
thief. Is not that so, Peppe?”

“It is well. It is well.”

“Well, what is to be done? We must summon the farm-hands together
and employ some sorcery to discover the thief. When the thief is
discovered, the pig is found.”

Peppe’s eyes shone with greediness. He came nearer at the hint of the
sorcery, which awakened in him all his native superstitions.

“You know there are three kinds of sorcerers, white ones, pink ones,
and black ones; and you know there are in the town three women who know
the art of sorcery: Rosa Schiavona, Rusaria Pajora, and La Ciniscia. It
is for you to choose.”

Peppe stood for a moment in deep thought; then he chose Rusaria Pajora,
for she was renowned as an enchantress and always accomplished great
things.

“Well then,” Ristabilito finished. “There is no time to lose. For your
sake, I am willing to do you a favour; I will go to town and take what
is necessary; I will speak with Rusaria and ask her to give me all
needful articles and will return this morning. Give me the money.”

Peppe took out of his waistcoat three francs and handed them over
hesitatingly.

“Three francs!” cried the other, refusing them. “Three francs? More
than ten are needed.” The husband of Pelagia almost had a fit upon
hearing this.

“What? Ten francs for a sorcery?” he stammered, feeling in his pocket
with trembling fingers. “Here, I give you eight of them, and no more.”

Ristabilito took them, saying dryly:

“Very well! What I can do, I will do. Will you come with me, Ciavola?”

The two companions set off toward Pescara along the path through the
trees, walking quickly in single file; Ciavola showed his merriment
by pounding Ristabilito on the back with his fist as they went along.
Arriving at the town, they betook themselves to the store of Don
Daniele Pacentro, a druggist, with whom they were on very familiar
terms, and here they purchased certain aromatic drugs, having them put
up in pills as big as walnuts, well covered with sugar and apple juice.
Just as the druggist finished the pills, Biagio Quaglia, who had been
absent during this time, came in, carrying a piece of paper filled
with dried excrements of dog, and asked the druggist to make from
these two beautiful pills, similar in size and shape to the others,
excepting that they were to be dipped in aloe and then lightly coated
with sugar. The druggist did as he asked, and in order that these might
be distinguished from the others, he placed upon each a small mark as
suggested by Ristabilito.

The two cheats then betook themselves back to the house of Mastro
Peppe, which they reached in a short time, arriving there at about
noon, and found Mastro Peppe anxiously awaiting them. As soon as he saw
the form of Ciavola approaching through the trees, he cried out:

“Well?”

“Everything is all right,” answered Ristabilito triumphantly, showing
the box containing the bewitched confectionery. “Now, as today is
the eve of San Antonio and the labourers are feasting, gather all the
people together and offer them drink. I know that you have a certain
keg of Montepulciano wine; bring that out today! And when everybody is
here, I will know what to say, and what to do.”