The Translation by George McLean Harper.
The great sandy piazza, glittered as if strewn with powdered
pumice. Its whitewashed houses held a strange metallic glow, like the walls of
an immense furnace cooling off. The glare of the clouds, reflected from the
stone pillars of the church at its far end, gave them the appearance of red
granite. The church windows blazed as with inward fire. The sacred images had
assumed life-like colors and attitudes, and the massive edifice seemed lifted
now, in the splendor of the new celestial phenomenon, to a prouder domination
than ever, above the houses of Radusa.
Groups of men and women, gesticulating and talking loudly, were
pouring from the streets into the square. Superstitious terror grew in leaps and
bounds from face to face. A thousand awful images of divine punishment rose out
of their rude fancies; and comments, eager disputes, plaintive appeals, wild
stories, prayers, and cries were mingled in a deep uproar, as of a hurricane
approaching. For some time past this bloody redness of the sky had lasted
through the night, disturbing its tranquillity, illumining sullenly the sleeping
fields, and making dogs howl.
"Giacobbe! Giacobbe!" shouted some, waving their arms, who till
then had stood in a compact band around a pillar of the church portico, talking
in low tones, "Giacobbe!"
There came out through the main door, and drew near to those who
called him, a long, emaciated man, apparently consumptive, whose head was bald
at the top, but had a crown of long reddish hair about the temples and above the
nape of the neck. His little sunken eyes, animated with the fire of a deep
passion, were set close and had no particular color. The absence of his two
upper front teeth gave to his mouth when speaking, and to his sharp chin with
its few scattered hairs, the strangeness of a senile faun. The rest of his body
was a wretched structure of bones ill-concealed by his clothes. The skin on his
hands, his wrists, the back of his arms, and his breast was full of blue
punctures made with a pin and india-ink, the souvenirs of sanctuaries visited,
pardons obtained, and vows performed.
When the fanatic approached the group at the pillar, a swarm of
questions arose from the anxious men. "Well, then? what did Don Console say?
Will they send out only the silver arm? Would not the whole bust do better? When
would Pallura come back with the candles? Was it one hundred pounds of wax? Only
one hundred? And when would the bells begin to ring? Well, then? Well, then?"
The clamor increased around Giacobbe. Those on the outskirts of
the crowd pushed toward the church. From all the streets people poured into the
square till they filled it. And Giacobbe kept answering his questions,
whispering, as if revealing dreadful secrets and bringing prophecies from far.
He had seen aloft in the bloody sky a threatening hand, and then a black veil,
and then a sword and a trumpet.
"Go ahead! Go ahead!" they urged him, looking in each other's
faces, and seized with a strange desire to hear of marvels, while the wonder
grew from mouth to mouth in the crowd.
The vast crimson zone rose slowly from the horizon to the zenith
and bade fair to cover the whole vault of heaven. An undulating vapor of molten
metal seemed pouring down on the roofs of the town; and in the descending
crepuscule yellow and violet rays flashed through a trembling and iridescent
glow. One long streak brighter than the others pointed towards a street which
opened on the river-front, and at the end of this street the water flamed away
between the tall slim poplar-trunks, and beyond the stream lay a strip of
luxuriant country, from which the old Saracen towers stood out confusedly, like
stone islets, in the dark. The air was full of the stifling emanations of mown
hay, with now and then a whiff from putrefied silkworms in the bushes. Flights
of swallows crossed this space with quick, scolding cries, trafficking between
the river sands and the eaves.
An expectant silence had interrupted the murmur of the
multitude. The name Pallura ran from lip to lip. Signs of angry impatience broke
forth here and there. The wagon was not yet to be seen along the river-road; the
candles had not come; Don Consolo therefore was delaying the exposition of the
relics and the acts of exorcism; the danger still threatened. Panic fear invaded
the hearts of all those people crowded together like a flock of sheep, and no
longer venturing to raise their eyes to heaven. The women burst out sobbing, and
at the sound of weeping every mind was oppressed and filled with consternation.
Then at last the bells began to ring. As they were hung low,
their deep quivering strokes seemed to graze the heads of the people, and a sort
of continuous wailing filled the intervals.
"San Pantaleone! San Pantaleone!"
It was an immense, unanimous cry of desperate men imploring aid.
Kneeling, with blanched faces and outstretched hands, they supplicated.
Then, at the church door, in the midst of the smoke of two
censers, Don Consolo appeared, resplendent in a violet chasuble, with gold
embroidery. He held aloft the sacred arm of silver, and conjured the air,
shouting the Latin words:
"Ut fidelibus tuis aeris serenitatem concedere digneris. Te
rogamus, audi nos."
At sight of the relic the multitude went delirious with
affectionate joy. Tears ran from all eyes, and through glistening tears these
eyes beheld a miraculous gleam emanate from the three fingers held up as if in
the act of benediction. The arm appeared larger now, in the enkindled air.
The dim light awoke strange scintillations in the precious
stones. The balsamic odor of incense spread quickly to the nostrils of the
"Te rogamus, audi nos!"
But when the arm was carried back and the tolling stopped, in
that moment of silence a tinkling of little bells was heard near at hand coming
from the river road. Then of a sudden the crowd rushed in that direction and
many voices cried:
"It is Pallura with the candles! It is Pallura coming! Here's
The wagon came screeching over the gravel, drawn at a walk by a
heavy gray mare, over whose shoulders hung a great shining brass horn, like a
half-moon. When Giacobbe and the others made towards her, the pacific animal
stopped and breathed hard. Giacobbe, who reached the wagon first, saw stretched
out on its floor the bloody body of Pallura, and screamed, waving his arms
towards the crowd, "He is dead! He is dead!"
The sad news spread like lightning. People crowded around the
wagon, and craned their necks to see, thinking no longer of the threats in the
sky, because struck by the unexpected happening and filled with that natural
ferocious curiosity which the sight of blood awakens.
"He is dead? What killed him?"
Pallura lay on his back upon the boards, with a broad wound in
the middle of his forehead, with one ear torn, with gashes on his arms, his
sides, and one thigh. A warm stream flowed down to his chin and neck, staining
his shirt and forming dark, shining clots on his breast, his leathern belt, and
even his breeches. Giacobbe hung over the body; all the rest waited around him;
an auroral flush lighted up their perplexed faces; and at that moment of
silence, from the river-bank arose the song of the frogs, and bats skimmed back
and forth above the heads of the crowd.
Suddenly Giacobbe, straightening up, with one cheek bloody,
"He is not dead. He still breathes."
A hollow murmur ran through the crowd, and the nearest strained
forward to look. The anxiety of those at a distance commenced to break into
clamor. Two women brought a jug of water, another some strips of linen. A youth
held out a gourd full of wine.
The wounded man's face was washed; the flow of blood from his
forehead was checked; his head was raised. Then voices inquired loudly the cause
of this deed. The hundred pounds of wax were missing; only a few fragments of
candles remained in the cracks of the wagon-bed.
In the commotion their minds grew more and more inflamed,
exasperated, and contentious. And as an old hereditary hatred burned in them
against the town of Mascalico, on the opposite bank of the river, Giacobbe said
venomously, in a hoarse voice:
"What if the candles have been offered to San Gonselvo?"
It was like the first flash of a conflagration! The spirit of
church-rivalry awoke all at once in these people brutalized by many years of
blind, savage worship of their own one idol. The fanatic's words flew from mouth
to mouth. And beneath the tragic dull-red sky, the raging multitude resembled a
tribe of mutinous gypsies.
The name of the saint broke from all throats, like a war-cry.
The most excited hurled curses towards the river, and waved their arms and shook
their fists. Then all these faces blazing with anger, and reddened also by the
unusual light,—all these faces, broad and massive, to which their gold ear-rings
and thick overhanging hair gave a wild, barbaric character,—all these faces
turned eagerly towards the man lying there, and grew soft with pity. Women, with
pious care, tried to bring him back to life. Loving hands changed the cloths on
his wounds, sprinkled water in his face, set the gourd of wine to his lips, made
a sort of pillow under his head.
"Pallura, poor Pallura, won't you answer?" He lay supine, his
eyes closed, his mouth half open, with brown soft hair on his cheeks and chin,
the gentle beauty of youth still showing in his features contracted with pain.
From beneath the bandage on his forehead a mere thread of blood trickled down
over his temples; at the corners of his mouth stood little beads of pale red
foam, and from his throat issued a faint broken hiss, like the sound of a sick
man gargling. About him attentions, questions, feverish glances multiplied. The
mare from time to time shook her head and neighed in the direction of the
houses. An atmosphere as of an impending hurricane hung over the whole town.
Then from the square rang out the screams of a woman, of a
mother. They seemed all the louder for the sudden hushing of all other voices,
and an enormous woman, suffocated in her fat, broke through the crowd and
hurried to the wagon, crying aloud. Being heavy and unable to climb into it, she
seized her son's feet, with sobbing words of love, with such sharp broken cries
and such a terribly comic expression of grief, that all the bystanders shuddered
and averted their faces.
"Zaccheo! Zaccheo! My heart, my joy!" screamed the widow
unceasingly, kissing the feet of the wounded man and dragging him to her towards
The wounded man stirred, his mouth was contorted by a spasm, but
although he opened his eyes and looked up, they were veiled with damp, so that
he could not see. Big tears began to well forth at the corners of his eyelids
and roll down over his cheeks and neck. His mouth was still awry. A vain effort
to speak was betrayed by the hoarse whistling in his throat. And the crowd
pressed closer, saying:
"Speak, Pallura! Who hurt you? Who hurt you? Speak! Speak!"
Beneath this question was a trembling rage, an intensifying
fury, a deep tumult of reawakened feelings of vengeance; and the hereditary
hatred boiled in every heart.
"Speak! Who hurt you? Tell us! Tell us!"
The dying man opened his eyes again; and as they were holding
his hands tightly, perhaps this warm living contact gave him a momentary
strength, for his gaze quickened and a vague stammering sound came to his lips.
The words were not yet distinguishable. The panting breath of the multitude
could be heard through the silence. Their eyes had an inward flame, because all
expected one single word.
"Mascalico! Mascalico!" shrieked Giacobbe, who was bending over
him, with ear intent to snatch the weak syllables from his dying lips.
An immense roar greeted the cry. The multitude swayed at first
as if tempest-swept. Then, when a voice, dominating the tumult, gave the order
of attack, the mob broke up in haste. A single thought drove these men forward,
a thought which seemed to have been stamped by lightning upon all minds at once:
to arm themselves with some weapon. Towering above the consciousness of all
arose a sort of bloody fatality, beneath the great tawny glare of the heavens,
and in the electric odor emanating from the anxious fields.
And the phalanx, armed with scythes, bill-hooks, axes, hoes, and
guns, reunited in the square before the church. And all cried: "San Pantaleone!"
Don Consolo, terrified by the din, had taken refuge in a stall
behind the altar. A handful of fanatics, led by Giacobbe, made their way into
the principal chapel, forced the bronze grille, and went into the underground
chamber where the bust of the saint was kept. Three lamps, fed with olive oil,
burned softly in the damp air of the sacristy, where in a glass case the
Christian idol glittered, with its white head surrounded by a broad gilt halo;
and the walls were hidden under the wealth of native offerings.
When the idol, borne on the shoulders of four herculean men,
appeared at last between the pillars and shone in the auroral light, a long gasp
of passion ran through the waiting crowd, and a quiver of joy passed like a
breath of wind over all their faces. And the column moved away, the enormous
head of the saint oscillating above, with its empty eye-sockets turned to the
Now through the sky, in the deep, diffused glow, brighter
meteors ploughed their furrows; groups of thin clouds broke away from the hem of
the vapor zone and floated off, dissolving slowly. The whole town of Radusa
stood out like a smouldering mountain of ashes. Behind and before, as far as eye
could reach, the country lay in an indistinctly lucent mass. A great singing of
frogs filled the sonorous solitude.
On the river-road Pallura's wagon blocked the way. It was empty,
but still soiled, here and there, with blood. Angry curses broke suddenly from
the mob. Giacobbe shouted:
"Let us put the saint in it!"
So the bust was placed in the wagon-bed and drawn by many arms
into the ford. The battleline thus crossed the frontier. Metallic gleams ran
along the files. The parted water broke in luminous spray, and the current
flamed away red between the poplars, in the distance, towards the quadrangular
towers. Mascalico showed itself on a little hill, among olive trees, asleep. The
dogs were barking here and there, with a persistent fury of reply. The column,
issuing from the ford, left the public road and advanced rapidly straight across
country. The silver bust was borne again on men's shoulders, and towered above
their heads amid the tall, odorous grain, starred with bright fireflies.
Suddenly a shepherd in his straw hut, where he lay to guard the
grain, seized with mad panic at sight of so many armed men, started to run up
the hill, yelling, "Help! Help!" And his screams echoed in the olive grove.
Then it was that the Radusani charged. Among tree-trunks and dry
reeds the silver saint tottered, ringing as he struck low branches, and
glittering momentarily at every steep place in the path. Ten, twelve, twenty
guns, in a vibrating flash, rattled their shot against the mass of houses.
Crashes, then cries, were heard; then a great commotion. Doors were opened;
others were slammed shut. Window-panes fell shattered. Vases fell from the
church and broke on the street. In the track of the assailants a white smoke
rose quietly up through the incandescent air. They all, blinded and in bestial
rage, cried, "Kill! kill!"
A group of fanatics remained about San Pantaleone. Atrocious
insults for San Gonselvo broke out amid waving scythes and brandished hooks:
"Thief! Thief! Beggar! The candles! The candles!"
Other bands took the houses by assault, breaking down the doors
with hatchets. And as they fell, unhinged and shivered, San Pantaleone's
followers leaped in, howling, to kill the defenders.
The women, half-naked, took refuge in corners, imploring pity.
They warded off the blows, grasping the weapons and cutting their fingers. They
rolled at full length on the floor, amid heaps of blankets and sheets.
Giacobbe, long, quick, red as a Turkish scimitar, led the
persecution, stopping ever and anon to make sweeping imperious gestures over the
heads of the others with a great scythe. Pallid, bare-headed, he held the van,
in the name of San Pantaleone. More than thirty men followed him. They all had a
dull, confused sense of walking through a conflagration, over quaking ground,
and beneath a blazing vault ready to crumble.
But from all sides began to come the defenders, the Mascalicesi,
strong and dark as mulattos, sanguinary foes, fighting with long spring-bladed
knives, and aiming at the belly and the throat, with guttural cries at every
The melee rolled away, step by step, towards the church. From
the roofs of two or three houses flames were already bursting. A horde of women
and children, wan-eyed and terror-stricken, were fleeing headlong among the
olive trees. Then the hand-to-hand struggle between the males, unimpeded by
tears and lamentations, became more concentrated and ferocious.
Under the rust-colored sky, the ground was strewn with corpses.
Broken imprecations were hissed through the teeth of the wounded; and steadily,
through all the clamor, still came the cry of the Radusani:
"The candles! The candles!"
But the enormous church door of oak, studded with nails,
remained barred. The Mascalicesi defended it against the pushing crowd and the
axes. The white, impassive silver saint oscillated in the thick of the fight,
still upheld on the shoulders of the four giants, who refused to fall, though
bleeding from head to foot. It was the supreme desire of the assailants to place
their idol on the enemy's altar.
Now while the Mascalicesi fought like lions, performing
prodigies on the stone steps, Giacobbe suddenly disappeared around the corner of
the building, seeking an undefended opening through which to enter the sacristy.
And beholding a narrow window not far from the ground, he climbed up to it,
wedged himself into its embrasure, doubled up his long body, and succeeded in
crawling through. The cordial aroma of incense floated in the solitude of God's
house. Feeling his way in the dark, guided by the roar of the fight outside, he
crept towards the door, stumbling against chairs and bruising his face and
The furious thunder of the Radusan axes was echoing from the
tough oak, when he began to force the lock with an iron bar, panting, suffocated
by a violent agonizing palpitation which diminished his strength, blind, giddy,
stiffened by the pain of his wounds, and dripping with tepid blood.
"San Pantaleone! San Pantaleone!" bellowed the hoarse voices of
his comrades outside, redoubling their blows as they felt the door slowly yield.
Through the wood came to his ears the heavy thump of falling bodies, the quick
thud of knife-thrusts nailing some one through the back. And a grand sentiment,
like the divine uplift of the soul of a hero saving his country, flamed up then
in that bestial beggar's heart.
By a final effort the door was flung open. The Radusani rushed
in, with an immense howl of victory, across the bodies of the dead, to carry the
silver saint to the altar. A vivid quivering light was reflected suddenly into
the obscure nave, making the golden candlesticks shine, and the organ-pipes
above. And in that yellow glow, which now came from the burning houses and now
disappeared again, a second battle was fought. Bodies grappled together and
rolled over the brick floor, never to rise, but to bound hither and thither in
the contortions of rage, to strike the benches, and die under them, or on the
chapel steps, or against the taper-spikes about the confessionals. Under the
peaceful vault of God's house the chilling sound of iron penetrating men's flesh
or sliding along their bones, the single broken groan of men struck in a vital
spot, the crushing of skulls, the roar of victims unwilling to die, the
atrocious hilarity of those who had succeeded in killing an enemy,—all this
re-echoed distinctly. And a sweet, faint odor of incense floated above the
The silver idol had not, however, reached the altar in triumph,
for a hostile circle stood between. Giacobbe fought with his scythe, and, though
wounded in several places, did not yield a hand's breadth of the stair which he
had been the first to gain. Only two men were left to hold up the saint, whose
enormous white head heaved and reeled grotesquely like a drunken mask. The men
of Mascalico were growing furious.
Then San Pantaleone fell on the pavement, with a sharp, vibrant
ring. As Giacobbe dashed forward to pick him up, a big devil of a man dealt him
a blow with a bill-hook, which stretched him out on his back. Twice he rose and
twice was struck down again. Blood covered his face, his breast, his hands, yet
he persisted in getting up. Enraged by this ferocious tenacity of life, three,
four, five clumsy peasants together stabbed him furiously in the belly, and the
fanatic fell over, with the back of his neck against the silver bust. He turned
like a flash and put his face against the metal, with his arms outspread and his
legs drawn up. And San Pantaleone was lost.