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Authors: Luigi Pirandello

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BOOK: The Oil Jar and Other Stories
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But from the sadness of those events which she now brought back to mind, from Valli's cowardice and, after so many years, from the way the first wife had been completely consigned to oblivion by her husband, who had been able to resume his life and remarry as if nothing had happened, from the joy that she herself had felt upon becoming Vittore's wife, from those three years she had spent together with him with never a thought about that other woman, unexpectedly a cause of pity for her spontaneously forced itself upon Anna; she saw her image again vividly and it seemed to her that with those eyes, intense from so much suffering, that woman was saying to her:

“But I'm the only one that died as a result! All of you are still living!”

She saw, she felt, that she was alone in the house: she got frightened. Yes,
she
was living; but for three years, since her wedding day, she hadn't seen her parents or sister, not even once. She who adored them, a dutiful daughter, a trusting sister, had had the courage to oppose their wishes out of love for her husband; for his sake, when he was rejected by his own family, she had fallen seriously ill, and would no doubt have died if the doctors hadn't induced her father to accede to her desire. And her father had yielded, but without giving his consent; in fact, he swore that after that wedding she would no longer exist for him or for that household. Besides the difference in age, the husband being eighteen years older than the wife, a more serious obstacle for the father had been Brivio's financial position, which was subject to rapid ups and downs because of the risky undertakings on which this most enterprising and extraordinarily active man was accustomed to embark with foolhardy confidence in himself and his luck.

In three years of marriage Anna, surrounded by comforts, had been able to consider as unjust, or dictated by hostile prejudice, her father's prudent misgivings as to the financial means of her husband, in whom, moreover, in her ignorance, she placed as much confidence as he had in himself; then, as for the difference in their ages, up to then there had been no manifest cause of disappointment for her or surprise for others, because Brivio's advanced years produced in him not the slightest impairment to his small, highly animated and robust body and even less to his mind, which was endowed with tireless energy and restless eagerness.

It was something totally different that Anna, now for the first time, looking into her life (without even realizing it) with the eyes of that dead woman depicted there in the portrait on the bedside table, found to complain of in her husband. Yes, it was true: she had felt hurt at other times by his almost disdainful indifference; but never so much as on that day; and now for the first time she felt so frighteningly alone, separated from her family, who at that moment seemed to her to have abandoned her there, as if, upon marrying Brivio, she already had something in common with that dead woman and was no longer worthy of anyone else's company. And her husband, who ought to have consoled her, it seemed that even her husband was unwilling to give her any credit for the sacrifice of her daughterly and sisterly love that she had offered him, just as if it had cost her nothing, as if he had had a right to that sacrifice and therefore had no obligation now to make it up to her. Yes, he had a right, but it was because she had fallen so totally in love with him at that time; therefore he now had an obligation to repay her. And instead ...

“It's always been like that!” Anna thought she heard the sorrowful lips of the dead woman sigh to her.

She lit the lamp again and once more, contemplating the picture, she was struck by the expression of those eyes. So then, it was true, she too had suffered on his account? She too, she too, realizing she wasn't loved, had felt that frightening emptiness?

“Yes? Yes?” Anna, choking with tears, asked the picture.

And it then seemed to her that those kindly eyes, intense with passion and heartbreak, were pitying her in their turn, were condoling with her over that abandonment, that unrequited sacrifice, that love which remained locked up in her breast like a treasure in a casket to which he had the keys but would never use them, like a miser.

A VOICE

A few days before she died, the Marchesa Borghi, more from a qualm of conscience than for any other reason, had decided to consult even Dr. Giunio Falci regarding her son Silvio, who had been blind for about a year. She had had him examined at home by the most famous oculists in Italy and abroad, and all of them had told her that he was suffering from incurable glaucoma.

Dr. Giunio Falci had recently gained the position of director of the eye clinic by competitive examination; but, whether it was due to his weary and always absentminded manner, or whether it was due to his ungraceful appearance—that completely lax and listless way he had of walking, with his big, prematurely bald, uncovered head thrown back, his long, thin nose in the air, like a sail on his bony, emaciated little face with its short, sparse, rough beard, already somewhat gray, parted on his chin—he was liked so little by people in general that many even went so far as to deny him any medical skill. He was aware of this and seemed to enjoy the situation. He became more absentminded daily and no longer shook himself out of his weary stupefaction except to pose curious, penetrating questions that chilled and disconcerted the listener. He had gradually formed a concept of life so devoid of all those friendly and almost necessary hypocrisies, those spontaneous, inevitable illusions composed and created by each of us without our volition, through an instinctive need—for social decency, one might say—that his company had now become intolerable.

At the invitation of the Marchesa Borghi, he had gone one morning to the airy, solitary new street, lined with villas, at the far end of Castle Meadows, across Margherita Bridge; he had made a long, careful examination of the young man's eyes, without paying attention—at least seemingly—to all that the Marchesa was telling him in the meantime about the ailment, the diagnoses of the other doctors and the various cures that had been tried. Glaucoma? No. He did not think he had found in those eyes the characteristic signs of that complaint, the bluish or greenish color of the opacity, etc., etc.; instead, he had decided that what he had before him was a rare and strange manifestation of that disease commonly known as cataract. But he had not wished to reveal his doubt to the mother all at once, in order to keep her from suddenly cherishing even the slenderest hope; besides, he himself did not feel entirely sure of the matter. Instead, disguising the very keen interest awakened in him by that strange case, he had declared his wish to call on the patient again in a few days.

And he had in fact returned; but, oddly, on that new, always deserted street at the far end of Castle Meadows where the Marchesa Borghi's villa was located, he had found a crowd of curious onlookers in front of the open gate of the villa. The Marchesa Borghi had died suddenly during the night.

What should he do? Turn back? Then it had occurred to him that, if on his first call he had expressed his opinion that, from his point of view, the young man's ailment was not really glaucoma, perhaps that poor mother would not have died with the grief of leaving behind a son who was incurably blind. Well, if he was no longer able to console the mother with this hope, couldn't he at least try to convey it to the unhappy survivor, thus affording him a great consolation now that he was so terribly stricken by this new, unexpected misfortune?

And he had proceeded up to the villa.

After a long wait amid the prevailing confusion, he had been greeted by a young woman dressed in black. Blonde, and with a stiff, in fact severe manner, she was the hired companion of the late Marchesa. Dr. Falci had explained to her the reason for his call, which would otherwise have been out of place. At a certain point, with a slight tinge of astonishment that indicated a lack of trust, she had asked him:

“But, in that case, are even young people subject to cataract?”

Falci had looked her in the eye for a moment, then, with an ironic smile more noticeable in his eyes than on his lips, he had replied:

“And why not? Spiritually always, Miss: when they fall in love. But physically also, unfortunately.”

She had then cut the conversation short, saying that, under the circumstances in which the Marchese was situated at that moment, it was absolutely impossible to speak to him about anything; but that, when he had calmed down a little, she would tell him about this call and he would surely send for him.

More than three months had gone by: Dr. Giunio Falci had not been sent for.

 

To tell the truth, on the occasion of his first call the doctor had made a very bad impression on the late Marchesa. Miss Lydia Venturi, who had stayed on as the young Marchese's housekeeper and reader, remembered this clearly. But wouldn't that impression have been different if Falci had right from the start given the Marchesa hopes that her son's recovery was not unlikely? This was a question that Miss Lydia was unwilling to ask herself, and as far as she herself was concerned, she considered the doctor's second call as quackery or worse—coming on the very day the Marchesa had died to declare his dissenting opinion and kindle a hope of that sort.

By this time the young Marchese seemed resigned to his misfortune. His mother having died so suddenly, he had felt another darkness gathering in his soul in addition to that of his blindness: another, much more terrible darkness, in the face of which, it is true, all men are blind. But people with good eyes can at least find distraction from that other darkness by looking at the things around them: he could not. Blind in life, he was now blind in death as well. And into this other darkness, more bare, more cold, more shadowy, his mother had disappeared, silently, leaving him behind alone, in a frightening void.

All at once—he couldn't tell clearly-from whom—an infinitely sweet voice had come to him, like a soft, soft light in that double darkness of his. And his entire soul, lost in that frightening void, had seized hold of that voice.

Miss Lydia was no more than a voice to him. Yet it was she who, in the last months, had been closer to his mother than anybody else. And his mother—he recalled this—when speaking to him about her, had expressed great satisfaction with her. Therefore he knew that she was kind, attentive, possessed of perfect good manners, well educated, intelligent; and now, from the attentions she paid him, from the consolations she gave him, he found that she really had all those merits.

From the first day of her employment, Lydia had suspected that the Marchesa Borghi, when hiring her, would not have objected, in her maternal egotism, if her unhappy son had in some way consoled himself in her company: Lydia had been seriously insulted and had forced her natural pride to stiffen into a deportment that was positively severe. But after the misfortune, when, amid his desperate weeping, he had taken hold of her hand, and had leaned his handsome, pale face on it, moaning, “Don't leave me! ... don't leave me!,” she had felt herself overcome by compassion, by tenderness, and had devoted herself to him entirely.

Soon, with the timid but obstinate and heartbreaking curiosity of the blind, he had begun to torture her. He wanted to “see” her in his darkness; he wanted her voice to become an image within him.

At first he posed vague, brief questions. He wanted to tell her how he pictured her when hearing her read and speak.

“You're blonde, aren't you?”

“Yes ...”

She
was
blonde; but her hair was somewhat coarse and thin, and it contrasted strangely with the slightly lusterless color of her skin. How could she tell him that? And why should she?

“And your eyes, blue?”

“yet... ”

Blue they were; but melancholy, sorrowful, too deeply recessed beneath her serious, sad, prominent brow. How could she tell him that? And why should she?

Her face was not beautiful, but her body was extremely elegant, svelte and shapely at the same time. Her hands and her voice were beautiful, truly beautiful.

Her voice, especially. Of an unutterable sweetness, in contrast to the melancholy, haughty and sorrowful expression of her face.

She knew how he saw her from the charm of that voice and from the timid replies he received to his insistent, relentless questions; and in front of her mirror she made every effort to resemble that fictitious image he had of her, every effort to see herself the way he saw her in his darkness. And by this time, even for her, her voice no longer issued from her own lips, but from those he imagined she had; and if she laughed, she suddenly had the impression of not having laughed herself, but rather of having imitated a smile that was not hers, the smile of that other self who lived within his mind.

All of this caused her a kind of muted torment, it perturbed her: she felt that she was no longer herself, that she was gradually doing an injustice to her own self because of the pity the young man aroused in her. Only pity? No: it was also love now. She was no longer able to snatch her hand away from his hand, to turn her face away from his face, if he drew her too closely to him.

“No! like this, no ... , like this, no ... ”

By this time it was necessary to arrive quickly at a decision which cost Miss Lydia a long, hard struggle with herself. The young Marchese had no relatives, close or distant, he was his own master and thus able to do anything he wished or chose. But wouldn't people say that she was taking advantage of his misfortune in order to get married, to become a Marchesa and rich? Oh, yes, they would surely say that and much more. But, all the same, how could she stay on in that house except on those terms? And wouldn't it be an act of cruelty to abandon that blind man, to deprive him of her loving attentions, through fear of other people's malice? No doubt, it was great good luck for her; but in her conscience she felt that she deserved it because she loved him; in fact, the greatest good luck for her was to be able to love him openly, to be able to say she was his, entirely and eternally his, to be able to devote herself to him exclusively, body and soul. He couldn't see himself : he saw nothing within himself but his own unhappiness; nevertheless, he was handsome—very much so—and as delicate as a little girl; and she, looking at him, delighting in him, without his being aware of it, could think: “There, you're all mine because you don't see yourself and you don't know yourself; because your soul is like a prisoner of your misery and needs me to see, to feel.” But wasn't it first necessary, complying with his wishes, to confess to him that she was not like his mental image of her? Wouldn't keeping silent be a deception on her part? Yes, a deception. And yet he was blind, and so he could be satisfied with a heart like hers, devoted and ardent, and with the illusion of beauty. Besides, she was not ugly. And then, a woman who was beautiful, really beautiful, might be able——who knows?—to deceive him in a much worse way, taking advantage of his misfortune, if he really had need of a loving heart rather than a pretty face, which he could never see.

 

After several days of anguished uncertainty, the wedding was arranged. It would be celebrated unostentatiously and quickly, just as soon as the sixth month of mourning for his mother had passed.

Therefore she had about a month and a half's time ahead of her to make the necessary preparations as best she could. They were days of tremendous happiness: the hours flew by, divided between her joyful, busy furnishing of their home together and his caresses, from which she would free herself in a mild state of delirium, with gentle force. She wished to preserve that one, most intense, pleasure from the license which their sharing one roof gave to their love, and to save it for their wedding day.

Now there remained little more than a week, when Lydia unexpectedly received the announcement of a visit from Dr. Giunio Falci.

Her first impulse was to answer:

“I'm not home!”

But the blind man, who had heard people talking in low tones, asked:

“Who is it?”

“Dr. Falci,” the servant repeated.

“You know,” said Lydia, “that doctor your late mother called for a few days before the sad occurrence.”

“Oh, yes!” Borghi exclaimed, recalling it to mind. “He gave me a long examination ... a long one, I remember it clearly, and he said he wanted to come back, in order to ... ”

“Wait,” Lydia suddenly interrupted him, in a state of great agitation. “I'll see what he wants.”

Dr. Giunio Falci was standing in the center of the reception room, with his large bald head thrown back and his eyes half-closed, and with one hand he was absentmindedly smoothing out the rough little beard on his chin.

“Have a seat, Doctor,” said Miss Lydia, who had come in without his noticing.

Falci roused himself, bowed and began saying:

“You will excuse me if ... ”

But she, upset, excited, insisted on saying first:

“You really weren't sent for up to now because ... ”

“My last call was out of place,” said Falci, with a light, sarcastic smile on his lips. “But you will forgive me, Miss.”

“No ... Why? Not at all ... ,” said Lydia, blushing.

“You don't know,” Falci continued, “how great an interest a poor man concerned with science can take in certain medical cases ... But I want to tell you the whole truth, Miss: I had forgotten this case of the Marchese Borghi's, even though in my opinion it was very unusual and strange. But yesterday, while chatting about this and that with some friends, I learned about his forthcoming marriage to you, Miss. Is it true?”

Lydia turned pale and nodded affirmatively, in a haughty manner.

“Allow me to congratulate you,” Falci added. “But, you see, at that moment, all at once, I remembered. I remembered the diagnosis of glaucoma made by a number of famous colleagues of mine, if I'm not mistaken. A diagnosis that is very easy to explain, in general, I assure you. In fact, I'm certain that if the Marchesa had had those colleagues of mine examine her son at the time I called on him, even they would have said readily that it was no longer proper to speak of a genuine glaucoma. But let that be. I also remembered my second, extremely unfortunate, call, and I thought that you, Miss, at first in the confusion caused by the unexpected death of the Marchesa, and later in the happiness of this new event, had surely forgotten—am I correct?—forgotten ... ”

BOOK: The Oil Jar and Other Stories
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