Read The Oil Jar and Other Stories Online
Authors: Luigi Pirandello
Tags: #General Fiction
“No!” said Lydia at that point, contradicting him sharply, in protest against the torture that the doctor's long, poisonous speech was inflicting on her.
“Ah, no?” said Falci.
“No,” she repeated, with glowering firmness. “Rather, I remembered how little confidenceâactually none at all, forgive me!âthe Marchesa had about her son's cure even after your call.”
“But I didn't tell the Marchesa,” Falci rebutted at once, “that her son's ailment from my point of view ... ”
“It's true, you told that to me,” Lydia cut in again. “But I also, like the Marchesa ... ”
“Little confidenceâactually none at all, right? It doesn't matter,” Falci interrupted in his turn. “But in the meantime you did not inform the Marchese of my coming and the reason for it ... ”
“Not all at once, no.”
“And later on?”
“Not then, either. Because ... ”
Dr. Falci raised one hand:
“I understand. After love was born ... But pardon me, Miss: it's true they say that love is blind; but do you really wish the Marchese's love to be as blind as all that? Blind physically as well?”
Lydia realized that, to combat this man's self-assured, biting coldness, she couldn't make do with the haughty deportment in which she was gradually wrapping herself more and more tightly in order to defend her dignity from an odious suspicion. Nevertheless, she made an effort to contain herself further, and asked with apparent calm:
“You insist on maintaining that the Marchese, with your help, can regain his sight?”
“Don't be hasty, Miss,” Falci answered, raising his hand again. “I am not all-powerful. I examined the Marchese's eyes only once, and I thought it proper to rule out glaucoma as a diagnosis absolutely. Now: I think that this conclusion, which may be merely a doubt, or which may be a source of hope, ought to be enough for you if, as I believe, you really have your fiance's welfare at heart.”
“And what if the doubt,” Lydia hurriedly replied, in a challenging manner, “could no longer be sustained after your examination, what if the hopes were dashed? Wouldn't you now have uselessly, cruelly perturbed a soul that has already resigned itself to its lot?”
“No, Miss,” Falci answered with hard, serious calm. “So little so, that I esteemed it my duty as a physician to come uninvited. Because in this instance, I'd like you to know, I believe I am involved not merely in a medical case but also in a case of conscience.”
“You suspect ... ,” Lydia tried to interrupt him, but Falci gave her no time to continue.
“You yourself,” he proceeded, “said just now that you failed to inform the Marchese of my call, using an excuse I cannot accept, not because it is insulting to me, but because the confidence or lack of confidence in me ought to come not from you, but from the Marchese, if from anyone. Look, Miss: it may also be obstinacy on my part, I don't deny it; but I tell you that I won't take any payment from the Marchese if he comes to my clinic, where he will have every care and aid that science can offer him, disinterestedly. After this declaration, would it be too much to ask you to announce my call to the Marchese?”
Lydia stood up.
“Wait,” Falci then said, getting up also and resuming his customary manner. “I want you to know that I will not say a word to the Marchese about having come that time. In fact, if you like, I'll say that, out of thoughtfulness, you sent for me, before the wedding.”
Lydia looked him in the eye undauntedly.
“You shall tell him the truth. No,
“That you didn't believe me.”
Falci shrugged his shoulders, smiled.
“It might do you harm. And I wouldn't want that. But if you wanted to postpone my call until after the weddingâlook, I would be equally willing to come back.”
“No,” said Lydia, speaking more with her gesture than with her voice. Stifled by her agitation, her face flushed with shame caused by that apparent generosity of the doctor, she signaled with her hand for him to come with her.
Silvio Borghi was waiting impatiently in his room.
“Here is Dr. Falci, Silvio,” said Lydia, entering, trembling all over. “Downstairs we cleared up a misunderstanding. You remember, don't you, that on his first call the Doctor said he wanted to come back?”
“Yes,” answered Borghi. “I remember very well, Doctor.”
“What you don't know yet,” continued Lydia, “is that he did in fact come back, on the very morning when your mother's sad death occurred. And he spoke with me and told me that he believed your ailment was not really what so many other doctors had declared it to be, and that, in his opinion, therefore, it was not at all unlikely that you could be cured. I told you nothing about it.”
“Because, you see, your fiancÃ©e,” Dr. Falci hastened to add, “seeing that it was a doubt that I expressed in very vague terms at that moment, considered it, more than anything else, as a consolation I wished to offer, and didn't attach much importance to it.”
“That is what I said, not what you think,” Lydia replied intrepidly. “Dr. Falci, Silvio, suspected what is actually the truth, that I told you nothing about his second call; and he was kind enough to come entirely on his own, before the wedding, to offer you his treatment without any remuneration. Now, Silvio, you are free to think, as he does, that I wanted you to stay blind to get you to marry me.”
“What are you saying, Lydia?” the blind man exclaimed with a start.
“Oh, yes,” she continued at once, with a strange laugh. “And even that may be true, because, in fact, that's the only way I could become your ... ”
“What are you saying?” Borghi repeated, interrupting her.
“You'll see for yourself, Silvio, if Dr. Falci succeeds in restoring your sight. I'll leave you now.”
“Lydia! Lydia!” Borghi called.
But she had already gone out, slamming the door behind her violently. She went and threw herself on her bed, bit the pillow in her rage and at first broke out into uncontrollable sobbing. When the first fury of her tears had abated, she remained dumbfounded and as if horrified in the face of her own conscience. It seemed to her that everything the doctor had said to her, in that cold and biting way of his, she had already said to herself for some time; or, rather, someone inside her had said it; and she had pretended not to hear. Yes, all along, all along she had remembered Dr. Falci, and every time his image had surfaced in her mind, like the ghost of a remorse, she had suppressed it with an insult: “Charlatan!” Becauseâhow could she go on denying it now?âshe wished, truly wished her Silvio to remain blind. His blindness was the indispensable condition for his love. For, if he should regain his sight tomorrow, handsome as he was, young, rich, a nobleman, why would he marry her? Out of gratitude? Out of pity? Ah, for no other reason! And, in that case, no, no! And even if
wouldn't be; how could she accept that?âshe who loved him and wanted him for no other reason; she who saw in his misfortune the reason for her love and almost the excuse for it in the face of other people's malice. Can one, then, make compromises with one's own conscience that way, without realizing it, to the point of committing a crime, to the point of founding one's own happiness on someone else's suffering? To be perfectly honest, at that time she had not believed that he, her enemy, could perform the miracle of restoring her Silvio's sight; she didn't believe it even now; but why had she remained silent? Was it really because she had not thought it proper to lend credence to that doctor, or wasn't it rather because the doubt the doctor had expressed, which would have been like a ray of hope for Silvio, would have meant death instead for her, the death of her love, if it later proved to be true? Even now she could believe that her love would have been sufficient to compensate that blind man for the loss of his sight; she could believe that, even if by some miracle he now regained his sight, neither that supreme blessing, nor all the pleasures he could buy himself with his wealth, nor the love of some other woman, could compensate him for the loss of
love. But these were reasons for herself, not for him. If she had gone to him and said, “Silvio, you have to choose between the joy of seeing and my love,” he surely would have replied, “And why do you want to leave me blind?” Because only this way, that is, on the condition of his misfortune, was her happiness possible.
All at once she stood up, as if in answer to a sudden call. Was the examination still going on in that other room? What was the doctor saying? What was
thinking? She was tempted to tiptoe over and eavesdrop behind that door she herself had closed; but she restrained herself. There you had it: she was left behind the door; she herself, with her own hands, had closed it on herself, forever. But could she really accept that man's poisonous offers? He had gone so far as to propose postponing his call until after the wedding.âIf she had accepted ... No! No! She felt herself tighten up with disgust, with nausea. What a hateful deal that would have been! The most loathsome of deceptions! And later on? Contempt in place of love ...
She heard the door open; she shuddered; instinctively she ran to the corridor through which Falci had to pass.
“I made up for your excessive frankness, Miss,” he said coldly. “I have confirmed my diagnosis. The Marchese will come to my clinic tomorrow morning. Meanwhile, go to him, go, he's waiting for you. Goodbye.”
She stood there annihilated, drained; she watched him go all the way to the door at the far end of the corridor; then she heard Silvio's voice calling her from his room. She felt all confused, dizzy; she was on the point of falling; she put her hands to her face to hold back her tears; she hastened toward him.
He was sitting and awaiting her with open arms; he hugged her to himself with tremendous strength, shouting his happiness in short, choppy phrases, saying that it was for her alone that he wanted to regain his sight, to see her face, to see his beautiful, sweet bride; for her!
“You're crying? Why? But I'm crying, too, see? Oh, what joy! I'll see you ... I'll see! I'll see!”
Every word was death to her; so much so that, happy as he was, he realized that her tears were not the same as his, and he then started to tell her that surelyâoh, but surelyânot even he, on a day like that one, would have believed what the doctor said, and so, forget it, enough now! What was she still thinking about? Today was a holiday! Away with all sorrows! Away with all thoughts, except one: that his happiness would now be complete because he would see his bride. Now she would have more leisure, more time to furnish their home together; and it had to be beautiful as a dream, that home, which would be the first thing he saw. Yes, he promised that he would leave the clinic with his eyes bandaged, and that he would open them there, for the first time, in his home.
“Speak to me! Speak to me! Don't let me go on speaking alone!”
“Are you getting tired?”
“No ... Ask me again, âAre you getting tired?' with that voice of yours. Let me kiss it, here, on your lips, that voice of yours ... ”
“And speak, now; tell me how you'll furnish it for me, our home.”
“Yes, I haven't asked you anything yet up to now. But no, I don't want to know anything, not even now. You will take care of it. For me it will be a marvel, an enchantment ... But I will see nothing at first: only you! only you!”
She resolutely stifled her anguished weeping, made her face completely cheerful, and there kneeling in front of him, with him bending over her, in her embrace, she began speaking to him of her love, practically in his ear, with that voice of hers, sweeter and more bewitching than ever. But when he, in rapture, held her tight and threatened never to let her go again, at that moment she freed herself and stood straight up, as if proud of a victory over herself. There! Even now, she would have been able to tie him to her indissolubly. But no! Because she loved him.
All that day, till late at night, she intoxicated him with that voice of hers, self-assured because he was still there, in his darkness; in the darkness in which hope was already flaring up, as beautiful as the image he had formed of her.
The next morning she insisted on accompanying him in the carriage up to the clinic and, as she left him there, she told him she would get right to work, right away, like an industrious swallow building her nest.
For two days, in terrible anxiety, she awaited the result of the operation. When she heard it was successful, she waited a little longer, in the empty house; she furnished it for him lovingly. In his exultation he wanted to see her, if only for a moment, but she sent a message asking him to be patient for a few more days; if she wasn't hurrying over, it was to avoid exciting him; it was against the doctor's orders ...
“Really? Well, in that case she would have come ... ”
She gathered up her possessions, and the day before he left the clinic, she departed without anyone knowing, in order to remain, at least in his memory, a voice, which perhaps, now that he had emerged from his darkness, he would seek on many lips, in vain.
Out of breath, pantingâwhen they were below the village, which sits with its densely packed chalky little houses on the blue-clay plateauâto save time they climbed up the slippery slope, making use of their hands, because their large, coarse hobnailed shoes were sliding, damn it!
The women, closely gathered and talking loudly in front of the little fountain, with their terra-cotta pitchers under their arms, turned around and fell silent in alarm when they saw those two men coming, overheated, purple in the face, drenched with sweat, worn out. Say, weren't those two the Tortorici brothers? Yes, Neli and Saro Tortorici. Poor things! Poor things! They were unrecognizable in that state. What had happened to them? Why that desperate haste?
Neli, the younger of the brothers, totally exhausted, had stopped to catch his breath and answer the women's, questions; but Saro dragged him away with him by one arm.
“Giurlannu ZarÃ¹, our cousin!” Neli then said, turning around, and raised one hand in a gesture of benediction.
The women broke out into exclamations of sympathy and horror, and one loudly asked:
“Who did it?”
“Nobody, God!” Neli shouted from the distance.
They turned a corner and ran to the little village square, where the house of the municipal doctor stood.
The physician in question, Sidoro Lopiccolo, in his shirt sleeves, with his chest exposed, with a rough beard of at least ten days' growth on his flabby cheeks, unkempt, with swollen, watery, sunken eyes, was moving about through the rooms, dragging his slippers, and carrying in his arms a poor little sick girlânothing but skin and bones, with a sallow complexionâabout nine years old. His wife, bedridden for eleven months, unable to help; six little children in the houseâbesides the one he was holding in his arms, who was the eldestâall in tatters, dirty, running wild; the whole house upside down, a ruin; broken dishes, rinds, the garbage piled on the floor; broken chairs, bottomless armchairs, beds that hadn't been made for who knows how long, with the blankets in shreds, because the boys enjoyed playing war on the beds with the pillows as weapons, the little dears! The only thing still intact, in a room that had once been the little parlor, was an enlarged photographic portrait hung on the wall: the portrait of him, Dr. Sidoro Lopiccolo, when he was a young man, recently graduated: handsome, well dressed, fresh-looking and smiling.
To this portrait he now made his way, with flopping slippers; he bared his yellow teeth at it, in a frightening leer; he shook his head; he showed it his sick daughter:
Sisinello, that's what his mother used to call him as a pet name back then; his mother, who expected great things of him, the favorite son, the golden pillar, the banner of the household.
He greeted the two farmhands like a rabid mastiff:
“What do you want?”
It was Saro Tortorici who spoke, short of breath, with his cap in his hand:
“Doctor, there's a poor man, our cousin, who's dying ...”
“Good for him! Ring the church bells to celebrate!” the doctor shouted.
“No, sir ... He's dying just like that, nobody knows what from,” the other man continued. “On the Montelusa property, in a stable.”
The doctor took a step backward and exploded in fury:
From the village it was a good seven miles along the road. And what a road!
“Yes, sir, hurry, hurry, for mercy's sake!” Tortorici begged. “He's black, like a liver! So swollen up, it's frightening. Please!”
“But how, on foot?” the doctor howled. “Ten miles on foot? You're crazy! A mule! I want a mule. Did you bring one?”
“I'll run right over and get one,” Tortorici hastened to reply. “I'll borrow one.”
“In that case,” said Neli, the younger brother, “I'll dash over in the meantime and get a shave.”
The doctor turned around and looked at him as if he wanted to eat him up alive.
“It's Sunday, sir,” Neli apologized, smiling in confusion. “I'm engaged.”
“Ah, you're engaged?” the doctor then sneered, beside himself. “If that's the case, take this one!”
So saying, he dumped his sick daughter into his arms; then, one by one, he took the other little ones who had crowded around him and furiously shoved them between his knees:
“And this one! And this one! And this one! And this one! Fool! Fool! Fool!”
He turned his back on him, started to leave, but came back again, took back the sick girl and shouted at the two:
“Go away! Get the mule! I'll be right with you.”
Neli Tortorici resumed smiling as he went down the stairs behind his brother. He was twenty; his fiancÃ©e, Luzza, sixteen: a rose. Seven children? That's not many! He wanted twelve. And to support them he would rely on nothing but that pair of arms, good ones, that God had given him. Cheerfully, as always. Working and singing, all in a professional way: his mattock and his song. It wasn't for nothing they called him LiolÃ , the poet. He smiled even at the air he breathed, because he felt loved by everyone, because of his helpfulness and good nature, because of his unfailing good humor, because of his youthful good looks. The sun had not yet managed to tan his skin, to wither the beautiful golden blonde of his curly hair, which plenty of women would have envied him, all those women who blushed in their agitation if he looked at them in a certain way with those extremely vivid blue eyes.
That day, he was fundamentally less afflicted by the case of his cousin ZarÃ¹ than by the sulky treatment he would receive from his Luzza, who for six days had been yearning for that Sunday to spend a little time with him. But could he in all conscience shirk that duty of Christian charity? Poor Giurlannu! He was engaged, too! What a disaster, all of a sudden like that! He was knocking down the almonds out there, on the Lopes farm at Montelusa. The morning before, Saturday, the weather had begun to threaten rain; but there seemed to be no imminent danger of its falling. Toward noon, however, Lopes said: “Things happen fast; I wouldn't want my almonds to lie on the ground, exposed to the rain.” And he had ordered the women who were gathering them to go up to the storehouse and shell them. “You,” he said, addressing the men who were knocking down the nuts, among them Neli and Saro Tortorici, “you, if you want, go up, too, with the women to shell them.” Giurlannu ZarÃ¹ said: “Fine, but will I still get my full day's wages, twenty-five
“No, half-pay,” said Lopes; “I'll count it in when I pay you; for the rest of the day, the rate is half a
like the women.” What an outrage! Why? Maybe there wasn't enough work for the men to do and earn a full day's pay? It wasn't raining; in fact, it didn't rain all that day, or that night. “Half a
like the women? said Giurlannu ZarÃ¹. “I wear pants. Pay me for the half day at the rate of twenty-five
and I'll leave.”
He didn't leave; he stayed there waiting until evening for his cousins, who consented to shell almonds, at the rate of half a
along with the women. At a certain point, however, tired of standing around idle and looking on, he had gone into a nearby stable to catch a nap, asking the work crew to wake him up when it was time to go.
They had been knocking down almonds for a day and a half, but not many had been gathered. The women suggested shelling all of them that very evening, working late and staying there to sleep for the rest of the night, then making their way back up to the village the next morning, getting up while it was still dark. And that's what they did. Lopes brought them boiled beans and two bottles of wine. At midnight, when the shelling was over, all of them, men and women, went out to sleep in the open air on the threshing floor, where the straw that had been left there was wet with dew, as if it really had rained.
“LiolÃ , sing!”
And he, Neli, had begun singing, all at once. The moon passed in and out of a dense tangle of little white and black clouds; and the moon was Luzza's face, smiling and darkening in accordance with the vicissitudesânow sad, now happyâof love.
Giurlannu ZarÃ¹ had remained in the stable. Before dawn, Saro had gone to awaken him and had found him there, swollen and black, with a raging fever.
That is the story Neli Tortorici told there, at the barber's; at a certain point the barber, his attention wandering, nicked him with the razor. A tiny cut, near his chin, that wasn't even visibleâforget it! Neli didn't even have time to feel it, because Luzza had appeared at the barber's door with her mother and Mita LumÃ¬a, Giurlannu ZarÃ¹'s poor fiancÃ©e, who was yelling and weeping in despair.
It took a lot of talking to make the poor girl understand that she couldn't go all the way to Montelusa to see her fiance: she would see him before evening, as soon as they brought him up as best they could. They were joined by Saro, shouting loudly that the doctor was already mounted and didn't want to wait any longer. Neli drew Luzza aside and begged her to be patient: he would return before evening and would “tell her all sorts of nice things.”
In fact, even sad things like this are nice, for an engaged couple who say them to each other while holding hands and looking into each other's eyes.
What a godforsaken road! There were some cliffs that made Dr. Lopiccolo see death before his eyes, even though Saro on one side and Neli on the other were leading the mule by the halter.
From the heights one could make out the entire vast countryside, all plains and dales; planted with grain, olive groves and almond groves; already yellow with fields of stubble and flecked with black here and there by land-clearing fires; in the background one could make out the sea, of a harsh blue. The mulberry, carob, cypress and olive trees still retained their various shades of perennial green; the tops of the almond trees had already thinned out. All around, in the extensive circle of the horizon, there was a sort of veil of wind. But the heat was overpowering; the sun split the stones. From time to time, from beyond the dusty hedges of prickly pear, there was heard the call of a lark or the chatter of a magpie, making the doctor's mule prick up its ears.
“Bad mule! Bad mule!” he would then lament.
In order to keep his gaze fixed on those ears, he didn't even pay attention to the sunshine striking him from the front, and he left his wretched open parasol leaning on his shoulder.
“Don't be afraid, sir,
here,” the Tortorici brothers encouraged him.
To tell the truth, the doctor ought not to have been afraid. But he said that he feared for his children. Didn't he have to save his skin for the sake of those seven unfortunates?
To distract him, the Tortoricis started telling him about the bad crops: not much wheat, not much barley, not many beans. As for the almond trees, it's well knownâthey don't always form good nuts: one year they're chock-full, the next year not. They wouldn't even mention the olives: the fog had destroyed them as they were developing. Nor could the farmers make up their losses with the grape harvest, because all the vineyards in the region were stricken by blight.
“Fine way to cheer me up!” the doctor would say every once in a while, shaking his head.
After two hours on the road, all topics of conversation were exhausted. Each man was shut up within himself. The road was flat for a long stretch and there, on the deep layer of whitish dust, the conversation was now carried on between the four hooves of the mule and the big hobnailed shoes of the two farmhands. LiolÃ , at a certain point, began to sing listlessly in low tones; he soon stopped. Not a living soul was to be found on the road, because all the countryfolk were in the village on Sundays, some in church, some shopping, some for amusement. Perhaps out there, at Montelusa, nobody had remained beside Giurlannu ZarÃ¹, who was dying all alone; that is, if he was still alive, poor guy.
In fact, they did find him alone, in the little musty stable, stretched out on a low wall: livid, swollen up, unrecognizable, but still alive!
He was breathing stertorously.
Through the barred window, near the manger, the sun came in and struck his face, which no longer seemed human: his nose had been swallowed up in the swelling; his lips were horribly puffed up. And from those lips issued the heavy breathing, intensified, like a,snarl. In his thick, curly hair, dark as a Moor's, a wisp of straw glistened in the sunlight.
The three men stopped for a while to stare at him, frightened and seemingly immobilized by the horror of that sight. The mule, sputtering, pawed the cobbled floor of the stable. Then Saro Tortorici went over to the dying man and called to him affectionately:
“GiurlÃ , GiurlÃ , the doctor is here.”
Neli went to tie the mule to the manger, near which, on the wall, was the seeming shadow of another animal, the trace of the donkey that resided in that stable and had impressed his outline on it by dint of rubbing up against it.
Giurlannu ZarÃ¹, on being called again, stopped his heavy breathing; he tried to open his eyes, which were bloodshot, circled with black and full of fear; he opened his horrendous mouth and groaned, as if burning inside.
“No, no,” Saro quickly said to him in anguish. “The doctor is here. We brought him. See him?”
“Take me to the village!” ZarÃ¹ begged. “Oh, Mother!”
“Yes, look, we've got the mule here!” Saro at once replied.
“But I'll even carry you there in my arms, GiurlÃ ,” said Neli, running up and bending over him. “Don't lose courage!”
Giurlannu ZarÃ¹ turned toward Neli's voice, looked at him for a while with those fear-provoking eyes, then moved one arm and took hold of his belt.
“You, Handsome? You?”
“Yes, me; be brave! You're crying? Don't cry, GiurlÃ , don't cry ... It's nothing!”