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Authors: Luigi Pirandello

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The Oil Jar and Other Stories (9 page)

BOOK: The Oil Jar and Other Stories
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On hearing this proposal, furiously flung out as the conclusion to this very lengthy outburst, I was stunned for a while and just stared at Dr. Fileno's face.

“Do you have qualms about it?” he asked, growing disturbed. “Do you have any qualms? It's perfectly legitimate, you know! It's your sacrosanct right to take me over and give me the life that that imbecile was unable to give me! It's your right and mine, understand?”

“It may be your right, dear Doctor,” I replied, “and it may even be legitimate, as you believe; but I just don't do things like that. There's no use your insisting. I don't do that. Try applying to somebody else.”

“And to whom would you have me apply, if you ... ”

“I don't know! Try. Maybe you won't have much trouble finding someone who is perfectly convinced of the legitimacy of that right. Or else there's this: listen a moment, dear Dr. Fileno. Yes or no, are you really the author of
The Philosophy of Distance?”

“Of course!” said Dr. Fileno, taking a step backward and placing both hands on his chest. “Do you dare doubt it? I understand, I understand! As usual, it's the fault of that man who murdered me! He just barely, in summary, in passing, gave an idea of my theories, not even remotely imagining all the benefit that could be derived from that discovery of mine of looking through the wrong end of the telescope!”

I put out my hands to stop him, smiling and saying:

“All right ... all right ... but, tell me, what about

“I? Where do
come in?”

“You're complaining about your author; but, my dear Doctor, were
really able to derive benefit from your theory? There, that's exactly what I wanted to say to you. Let me speak. If you seriously believe, as I do, in the efficacy of your philosophy, why don't you apply a little of it to your own case? Here you are, seeking out from among us a writer who will make you immortal. But look at us all, one by one, putting me at the very end of the line, naturally. And, along with us, look through your celebrated wrong-end-of-the-telescope at the most notable events, the most burning questions and the most admirable accomplishments of our day. My dear Doctor, I'm very much afraid that you will no longer see anything or anybody. And so, come now, cheer up or, rather, resign yourself, and let me listen to my own poor characters, who may be a bad lot and may be peevish, but at least don't have your wild ambition.”


The moment the head groom left, cursing more than usual, Fofo turned toward Blackie, his newly arrived mangermate, and sighed:

“I get it! Saddlecloths, tassels and plumes. You're off to a good start, fellow! It's a first-class one today.”

Blackie turned his head in the other direction. He didn't snort, because he was a well-brought-up horse. But he didn't want to confide in that Fofo.

He came from a princely stable, he did, where it was possible to see your reflection on the walls: beechwood cribs for every stall, brass rings, partition bars padded with leather and posts with shiny rounded tops.

Oh, well!

The young Prince, entirely devoted to those noisy carriages which create not only (bear with me!) a stink but also a trail of smoke at the rear, and which dash off on their own power, wasn't satisfied with having already three times run the risk of breaking his neck: just as soon as the old Princess (who, bless her, had never wanted to have anything to do with those devils) had been stricken with paralysis, he had lost no time in getting rid of him (Blackie) as well as Raven Black, the last two horses left in the stable, for his mother's tranquil landau.

Poor Raven Black, who knows where he had ended up, after so many years of honorable service!

Kind Giuseppe, the old coachman, had promised them that he would go and, together with the other old, trusted servants, kiss the hand of the Princess, who was now confined to an armchair for good, and would intercede for them.

But no! From the way in which the kind old man, who had returned quickly, had patted their necks and flanks, immediately both of them had understood that all hope was lost and their fate decided. They would be sold.

And indeed ...

Blackie still failed to comprehend where he had gotten to. It wasn't bad, not really bad. Of course, it wasn't the Princess' stable. But this was a good stable, too. More than twenty horses, all black and on the old side, but with a good presence, dignified and full of gravity. Oh, as for gravity, they may even have had too much!

Blackie doubted whether even they understood properly the work to which they were assigned. On the contrary, it seemed to him that they were all constantly thinking about it, but without coming to any conclusion. That slow swaying of flowing tails, that scraping of hooves, from time to time, were unerring indicators of horses in deep reflection.

Only that Fofo was sure, perfectly sure, that he had fully understood everything.

Vulgar and presumptuous animal!

An old army horse, rejected after three years of service, because—to hear him tell it—some light-cavalry bumpkin from the Abruzzi had broken his wind, he did nothing but talk and talk and talk.

Blackie, with his heart still full of regret for his old friend Raven Black, couldn't stand Fofo. What jarred him most of all was that familiar behavior of his, and then his constant criticism of their stablemates.

God, what a tongue!

Not one of the twenty escaped! This one was like this, that one was like that ...

“That tail ... just look over there, if you please, and tell me whether that's a tail! If that's any way to move one's tail! Some energy, huh?

“That's a doctor's horse, I'm telling you.

“And over there, there, look at that fine Calabrian nag, how gracefully he wiggles his pig's ears ... And what a fine forelock! And what a fine chin groove! He's another live wire, don't you think?

“Every once in a while he dreams he's not a gelding, and he wants to make love to that mare over there, three stalls to the right, see her?—with a face that looks so old, low in the forequarters, with her belly scraping the ground.

“But would you even call that a mare? That's a cow, let me tell you. And if you knew how she moves, as if in riding school! She looks as if her hooves were scalded whenever she touched the ground! ... And yet, does she get foamed up! Sure, because she has a tender mouth. She has yet to grow her incisors to an even height, imagine that!”

It did Blackie no good to show that Fofo in every possible way that he was paying him no mind. Fofo would just rage on all the more.

To spite him.

“You know where we are? We're in a shipping agency. There are all kinds. This one is called the funeral type.

“You know what funeral means? It means pulling a black wagon with a peculiar shape—high, with four posts that support the canopy—and decorated all over with flounces and curtains and gilding: in short, a big, beautiful, luxury carriage; but it's all a waste, I assure you, all a waste, because you'll see that no one ever gets into it.

“There's only the coachman, looking as serious as he can, on his box.

“And they move slowly, always at a walking pace. Oh, there's no danger of your working up a sweat and getting a rubdown when you come back, or that the coachman will ever give you a lash or hurry you up in any other way!


“You always get where you need to get to in plenty of time.

“And that wagon—I understand it clearly—must be something held in special veneration by man.

“As I mentioned, no one dares to get inside; and, as soon as it's seen standing in front of a house, everybody stops and stares at it with long, frightened faces; many people even gather around it with lighted tapers; and then, as soon as we start to move, all of them accompany it from behind, in total silence.

“Often there's a band in front of us, too, a band, my friend, playing a kind of music that makes your guts drop out.

“Listen, you've got the bad habit of snorting and moving your head too much. Well, you've got to get rid of habits like that. If you snort for no reason, just imagine what will happen when you hear that music!

“Our work is easy, there's no denying; but it takes orderliness and solemnity. No snorting, no pitching. It's already too much when they allow you to shake your tail, just barely.

“Because the wagon that we're pulling, I'm telling you again, is highly respected. You'll find out that, on seeing us pass by, everybody lifts his hat.

“Do you know how I understood that it must be connected with shipping? I understood it from this.

“About two years ago, I was standing still, with one of our canopied wagons, in front of the big railing of the building that is our normal destination.

“You'll see that big railing! Behind it there are many dark, pointed trees that extend in two long, straight, endless lines, leaving some beautiful green lawns here and there with plenty of good, rich grass to eat; but that's all wasted, too: woe to you if you put out your lips toward it as you pass by.

“Enough of that. I was standing still there when a poor old comrade of mine from my days of army service came up beside me; he had really come down in the world: imagine, he was pulling an iron-fitted truck, one of those long, low, springless ones.

“He said:

“‘Do you see me? Oh, Fofo, I'm really worn out!'

‘“What line of work?' I asked him.”

“And he:

‘“Transporting boxes, all day long, from a shipping agency to the customs office.'

“‘Boxes?' I said. ‘What boxes?'

‘“Heavy ones!' he said. ‘Really heavy! Boxes full of goods to be shipped ... '

“That was a relevation to me.

“Because you ought to know that we, too, transport a kind of very long box. They place it very slowly (everything always goes very slowly) into our wagon, from the back; and while that procedure is going on, the people all around take off their hats and just stare in an awed way. Who knows why? But surely, if we, too, deal in boxes, it must be connected with shipping, don't you think so?

“What the devil does that box contain? It's heavy, just you believe me! Lucky that we always transport one at a time ...

“Merchandise to be shipped, certainly. But what kind of merchandise, if—as soon as it comes into view—every passerby gives so many indications of respect, and the shipping is done with so much pomp and ceremony?

“At a given moment, usually (not always), we stop in front of a majestic building that may be the customs office for our shipments. From the doorway there step forward certain men decked out in a black underskirt, with their shirt worn outside (I suppose they're the customs officers); the box is taken out of the wagon; everybody takes his hat off again; and those men mark the box with an official permit.

“Where all those precious goods that we ship go to—that, you see, I haven't yet managed to understand. But I have some suspicion that not even the humans understand it perfectly, and I console myself.

“To tell the truth, the magnificence of the boxes and the solemnity of the proceedings could lead you to believe that the humans must know
about these shipments of theirs: But they look too uncertain and awed to me. And from the long acquaintance I now have with them, I have derived this much experience: humans do many, many things, my friend, without knowing at all why they do them!”


As Fofo had deduced that morning from the head groom's curses: saddlecloths, tassels and plumes. Four horses to draw the carriage. It was really a first-class job.

“Did you see?”

Blackie found himself harnessed between the shafts with Fofo. And Fofo, naturally, continued to bore him with his eternal explanations.

But he, too, was bothered that morning by the imposition put on him by the head groom, who, when there were four horses, always harnessed him between the shafts and never to the splinter bar for extra horses.

“What a dog! Because, you realize, these two here in front of us are just for show. What do they pull? They don't pull a damn thing! We're the ones who pull. And we go so slowly! Now they're taking a nice little walk to stretch their legs, all decked out in gala ... And just look at what sort of animals I'm forced to see get the preference over myself! Recognize them?”

They were the two black horses that Fofo had dubbed “doctor's horse” and “Calabrian nag.”

“That damned Calabrian ... You have him in front of
lucky you! You'll smell him, my friend; you'll become aware that his ears aren't the only piglike thing about him, and you'll thank the head groom, who protects him and gives him double rations of fodder ... It takes luck in this world—don't snort. Are you starting already? Keep your head still! Whew, if you act like that today, my friend, you'll get so many tugs on the reins that you'll have a bloody mouth, I'm telling you. There will be speeches today. You'll see how jolly it is! One speech, two speeches, three speeches ... I've even come across a first-class funeral with five speeches! Enough to make you crazy ... Three hours of standing still, with all these decorations on you that don't allow you to breathe: your legs cramped, your tail imprisoned, your ears between two holes ... Jolly, with the flies biting you under your tail! What are the speeches? Who knows? I really don't understand, to tell the truth ... These first-class shipments must be very complicated ones. And maybe, in those speeches, they're giving the instructions. One isn't enough, and they make two; two aren't enough, and they make three. They sometimes make as many as five, as I said: there I was, my friend, with an urge to kick out right and left, and then start rolling on the ground like a madcap ... Maybe it will be the same today. Full gala! Did you see the coachmen, how he's tricked out, too? And there are also the ushers, the taper-bearers ... Tell me, are you skittish?”

“I don't understand ... ”

“You know: do you shy easily? Because, you'll see, in a little while they'll put the lighted tapers right under your nose ... Easy, there ... easy! What's got into you? You see? The first tug on the reins ... Did it hurt you? Well, you'll get a lot of them today, let me tell you ... But what are you doing? Are you crazy? Don't stretch out your neck like that! (Nice baby, are you swimming?
Are you playing a kicking game?)
”Stay still ... Oh, really? Take that tug, and that! Hey! Watch out, now you're making them tug at my mouth, too! Say, this one is crazy! My God, my God, this one is really crazy! He's panting, he's neighing, he's whinnying, he's turning in a circle; what's going on? Look at him prancing! He's crazy, he's crazy! Going into a prance while he's pulling a first-class wagon!”

Blackie did indeed seem to have lost his mind; he was panting, neighing, pawing the ground and trembling all over. The lackeys had to leap down from the carriage in hot haste to hold him still in front of the doorway of the manor house where they were to stop, amid a large throng of stiff gentlemen in frockcoats and top hats.

“What's going on?” was the cry everywhere. “Oh, look, a horse of the funeral carriage is rearing up!”

And all the people, in great confusion, surrounded the carriage, curious, dismayed, surprised, shocked. The ushers had not yet managed to hold Blackie still. The coachman had risen to his feet and was pulling the reins furiously. In vain. Blackie kept on lashing out with his hooves and neighing; he was foaming, with his head turned toward the doorway of the house.

He only calmed down when there came out of that door and arrived on the scene an old servant in livery, who, shoving aside the ushers, took him by the bridle and immediately, on recognizing him, started to exclaim with tears in his eyes:

“Why, it's Blackie! It's Blackie! Oh, poor Blackie ... Why, of course he acts this way ... The mistress' horse! The late Princess' horse! He recognized the house ... he smells the odor of his own stable ... Poor Blackie, poor Blackie ... behave, behave ... yes, you see? It's me, your old Giuseppe ... Behave, yes ... Poor Blackie, it's up to you to carry her—see?—your mistress ... It's up to you, poor thing, you who still remember ... She'll be pleased to be conveyed by you for the last time ... ”

BOOK: The Oil Jar and Other Stories
2.36Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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