PUBLISHERS OF LITERARY FICTION SINCE 1983
Translator: Christine Donougher, D.H. Lawrence Cover illustration: Lynette Hemmant
It was like this. Honest to God! There were three of them: Ambrogio, Carlo
and Pigna the saddler. It was Pigna who dragged them all off to have a good
time. 'Let's go to Valprio by tram.' And with no wretched women in tow!
After all, they just wanted to enjoy their day off in peace.
They played bowls, strolled down to the river, treated themselves to a drink, and finally had lunch at the White Blackbird, beneath the vine-trellis. It was very crowded, and there was a fellow playing the accordion, and another with a guitar, and there were girls shrieking on the swing, and lovers in search of a shady nook: a real holiday. Until Pigna started making eyes at a pretty girl with the party at the next table, with his hand in his hair and his elbow on the tablecloth. And Ambrogio, who was the peace-loving type, tugged at his jacket and whispered in his ear,
'Let's go, otherwise there'll be an argument.'
Later, in prison, when he remembered how that danger had been averted, he thought he would go out of his mind.
In order to catch the tram, towards the end of the day, they walked quite a long way. Carlo, who had been in the army, claimed to know the shortcuts and led them along a path that zigzagged across the meadows. That was their downfall!
It must have been about seven, a lovely autumn evening, with the fields still green, and not a living soul in sight. They were singing, cheerfully enjoying their country outing, young men, all of them, without a care in the world.
It might have been better if they had been penniless, or out of work, or had other problems. And Pigna kept saying they had made good use of their money that Sunday. The conversation turned to women, and each of them spoke about his girlfriend. And even Ambrogio, though you wouldn't have suspected it of
him, told them in elaborate detail what went on with Filippina when they met every evening behind the factory wall.
'You'll see,' he finally muttered, for his shoes were hurting, 'you'll see, Carlino's lost the way!'
Not according to Carlino. The tramway was surely over there, beyond that row of pollarded elms, it just wasn't in sight yet because of the evening mist.
'Under the bridge, under the bridge gathering firewoooood...' Ambrogio
sang bass, hobbling along behind.
After a while they caught up with a peasant girl with a basket over her arm, following the same path. 'What a stroke of luck!' exclaimed Pigna.'Now we can ask for directions.'
Indeed! She was a fine figure of a girl, of the kind that awaken temptation when encountered on their own. 'Young lady, is this the right way to where we're going?' asked Pigna, laughing.
A respectable girl, she lowered her head and quickened her pace withoutpaying any attention to him.
'What a brisk walker, eh?' mumbled Carlino. 'If she's hurrying like that
to meet her lover, he's a lucky guy!'
Seeing that they were following at her heels, the girl suddenly stopped,with her basket in her hand, and began to shout, 'Go away, and leave me alone.'
'Hey, we're not going to eat you, damn it!' replied Pigna.
She set off again, with her head down, like the stubborn peasant that she was.
To break the ice, Carlo asked, 'O where are you going, pretty maiden...what is your name?'
'Never you mind what my name is, or where I'm going.'
Ambrogio tried to intervene. 'Don't be afraid, we don't mean you any harm. We're honest lads, we're just trying to catch the tram.'
Because he looked a decent sort, the young woman relented, and took him at his word, and after all it was getting dark and she was unlikely to be able to outwalk them. Ambrogio wanted to know if this was the right way to
'So I've been told,' she replied, 'but I don't know this area myself.'
And she said she was coming to town to find herself a job. Pigna, always
one for a laugh, made out that he thought she wanted a job as a wet-nurse,and if she didn't know where to go, he'd find her a good position, all nice and cosy, that very same evening. And since he couldn't keep his hands to himself, she gave him a dig with her elbow that almost broke his ribs.
'Christ!' he muttered. 'Christ, what a powerful punch!' And the others hooted.
'I'm not afraid of you or anyone else!' she said.
'What about me?'
'And all three of us?'
'What if we were to take you by force?'
Then they looked around, in the open countryside, and there was not aliving soul to be seen.
'Now, what about your sweetheart,' said Pigna to change the subject,'now, how come your sweet heart let you go?'
'I don't have one,' she replied.
'Really? A pretty girl like you?'
'No, I'm not pretty.'
'Oh, come on now!' And Pigna started paying her compliments, with his thumbs tucked into the armholes of his waistcoat. God, was she pretty! With those eyes, and that mouth, and so on and so forth!
'Let me go,' she said, laughing surreptiously, with her gaze lowered.
'A kiss at least. What's a kiss?' She could at least give them a kiss as a token of friendship. After all; it was getting dark and there was no oneto see.
She warded them off, lifting her elbows.
'God, what a sight for sore eyes!' Pigna avidly feasted his gaze on her from beneath her raised arm. Then she squared up to him, threatening to bash his face with her basket.
'Go ahead! Hit me as much as you like. It'll be a pleasure, coming from you.’
'Let me go or I'll call for help.'
'You can shout your head off,' he stammered out, his face flushed, 'no one will hear you.' The other two wet themselves laughing.
Finally, as they were closing in on her, the girl, half serious, halflaughing, began to strike out at random, hitting whichever of them she could. Then, hitching up her skirt, she took to her heels.
'Ah! you want to play it rough!' shouted Pigna, running after her,panting. 'You want to play it rough!'
And breathing heavily, he caught up with her, clamping a big heavy paw over her mouth. Then they tore at each other's hair, both of them lashing out in all directions, the girl frantically biting and scratching and
Carlo found himself trapped in the middle when he tried to separate them.Ambrogio grabbed her by the legs so that she didn't cripple anyone.Eventually, Pigna, pale and panting, got her down on the ground, with his
knee on her chest. Then, all three of them, on touching that warm flesh,seemed suddenly to be overcome with raving madness, crazed with lust... Godsave and preserve us!
She got to her feet like a wild animal, without a word, pulling togetherher torn dress and picking up her basket. The others exchanged glances,with a strange snigger. As she was about to walk off, Carlo stood in her
way with a scowl on his face.
'You won't say anything?'
'No, I won't say anything,' the girl promised in an expressionless voice.
Whereupon Pigna caught hold of her skirt. She began to scream.
'Stop it, I tell you.'
Carlo grabbed her by the throat. 'You want to ruin us all, damn you!'
She was no longer able to scream, held in that tight grip, but she still threatened them with those staring eyes in which they saw the police and the gallows. She turned blue, with her tongue hanging out, a huge, black
tongue that could not fit in her mouth any more; and all three of them were frightened out of their wits by the sight of it. Carlo squeezed her throat tighter and tighter as the woman's arms slackened, and she went limp, her
head falling back on the stones, with the whites of her eyes showing. One by one, they let go of her, terrified.
She lay still, stretched out on her back, on the edge of the path, face up with white staring eyes. Ambrogio had not stirred. Grimly, without a word, Pigna clutched him by the shoulder, and Carlino stammered, 'All three
of us, mind! All three of us did it! O Mother of God!'
Darkness had fallen. How much time had passed? That thing could still be seen lying on the ground, black and motionless on the pale path.
Fortunately, no one came this way. Beyond the patch of corn was a long row of mulberry trees. A dog began to bark in the distance. And the three friends thought they were dreaming when they heard the whistle of the tram they had been on their way to catch half an hour earlier - it seemed like a hundred years ago.
Pigna said they should dig a deep hole to hide what had happened, and he forced Ambrogio to drag the dead girl into the field, since the three of them were in this together. The body was as heavy as lead. Then it would
not fit into the hole. Carlino cut off the head with a hunting knife that Pigna happened to have with him. After they had filled in the hole and stamped down the earth, they felt calmer, and set off down the lane.Ambrogio kept a mistrustful eye on Pigna, who had the knife in his pocket.
They were dying of thirst, but made a big detour to avoid a country inn that came into view as dawn broke. A cock crowing in the coolness of the early morning made them jump. They proceeded warily, without saying
anything, but they were loathe to part, almost as if they were chained together.
The police arrested them one by one a few days later: Ambrogio, in a brothel, where he was holed up from morning till night; Carlo, near Bergamo, where his vagrancy attracted attention; and Pigna at the factory, right there in the midst of the workers coming and going, and the machine roaring away. But at the sight of the police he turned pale and all of a sudden his tongue felt knotted. At the trial, in the dock, they looked daggers at each other and called each other traitor. But later in prison when they remembered how they had got into this mess, they thought it would
drive them mad, seeing how one thing leads to another, and how you could start out just having a bit of fun and end up with blood on your hands.
No. of pages: 340
Publication date: 12.02.2003
Re-print date: 01.01.2016
978 1 903517 09 3
978 1 909232 82 2
World English Rights in this translation