From Tales from the Italian and Spanish, Vol. III, Stories of Humor and Adventure, The Review of Reviews Co.; New York; 1920; pp. 323-328.323
THOSE two rival families repeated on a small scale the discords of the Montagues and Capulets; only, with due regard to the civilization of the times, instead of spilling blood, they spilled money. Instead of dead relatives, there had been many lawsuits, long and entangled; they went to law for spite, for resentment, for anger; they kept at law with that obstinate delight in litigation which is one of the joys of provincial life. As usual, it was a question of trifles — a stream of water that had taken a wrong diversion; an unruly goat that had leaped from the field of one into the field of the other; some obscure and stupid potatoes which, spreading themselves underground, had disregarded the boundaries. Upon this showered legal documents; the lawyers toiled to write in that style of theirs, the last relic of barbarous invasions; judgments were multiplied; lawsuits grew complicated. The two advocates rubbed their hands for joy, and, from the aspect of things, were sure of transmitting, as a valuable inheritance, those quarrels to their sons.
How the enmity between the Pasquali and the Dericca families had been caused could not be clearly learned; affirmations varied on one and the other side. But it was a 324 deep and declared enmity. Being neighbors in town and in the country, they frequently met looking askance at each other; the women heard mass in two different churches; if the Dericca girls wore blue gowns, the Pasquali girls at once put on pink ones; in the municipal council the Pasquali were always conservative, and the Dericca, naturally, radical; that which one did. the other would not have done for a thousand scudi; where one went, the other did not appear. And then came gossip, evil-speaking complaints, eagerness for scandal, malignity; in short, all the outfit of pleasing things which take [lace in provincial towns between two rival families. On top of all this, Carlo, the eldest on of the Pasquali, and Maria, the second daughter of the Dericca, thought it best to fall in love with each other.
Love in a small town has not much variety. Usually it begins in childhood, continues amid games of blindman’s buff, is apt to manifest itself in social dancing parties and round games, and is always ratified by the parish priest and the mayor. These loves are recognized, superintended, established, registered in the household comings and goings; protected by grumbling grandfathers and by priestly uncles; loves without nerves, without tears, without tendernesses and fancies; something extremely calm and slow, the crystallization of love.
But Carlo Pasquali had had the incomparable fortune to pass, once, a fortnight at Naples, which made him look with scorn upon provincial customs; and Maria Dericca, at night, by feeble lamp, had wept over the hapless heroines of Mastriani, and had envied them in their fantastic passions: therefore for these two was required an exceptional love. First it was a furtive glance; a softly murmured word, yet heard with singular receptivity by her who should hear it; a carnation-pink fallen from a balcony by reason of the wind, of course; a sudden pallor of his, a sudden blush of hers; then, by the armed intervention of a rogue of a fifteen-year-old girl who came with a flatiron to smooth Maria’s linen and the course of true love 324 at the same time — a note, and a brief reply; a little letter, a long letter, and finally those voluminous epistles of eight or ten sheets of note-paper which mark the highest point of the folly of love.
Alas! The joy of the young people was brief, and sorrow rapidly arrived to destroy it. They were seen, spied, the news reached their respective papas, and all the thunderbolts of paternal wrath, embittered by eleven lawsuits, fell upon the heads of the poor lovers. The balcony windows were closed, the bolts were fastened on the terrace door, the carnation-pinks on the bush were counted, walks were forbidden or at least made without previous notice, the hour of going to mass varied each Sunday — but those two continued to love each other. Rebuffs, exhortations, prohibitions, difficulties, availed only to inflame their love.
At night, in the winter, Maria arose, dressed herself, wrapped herself in a shawl, and in slippers, with bated breath, trembling for fear, descended the stairs to a window of the first floor; the young friend was on the street, leaning against the wall. So they talked for two or three hours, without caring for the cold, the rains, or the loss of sleep; they talked without seeing each other, from a distance of five meters of altitude, becoming silent at every sound of a passer, then cautiously resuming their discourse, with the continual fear that Maria’s parents might arouse and fine her in that aërial colloquy. But what did it all matter to them? They had, within their hearts, sunshine, light spring-time, courage, enthusiasm; if the king had come they would not have moved. Instead, the brother of Maria, one night when he could not sleep, arose from his bed and found the door ajar, went down the stairs, heard a murmur, and caught his sister in the act; he unceremoniously barred the shutters in the face of Carlo, gave Maria a resounding box on the ear, and brought her to her room. Next morning the small window on the first floor was walled up.
O all ye faithful lovers, who grieve amid the pains of thwarted love, imagine the despair of those tow! Their 326 letters were no longer legible, for tears blotted the words; rows of exclamation points, which looked like Prussian soldiers under arms, followed the daily imprecations against fortune, destiny, fate, and other impersonal beings incapable of resenting them; a thousand fantastic plans were created, discussed, and then rejected. Carlo would have liked to elope with Maria, but his father allowed him no money, and it would have been difficult to put together the nine lire and fifty centesimi for two tickets for the journey to Naples; they thought for a moment of suicide, but found that it would not solve the difficulty. Then, in the long run, their love became systematic, the imprecations were always the same, and they could not go to their beds without having “poured forth upon the faithful paper the fullness of their grief.”
In the town nothing was talked of but their unshakable love and their torments; they were the objects of general interest; if a Neapolitan arrived, the townsfolk took him to see the ruins of the amphitheater and relate the case of Carlo and Maria. Therefore the young people, flattered in their amour propre, assumed the behavior fitting to the circumstances: Maria was always pale, with a melancholy air, never smiling, always talking to her girl friends about her joyless days, refusing to amuse herself, content to resemble in all respects one of Mastriani’s heroines. Carlo took lonely walks, was always deeply depressed; at balls he never moved out of a corner, content that they murmured around him: “Poor young man; that unfortunate love affair saddens his life!” In society, at small festivities, in visits, with the unwearying monotony of the province, the discourse always returned upon the subject of the two lovers. Carlo and Maria bore with dignity the burden of their popularity.
Finally, after I don’t know how many years — four or five, it seems to me — of this continual struggle, of daily weeping, of long, long love maintained alive by dissensions, the aspect of things changed. There was a worthy person — there still are such — who with many effects of eloquence 327 persuaded the parents that by the lawsuits they were losing property and much of it — as witness the two advocates who had grown rich at the expense of their clients; that those two young people were pining and would go into a decline because of that thwarted love; the houses were side by side, and the estates contiguous; Christ forgave and they must forgive, if they wished to find forgiveness. He said so much, and so many other persons, moved by the example, interposed, that the questions came to a compromise which had, as its first chapter, the marriage of Carlo and Maria.
Here, surely, everyone will suppose that the young people were greatly consoled, and will suppose truly — but my obligations as a sincere story-teller constrain me to say that in their first free colloquy reigned a great embarrassment. They were accustomed to see each other at a distance, by stealth; to speak from a first-floor window down to the street, in the darkness, disguising or smothering their voices; they found themselves quite different, perhaps a little ridiculous; they had no subject of conversation, they were silent, hastening in their thoughts the hour when they should quit each other. Everything was free, smooth, easy for their affection: they were not obliged to think of subtleties by which to evade the vigilance of their elders: they took no more pleasure in murmuring a few words in secret; they made no more daring projects for the future. They would be married prosaically, without obstacles, like so many silly couples. The townsfolk no longer took thought of them; the wonder and the comments on the marriage once over, Carlo and Maria no longer awoke attention, were no longer talked about; their behavior was noted no more; they ceased to be pointed out as an example of fidelity. Now all eyes were fixed upon the wife of the pretor, who was accused of too great partiality for the vice-attorney — a serious piece of business.
The two lovers felt themselves forsaken; a great coolness 328 arose between them. Carlo found that the virtues of his fiancée, those virtues which shone in her letters, were dimmed by the atmosphere of home; Maria frequently thought that Carlo was rather commonplace in his tastes, and that to end with a stupid marriage after so tempestuous a love was unworthy of a reader of Mastriani. A few lively remarks passed between them in regard to illusions contradicted by the reality, about “mirage,” “optical delusions,” and similar pin-pricks; a quarrel ensued, then two, then they became a daily occurrence. One evening Maria said, with an irritated tone:
“Carlo, let us leave it off.”
“Let us,” he replied, without hesitation.
And the next day he set off on a journey for the improvement of his mind; Maria went to Naples, to the house of a cousin, to fish for a heroic husband. The families had a new falling-out; Maria’s father had an opening made for a new window which overlooked his neighbor’s courtyard; the latter, in order to annoy him, built a dove-cote, from which the doves ran about everywhere; immediately there was a summons, a second, a third, the lawsuits began, and this time, the advocates said, smiling, without hope of any compromise.