A Vendetta – Intermediate Level
The widow of Paolo Saverini lived alone with her son in a poor little house in the outer part of Bonifacio. The town is built on a small area of flat land on a mountain, parts of it hanging over the sea. It looks across a narrow passage of water towards the southern tip of the island of Sardinia.
Under it, on the other side and almost circling it, is a break in the cliff like a large corridor which serves as a harbor. The little Italian and Sardinian fishing boats sail through it, going this way and that between towering cliffs, as far as the first houses. And every two weeks, a noisy old supply boat makes the trip to Ajaccio.
On the white mountain the houses, massed together, make an even whiter spot. They look like the nests of wild birds, clinging to the mountain. They look over this terrible passage where few ships are brave enough to sail. The coast on the other side does not look friendly. There are few trees because of the wind, which blows endlessly. It drives through the narrow passage and lays waste to both sides. The tips of countless black rocks rise up out of the water. The areas of white water where the sea beats against them look like bits of cloth floating on top of the sea.
The house of widow Saverini, clinging to the very edge of the cliff, looks out, through its three windows, over this wild and depressing picture.
She lived there alone, with her son Antoine and their dog “Semillante,” a big, thin sheep-dog, with a long rough coat. The young man took her with him when out hunting.
One night, after some kind of argument, Antoine Saverini was stabbed by Nicolas Ravolati, who escaped the same evening to Sardinia.
When the old mother received the body of her child, which the neighbors had brought back to her, she did not cry. She stood there for a long time motionless, watching him. Then, stretching her wrinkled hand over the body, she promised him a vendetta. She did not wish anybody near her, and she shut herself up beside the body. The dog howled continuously. She stood at the foot of the bed, her head stretched towards her master and her tail between her legs. She did not move any more than did the mother, who, now leaning over the body with an empty look on her face, was crying silently and watching it.
The young man, lying on his back, dressed in his jacket of rough cloth, torn at the chest, seemed to be asleep. But he had blood all over him; on his shirt, which had been torn off in order to try to stop the bleeding; on his trousers, on his face, on his hands. Some of the blood had hardened in his beard and in his hair.
His old mother began to talk to him. At the sound of this voice the dog became quiet.
“Never fear, my boy, my little baby, you shall have revenge. Sleep, sleep; you shall have revenge. Do you hear? It’s your mother’s promise! And she always keeps her word, your mother does, you know she does.”
Slowly she leaned over him, pressing her cold lips to his dead ones.
Then Semillante began to howl again with a long, loud, continuous, horrible howl that hurt the ears.
The two of them, the woman and the dog, remained there until morning.
Antoine Saverini was buried the next day and soon his name stopped being mentioned in Bonifacio.
He had neither brothers nor cousins. No man was there to carry on the vendetta. His mother, the old woman, alone could not stop thinking about it.
On the other side of the passage she saw, from morning until night, a little white spot on the coast. It was the small Sardinian village of Longosardo. Corsican criminals often went there to hide when they are too closely followed by police. They make up almost all the population of the village, waiting for the time to return and go back to the their life of crime. She knew that Nicolas Ravolati was hiding in this village.
All alone, all day long, seated at her window, she was looking over there and thinking of revenge. How could she do anything without help – she, a weak old woman so near death? But she had promised on the body. She could not forget, she could not wait. What could she do? She no longer slept at night. She had neither rest nor peace of mind; she could not stop thinking about it. The dog, sleeping lightly at her feet, would sometimes lift her head and howl. Since her master’s death she often howled like this. It was as though she were calling him. As though deep in her animal heart, sadder than anyone could believe, she remembered something that nothing could wipe out.
One night, as Semillante began to howl, the mother suddenly got hold of an idea, a terrible, fierce, savage idea. She thought it over until morning. She got out of bed as soon as the sun came up and went to church. She prayed, laying full length face down on the floor, begging God to help her, to support her. She asked Him to give her poor, weak body the strength which she needed in order to do what she had promised for her son.
She returned home. In her yard she had an old barrel, which was used to collect rain water from her roof. She turned it over, emptied it, and made it fast to the ground with sticks and stones. Then she chained Semillante to it and went into the house. For the time being the barrel was to be Semillante’s home.
The old woman walked continuously now, her eyes always fixed on the distant coast of Sardinia. He was over there, the murderer.
All day and all night the dog howled. In the morning the old woman brought her some water in a bowl, but nothing more; no soup, no bread.
Another day went by. Semillante, tired, was sleeping. The following day her eyes were shining, her hair on end and she was pulling wildly at her chain.
All this day the old woman gave her nothing to eat. The dog, wild with anger, was barking madly. Another night went by.
Then, the next morning, Mother Saverini asked a neighbor for some straw. She took the old clothes which had once been worn by her husband and stuffed them so as to make them look like a human body.
Having planted a stick in the ground, in front of Semillante, she tied this straw man to it. This made it look as if the figure was standing up. Then she made a head out of some old pieces of cloth.
The dog, surprised, was watching the straw man, and was quiet, although mad with hunger. Then the old woman went to the store and bought a piece of black sausage. When she got home she started a fire in the yard, near the straw man, and cooked the sausage. Semillante, wildly excited, was jumping about, watering at the mouth, her eyes fixed on the food, the smell of which went right to her stomach.
Then the mother tied the smoking sausage very tight around the straw man’s neck with string. When she had finished, she untied the dog.
With one jump the dog was at the straw man’s throat, and with her paws on its shoulders she began to tear at it. She would fall back with a piece of food in her mouth, then would jump again, sinking her long, sharp teeth into the string. Quickly taking a few pieces of meat, she would fall back again and once more spring forward. She was tearing up the face with her teeth and the whole neck was in pieces.
The old woman, motionless and silent, was watching with great interest. Then she chained the dog up again, gave her no food for two more days and began this strange performance again.
For three months she trained her in this battle, in this meal won by a fight. She no longer chained her up, but just pointed to the straw man.
She had taught her to tear him up and to eat him without even leaving any sign of it in her throat.
Then, as a reward, she would give her a piece of sausage.
As soon as she saw the straw man, Semillante would begin to shake with excitement. Then she would look up at the old woman, who, lifting her finger, would cry, “Go!” in a sharp voice.
When she thought that the proper time had come, the widow went to church and took part in the service with great feeling and emotion. When she got home, she put on men’s clothes to look like an old homeless person. She then paid a Sardinian fisherman to carry her and her dog to the other side of the passage.
In a bag she had a large piece of sausage. Semillante had had nothing to eat for two days. The old woman kept letting her smell the food to make her hungry.
They got to Longosardo. The Corsican woman walked with difficulty. She went to a baker’s shop and asked for Nicolas Ravolati. He had taken up his old trade, that of furniture maker. He was working alone at the back of his store.
The old woman opened the door and called:
He turned around. Then freeing her dog, she cried out, “Go, go! Eat him up! eat him up!”
The maddened animal sprang for his throat. The man stretched out his arms, held the dog tightly and rolled to the ground. For a few seconds he moved about, beating the ground with his feet. Then he stopped moving, while Semillante dug her teeth into his throat and tore it to pieces. Two neighbors, seated before their door, remembered perfectly having seen an old beggar come out. He had a thin, black dog which was eating something that its master was giving it.
The old woman was at home again before it got dark. She slept well that night.