La Lupa by Giovanni Verga:
She was tall, and thin; but she had the firm vigorous bosom of a brown woman, though she was no longer young. Her face was pale, as though she had the malaria always on her, and in her pallor two great dark eyes, and fresh, red lips, that seemed to eat you.
In the village they called her la Lupa, because she had never had enough—of anything. The women crossed themselves when they saw her go by, alone like a roving sh-dog, with that ranging, suspicious motion of a hungry wolf. She bled their sons and their husbands dry in a twinkling, with those red lips of hers, and she had merely to look at them with her great evil eyes, to have them running after her skirts, even if they’d been kneeling at the alter of Saint Agrippina. Fortunately, la Lupa never entered the church, neither at Easter nor at Christmas, nor to hear Mass, nor to confess.—Fra Angiolino, of Santa Maria di Jesu, who had been a true servant of God, had lost his soul because of her.
Maricchia, poor thing, was a good girl and a nice girl, and she wept in secret because she was la Lupa’s daughter, and nobody would take her in marriage, although she had her marriage-chest full of linen and her piece of fertile land in the sun, as good as any other girl in the village.
Then one day la Lupa fell in love with a handsome lad who’d just come back from serving as a soldier, and was cutting the hay alongside her in the closes belonging to the lawyer: but really what you’d call folling in love, feeling your body burn under your stuff bodice, and suffering, when you stared into his eyes, the thirst that you suffer in the hot hours of June, away in the burning plains. But he went on mowing quietly, with his nose bent over his swath, and he said to her: “Why, what’s wrong with you, Mrs. Pina?”—In the immense fields, where only the grasshoppers crackled into flight, when the sun beat down like lead, la Lupa gathered armful after armful together, tied sheaf after sheaf, without ever wearying, without straightening her back for a moment, without putting her lips to the flask, so that she could keep at Nanni’s heels, as he mowed and mowed, and asked her from time to time: “Why, what do you want, Mrs. Pina?”
One evening she told him, while the men were dozing in the stackyard, tired from the long day, and the dogs were howling away in the vast, dark, open country: “You! I want you! Thou’rt handsome as the day, and sweet as honey to me. I want thee, lad!”
“Ah! I’d rather have your daughter, who’s a filly,” replied Nanni, laughing.
la Lupa clutched her hands in her hair, and tore her temples, without saying a word, and went away, and was seen no more in the yard. But in October she saw Nanni again, when they were getting the oil out of the olives, because he worked next to her house, and the screeching of the oil press didn’t let her sleep at night.
“Take the sack of olives,” she said to her daughter, “and come with me.”
Nanni was throwing the olives under the millstone with the shovel, in the dark chamber like a cave, where the olives were ground and pressed, and he kept shouting Ohee! To the mule, so it shouldn’t stop.
“Do you want my daughter Maricchia?” Mrs. Pina asked him.
“What are you giving your daughter Maricchia?” replied Nanni.
“She has what her father left, and I’ll give her my house into the bargain; it’s enough for me if you’ll leave me a corner in the kitchen, where I can spread myself on a bit of a straw mattress to sleep on.”
“All right! If it’s like that, we can talk about it at Christmas,” said Nanni.
Nanni was all greasy and grimy with the oil and the olives set to ferment, and Maricchia didn’t want him at any price; but her mother seized her by the hair, at home in front of the fireplace, and said to her between her teeth:
“If thou doesn’t take him, I’ll lay thee out!”
La Lupa was almost ill, and the folks were saying that the devil turns hermit when he gets old. She no longer went roving around; she no longer sat in the doorway, with those eyes of one possessed. Her son-in-law, when she fixed on him those eyes of hers, would start laughing, and draw out from his breast the bit of Madonna’s dress, to cross himself. Maricchia stayed at home nursing the children, and her mother went to the fields, to work with the men, just like a man, weeding, hoeing, tending the cattle, pruning the vines, whether in the north-east wind or the east winds of January, or in the hot, stifling African wind of August, when the mules let their heads hang in dead weight, and the men slept face downwards under the wall, on the north side. Between vesper bell and the night-bell’s sound, when no good woman goes roving round, Mrs. Pina was the only soul to be seen wandering through the countryside, on the ever-burning stones of the little roads, through the parched stubble of the immense fields, which lost themselves in the sultry haze of the distance, far off, far off, towards misty Etna, where the sky weighed down upon the horizon, in the afternoon heat.
“Wake up!” said la Lupa to Nanni, who was asleep in the ditch, under the dusty hedge, with his arms round his head. “Wake up! I’ve brought thee some wine to cool thy throat.”
Nanni opened his eyes wide like a disturbed child, half-awake, seeing her erect above him, pale, with her arrogant bosom, and her eyes black as coals, and he stretched out his hand gropingly, to keep her off.
“No! No good woman goes roving round between vespers and night,” sobbed Nanni, pressing his face down again in the dry grass of the ditch-bottom, away from her, clutching his hair with his hands. “Go away! Go away! Don’t you come into the stackyard again!”
She did indeed go away, la Lupa, but fastening up again the coils of her superb black hair, staring straight in front of her, as she stepped over the hot stubble, with eyes black as coals.
And she came back into the stackyard time and again, and Nanni no longer said anything; and when she was late coming, in the hour between between evensong and night, he went to the top of the white, deserted little road to look for her, with sweat on his forehead;--and afterwards, he clutched his hair in his hand, and repeated the same thing every time: “Go away! Go away! Don’t you come into the stackyard again!”
Maricchia wept night and day; and she glared at her mother with eyes that burnedwith tears and jealousy; like a young she-wolf herself now, when she saw her coming in from the fields every time silent and pallid.
“Vile woman!” she said to her. “Vile, vile mother!”
“Thief! Thief that you are!”
“I’ll go to the Sergeant, I will.”
And she did go, finally, with her child in her arms, went fearless and without shedding a tear, like a madwoman, because now she also was in love with that husband of hers, whom they’d forced her to accept, greasy and grimy from the olives set to ferment.
The Sergeant went for Nanni, and threatened him with gaol and the gallows. Nanni began to sob and to tear his hair; he denied nothing, he didn’t try to excuse himself.—“It’s the temptation,” he said “It’s the temptation of hell!” and he threw himself at the feet of the Sergeant, begging to be sent to gaol.
“For pity’s sake, Sergeant, get me out of this hell! Have me hung, or send me to prison; but don’t let me see her again, never, never!”
“No!” replied la Lupa to the Sergeant. “I kept myself a corner in the kitchen, to sleep in, when I gave her my house for her dowry. The house is mind. I won’t be turned out.”
A little while later, Nanni got a kick in the chest from a mule, and was likely to die; but the parish priest wouldn’t bring the Host to him, unless la Lupa left the house. La Lupa departed, and then her son-in-law could prepare himself to depart also, like a good Christian; he confessed and took the communion with such evident signs of repentance and contrition that all the neighbours and the busybodies wept round the bed of the dying man.
And better for him if he had died that time, before the devil came back to tempt him and get a grip on his body and his soul, when he was well.
“Leave me alone!” he said to la Lupa. “For God’s sake leave me in peace! I’ve been face to face with death. Poor Maricchia is only driven wild. Now all the place knows about it. If I never see you again it’s better for you and for me.”
And he would have liked to tear his eyes out so as not to see again those eyes of la Lupa, which, when they fixed themselves upon his, made him lose both body and soul. He didn’t know what to do, to get free from the spell she put on him. He paid for Masses for the souls in Purgatory, and he went for help to the priest and to the Sergeant. At Easter he went to confession, and he publicly performed the penance of crawling on his belly and licking the stones of the sacred threshold before the church for a length of six feet.
After that, when la Lupa came back to tempt him:
“Hark here!” he said. “Don’t you come again into the stackyard; because if you keep on coming after me, as sure as God’s above I’ll kill you.”
“Kill me, then” replied la Lupa. “It doesn’t matter to me; I’m not going to live without thee.”
He, when he perceived her in the distance, amid the fields of green young wheat, he left off hoeing the vines, and went to take the axe from the elm-tree. La Lupa saw him advancing towards her, pale and wild-eyed, with the axe glittering in the sun, but she did not hesitate in her step, nor lower her eyes, but kept on her way to meet him, with her hands full of red poppies, and consuming him with her black eyes.
“Ah! Curse your soul!” stammered Nanni.
- Translated by D. H. Lawrence