Without a word, and almost breathless, they stopped at a villa whose front was badly damaged and discoloured by dampness. It had a false window and green shutters, and several patches of mortar on its walls stood out like large white splashes thrown on haphazard.
A lame postman passed them, his pipe downturned in his mouth and his dilapidated bag slung across his shoulders. In his hand he held a handkerchief full of snails.
Chiarina and Lola grinned. Farther down they met two priests : one small and thick-set, the other tall and dry as an olive stone. The two girls laughed.
They went farther, and arrived at another house, which was buttressed up with brick reinforcements reaching to the roof. Its whole facade was yellow with lichen.
Here the walls on either side of the road were crooked and bent, swollen and cracked, as if they were always on the point of collapsing.
Chiarina and Lola started to hum, but their voices were untrained and they could not keep time, so they found themselves continually breaking off and beginning afresh. Their thoughts were fixed on nothing particular, and their aunt presently interrupted them :
– Don’t walk too far ; you’ll get so hot.
– Shan’t we go as far as the Cappella ?
-It’s too far, and besides it is all up-hill coming back.
– Never mind that. Don’t worry. We’ll carry you.
Modesta was absent-minded. Her thoughts wandered back to yesterday’s encounter with her husband and brothers-in-law. It had been a mistake on her part which might easily have ended in a quarrel. And although she still felt sorry for it and regretted the whole incident, she felt at the same time much calmer and more assured. So, for once, her instinct had deceived her.
The two girls insisted on prolonging the walk ; they had a great secret to impart to their aunt, and they wished to gain time and prepare the way for the disclosure. Of course it was clearly Chiarina’s duty to speak, as the secret concerned her ; but they had not yet made up their minds about it. It would be so much better if they both spoke ; they would help each other and be the braver for it.
– You tell her, – Chiarina begged Lola. – I’d much rather. I should feel I was being too daring if I told her myself, just for the very reason that it’s about me specially.
– Well, suppose I was going to get engaged, what would you do ?
– You know ; I would tell her. I shall cry about it all presently.
– Then wait till we’re back home.
– We’ll wait so long that in the end we’ll never tell her. Look at those lovely ripe blackberries !
– We’d have to jump right over to get them.
– It’s dangerous, we’d better not.
They had arrived at the end of the Strada del Mandorlo, and were at the Cappella. Opposite them, over a large hedge of brambles, were twenty cypresses, all of unequal height. The Cappella looks like a hut, with two small stone steps leading to the door and a rusty old iron grating across the tiny window. Two statuettes, or rather two puppets of worn-out stone, one of San Bernardino and the other of Santa Caterina, were balanced on the edge of the crumbling tiles.
– Do they ever say Mass here, I wonder.
– Why, there would only be room for the priest.
– Of course. I’m sure that they stand outside to listen to Mass, where we’re standing now.
Farther down, between two cypresses, where another road joined this one, stood a wooden cross with a painted cock on the top. Two peasant women sitting at the foot of the cross were sharing an apronful of grapes.
When Chiarina and Lola were younger they used always to stop here and say an Ave Maria or two. Even now they felt embarrassed, standing there ; embarrassed and confused, almost lost, as if the cross were sternly forbidding them to remain there alone without their aunt.
– Wouldn’t it be better if you didn’t think of becoming engaged yet ?
Chiarina turned her back on the cross and moved away a few steps.
– Why do you mention it here, of all places ?
– Is it a sin to talk of it here ?
– I think so.
– Let’s go away, then, at once.
But Chiarina hesitated between fear of the cross and her own wish to speak.
– Perhaps auntie would like to rest here a little, – she said.
– Then for goodness’ sake don’t make such a fuss of it all. If auntie stops here to rest, I’ll tell her about it straightaway. It’s to-day or never.
– Yes ; but I warn you if she doesn’t like it, and gets angry, the fault will be yours.
– All right. I’ll take the blame.
Modesta arrived, rather out of breath. Lola took her arm and announced :
– Auntie, Chiarina has something to tell you.
– And must you speak for her ?
– She can’t tell it you by herself.
– When will you stop being so foolish ? As if you were not already fifteen years old and Chiarina seventeen.
( Federigo Tozzi, Three crosses – 1920 )