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Stedman and Hutchinson, comps. A Library of American Literature:
An Anthology in Eleven Volumes. 1891.
Vols. IX–XI: Literature of the Republic, Part IV., 1861–1889

The Return of Ulysses

By Elisabeth Cavazza

[From “A Calabrian Penelope.”—The New Princeton Review. 1888.]

IT was no less than twelve years after the time that Compare Andrea went to America that a stranger entered on foot the one long street of the village. This man was poorly clothed, a little bent, and walked leaning slightly upon a stick. His conical hat with a wide brim was lowered upon his forehead, and he appeared at the same time weary and in haste. He came to the piazzetta, where the women were filling their jars at the fountain, and asked for water to drink. While he was drinking, he looked anxiously at one and another of the women. It seemed as though he wished to ask some question; but in the end he decided not to do so, and contented himself with merely thanking the woman who had offered him her jar. Then he went on his way until he reached the house of Comare Pina. Here he came to a halt before the door. He passed his hand more than once across his brow; for it seemed to him, as to a drowning person, that he saw crowding before his sight all that had happened during so many years. What was it in the odor of the rosemary and the thyme that almost made the tears come to his eyes? Was such a thing ever heard of! Su animo! At least, he was again in his own country.

The old dog, which had been the faithful companion of Compare Andrea, lay stretched across the door-stone asleep, rousing himself now and then to snap at the flies that teased him. He heard the step of the stranger, lifted his head, and listened a moment. Then he arose, growled, was silent for an instant, licked the hand of the stranger, and finished with barking joyously.

Comare Pina left the loom, and came to the door to see what ailed Turco that he should bark so loudly. The stranger stretched out his hands to her.

“It is I, Pina mia,” he said. “I am come back.”

Pina stood motionless, as if she doubted what was said to her. The dog pulled at her skirt. The little daughters came from the field behind the house, and stood staring with great eyes at the stranger. In a few moments there assembled some comari of the neighborhood, who had watched the traveller on the road.

“Pina, Pina, I am Andrea,” he said. “Will you not recognize me?”

“Look, Pina,” interposed Comare Barbara, who always thrust herself into the affairs of others. “Do you not see that it is truly Compare Andrea? He is badly dressed, it is true, so that he appears like a beggar; but that does not prevent one from recognizing the large nose that his mama made him.”

“Are you not glad to see me again?” urged Andrea.

“It is so long, so long!” murmured Pina to herself. “Who can say if it be really Andrea? I do not know—and I am Andrea’s wife.”

“Say, Pina, is not this your man?” asked one of the neighbors.

“What do I know about it?” responded Pina, mournfully.

At this moment her son came down from the forest. Over his shoulder hung some rabbits which he had shot; and his father’s large gun, almost too heavy for a youth, was in his hands.

“Who is this that comes to disturb my mama?” he asked, and when he looked angry he was all his father.

“I am your papa,” Andrea answered him.

“Is my papa come back again?” said the boy. “We have waited so long, mama, and the little sisters, and I.”

Comare Pina snatched the gun from her son’s hands. “If you truly are my Andrea,” she said, “you can shoot, and so prove it to me.”

Andrea’s eyes gleamed under the rim of his hat. He held out his hands a little tremulously. “I may have lost my skill,” he observed. “I am out of practice.”

Nevertheless he took the gun from her hands.

“It may be so,” cried Pina, “but you have to shoot.”

“Pina, Pina!” entreated the other women, frightened without knowing why.

She drew off her wedding-ring by main force. Andrea, looking on confusedly, saw that her fingers were grown much thinner during the twelve years of his absence. She ran many paces across the road, and, raising her left hand to her head, she held, between thumb and forefinger, the sacramental ring near her throbbing temple.

“Shoot!” she commanded.

“Heavens, no, Pina! For pity’s sake!” begged Andrea. “Tell me, rather, to shoot myself.”

“Shoot!” repeated his wife.

“Oh! Will you not believe me—I am, I am your Andrea, your husband. I will prove it to you in so many ways, only give me a little time,” he prayed her.

“If you are my Andrea,” answered Pina, “you can send the bullet through the ring that you gave me. If you are not he—draw the trigger and burn my brain, for I have waited and hoped too long to be disappointed at last. Shoot!”

All the comari screamed and hid their faces from fear; the little girls ran into the house and crouched under the bed, not to see what was being done. The boy flung himself across the door-stone, burying his face in the hair of the dog.

Andrea glanced at Pina. She did not look at him. Her wide-open eyes were turned toward the sky and seemed blinded by the rays of the sunset. Andrea threw down his hat, straightened himself, raised the gun to his shoulder, took aim, and fired.

Comare Barbara was the only one who could look at such a horror; it is true that the neighbors said of her that she would have watched the torment of the souls in purgatory, in order to be able to tell the story of it afterward, she was such a chatterbox. In relating this story, she never failed to say it was a pleasure to see the bullet pass straight through the ring, as if it had been the finger of a bride; and Pina’s hand that held the ring never moved, though the wind of the bullet ruffled her hair.

And then poor Pina ran, all in tears, fell at her husband’s feet, and, clasping his knees, prayed him to put the ring again on her finger, as if they were standing before the priest. He lifted her from the ground, and, with his arm around her, led her into the house.

It was true, the neighbors agreed, that Compare Andrea had brought back little from America; and he said it was like the rest of the world, money was not as the stones of the road, even there. But with what little he had saved from his earnings he was able to buy back his land, and some more with it. He spent much of his time also at the shop of Maso the blacksmith, trying to construct a plow that should be different from those which had satisfied the good souls of his father and grandfather; and in other ways it appeared to the neighbors that his head was no longer up to the mark. It might have been the effect of the yellow fever—who knows?—that gave him the whim of inventing these things. The fact is, too much thinking spoils the brain!

But it was also true that, because of the extraordinary plow or for some other reason, the land of Compare Andrea bore twice as much as the fields of his neighbors; and he had good fortune with his cattle, sheep, and poultry. It became necessary for him, besides himself and his son, to hire men for the herds and the land. The truth is, riches are like ducks; they run to those who know how to call them.

And it was really a consolation to see Comare Pina so contented at the side of her husband that she would not have wished to be the clothes of the queen. The only anxiety which remained to her was lest Andrea should some time desire to cross the ocean again, to revisit America, and seek fortune in the Republica Argentina. Meanwhile, her twelve years of lonely weaving and waiting were ended.