The feeling of suspicion and almost of opposition, negative rather than active, was still so strong we went out again and on to the bridge. Luigi, in a dilemma, talked mutteringly to his black-bearded young friend with the bright eyes: all the men seemed to have queer, bright black eyes, with a glint on them such as a mouse’s eyes have.
At last I asked him, flatly: ‘Who are all those men?’ He muttered that they were the workmen and navvies. I was puzzled to know what workmen and navvies, in this loneliness. Then he explained they were working on the irrigation works, and had come in to the dispensa for their wages and to buy things–it was Saturday afternoon–but that the overseer, who kept the dispensa, and who sold wine and necessaries to the workmen, hadn’t come yet to open the place, so we couldn’t get anything.
At least, Luigi didn’t explain all this. But when he said these were the workmen from the irrigation diggings, I understood it all.
By this time, we and our desire for candles had become a feature in the landscape. I said to Luigi, why didn’t he ask the peasants. He said they hadn’t any. Fortunately at that moment an unwashed woman appeared at an upper window in the black wall. I asked her if she couldn’t sell us a candle. She retired to think about it–then came back to say, surlily, it would be sixty centimes. I threw her a lira, and she dropped a candle. So!
Then the black-bearded young fellow glintingly said we should want more than one candle. So I asked the woman for another, and threw her fifty centimes–as she was contemplating giving me the change for the lira. She dropped another candle.
B. and I moved towards the carretto, with Luigi. But I could see he was still unhappy. ‘Do you know where the tombs are?’ I asked him. Again he waved vaguely: ‘Over there’ But he was unhappy. ‘Would it be better to take one of those men for a guide?’ I said to him. And I got the inevitable answer: ‘It is as you think.’ ‘If you don’t know the tombs well,’ I said to him, ‘then find a man to come with us.’ He still hesitated, with that dumb uncertainty of these people. ‘Find a man anyhow,’ I said, and off he went, feebly.
He came back in relief with the peasant, a short but strong maremmano of about forty, unshaven but not unclean. His name was Marco, and he had put on his best jacket to accompany us. He was quiet and determined-seeming–a brownish blond, not one of the queer black natives with the queer round soft contours. His boy of about thirteen came with him, and they two climbed on to the back of the carretto.
Marco gave directions, and we bowled down the trail, then away over a slight track, on to the heathy strong moorland. After us came a little black-eyed fellow on a bicycle. We passed on the left a small encampment of temporary huts made of’ planks, with women coming out to look. By the trail were huge sacks of charcoal, and the black charcoal-burners, just down from the mountains, for the week-end, stood aside to look at us. The asses and mules stood drooping.Share It