The story I’m going to tell you about must be placed, chronologically, at about 1880 e further, and it’s a true story. A kind of story that later, as years go by, vanishes from collective memories and becomes a legend, to be told during the long winter evening, while sitting beside a crackling fire, with the children very concentrated, with the lamp creating shadows, with the flame dancing and twisting around.
The theatre where the story takes place is the country in Agnone, a village in Northern Molise, on a hill beside the Verrino, a small river, impetuous and rushing, running at the end of his path, in the arms of the Trigno, and then to the Adriatic Sea.
Pasqualuccio is the manager of the mill in Pontabballe, by the river, facing South. He is a miller since he was a boy; his father, his grandfather, his great grandfather spent their life inside watermills, grinding wheat and corn, carrying sackfuls from landlords’ houses and back, with mules owned by those landlords, through steep muletracks, under summer heat or winter cold, with rainy or windy weather.
A SPECIAL DAY
In this “special day”, Pasqualuccio had to work hard. From the early morning he started working at the channel, to prevent dangerous flood, he had to start the millstone several times, many customers, and every time, at the right moment, from the top of the millstone, he had to shout: “monna, ca esse l’aldre!” (clean the tipper: something not yours is coming). So, many people in that sultry and hot day; some of them even bath themselves and taste the fresh water gliding on the tired and flushed bodies, giving freshness. Also Pasqualuccio’s doctor goes down the river with his two nephews, and the miller prepares a delicious dinner for him: river fish, “barbi”, whole wheat flour with eggs, kneaded with the clear creek water, and the, home grown vegetables. In the evening, custom agents have come, for the inspection concerning the tax on flour started on January 1st 1869.
Pasqualuccio is tired after the hard working day. At nightfall, when the river is deserted, he lights an oil lamp, eats a quick dinner, drinks a glass of wine, then, overwhelmed by sleep, leans his head on his arms and falls asleep, just there, on the table.
When he awakes, it’s almost midnight; he gets up, writes down on a notebook the day of the custom agents’ visit: July 7th 1883, and also that in the same day he has been visited by doctor Francesco Pasillo, with his nephews.
Pasqualuccio is one of the few men of his social condition who is able to read and write. Some time before, the miracle was made by a relative of him, a monk who was hosted at Pasqualuccio’s house since 1848. At that time, that man escaped from the cloister, joined Garibaldi’s army and fought during the seizure of Rome, during 1848-1849.
That man, Francesco, also called Cicchitto, escaped imprisonment and death during the war, and so repaired as a guest at Pasqualuccio’s house, in the village of Agnone – on the Maiella mountains, and gives back the favour of being hosted teaching to read and write and do sums to the whole family.
Feeling stronger after the nap, the miller decides to have a walk en plein air, to overcome stuffiness and have a breath of fresh air. The river flows slowly below the arches of the bridge, pleasantly muttering. The sky, shining with stars, wraps up the night, giving peace to men and things.
Suddendly, a strange sound is heard: almost weeping, crying, wailing. Pasqualuccio’ skin crawls: he stops, turns around, listens; then he moves cautiously among the underbush and straws: and there, on the ground, he sees a round bundle, moving and crying. The man lights up a match and with the fleeble light he sees…. O God! A red faced baby, moving furious in a basket, well covered in blankets.
The man starts sweating cold, stumbles, because of strong dizziness, he has to lean over a tree; with a quick sight, he browses courts of justice, lawyers, policemen… What should he do? Should he leave the basket there, acting as nothing happened? But…from the same area of his soul where his thought came, it comes the order to turn back; he still takes some time, screams become mad and so Pasqualuccio – in a rush – catches the basket and starts running. Where? Towards the wall of his trusty mill. As soon as he arrives, he locks the door, then he prepares a candy with sugar, and put it in the hungry mouth so the baby stops crying immediately, and starts sucking.
Pasqualuccio starts moving, almost unconsciously: he puts water on the fire, to make it warm, unwraps the blankets and sees it’s a boy; he washes him, dries with a towel, and puts him again in the basket on fresh laundry; he prepares another sugar candy, but the baby doesn’t stop crying. What should he do? He has a flashing idea, that makes him jump: yes, of course: he should go back to Agnone to his wife Custode, she lost one month ago her newborn girl and she is inconsolable. The woman’s breast is full of milk, and she goes around giving it to all the newborn babies in the surrounding. So the miller shuts the mill, and starts walking cautious through the steep slope. Suddenly, the mournful cry of an owl makes him jump. The man is not superstitious, but he is upset, and shouts: “bloody beast, be cursed!”
BACK TO THE VILLAGE
With his head full of naughty thought, but in peace with his consciousness, he arrives home. There is an absolute silence, streets are desert with some gas lamp lighting faintly the night. He knocks at the door, and immediately his wife Custode looks out the window, then – without a word – goes downstair and open the door. The husband, wavering, hands out the basket to her and says: “here you are, I brought you a present. I found it beside the river and I don’t know who left it there”.
The woman, a mother who was recently hit in her dearest feelings, catches the baby, undresses him and, without hesitation, brings him to her breast, full and pouring with milk. The little foundling sucks and sucks for half an hour and more, then – tired and satiated fells in a deep sleep.
The man sleeps a nightmare night, fighting with thousands fears, thoughts, doubts. The following day, with the sunshine, the world enlightens, everything finds its place and he is peaceful now, he knows what to do. He sends his son Alessandro, with the mill boy, to open the mill, then – peremptorily – goes for a lawyer, a friend of him, to tell him what happened. The lawyer suggests him to bring the child to the registrar: he will be able to tell what to do. So, with his wife Custode in a formal dress, the couple goes to the city hall. As the facts where displayed, everybody asked to see the baby, and they ask why and how it happened.
HOW PIERO DEL MULINO IS BORN
Pasqualuccio has now accomplished to his duty, and he would like to stay without other burdens, but the officer persuades him to bring the baby home, stressing compassion for Custode, so she will have filled the place her she-baby recently dead left empty. “It’s sign of God” the man says “He wants to give you a gift, he wants to console you for your recent missing; and furthermore, where can I find a nanny!” . The husband gives a look at his wife, a short signal of approval, and the affair is done. The adoption of little Piero Del Mulino is done, thanks to the goodwill of Pasqualuccio and his wife Custode. But it’s also a great satisfaction for the Officer, that, with that solution, is free of a heavy burden and responsibility.
ADOLESCENCE AND YOUTH OF PIERO
Piero grows up in the house as a member of the family. He is never ill, not tall, but with an extraordinary vitality: he moves around jumping, contorting, with feline leaps, such that you could think him as a circus athlete. In the relation with the brothers, he is good and willing, but in case of quarrel, he shows himself steady and determined; he never gives up and always stands up for his ideas. Only Pasqualuccio and his wife are able to make him have a more soft behaving.
As the others, he receive first education from the monks who was with Garibaldi. When he is eleven, he knows more that anybody else at that age. He has a sharp and ready intelligence, and he is able to learn everything very well. After the 4th class, that at the time was a kind a border for the following up of education, he goes as apprentice to a goldsmith. At that time, goldsmith labs were many in the village, and they were one of the main source of economy. Here, the young boy learns the secrets of that art, he works well; he begins to earn some money weekly, and he gives the whole amount to his father. He has a proud and haughty character, he always wants to stand out with friends, he refuses quarrels and blames. So he is often fights with those who do not stand his bullying; he is also one who can do bad jokes. One night, in a tavern, he has a deep pain suffering with his bladder: he writhes and shouts, and when the doctor comes, he opens secretly a bottle of beer he was hiding in his trousers. The beer, pouring high his amber liquid over the people standing around, arises hilarity and disgust. We can say he is the soul of the company!
“IT’S FIVE P.M. O’ CLOCK”
It’s a long time that Piero is watching with interest a girl of the village, Fiorina, but she seems to like effusions from Lorenzo, another boy working in the Goldsmith lab. The two young men are quite aggressive each other, they look each other at askance, they are jealous the one of the other, while the girl plays watching one and then the other with coquetry, disguised as naivety. We have to keep in mind that at the time no girl could go around alone, nor she could watch at boys with languid and sweet eyes, but she does, uncounscious of the consequences of her behaviour. Piero’s friend tells him that Lorenzo wants to talk to him, to make clear the situation with Fiorina. Aware of the aggressive and impetuous nature of Piero, Lorenzo goes to the meeting wearing a gun, not to use it against the rival, but to be ready for everything that could happen. So also Piero decides to carry a weapon.
The girl shows to prefer Pietro, and she gave him as a present some golden things made by the other lover. Piero exhibits them, to show the other guy that he is going out with Fiorina everyday.
The meeting, or the crash, takes place in the stree. It’s late afternoon, “At five o’ clock”, as Garcia Lorca would say, and there is a loto of people around. All of them are watching and listening the two guys fighting, shouting and insulting each other. In the general silence, the word that Lorenzo would have never say and Piero would never hear sounds: “MULACCHIO” (mule). It’s just the beginning. Out of rage, Piero shoots with his gun; and Lorenzo shoots back, but while the two opponets are safe, a pedestrian passing by is hitten, and falls dead. Whose gun shot?
This is and will remain a mistery. Lorenzo was arrested, but claims his innocence; Pietro flights finding a shelter in the wood of Capareccia, a place he knows very well, as it’s very close to the mill.
Some days after the killing, Pasqualuccio sees him at his door, panting, wrecked, and very weak. The old man shouts, cries, calls him “murderer”, and blaims his bad luck recalling the old shout of the owl in that evening, when everything started. Piero claims his innocence, and asks to his step father for a further sacrifice: an help to go abroad. He wants to go to Argentina, where he could start a new life, working and behaving honestly, as “he is an honest man”.
Pasqualuccio forgives him, and gives him the key of the other mill, the deserted one, and promises him everything he can and also what he couldn’t: starting from food, that he will let him everynight in a special place.
THE FRIENDS OF MY FRIENDS
M.A. from Agnone e V.G. from Naples are two guy connected to local mafia, dealing with illegal emigration for money, this is what Piero asks for.
Pasqualuccio goes back home that night, he locks the door and talk to Custode. The woman approves the plan to fly away the husband tell her about and, while a secret tear appears in her eyes, she says only: “where we can find the money to help him?”
“God will help us” that’s what the husband answers. But we need about 600 liras (around 6,500 euros).
The following day, the miller doesn’t go to work, but starts working at his goal. It’s useless to tell you about worries, acts, secret meeting… Finally, they get a piece of paper from Naples, it’s torn on one end, and someone tells them to go to Naples bringing that piece of paper. On both sides of the paper, it’s written “SANTA LUCIA”. This is the pass.
What about money? Pasqualuccio collects 350 lire, 250 are given by the priest. It’s the due amount.
At dawn, two days later, Piero leaves definitively the village. Tears are covering his eyes, the pain he feels is harsh. He travels far on a cart driven by trusty people that are devoted to the transfers. He is roughly dressed, almost in rugs, and he was so elegant and proud of his physical look, he must exercise his modesty, and sleep in a stable on a pallet on the ground, and work loading up and down. In the meanwhile, he follows carefully the instruction and, after a few days, he boards a ship coming from Marseille and sailing toward Buenos Aires.
So the story of Piero Del Mulino in Agnone gets to its end. Afterwards, he will have his fortune in the New World, trading jewels. From time to time, Pasqualuccio receives some money and, when somebody from Agnone who emigrated to Argentina comes back home, he takes to him and his wife Custode some especial golden jewel.
The children of Pasqualuccio (Delli Quadri), miller, are:
Antonino (Primaletta) from whom the family Delli Quadri-Li Paintings
Stefano (the baker a Maiella), from whom the family Delli Quadri-Policella-Diana
Alessandro, my grandfather, from whom cometh the family of Joseph Delli Quadri
Concetta (the baker) from whom the family patriarch
Teresa, who emigrated to the United States, from which come the family Lauriente-Cachey