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Mario's Vineyard

Mario's Vineyard

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Mario's Vineyard

547 pagine
9 ore
Jun 20, 2011


Frustrated with his father’s strict control and hankering after freedom, Mario Gilardone could see no way of ever leaving his home in northern Italy. But that was before the ‘phylloxera’ disease struck, devastating the family’s prosperous vineyards. Seizing the opportunity, he decided to leave his country, and the girl he loved, and set sail for America to set up his own vineyard in the sunny, fertile soils of California. Like so many others in the great nineteenth-century exodus from Europe, Mario arrived to a hostile New York hungry and penniless. He was soon to learn the harsh realities of a foreign land, but his pride and fierce ambition kept the dream of Mario’s Vineyard alive. He would succeed no matter what.

Jun 20, 2011

Informazioni sull'autore

Michael Legat began writing at a very early age, but most of his career was devoted to publishing. However, having worked as an editorial director for some years, in 1978 he decided to leave the trade and take up writing full time. In 1980 his first novel, Mario’s Vineyard, was published and this was followed by a series of other very well received and successful works. He remained heavily involved in the publishing industry until his death in 2011, serving on various committees and was also president of two writers’ circles. He was also active in pasing on his writing skills to both indivduals and by selective teaching and, of course, through his various publications and guides.

Anteprima del libro

Mario's Vineyard - Michael Legat


Part One



Mario Gilardone looked up. It was his older brother Enrico, scowling as he pushed his way through the crowded Bar Bazzini. The room was small, dimly lit by oil lamps and a few candles, and smoke-filled; every chair was occupied and there were many customers standing at the zinc counter; no one was drunk, but no one was quite sober either – except perhaps Enrico. But Enrico was always sober, and obedient and dull. Mario grinned at him.

Enrico came to where Mario was sitting with Teresa Pella, her brother Paolo and Paolo’s latest girl friend Olivia. ‘I might have known I’d find you here. Papa is waiting. It’s time to go.’

‘It’s not half past ten yet.’

‘Have a glass of wine, Rico. I’ll pay,’ said Paolo, secure in the knowledge that his offer would be refused.

Enrico ignored him. ‘He’s been waiting for you since ten.’

For a moment Mario stared back at him. Then he laughed. ‘Don’t look so solemn. It’s vendemmia!

Teresa sat watching them: solid, sobersides Enrico and laughing, quicksilver Mario. It was strange, she thought, that there should be so clear a family resemblance and yet so much difference between them. No one could call Enrico good-looking, whereas Mario… She stole a glance at him, suddenly loving the arch of his thick eyebrows, the little folds at the corners of his eyes when he laughed, the generous mouth. No wonder other girls envied her. And it wasn’t just because he was handsome and tall and strong – he was such fun to be with, so full of life and excitement.

‘If you’re not going to have a drink,’ said Mario, ‘then go away, Rico, there’s a good fellow. Papa will wait a bit longer.’

‘Come on,’ said Enrico stubbornly. ‘You know how angry he’ll be.’

‘Ten more minutes. I’ll be ready then.’

Enrico looked at his brother and shrugged. ‘On your own head be it,’ he said, and turned and left the bar.

‘Old misery,’ said Paolo. ‘He can’t help it, I suppose.’ He raised his glass. ‘Here’s to Old Misery!’

They drank the toast solemnly, then burst into laughter.

‘Perhaps you should go,’ said Teresa. ‘You don’t want to be in trouble with your father.’

‘I’m always in trouble with him,’ Mario replied. ‘He thinks I’m still a schoolboy. One more row won’t make any difference. He’ll shout and roar and tell me I’m lazy and good for nothing and how hard he’s worked all his life. I’ve heard it so many times I know it all by heart. And then Mother will say, Come, Benito, enough is enough, and we’ll all go home.’ He laughed. ‘If I go back now I shall rob him of half his fun – the later I am the more he’ll enjoy it.’

Paolo, a stocky young man, scratched his thick black hair and grimaced. ‘They’re all the same. My old man’s always going on at me. Treats me like a child. But I’m not.’ He squeezed Olivia’s waist and kissed her cheek. ‘You could tell him, couldn’t you, sweetie?’ Olivia giggled. ‘When are they going to start treating us like adults?’

‘When you get married,’ said Teresa, trying to restore his good humour.

‘Ho, that’s a joke! No, there’s only one answer, Mario – we’ve got to get away. Strike out on our own. I hear there’s plenty of jobs going in Milan and good money too. And you know what they say about the girls there.’

Paolo was always talking like that. It was best to take no notice. ‘The girls here are all right for me,’ said Mario, and slipped his arm around Teresa.

She blushed and removed his hand. She was a slight girl, with a lively, elfin face. Her large dark eyes seemed always warm and tender, and her full lips were, Mario thought, enchantingly curved She wore her black hair piled high on her head. Her olive skin was smooth, but there was no colour in the cheeks, and perhaps it was this that made her pretty rather than beautiful, except at moments like this when embarrassment brought a flush to her normally pale face.

Mario suddenly got to his feet. ‘Come on, Teresa,’ he said, taking her hand. ‘Let’s go for a little walk.’

‘A walk? At this time of night?’

‘Just to San Felipe.’

‘What about your father?’

‘Oh, never mind him. Come on – just for a couple of minutes.’

She got up, blushing again. ‘Are you coming, Paolo?’

‘No, he isn’t,’ Mario grinned.

‘I reckon you can look after yourself,’ Paolo said, and winked at Mario. ‘Besides, I have other things to do.’ He tightened his grip around Olivia’s waist and whispered to her.

‘You’re dreadful, Paolo,’ she said happily, and giggled.

Before there could be any more argument, Mario led Teresa out of the bar and into the crowded street.

The little town of Montefiore was busy on that October night in 1878. The fruit of the neighbouring vineyards had been gathered in, and vendemmia, the grape harvest, was a time for celebration, for wine and laughter and song. It was not a formal festa.

Nevertheless, the cafés and bars were full, and the wine was drunk in great quantity. The older generations sat nursing their drinks and indulgently watching the youngsters as they wandered round the town, greeting friends, forming groups, sometimes dancing, when they could find room, the traditional dances of the region. The parents watched too for the safety of their daughters. All had been provided with a chaperon, usually an older brother, if indeed they were allowed to stray from their mothers’ sides. But chaperons, especially older brothers who had their own interests to pursue, could be evaded, and then the young girls could be led into the darker alleys or even into the fields which bordered the town. That accounted, some said, for the large numbers of sudden weddings around Christmas time and the fact that so many first-born children of those marriages made an unexpectedly early appearance in the following July.

Mario pulled Teresa along the street with him. He moved with an easy powerful grace, seemingly unaware of his own good looks. The dark hair of his moustache made his teeth gleam all the brighter when he smiled, and beneath his heavy brows his eyes danced and sparkled. They were an astonishingly brilliant blue, as sometimes occurs in Italians from the north, and they had made a score of girls’ hearts beat faster as they dreamed of wedding bells. He was twenty-two, a good age for marriage, and even if he did not feel ready for it perhaps he could be trapped into it. And any girl who landed Mario would get more than a handsome husband, for Benito Gilardone, his father, was well-to-do by Montefiore standards, a man whose education made him a cut above most of his neighbours, and even if he worked in the fields like any peasant, there was the difference that the fields were his. Though Mario was the second son he could still expect a reasonable inheritance in due course.

But that night Mario had eyes for Teresa only. She trotted along at his side, allowing him to hold her hand while the other lifted the hem of her best silk dress from the ground. She looked up at him, smiling, laughing at the jokes he made, barely shifting her gaze to acknowledge the comments of the friends they met.

It was not far to San Felipe. The cloisters surrounding the old cemetery there were an ideal place for lovers, and there were many couples beneath the graceful arches that night. Finding space, Mario pulled Teresa to him. Putting his arms around her, he bent and kissed her gently. She did not resist until his tongue began to play over her lips, seeking an entrance to her mouth. Then she moved her head aside. He kissed her eyes, her cheeks and then her lips again, more passionately now, feeling desire rise.

‘I love you, Teresa,’ he whispered. It was not the first time he had made such a confession to a girl, but he was beginning to wonder whether this time he truly meant it. He had known her for years, ever since he and Paolo had become friends when they went to school together, but it was only recently that he had really thought of her as anything but Paolo’s sister. For the last few days she had been constantly in his thoughts. There had been others who had affected him that way before, but it seemed to him that his feelings for Teresa were somehow different – deeper, more sincere.

She did not speak, but after a moment or two put her arms around his neck, pulled him closer and gave a great shuddering sigh.

Mario moved his hand until it was on her breast. He thought he could feel the nipple swell under the tight bodice. ‘Teresa,’ he whispered urgently, questioningly, and began to fumble with the buttons of her blouse.

She pushed away from him then. ‘No,’ she said softly. ‘No, Mario, please.’

‘But I won’t hurt you. I love you.’

She longed to tell him that she loved him too, but shyness somehow prevented her. She wanted to let him do with her as he willed, longed to feel his hands on her breasts, her whole body. She felt weak with desire, but knew that she had to resist. She put her finger briefly on his lips, then took his head in her hands and pressed her open lips against his for a few moments, almost wantonly. As his arms began to tighten around her she broke away and said, ‘Now take me back to Paolo. Please, Mario.’

‘I must see you again soon,’ he said.


‘Tomorrow we shall be working. The day after?’

‘Yes. I will tell Paolo. Father won’t let me out unless Paolo is with me.’ She gave a little laugh. ‘I don’t think he knows what Paolo is like.’

He laughed and ran with her back to the Bar Bazzini.

‘Teresa –’ Mario began.

‘You had better go,’ she said. ‘Your father will be angry enough to enjoy it properly by now. I’ll see you the day after tomorrow, Mario.’ She gave his hand a squeeze and began to push her way through to Paolo’s table.

Mario watched her for a moment, and then went out. He stood bemused, the fresh smell of her hair still in his nostrils, the sensation of her last kiss on his lips. She loves me, he thought, I’ll swear she loves me. He felt like dancing, singing, shouting. And then suddenly the exultation vanished, to be replaced by a strange, aching longing. A longing for what, he did not know – to be with Teresa, to escape from his father’s thrall, to do something, go somewhere, for something to happen, something new and wonderful.

The striking of San Felipe’s clock brought him to his senses. Eleven o’clock. Indeed his father would enjoy his anger. He turned and ran along the Via Corigliani, thrusting his way through the crowd until he came to the Church of the Blessed Virgin and opposite it the Trattoria del Castello, his father’s favourite place in Montefiore for eating and drinking on the rare occasions that he spent money in that way.

Benito Gilardone was a fine-looking man, with a strong and mobile face beneath his thick iron-grey hair. It was his eyes that people remembered, black beneath the heavy dark brows, sometimes flashing in anger, as they were now, twinkling in amusement less often, but always bright and alert. He was broad and thickly built, and his strength was legendary in the area. Too fiercely independent to be a popular figure in Montefiore, he was nevertheless greatly respected.

His wife Anna, three years younger than Benito, looked at forty-eight much older than he did. Although her hair was still dark, the brown skin of her face was deeply wrinkled, and the blue eyes, which Mario had inherited, seemed a little faded. Short and plump, she was a warm, friendly soul who would have loved the whole world if she had had the time and the opportunity.

Benito and Anna were sitting with Enrico and their daughters Giulia and Francesca at a large table in the Trattoria del Castello. Francesca, who was only twelve, was asleep, her head on her mother’s shoulder. As Mario approached them, panting, he could see the thunder on his father’s face. Benito was drumming his fingers on the table top, only stopping now and then to take out his pocket watch, consult it disbelievingly and replace it in his pocket with an angry gesture.

Then he saw Mario. His fingers stopped their restless movement and he sat in stillness and silence until the young man had reached the table. When he spoke at last he began in low, measured tones. ‘So,’ he said, ‘you have chosen to return. Do you know what time it is? Perhaps you don’t care. Perhaps you don’t care that I have been waiting for more than an hour. It does not matter to you that I told you to be back by ten. It does not matter that you disobey me. We are all ready to go home – I am ready, your mother is ready, Enrico is here – except when I have to send him to look for you – and Giulia and Francesca. But not Mario. Oh, no. Mario is off gallivanting, like the lazy good-for-nothing that he is, and refuses to come when I send for him.’ His voice had been menacingly low, but now he banged his fist on the table, making the empty wine glasses jump, and red-faced, the veins standing out on his forehead, began to bellow. ‘Yes, good-for-nothing!’ he roared. ‘Thoughtless, idle, disobedient! You’re a disgrace to the family name! Madre di Dio! Why should I have been cursed with such a son?’

‘Hush!’ said Anna softly, indicating the other customers who were staring at Benito, enjoying the scene.

He gave no indication of having heard her, but when he went on his voice was a little quieter. ‘You think I’m a tired old fool who wants his rest and can’t understand the needs of youth. It is you who are the fool. I was nothing when I started – an orphan, without money, friendless – and now look where I am. And do you know how I got there? By hard work and regular hours and by doing my duty. Duty! You don’t know what duty is. And what have you been doing? Drinking yourself into stupidity – even greater stupidity – and wenching with that common slut. Oh, I know all about it. I know you’ve been with that wastrel Paolo Pella and the girl – what’s her name?’

Mario had been standing silent, a great confusion of thoughts running through his mind: the anger and humiliation of being shouted at in this way and in public, the boredom of having heard it all before, the knowledge that of course the reproofs were justified; and there was the recognition that inevitably Enrico had reported their conversation in the Bar Bazzini, and above all the realisation that none of it mattered since Teresa loved him. He wondered too what it was that he really felt for his father. He surely did not hate him, yet it was not love or even affection. Perhaps it was respect. Benito was as strong in character as he was in physique, a just and honest man, and for the most part they got on well enough together, though there was always an element of wariness in their relationship. But now his father had gone beyond justice, and he could not stop himself. ‘Teresa is no slut. You may not call her that!’

‘I shall call her what I like. You know my feelings about the Pellas. It is bad enough that you should choose Paolo as your friend. But the girl is not for you. You will not see her again.’

‘Papa, you have no right –’

‘Silence!’ roared Benito. ‘I have no right? Madre di Dio, I have every right! But the girl is not important. What matters is that there is work to do tomorrow, the grapes to be crushed, the must to be stored. We have to be up long before dawn, and you keep us waiting here until God knows what hour. And a fine state you will be in tomorrow!’

‘Benito,’ said Anna, ‘enough is enough. Let us go.

It was as though a magic wand had been waved. Without another word Benito rose, and the sudden movement brought a hush to the crowded trattoria. His set expression invited no acknowledgement of his departure and indeed any comment might well, the other customers felt, have provoked a storm. He stumped out, followed by Anna, a dumpy but dignified figure. She said, ‘Good evening,’ inclining her head to left and to right as though nothing untoward had happened. Their friends and acquaintances responded in subdued voices and watched as the family left.

The Gilardones walked to where the horse and cart were tethered. Benito, Anna and Francesca clambered in and with Enrico, Mario and Giulia trailing behind, the boys occasionally pushing when the road was at its steepest, they set off up the winding track on the mountainside which led to the farm, high above Montefiore.

Starting from the northernmost tip of Lake Como and continuing northeastwards up to Bormio on the Swiss border, along the path of the River Adda, stretches the wide glacial valley known as the Valtellina. The mountains are high, for here the Alps begin, and on their southern sides are cultivated the Nebbiolo vines from which the best-known wines of the region are produced. But there is another part of the Valtellina, a spur which runs directly north from Lake Como through the valley of the River Mera. On this turbulent stream, south of Chiavenna, stands Montefiore, an ancient and beautiful little Alpine town, hemmed in by mountains, its cobbled streets faced by imposing sixteenth and seventeenth century buildings, all with that bland and impersonal look that old Italian palaces have, giving a hint that behind the shutters lie richly furnished, dark, sad rooms. There are tiny, narrow streets and arched passages leading to equally ancient but humbler dwellings.

On the south-facing sides of the mountains that hold Montefiore in their protective embrace vines flourish, and their grapes make a wine which is the equal of the principal Valtellinese vintages, if not as famous, for the valley brings the necessary warmth and the summer weather has the right mixture of gentle early rainfall and hot sunshine through the months when the fruit ripens. It was here that Benito Gilardone had his vineyard. Sprawling widely down the hillside it went, in terrace after sloping terrace, the vines planted on the lower edges of the terraces and then carefully trained to grow uphill on low wooden frames. The farmhouse and its outbuildings stood at the top of the hill, solidly built of local granite and flint, and there too was the wine-press, and below it, in caverns hewn out of the mountainside, were the storage cellars, with their vats and racks.

Mario’s thoughts had been so much with Teresa that it was almost a surprise to him when they reached the farm.

Benito climbed out of the cart and went into the house. ‘Stable the horse, you,’ he called over his shoulder. Anna and Francesca hurried after him.

‘He means you, bonehead,’ said Enrico to Mario, and followed his parents quickly, before Mario could accuse him of tale-bearing, of being his father’s spy.

Giulia laughed. ‘He may be a bonehead, but at least he gets some fun.’ She turned back to Mario. ‘I wish I could get away one of these evenings.’

‘Give it time. You’re only a kid.’

‘It would be worth it,’ she went on, for once not rising to his bait. ‘Worth the row, I mean. He was in good form, wasn’t he?’

‘Papa? Oh, he enjoyed himself all right,’ said Mario. ‘But I’ll not forgive him for calling Teresa a slut.’

‘Are you in love with her?’ Giulia asked. She was a bright, pretty girl of eighteen, softly plump, with a happy-go-lucky nature. She was always joking, and indeed none of the boys of Montefiore who had paid court to her had lasted long, for sooner or later their dignity had been offended because she would not take them seriously. Mario was very fond of her.

‘What if I am?’

Giulia sighed with mock sentimentality. ‘How romantic! An ill-starred love affair. You and she will pine your lives away, never able to marry because your parents are sworn enemies.’

‘Idiot!’ She was right, but it was no use trying to talk seriously to her when she was in this mood.

‘It will happen to me too, I know it. I shall fall desperately in love, and Papa will forbid the marriage. And I shall remain faithful to him – whoever he is – for ever. And when I am old, people will say, There goes Giulia. She never married, you know, because her heart belonged to one man and one man only, but her father wouldn’t let her marry him.’ She giggled. ‘It will be very sad.’

‘The only person Papa would stop you marrying is Paolo. And he’s not interested, as far as I know.’

‘Paolo’s interested in anything in skirts.’

‘True. But I thought you were going to marry Cremonesi.’ It was an old joke between them. Professor Cremonesi was the local school teacher.

Giulia gave a little hoot of laughter. ‘He must be at least a hundred and five.’

‘Yes. Just right for you.’

‘Beast!’ she said affectionately. ‘Can you imagine it – me and old Cremonesi? I’d have to help him up the aisle.’ She giggled again. ‘And into bed!’

‘Giulia!’ said Mario, mimicking his father. ‘Madre di Dio!

Anna called from the house, ‘Giulia!’

She ran in, still laughing, while Mario put the horse away.

In their bedroom Anna told her husband, ‘You’re too hard on the boy.’

‘Yes,’ said Benito shortly.

‘He’s only twenty-two. He needs some fun with friends of his own age.’

‘I know that.’

‘And as for your so-called feud with the Pellas, it’s a lot of nonsense. You ought to be ashamed at your age.’

‘Stop blethering, woman!’

‘I don’t suppose there’s anything wrong with the girl. I think she’s one of those who come to help with the harvest, but there are so many of them I never know their names. She’s probably a nice little thing. Most of the girls from Montefiore are very nice.’

‘If you say so.’

‘Then why do you go on at Mario so?’

‘Because I love him the best,’ he thought, but knew he could not say that, even to Anna. Instead he said, ‘Because he can stand it, and it’s good for him. He’s the strong one. Rico’s all right, loyal and hard-working and all that, but dull. Giulia’s much more lively, but she’ll up and marry one of these days. Mario’s different. He’s like me. And he loves the vines and cares about the wine. That’s why I’m hard on him.’

‘I don’t know what you’re talking about. It seems a crazy sort of reason to me. Just be careful that you don’t drive him away.’


Benito was right in saying that there was much work to be done the following day. The gathered grapes were lying in baskets and buckets in the press-house, to which they had been wearily carried up the mountainside. Up at five, the whole family was there, removing the grapes from the stems and placing them in half casks. It was tiring, monotonous work, no matter how fast their fingers flew, for it was important to be sure that only a very few stalks remained on the fruit. Those few stems were needed, for they contained tannin to give the wine extra body and flavour, but too many would impart bitterness to the wine.

Benito’s eyes were everywhere. He could trust the accuracy of Anna’s work and Mario’s – Mario had a feel for the whole business of wine growing and wine making – but Enrico, despite his slow, painstaking approach, had clumsy fingers and could miss too many stalks, and Giulia and Francesca had their minds filled with foolishness as young girls always had and could be absurdly careless.

They all worked in silence until there were sufficient grapes in the half casks for the men to take up the heavy wooden paddles and gently crush the fruit with them so that the skins were broken. Then they strained to tip the grapes into the press, and once it was full Benito and Enrico would turn the great handle, gently, firmly, evenly, and the grape juice, or must, would run out from the bottom of the press in a trickle at first and then a steady stream. It flowed along the channel which led to a wide pipe that dropped through the floor to the storage cavern below, where Mario would direct the must into the huge vats in which it would ferment and slowly begin to turn itself into wine. The skins too, when all the juice had been extracted, had to be paddled out of the press and into the pipe, for it was red wine that they were making, and the skins would stay with the juice until the alcohol had worked on them, removing their colour and giving it to the new wine.

All this too, like the stripping of the fruit from the stalks, was laborious work, but at least the Gilardones could be happy that they had a wine-press – there were still local wine-growers who trampled their grapes by foot and collected the must in jars which had to be emptied into the vats, and that process, however picturesque it might have seemed to the outsider, was even more exhausting.

Then it all began again – the preparation of the grapes, the crushing, the pressing, the filling of the vats – over and over, until arms and legs trembled with weakness and backs were aching.

The pressing of the harvest took them two full days. Though they had begun in good enough spirits, the previous evening’s quarrel forgotten, starting to laugh and chatter as the grape must poured from the press and its strange, almost bitter fruitiness filled the air, with the passing of the hours tempers began to fray and they stopped laughing at the banter between Mario and Giulia, and even Giulia herself was snapping at the others. There could however be no break in their work, for it was essential to press the grapes before they shrivelled or became mildewed.

When they had finished on the second day they went back to the house, where every pan they possessed stood full of steaming water on the kitchen range, and in turn they washed in the big tin bath. It was a relief to get into clean clothes after two days when everything they wore or touched had been sticky with grape juice. Then they ate – the first proper meal they had had since the work began, for Anna had been too busy to cook and they had lived on bread and cheese. At the end of the meal Benito lifted up his glass and gave the toast that had become a ritual in their family.

‘To the new wine. May it be good.’

‘Do you think it will be, Papa?’ Mario asked.

‘What’s your opinion?’

‘It could be, I think. We harvested on exactly the right day, and I think the grapes have enough sugar in them.’

‘Yes,’ said Benito. ‘Perhaps it will be good.’

The others smiled at each other. He must be truly pleased with the harvest and with the pressing. Usually he would make some grumbling comment that there had not been enough sun, or that they had harvested a day or two too late. ‘Perhaps’ was a sign that he was well pleased and expected the wine to be especially good. They all began to talk at once, and Anna went out to bring in a bottle of the best wine that they kept for special occasions.

‘No more for me,’ said Mario after one small glass. ‘I want to go down to the town, Papa.’

Benito hesitated. Mario had worked hard and well, but he guessed that the boy was going to see the Pella girl, and had no wish to let his favourite son get more deeply embroiled with her. The original cause of the quarrel between himself and Pella had been almost forgotten – a dispute over the payment for goods supplied – but for years the Gilardones had patronised Pella’s rival grocer in Montefiore and had refused to sell Pella any of their wine. ‘Very well,’ he said at last, remembering Anna’s words to him in the bedroom. ‘But be back here by half past ten. No later.’

Mario’s tiredness vanished as he ran down the hill to the town. He went at once to the Bar Bazzini, but Paolo was not there. He looked in all their other haunts, but Paolo and Teresa were nowhere to be seen. At last he plucked up courage and knocked on the door which opened on to the stairs leading up to the Pella’s home above their shop.

It was Paolo who answered. ‘I thought it might be you,’ he said, unsmiling. ‘We’re not allowed out, Teresa and me.’

‘Why not?’

‘Oh, Mama wormed it out of Teresa that she had been seeing you, and she told Father and then the fat was in the fire. No daughter of mine is going out with a Gilardone, he said. And we’re both confined to the house, like a couple of naughty children. Jesus, Mario, I’m fed to the teeth with it. I’m going to leave just as soon as I can, I can tell you.’

Mario had been dumbstruck by the news. It was so unexpected that he did not know what to say. ‘Tell Teresa,’ he began, ‘tell her that I’ll see her…some time. Tell her I’ll…’

At that moment Signor Pella appeared at the top of the stairs. ‘Who is it, Paolo?’

‘Just a friend, Father.’

Pella came down, carrying a candle. ‘Oh, it’s you, is it? Clear off! You’re not welcome here, and I don’t want you seeing my daughter ever again. Capito?’ He broke into a fit of coughing and asthmatic wheezing. He passed the candle to Paolo and then slammed the door in Mario’s face.

Mario went back to the Bar Bazzini, had one lonely glass of wine, and then disconsolately made his way home. ‘I wish… I wish…’ he said aloud as he walked up the hill, not knowing exactly what he wanted. To see Teresa, yes – but more than that. To change his life, to change the world, to seek and find…whatever was there to be found.

It was not yet half past nine. As he approached the house he saw a light in the wine cellars and guessed it would be his father, and though he did not feel like talking to anyone, something drew him to go into the cavern instead of straight into the house.

Benito was looking at the vats, checking to see that none was leaking, satisfying himself that all was in order, sniffing appreciatively the heavy aroma of the must. He looked up in surprise as Mario came in. ‘You’re early.’

‘Yes,’ Mario replied, but gave no explanation.

Benito realised that something had gone wrong with Mario’s evening. Perhaps he had not been able to see the Pella girl after all. That was good. ‘The others have gone to bed. We’d better go too. There’s a lot to do tomorrow. It’s going to be good wine, son.’

He did not seem to expect any response, but put his arm around Mario’s shoulders and led him back to the house. Mario was astonished that his father should somehow understand that he was in no mood for conversation, and grateful too.

He lay awake long into the night, wondering whether he would ever see Teresa again. Surely her father could not keep her a prisoner for ever. Surely somehow they would be able to meet, if only by chance. And what of Paolo’s idea of going to Milan? The trouble was that he had no wish to work in the city. His heart was on the land, in the vineyards. He fell at last into an uneasy sleep.

Sadly Mario did not see Teresa for many weeks. Occasionally he would meet Paolo, and he learned from him that she was virtually a prisoner, going out only with her mother. Paolo carried messages for her from Mario, but it was a poor substitute for seeing her, and Mario grew sullen and dispirited.

‘There are plenty of other girls,’ Giulia told him and, trying to cheer him up, went on to recite a ludicrously long list of all the unmarried females in Montefiore. It did not amuse Mario, and he told her crossly that he was not interested in other girls.

Signor Pella had however failed in his objective. He had thought that Teresa would soon forget Mario and that the young man would be quickly ensnared by one of the other girls who were so ready to sigh, moonstruck, over such a handsome, eligible fellow. Instead of which the old proverb that absence makes the heart grew fonder was once more proved true.

Teresa was so miserable that her mother began to worry about her health. At this rate she would soon be seriously ill. She spoke to her husband about it, but he was not very sympathetic. Other girls, he said, were kept under strict control by their parents without going into a decline. Why couldn’t Teresa behave like they did?

‘Oh, you men!’ cried her mother. ‘You’re willing to sacrifice your daughter’s health over some silly quarrel with old Gilardone that should have been over and done with years ago.’

‘And you’re willing to sacrifice her virginity to that young devil Mario,’ he grumbled. ‘Oh, do as you please. I’m not going to worry my head over it. But don’t blame me if she finds herself in the family way. And make sure she knows what’s expected of her. If she goes out without you, then Paolo must be there, and she’s not to wander off with young Gilardone. And she’s to be back home by nine o’clock sharp.’ He broke off, seized by a paroxysm of coughing. When it was over, he continued, ‘You’d better teach her how to deal with a man too. Not that you put up much resistance, if I remember rightly.’

‘Oh, you needn’t worry,’ replied his wife tartly. ‘I’ll make sure she’s not such a fool as I was!’

And so, come January, when the pruning of the vines had begun, and the new wine was beginning to be clear and rich, Mario was surprised and delighted when he next visited Montefiore to find Teresa sitting next to Paolo in the Bar Bazzini. She looked paler than ever, he thought, and thin too, but his happiness at seeing her was intense. They had only a short time together, for it was nearly nine o’clock and Paolo had explained that he must not fail in his duty to take Teresa home by then. They said little, each gripped by a shyness that stilled their tongues and left only their eyes free. Even Paolo, recognising that this was not an occasion for his usual boisterous chatter, was strangely quiet. When it was time for them to go, Mario and Teresa arranged to meet again the following week.

‘I shan’t be long,’ Paolo told Mario as they went. ‘Wait for me here.’

When he came back he dropped into the seat next to Mario and grinned. ‘Seems to me you’ve really got it bad for my little sister.’

‘I’ve never felt the same about any other girl.’

‘Well, you might as well give up thinking of her. You’re never going to get to see her alone, and if you’re thinking of marriage you should realise that you haven’t a hope.’

‘Why not? She isn’t promised to anyone else, is she?’

‘No. But Father would never permit you to marry her. He has something against your family.’

‘Oh, that old quarrel. That’s a lot of nonsense.’

‘Of course it is, but I think your father feels as strongly about it as mine. We must try to do something about it.’


‘Well, I’ve been thinking about it, and I have an idea.’

Mario raised his eyebrows. Paolo’s schemes were usually somewhat wild.

In the weeks that followed, Paolo suggested a dozen more ideas, each less practical than its predecessor. Mario gave up listening. He and Teresa would sit together in the Bar Bazzini, holding hands, often not speaking, but communicating with glances and the pressure of their fingers, falling more and more deeply in love.

Although he had not formally asked her to marry him, Mario often made unmistakable reference to their future together as if he now took it for granted that they would be man and wife some day, and Teresa’s heart leaped for joy. Since the evening of the vendemmia her love for him had grown; then she had been attracted by his handsome face and strong, manly build, but now she loved him for his kindness and constancy and his laughter and the way their opinions coincided, and above all for the happiness she always felt when she was with him.

Paolo grew bored with keeping an eye on her. ‘I’m fed up with this chaperon business,’ he said one evening. ‘I’m missing out on my love life. Listen, I’m going off for half an hour. I’ll be back in time to take you home, little sister.’

‘Father said you had to stay with me,’ Teresa protested.

‘How’s he going to know?’

Half an hour later, just as Teresa was beginning to get anxious about Paolo’s return, the door to the bar opened and Signor Pella came in. At first he did not see them, but went to the bar and ordered a drink. Teresa was rigid with fear.

‘I thought he didn’t come in here,’ Mario said.

‘He doesn’t. I’ve never seen him in here before. Why’s he come?’ She drew in her breath sharply. ‘Oh, God!’

Pella had turned and his gaze fastened on them. Ignoring the barman, who was asking for his money, he strode over to them and roughly seized Teresa’s arm. His face was white with fury. ‘Home!’ he hissed, and pulling her to her feet, pushed her before him out of the bar.

Mario rose helplessly. ‘Signor Pella,’ he called, but Pella ignored him. Briefly Teresa turned her face to him, despair in her eyes. Then the door closed behind them and they were gone.

A week passed before Mario saw Paolo again.

‘Father wouldn’t let me come out,’ Paolo explained. ‘And he’s forbidden Teresa ever to speak to you again. Mama pleaded with him, telling him that Teresa was ill before because she couldn’t see you, and saying that he shouldn’t stand in the way of true love. True love! Father snorted. She’s not to go out at all unless she’s with you or me. And then he turned on me and told me I was to stay in every evening for a week.’

Mario was stunned. ‘If you hadn’t gone off… You blithering idiot! Look what you’ve done. Oh, my God! Now Teresa and I will never be married.’

‘Calm down,’ said Paolo. ‘He’ll get over it. He always does, in time. But I tell you this – it’s made up my mind for me. I’m going to leave home. It’s the only answer. And the sooner the better. What about you?’

‘If you think I’m coming with you, you’ve got another think coming. You’ve ruined everything.’

‘Milan’s the place,’ Paolo said. ‘Come with me, Mario.’ Receiving no reply, he added, ‘At least think about it.’

‘I thought about it before. I don’t want to go to Milan. I couldn’t spend my life in a city. I want to work on the land, in the vineyards, as I do now. I want to own my own vineyard one day. I can’t do that in Milan.’

‘No, but you can earn money. If you save, you’d be able to buy your vineyard.’

‘In about two hundred years’ time. And what about Teresa? That would really be the end of it. I’d never see her again if I left Montefiore.’

‘I don’t see why not. Anyway, when you own a vineyard you won’t have any problem. Father wouldn’t stop you marrying her if he thought you were that rich.’

Mario shook his head ruefully. It was just another of Paolo’s hare-brained schemes, doomed to failure before it even started.

‘Hey, I’ve got a better idea,’ said Paolo. ‘What about America?’

‘What about it?’

‘They grow wine there, don’t they? Out in California. That’s the place for us to go. You and me together. You can grow the vines and make the wine, and I’ll – I’ll be your partner.’

‘Don’t be stupid.’

‘Oh, I don’t mean straight away. We’d have to make some money first, but they say that’s easy in America.’ He noticed Mario’s sceptical expression. ‘Look, there’s no harm in finding out what you have to do – what papers you need and so on. Then we’ll talk more about it. One thing’s certain – I’m not going to stay in this dead-and-alive hole under my father’s thumb for the rest of my life. And neither will you if you’ve any sense.’

Teresa felt sure that there must be some way of healing the breach between her family and the Gilardones. If only men were not so foolish. That thought gave her an idea, and the idea became a plan, and she took to going to church every Thursday at about noon. It was one outing that her father allowed her to make on her own. How could he complain at her piety? And nothing could happen to her in broad daylight, especially as that young scoundrel of a Gilardone would be busy, working in the fields.

It was not however piety which took Teresa to the Church of the Blessed Virgin. She knew it was wrong of her to pretend a need for spiritual solace when her motive was so different, but she believed that the Holy Mother would be merciful and forgive her. Her real reason for going was that she knew that Signora Gilardone was always to be found in the church on Thursdays at that time. It was market day in Montefiore, and when Anna had done her weekly shopping she was in the habit of spending a few moments in the cool interior of the church, partly to say her rosary and a few extra prayers for her family and for the vines, and partly to have a little rest before the long climb back up the mountainside. By a strange coincidence it just so happened that Teresa was always ready to leave the church at exactly the same time as Anna pulled herself to her feet and took up her heavy baskets.

The first week Teresa smiled at her, and Anna, recognising one of the girls who sometimes helped with the grape harvest, smiled back. The next week Teresa said, ‘Good morning,’ and commented on the cold weather. Two weeks later she judged that the time was ripe.

‘That basket looks dreadfully heavy,’ she said. ‘You’re going up the mountain, aren’t you, Signora Gilardone? I’m going along part of the way. I’ll carry it for you.’

‘There’s no need,’ Anna said, looking at her a little suspiciously.

‘I don’t mind, really.’ And she lifted up the basket and together they went out into the sunshine and along by the river’s edge towards the winding road which led up to the Gilardones’ home.

It was a beautiful day, with a brilliant blue sky, clear except for a few puffs of white cloud.

After a while Anna asked her kind helper her name.

‘Teresa Pella.’

Anna stopped, put down her basket, and looked at her companion. A pretty little thing, neatly dressed, respectful, kind. Pious too. And at the same time no fool. As soon as she revealed her name Anna realised that this was no chance meeting, that it had some other motive than that of merely helping her. And she had a pretty good idea of what that motive might be. She smiled inwardly. It was just the sort of thing she might have done herself if she had been in Teresa’s shoes, her romance blighted by a stupid quarrel between two grown men who were behaving like schoolboys. She too would have made an approach to the woman of her lover’s family, knowing that she would be the realist.

‘Ah,’ she said. ‘Of course. I should have recognised you. Your brother Paolo is my son Mario’s friend, isn’t that right?’

‘Yes, Signora.’

‘And you know Mario too?’ She looked at Teresa searchingly.

Teresa returned her steady gaze. ‘Yes.’

‘I see.’ She picked up her basket and they set off again. ‘Well, my dear,’ Anna asked then, ‘what’s all this about?’

Teresa hesitated, but the question had been put in a friendly tone, and Anna’s blue eyes seemed to be smiling at her. ‘I need your help, Signora. It’s – it’s Mario.’

‘Ah, Mario.’ She

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