The Leopard

I am reading a book called The Leopard, (Il gattopardo) by Giuseppe di Lampedusaand reading this fragment I could not stop laughing, so I have decided to put it here, in case any of you share my sense of humour.


Next morning Tancredi and Cavriaghi led him around the garden, showed him the picture gallery and tapestry collection. They also trotted him a little round the town; under the honey-coloured sun of that November day it seemed less sinister that it had the night before he even saw a smile here and there, and Chevalley di Monterzuolo began to reassure himself about rustic Sicily. Tancredi noticed this and was at once assailed by the singular island itch to tell foreigners tales which, however horrifying, were unfortunately true. They were passing in front of a jolly building with a façade decorated in crude stucco work.

“That, my dear Chevalley, is the home of Barone Mútolo; now it’s closed and empty as the family live in Girgenti since the baron’s son was captured by brigands ten years ago.”

The Piedmontese began to tremble. “Poor thing, I wonder how much they paid to free him.”

“No, no, they didn´t pay a thing; they were in financial straits already and had no ready money, like everybody else here. But they got the boy back all the same; by instalments, though.”

“What do you mean, Prince?”

“By instalments, I said, by instalments; bit by bit. First arrived the index finger of his right hand. A week later his left foot; and finally in a great big basket, under a layer of figs (it was August), the head; its eyes were staring and there was congealed blood on the corner of the lips. I didn´t see it, I was a child then; but I´m told it wasn’t very pretty sight. The basket was left on that very step there, the second one up to the door, by an old woman with a black shawl on her head; no one recognised her.”

Chevalley’s eyes went rigid with horror; e had already heard the story before this, but seeing now in the sunshine the very step on which the bizarre gift had been put was a different matter. His bureaucratic mind came to his help. “What an inept police those Bourbons had. Very soon, when our carabinieri come along, they’ll put an end to all this.”

“No doubt, Chevalley, no doubt.”

Then they passed in front of the Civic Club, which had its daily show of iron chairs and men in mourning under the shade of the plane trees in the Square. Bows,  smiles. “Take a good look, Chevalley, impress the scene on your memory; twice a year or sooner of these gentlemen here is left stone dead on his own little arm-chair; a rifle shot in the uncertain light of dusk, and no one ever knows who it was that shot him.” Chevalley felt the need to lean on Cavriaghi’s arm so as to sense a little northern blood near him.

Shortly afterwards, at the top of a steep alley, through multi-coloured festoons of drawers out to dry, they saw the simple baroque front of a church. “That´s Santa Ninfa. The Parish priest was killed here five years ago as he was saying Mass.”

“Horror! Shooting in church!”

“Oh, no shooting, Chevalley. We are too good Catholics for misbehaviour of that kind. They just put poison in the communion wine; more discreet, more liturgical, I might say. No one ever knew who did it; the priest was a most excellent person; he had no enemies.”

(The Leopard, pp. 140-141)

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