A Vendetta by Guy de Maupassant
The widow of Paolo Saverini lived alone with her son in a poor little
house on the outskirts of Bonifacio. The town, built on an outjutting
part of the mountain, in places even overhanging the sea, looks across
the straits, full of sandbanks, towards the southernmost coast of
Sardinia. Beneath it, on the other side and almost surrounding it, is a
cleft in the cliff like an immense corridor which serves as a harbor, and
along it the little Italian and Sardinian fishing boats come by a
circuitous route between precipitous cliffs as far as the first houses,
and every two weeks the old, wheezy steamer which makes the trip to
On the white mountain the houses, massed together, makes an even whiter
spot. They look like the nests of wild birds, clinging to this peak,
overlooking this terrible passage, where vessels rarely venture. The
wind, which blows uninterruptedly, has swept bare the forbidding coast;
it drives through the narrow straits and lays waste both sides. The pale
streaks of foam, clinging to the black rocks, whose countless peaks rise
up out of the water, look like bits of rag floating and drifting on the
surface of the sea.
The house of widow Saverini, clinging to the very edge of the precipice,
looks out, through its three windows, over this wild and desolate
She lived there alone, with her son Antonia and their dog "Semillante," a
big, thin beast, with a long rough coat, of the sheep-dog breed. The
young man took her with him when out hunting.
One night, after some kind of a quarrel, Antoine Saverini was
treacherously stabbed by Nicolas Ravolati, who escaped the same evening
When the old mother received the body of her child, which the neighbors
had brought back to her, she did not cry, but she stayed there for a long
time motionless, watching him. Then, stretching her wrinkled hand over
the body, she promised him a vendetta. She did not wish anybody near her,
and she shut herself up beside the body with the dog, which howled
continuously, standing at the foot of the bed, her head stretched towards
her master and her tail between her legs. She did not move any more than
did the mother, who, now leaning over the body with a blank stare, was
weeping silently and watching it.
The young man, lying on his back, dressed in his jacket of coarse cloth,
torn at the chest, seemed to be asleep. But he had blood all over him; on
his shirt, which had been torn off in order to administer the first aid;
on his vest, on his trousers, on his face, on his hands. Clots of blood
had hardened in his beard and in his hair.
His old mother began to talk to him. At the sound of this voice the dog
"Never fear, my boy, my little baby, you shall be avenged. Sleep, sleep;
you shall be avenged. Do you hear? It's your mother's promise! And she
always keeps her word, your mother does, you know she does."
Slowly she leaned over him, pressing her cold lips to his dead ones.
Then Semillante began to howl again with a long, monotonous, penetrating,
The two of them, the woman and the dog, remained there until morning.
Antoine Saverini was buried the next day and soon his name ceased to be
mentioned in Bonifacio.
He had neither brothers nor cousins. No man was there to carry on the
vendetta. His mother, the old woman, alone pondered over it.
On the other side of the straits she saw, from morning until night, a
little white speck on the coast. It was the little Sardinian village
Longosardo, where Corsican criminals take refuge when they are too
closely pursued. They compose almost the entire population of this
hamlet, opposite their native island, awaiting the time to return, to go
back to the "maquis." She knew that Nicolas Ravolati had sought refuge in
All alone, all day long, seated at her window, she was looking over there
and thinking of revenge. How could she do anything without
help—she, an invalid and so near death? But she had promised, she
had sworn on the body. She could not forget, she could not wait. What
could she do? She no longer slept at night; she had neither rest nor
peace of mind; she thought persistently. The dog, dozing at her feet,
would sometimes lift her head and howl. Since her master's death she
often howled thus, as though she were calling him, as though her beast's
soul, inconsolable too, had also retained a recollection that nothing
could wipe out.
One night, as Semillante began to howl, the mother suddenly got hold of
an idea, a savage, vindictive, fierce idea. She thought it over until
morning. Then, having arisen at daybreak she went to church. She prayed,
prostrate on the floor, begging the Lord to help her, to support her, to
give to her poor, broken-down body the strength which she needed in order
to avenge her son.
She returned home. In her yard she had an old barrel, which acted as a
cistern. She turned it over, emptied it, made it fast to the ground with
sticks and stones. Then she chained Semillante to this improvised kennel
and went into the house.
She walked ceaselessly now, her eyes always fixed on the distant coast of
Sardinia. He was over there, the murderer.
All day and all night the dog howled. In the morning the old woman
brought her some water in a bowl, but nothing more; no soup, no bread.
Another day went by. Semillante, exhausted, was sleeping. The following
day her eyes were shining, her hair on end and she was pulling wildly at
All this day the old woman gave her nothing to eat. The beast, furious,
was barking hoarsely. Another night went by.
Then, at daybreak, Mother Saverini asked a neighbor for some straw. She
took the old rags which had formerly been worn by her husband and stuffed
them so as to make them look like a human body.
Having planted a stick in the ground, in front of Semillante's kennel,
she tied to it this dummy, which seemed to be standing up. Then she made
a head out of some old rags.
The dog, surprised, was watching this straw man, and was quiet, although
famished. Then the old woman went to the store and bought a piece of
black sausage. When she got home she started a fire in the yard, near the
kennel, and cooked the sausage. Semillante, frantic, was jumping about,
frothing at the mouth, her eyes fixed on the food, the odor of which went
right to her stomach.
Then the mother made of the smoking sausage a necktie for the dummy. She
tied it very tight around the neck with string, and when she had finished
she untied the dog.
With one leap the beast jumped at the dummy's throat, and with her paws
on its shoulders she began to tear at it. She would fall back with a
piece of food in her mouth, then would jump again, sinking her fangs into
the string, and snatching few pieces of meat she would fall back again
and once more spring forward. She was tearing up the face with her teeth
and the whole neck was in tatters.
The old woman, motionless and silent, was watching eagerly. Then she
chained the beast up again, made her fast for two more days and began
this strange performance again.
For three months she accustomed her to this battle, to this meal
conquered by a fight. She no longer chained her up, but just pointed to
She had taught her to tear him up and to devour him without even leaving
any traces in her throat.
Then, as a reward, she would give her a piece of sausage.
As soon as she saw the man, Semillante would begin to tremble. Then she
would look up to her mistress, who, lifting her finger, would cry, "Go!"
in a shrill tone.
When she thought that the proper time had come, the widow went to
confession and, one Sunday morning she partook of communion with an
ecstatic fervor. Then, putting on men's clothes and looking like an old
tramp, she struck a bargain with a Sardinian fisherman who carried her
and her dog to the other side of the straits.
In a bag she had a large piece of sausage. Semillante had had nothing to
eat for two days. The old woman kept letting her smell the food and
whetting her appetite.
They got to Longosardo. The Corsican woman walked with a limp. She went
to a baker's shop and asked for Nicolas Ravolati. He had taken up his old
trade, that of carpenter. He was working alone at the back of his store.
The old woman opened the door and called:
He turned around. Then releasing her dog, she cried:
"Go, go! Eat him up! eat him up!"
The maddened animal sprang for his throat. The man stretched out his
arms, clasped the dog and rolled to the ground. For a few seconds he
squirmed, beating the ground with his feet. Then he stopped moving, while
Semillante dug her fangs into his throat and tore it to ribbons. Two
neighbors, seated before their door, remembered perfectly having seen an
old beggar come out with a thin, black dog which was eating something
that its master was giving him.
At nightfall the old woman was at home again. She slept well that night.