Study Guide

If on a winter's night a traveler Chapter 18

By Italo Calvino

Chapter 18

Around an empty grave

  • The narrator is a young man named Nacho, whose father tells him to go to a place called Oquedal when he (the father) dies, saying that this is where the young man's long lost mother lives.
  • Nacho demands to know his mother's name, but his father never comes to it in the conversation, and dies without saying.
  • Frustrated, Nacho sets off for Oquedal. During his journey, he sees another young man riding in the same direction and asks him the way. The young man, however, remains silent.
  • Insulted, Nacho rides past the guy. When he's farther along the road, he glances over his shoulder and sees that the young man has taken out his rifle and is aiming it at him.
  • When Nacho goes for his own gun, though, the other guy backs down. They each decide to ride on opposite banks of the river, keeping a close eye on each other.
  • When he reaches Oquedal, Nacho tells an old man his name, and the man directs him toward the palace of a family named Alvarado.
  • Arriving there, he meets a woman servant named Anacleta Higueras who makes him a dish of spiced meatballs. She calls him "son," but he can't be sure if it's just an expression. Anacleta admits that she knew his father, but wishes she hadn't. She says that Nacho's father brought bad tidings to Oquedal.
  • The woman has a daughter named Amaranta, and Nacho begins to watch her for family resemblances. When he thinks he sees some, Anacleta tells him that this is because everyone who comes from Oquedal looks the same.
  • Later on, Nacho tries to compare his face to Amaranta's by pressing it against hers. And of course, he starts to get pretty amorous and shoves her back against a pile of sacks, kissing her.
  • But Anacleta shows up, whomps him on the head, and accuses him of being just like his father.
  • Nacho demands to know why he can't be with Amaranta, unless she's his sister?
  • But Anacleta denies the blood relationship, merely repeating that he should get away from her daughter. She tells him that if he wants to know the truth, he should go to the owner of the palace, Dona Jazmina.
  • Nacho says that if his name is the same as the master of the house, he can do whatever he wants with Amaranta, who is a servant in the household. Anacleta shoos him off, and he leaves.
  • In the following scene, Nacho meets with Dona Jazmina and her daughter Jacinta, of the Alvarado family. Dona Jazmina tells Nacho that his father used to go hunting for women down in the servants' quarters at night. She also tells him that an old relative of the family, Faustino Higueras, was caught up in some conflict regarding the servants and ended up losing his life for it.
  • Of course, Nacho goes to bed with Jacinta, even though he's unsure of whether she's actually consenting to what's happening. But Dona Jazmina shows up before anything can happen and shouts at him. She tells him that the servant Anacleta is his mother, even if she'll never admit to it.
  • Nacho also learns that his father had a duel with Faustino Higueras, and that this is how Faustino lost his life. As the story goes, the two men agreed to duel, then dug a grave together. The winner would bury the loser. At that time, Nacho's father also went by the name Nacho, and he killed Faustino.
  • When the servants came back later to check the grave, though, they found that it was empty.
  • Legends began to spread about Faustino riding around the area on his horse. Nacho becomes convinced that Faustino is in fact the young man he met on his way to Oquedal, but he is too overwhelmed to speak.
  • Before he knows it, he looks down and realizes that he is standing over an open grave. The servants have gathered around him with their torches.
  • Out of the crowd appears the same young man he met on his way to Oquedal. The young man brandishes a knife and challenges Nacho for making a move on his sister. It's allegedly the exact same pose that Faustino assumed when he fought Nacho's dad.
  • Nacho takes his stance and prepares to fight…
  • Do we even need to say it anymore?