At that moment Enrico opened the door and entered, leaving it wide open behind him. He was carrying in both arms the fruit he had just bought, and he remarked happily :
– Now I’m still without the gorgonzola ! Don’t invent tales about my always thinking of myself before others. You always say I am an egoist.
Nisard enjoyed watching the embarrassed and awkward look on Giulio’s face. Nevertheless, the latter exclaimed :
– Those pears are really beautiful !
Enrico asked :
– Can I go home now ? There’s nothing else to buy?
His brother signified that he could and he went without a word. Enrico was like that; when he had bought anything, satisfied any little whim, he would become ruder than usual, and if he spoke, it would be in anything but a polite voice or manner.
Giulio found it necessary to explain :
– A generous table has always been one of our weaknesses. We are all the same ; even my sister-in-law, Modesta. We have spoilt her also.
He was impatient now to be home, because he knew that they would not wait for him, and he knew, too, that the first-comers would have the first choice, and, naturally, the best. If it had not been for the presence of Nisard he would have closed the shop at once, even though another customer had told him that he would be calling presently to buy some books. He was sorry now that he had promised to wait for him, and so he complained :
– I can’t understand how people can throw away money on printed paper ! I am in here all day, I never see the sun, and never know the colour of the sky ; I am sick of seeing books, I even hate to touch them. The best thing would be to pitch them all out into the rubbish heap.
– You are an intelligent man, and yet you speak seriously of books in this way.
– I may have been intelligent. I was intelligent once. It’s all over now, though. I am forty years old, and I feel as if I were eighty or a hundred ! And you don’t believe me now, either, do you ?
Nisard, smilingly, and with a deprecating gesture, declared himself resigned and ready to believe him. But Giulio was trying to remember whether they had bought the Parmesan cheese for the macaroni, and, inwardly, he was wondering : “How vexed Niccolo will be when he knows that it isn’t as good as usual, and not the kind that we usually have.” And in his mind’s eye he pictured his brother being particularly irritable to his wife for the rest of the meal.
He was quite capable of rising from the dinner-table directly after the meal and of going out without a word even to Modesta until the next day, while his two nieces Chiarina and Lola laughed over it all ; and Enrico would declare that it was unbecomingly crazy to behave like this. These visions delighted Giulio, who was standing stock-still in the centre of the shop, his whole expression betraying the pleasure caused by his thoughts.
Suddenly several church bells pealed out unanimously. It was midday. Giulio, to assure himself of the fact, went out into the road and listened to them. The town-hall clock was striking the hour placidly and calmly ; and the church of San Cristoforo, the one nearest to the bookshop, joined in with its chime. The pavements were emptier than before, and a few of the workers had begun to emerge from their offices and workshops, homeward bound. Then .Giulio said softly, as if to himself:
– I can close down now.
Nisard, who had to return all the way to the villa which he had rented for his stay in Siena, and which was right away by the Porta Camollia, hurriedly bowed to him and went his way.
After five minutes the town-hall clock repeated the hour ; and to Giulio it sounded as if it were doing so in reiteration of his last remark, and it seemed good to him ; almost as good and appetising as a table dainty.
( Federigo Tozzi, Three crosses – 1920 )