After a meal Niccolo was always disposed to be jovial, but so voluble that he would abuse anyone who said a word more to him than he wished to listen to.
Giulio, in the same interval after the midday meal, would coach his two nieces in different subjects ; and Enrico would retire to rest for a couple of hours.
On this particular afternoon Niccolo had reached the limit of his patience and suddenly burst out :
– Oh, don’t speak to me ! you’ll only make me wild ! I was feeling so jolly, too ! Leave me ; I feel much better alone, and talking to myself. Nobody understands me as well as I do my-self!
And he went out, walking very slowly, and panting as he walked; he was almost perspiring, although it was already the month of October. He had lately suffered from gout, as had both his brothers ; and after his recent heavy meal he could hardly move at all.
In the road he tried to look smiling and happy ; but if some acquaintance approached him amiably he would hurriedly avoid him, or would become suddenly forbidding, almost offended.
After his walk to the Lizza, which sufficed him for smoking a whole cigar, he returned to the shop, and found there his friend, Vittorio Corsali, an Insurance Company agent.
– Oh, I can’t talk to-day! I don’t feel like it. It bothers me too much.
– I can’t see how I can be bothering you if I haven’t yet uttered a word since you came in.
– Never mind ! A person can worry me if he keeps his mouth shut.
– But, as I was just explaining to your brother Giulio, I’ve come to tell you of a good little piece of business for you.
– I don’t want to talk of business. Speak to Giulio about it. Not when I’m here, though ; and especially to-day, when I can’t even stand the buzzing of a fly.
And he burst into a loud, blustering laugh. It was one of his violent, sensual, grating laughs, and, knowing him, Corsali turned to Giulio and remarked :
– I’ll wait until he gets over it.
At this Niccolo was seized with sudden fury.
– And I tell you again that you won’t speak of it to me ! D’you understand ? I’ll take you by the neck and pitch you out of the shop !
He was breathing hard, and biting his fingers. Corsali, with an offended look, despite Giulio’s signals not to take any notice of Niccolo’s eccentricities, took a step towards the door, intending to go.
He had scarcely turned, however, when Niccolo again burst into laughter, this time so spontaneous and merry that Corsali stopped in astonishment.
– Didn’t you notice I was only joking ?
– That’s not the way to treat a friend !
But Niccolo wouldn’t hear of it, and threatened to become abusive once more.
Vittorio Corsali was thin, bald and had a white moustache. When he spoke he showed all his teeth, and the whole shape of his head reminded one of a fox’s cranium.
Giulio asked his brother : – When do you think you will feel disposed to listen to him ? You will oblige us by letting us know.
– Any time you like except to-day.
– But, you see, to-morrow I shall be going with the carriage to Radicondoli on Insurance business, and it was there, in the parson’s house, that I saw a silver crucifix…
Niccolo, whose curiosity was getting the upper hand, turned and interrupted vehemently :
– Will he sell it?
– That’s just what I wanted to talk to you about!
Niccolo seemed angry, and as if he must and would squabble.
– Are you sure that I shall like it ?
– I think so.
– You don’t understand anything much, though ; I don’t trust your judgment.
– I know that you think me a fool.
– How much does he want for it ? – Giulio intervened. – Is he stingy ?
– I think, if I understood rightly, it means two hundred franc notes.
– Tell the priest to put it down his throat ! It won’t do for me ! I only buy from those who don’t know how to sell. If he should ever call at this bookshop, I’ll kick him out ! Tell him so, from me ! God save him, if he comes to look for me here !
And he opened his mouth wide, as if he would have bitten the offender there and then, after which he smiled and calmed himself. He sprawled on his chair and looked alternately at his brother and at his friend, his eyes sparkling with enjoyment, mutely asking them to join in his mirth. His whole face was so expressive of agreeable hilarity that the other two immediately felt its influence and smiled, with the result that Niccolo, on seeing their change of mood, snapped, with brusque regret :
– Don’t speak to me.
( Federigo Tozzi, Three crosses – 1920 )