When he was cross his voice sounded malicious ; and he continued :
– You say it to hurt me, I know ; but, thank heaven, I can hold my own. Why d’you ask i me if I drink water? Mustn’t we have any respect for each other’s feelings just because we happen to be brothers? Don’t you agree, Vittorio? If they’ll repeat it, I’ll want to know the reason why, and seriously too. I’m very touchy, mind, especially when I know I’m in the right.
– Why don’t you go back to your bookbinding? – Niccolo asked him.
– I’ll do what I please. I have as much right to do so as you have. My books are not going to be bound with my own skin. If you feel like arguing and quarrelling, I am always ready, even if there are two of you against me.
Giulio looked at him in astonishment, and replied :
– It seems to me that we let you say anything you like.
– Of course ; you can’t do otherwise. I’m right.
– I don’t say no.
– Well, then, why will you insist?
– I tell you that I have no intention of raising my voice or of squabbling.
– Not you, perhaps, but Niccolo.
Then Niccolo said to Giulio : – Advise him to go.
And he picked up an antique vase.
– You’d like to smash that vase by breaking my head? I’d use my hands instead. Make him put it down. Not because I’m afraid, heavens ! no, but because he must be careful of the shop goods. It’s of that kind of terracotta that will splinter if you only look at it. Besides, see how he has knocked and spoiled that wooden chest. You are a slovenly waster.
Vittorio, who felt very much like laughing, said : – Please stop it, both of you. You ought to be ashamed ; and brothers, too. Aren’t you fond of one another ?
Enrico answered : – He isn’t ! He’d tear me to little bits if he could !
Giulio said : – That’s not true !
– You’re always excusing him, but it is so. Make him put back that vase. He won’t listen to me. Won’t you put it down ? Then I’ll go. Curse the moment I came in !
He gave an irritated look at the book-shelf, and departed.
Niccolo could contain himself no longer.
– We must find a remedy. He must be made to behave. This can’t go on.
– It’s partly your fault ; you don’t know how to handle him.
– I only wish he’d die !
Corsali asked: – Why?
– I know why ! Don’t ask me to speak of it ! If Giulio and I were alone things would go better with us than they are going. I’ve been wishing we were alone for a long time.
– Anyhow, he’s with us now, and it’s as well that he remains with us until…
Corsali, of course, failed to see Giulio’s allusion ; but Niccolo none the less tremblingly cut him short : – Be quiet !
Giulio understood that he might be tempted to talk imprudently, and Corsali, observing them, said, with a view to calming them both :
– I don’t wish to know your private affairs at all. I come here as a friend ; and you may depend on it that I am neither a gossip nor a cad.
Giulio regained his serenity.
– It’s Niccolo’s fault. With his absurd ways, he makes one imagine goodness knows what.
Niccolo, knocking his knees together, again interrupted :
– Be quiet, I tell you !
– What have I said ?
– Be quiet, be quiet !
And he closed his own mouth with his hand. Corsali became really curious, but he guessed that they would not disclose more of their secret, and therefore he felt hurt.
– If you are afraid of me I will leave you.
Niccolo immediately cried to him :
– Oh no ! I want you to stay !
Giulio was blushing like a shy, embarrassed young girl. Corsali looked at them and wondered.
– You were both so merry a few moments ago.
– Merry ? Me?” Niccolo shouted. – This is the greatest calumny that could possibly be invented. I never laugh, never ! Do you hear ?
– That’s because you don’t remember.
– Enough ! Enough ! I say that I never laugh, never !
Giulio signed to Corsali to go. And when he was gone Niccolo burst into sobs.
– What are you crying for now ?
– I can’t stand it any longer.
Giulio, too, as he stood and looked at him from behind his desk, felt his eyes fill suddenly with
burning tears, blinding him.
And they lacked the courage to look at each other again.
( Federigo Tozzi, Three crosses – 1920 )