Modesta was an easy-going creature, who lived only for her home ; she could do nothing beyond that, and she could understand nothing more than that. Healthy, and full of energy, she passed the days, one after the other, at home, doing infinitely more work than the servant who helped her. To persuade her to come out for a walk, her nieces would have to try all sorts of expedients before they finally succeeded. She was as tall as Niccolo, and not less massive and well-built. Her husband and her brothers-in-law filled her house with provisions and eatables ; and all she had to occupy her mind was the cooking of them. Nevertheless she suspected some secret ; she guessed that they were hiding something from her, and she was no longer as quiet and happy as she had once been. While Niccolo was giving a last rub to his face and hands with his towel after his morning wash she asked him :
– Why are you always complaining that the bookshop doesn’t pay, and yet we are living like wealthy people, as if we had piles of money ?
Niccolo feared her curiosity, but he faced it boldly.
– You mind your own business. My wife must not ask questions like that.
She wanted to be equally bold, but she only laughed. Then, with his usual morning vivacity, he continued :
– Women have their knitting and darning to think of.
She had lost her boldness, but she decided that she would not keep quiet.
– I am sure you are not telling me the truth.
Niccolo laughed more loudly.
– I have seen you thoughtful and preoccupied too often ; and too often I’ve heard you say over and over again that we might one day find ourselves in difficulties.
– Don’t make me cross so early in the morning. I got up so cheerful, and you want to spoil it all for me.
– Don’t be funny !
– And don’t you be naughty !
– I am not being naughty ; I am really cross.
– How can I reason with you ? Am I to cure you of your bad temper ? I told you to let me dress in peace. I ask it of you as a favour.
She went off to the kitchen to prepare his chocolate, while he hurried to finish his toilet before she came back. Modesta would not have risked insisting, except that her real anxiety gave her strength, so that when his chocolate was prepared she took it to him in his room instead of calling him downstairs, that they should be alone. She ventured again :
– I shall go and speak to the Cavaliere Nicchioli to-day.
– Go and speak to whom you please !
Niccolo still wished to be gentle with her, hoping that her fears and doubts would cease. He wouldn’t have felt so sure of himself if he had not thought of his brothers. He looked worried, and, in his hurry to go, he gulped down his chocolate, regardless of the fact that it scalded his tongue at each gulp.
– In spite of my love for you, and all the years we’ve been married, you still try to hide from me what anyone would guess by looking at your face. I warn you I am not joking.
– You’re threatening me ? Well now you won’t be able to say you’re the good wife I thought you were, that you used to boast of being.
She was breathless, but not discouraged. Her husband could not be lying to her, and she had been silly to suppose such a thing. But, all the same, she was not yet convinced. She had absurd and headstrong ideas about things ; for example, she would dream of lucky numbers for the lottery and would play them time after time, in spite of all argument. At this point, then, she decided to tackle Enrico about it, and thought the matter over while preparing his bread and butter and coffee. She had better not speak to Giulio yet, for he would repeat it all to her husband. Enrico always dissembled his feelings towards her, and was generally taciturn and sombre. He would speak to her distantly, usually abruptly and impolitely.
( Federigo Tozzi, Three crosses – 1920 )