Seeing him enter on this particular morning more morose than ever, she hesitated for a moment, fearing to be too severely rebuffed. However, she persevered in her intentions and asked :
– How is business going at the shop?
– Isn’t your husband here ? Why don’t you ask him ? Why d’you ask me ? This milk is not so good as usual.
– Niccolo wouldn’t tell me anything when I asked him.
– So you turn to me ?
– I’ll get to know it, anyway.
– Women always do get what they want.
– Then it won’t be difficult.
– Do let me have my breakfast in peace. You’ve put mighty little butter on this bread. I’ll have to go and do that myself too, if I want it well done. The less I want to speak to you the more you come and worry me.
By this time she no longer knew what to think : whether she was wrong in suspecting anything, or whether there was indeed cause for her to do so. He was looking at her with contempt, sullenly, and with hostile severity, as if he thoroughly hated her. Sometimes he really was most annoying, and she disliked him intensely. Then she would reproach herself; she ought not and must not be angry with her own brother-in-law. She thought she would appeal to his better nature, but he no sooner guessed her intention than he said :
– Please leave off and go away.
She obeyed, regretting that she had been simple enough to believe that he would listen to her.
Enrico, instead of taking his usual morning walk, went straight away to the bookshop and said to Niccolo :
– It seems to me that your wife is giving herself airs.
– What has she been saying to you ?
– I suppose she first asked you what she afterwards asked me.
In order not to appear weak in his brother’s estimation, Niccolo hastily replied :
– She took good care not to mention anything to me.
– D’you think I’m a fool ? Much better come to an agreement, and all have the same reply ready. And when Giulio comes in we’ll ask him too.
– Really and truly, I don’t see how we can blame her.
– I say we can, most decidedly. Don’t be sentimental.
– We’ll all three speak to her to-day. You may be sure I didn’t let the tiniest word escape me.
– Fine thing if you had. You’d have been caught in a nice old hole.
– No fear. I’m artful enough for her, even though she is a woman.
– Just for the very reason that she’s a woman, we must be doubly careful. And we must put her in her right place straightaway.
– I hardly allow her to breathe as it is.
– It seems that you do, otherwise she wouldn’t have dared to attack me while I was having breakfast. I wasn’t expecting it.
– You can set your mind at rest ; she doesn’t know anything. I’d choke her sooner than that.
– I’ve always been nice to her, as a brotherin-law should be, but I can’t let a thing like this pass unnoticed.
– I’ll look after my own wife myself, don’t you worry. I’m quite capable of it.
When they spoke of the incident to Giulio he exclaimed :
– We’re done for ! No more escape for us. Women are more cunning than the devil. Whoever would have dreamt that that silly little quiet thing I’ll bet she overheard one of our conversations. Last night we were talking in the dark. Perhaps she was listening.
Niccolo decided :
– To-day, before sitting down to our meal, we’ll make her feel sorry for it.
– Without much regard for her feelings either, – said Enrico.
Giulio objected :
– Much better do things kindly.
Enrico retorted :
– Very well, then, I won’t have anything to do with it. Manage for yourselves.
Giulio asked, as if he were wondering aloud to himself:
– Is it better to do things kindly or harshly ?
Enrico answered :
– I’ve always heard it said…
But Niccolo interrupted :
– I’ll manage myself. That’s enough. You can be present if you like, and help me if you think it necessary.
Enrico shook his head and went out. But Giulio was sorry and full of regret in making things unpleasant for his sister-in-law.
– Now I wonder who on earth put that into her mind. I hardly think she could have thought of it herself. She’s always as quiet as a lamb. There’s never been the least doubt or discussion.
– It’s only an idea she has got into her head. I guarantee she really knows nothing whatever.
– I hope not.
( Federigo Tozzi, Three crosses – 1920 )