At this Chiarina, without any warning, ran across to Lola and punched her quite hard.
– Oh, don’t ! You’ve hurt me.
– Well, why don’t you shut up ?
– I’d like to know what is the matter with you two. What are you plotting together ?
– Chiarina will tell you herself. I don’t even want to listen.
But Chiarina, after hitting her sister, burst into tears, despite the fact that the two women at the foot of the cross were looking on with interest.
– I don’t want to upset myself over you two, – said Modesta, recalling the events of the day before. – You ought to be ashamed of yourselves. You’re grown-up now, and are no longer babies. You’re old enough to think of a husband.
– A husband ? – she asked.
Modesta reflected, trying to decide whether she had said anything inappropriate. But Lola continued, so seriously, and at the same time with such agitation, that she felt a sudden nervous tension all over her body, even to the tips of her toes :
– That’s exactly what Chiarina wanted to tell you.
Her sister stopped crying and relieved her agitation by raining blows on Lola’s head and shoulders. Modesta rescued the younger sister and asked Chiarina :
– Is that true?
Lola, in revenge, answered for her sister, eagerly, with tears in her voice :
– It’s true! It’s true!
Then Chiarina, completely at a loss, and wishing intensely to hide herself, embraced her sister tightly ; so tightly that she trembled. Lola, at once repentant at having snatched at revenge so eagerly, returned her embrace, and held her closely as if she would never again let her go.
Modesta, even though those two women were laughing with amusement, put her arms round both the girls and kissed them.
And Lola explained how a young man, a clerk at the Borough Offices, had succeeded in letting Chiarina know that he was about to ask for permission to become engaged to her.
They apparently loved one another.
They turned back and started for home, excited and happy. Modesta had been made to promise that she would say nothing as yet to any of the uncles. But that same night she told Giulio about it, and he, rubbing his chin, replied :
– We must be very careful and find out who he is.
Modesta asked :
– Shall I tell Niccolo about it too ?
– I should suggest waiting. Niccolo would make fun of the whole thing, and goodness knows how he’d tease Chiarina.
Chiarina was overcome by shyness ; she could hardly be persuaded by her sister to join the others at table, and when she did so she wondered why Uncle Giulio was so much more thoughtful than usual.
Lola, after the meal, asked her :
– Will you play my accompaniments on the piano?
– Oh no ! I couldn’t play just now.
– Dio mio ! How absurd you are. It’s ridiculous.
– I’m restless, and it worries me. I feel I want something to distract my mind from everything.
– Well, then, come to the piano and play for me.
– It would make me feel worse.
– Close your eyes, – Lola suggested.
– I can’t.
– I’ll close them for you with my hand. Now, do you feel better ?
But Chiarina wished to rise above her sensations.
– It’s difficult even for me to understand what is the matter with me, – she said.
– Let’s go to bed earlier.
– No. I want to stay in the dark with the window open. I’ll try that and see.
From their bedroom window they had a view of the country between Porta Ovile and Porta Pispini. But it was now getting too dark to see, and the country was turning from an impenetrable uniform grey to black. Only on the horizon, where the sky and the earth met, stretched a long beam of clearer and purer colour, but even that faint glimmer was dying out. The breeze rustled the trees in the gardens and orchards among the surrounding houses within the walls of Siena. Every now and then a shutter was closed with a bang, and a tiny, patient, sharp little echo at the bottom of some garden somewhere faithfully repeated the noise each time, and lost itself in the distance amongst the half-buried arches of the Follonica fountain, all covered with moss, and worn away with the constant lapping of the slimy waters. In the surrounding silence the leaves of a large lime-tree rustled as they fell, one by one, beneath the bedroom window as if they never would cease.
Lola was in the parlour poring over one of her school books, and Chiarina, by the window, turned her head to look long and fixedly at the ebony and ivory crucifix which hung over the bed, the one that had been given to her for her first Communion.
( Federigo Tozzi, Three crosses – 1920 )