Various.

Stories by Foreign Authors: Italian online

. (page 6 of 8)
Online LibraryVariousStories by Foreign Authors: Italian → online text (page 6 of 8)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook


Signor Odoardo, watching her with a sense of satisfaction, cannot
resist exclaiming: "Bravo, Doretta!"

Doretta is undeniably the very image of her mother. She too was just
such an excellent housekeeper, a model of order, of neatness, of
propriety. And she was pretty, like Doretta, even though she did not
possess the fair hair and captivating eyes of Signora Evelina.

The man-servant who brings in the breakfast is accompanied by a
newcomer, the cat Melanio, who is always present at Doretta's meals.
The cat Melanio is old; he has known Doretta ever since she was born,
and he honors her with his protection. Every morning he mews at her
door, as though to inquire if she has slept well; every evening he
keeps her company until it is time for her to go to bed. Whenever she
goes out he speeds her with a gentle purr; whenever he hears her come
in he hurries to meet her and rubs himself against her legs. In the
morning, and at the midday meal, when she takes it at home, he sits
beside her chair and silently waits for the scraps from her plate. The
cat Melanio, however, is not in the habit of visiting Signor Odoardo's
study, and shows a certain surprise at finding himself there. Signor
Odoardo, for his part, receives his new guest with some diffidence; but
Doretta, intervening in Melanio's favor, undertakes to answer for his
good conduct.

It is long since Doretta has eaten with so much appetite. When she has
finished her breakfast, she clears the table as deftly and promptly as
she had laid it, and in a few moments Signor Odoardo's study has
resumed its wonted appearance. Only the cat Melanio remains,
comfortably established by the stove, on the understanding that he is
to be left there as long as he is not troublesome.

The continual coming and going has made the room grow colder. The
mercury has dropped perceptibly, and Doretta, to make it rise again,
empties nearly the whole wood-basket into the stove.

How it snows, how it snows! No longer in detached flakes, but as though
an openwork white cloth were continuously unrolled before one's eyes.
Signor Odoardo begins to think that it will be impossible for him to
call on Signora Evelina. True, it is only a step, but he would sink
into the snow up to his knees. After all, it is only twelve o'clock. It
may stop snowing later. Doretta is struck by a luminous thought:

"What if I were to answer grandmamma's letter?"

In another moment Doretta is seated at her father's desk, in his
arm-chair, two cushions raising her to the requisite height, her legs
dangling into space, the pen suspended in her hand, and her eyes fixed
upon a sheet of ruled paper, containing thus far but two words: Dear
Grandmamma.

Signor Odoardo, leaning against the stove, watches his daughter with a
smile.

It appears that at last Doretta has discovered a way of beginning her
letter, for she re-plunges the pen into the inkstand, lowers her hand
to the sheet of paper, wrinkles her forehead and sticks out her tongue.

After several minutes of assiduous toil she raises her head and asks:

"What shall I say to grandmamma about her invitation to go and spend a
few weeks with her?"

"Tell her that you can't go now, but that she may expect you in the
spring."

"With you, papa?"

"With me, yes," Signor Odoardo answers mechanically.

Yet if, in the meantime, he engages himself to Signora Evelina, this
visit to his mother-in-law will become rather an awkward business.

"There - I've finished!" Doretta cries with an air of triumph.

But the cry is succeeded by another, half of anguish, half of rage.

"What's the matter now?"

"A blot!"

"Let me see?...You little goose, what HAVE you done?...You've ruined
the letter now!"

Doretta, having endeavored to remove the ink-spot by licking it, has
torn the paper.

"Oh, dear, I shall have to copy it out now," she says, in a mortified
tone.

"You can copy it this evening. Bring it here, and let me look at
it...Not bad, - not bad at all. A few letters to be added, and a few to
be taken out; but, on the whole, for a chit of your size, it's fairly
creditable. Good girl!"

Doretta rests upon her laurels, playing with her doll Nini. She dresses
Nini in her best gown, and takes her to call on the cat, Melanio.

The cat, Melanio, who is dozing with half-open eyes, is somewhat bored
by these attentions. Raising himself on his four paws, he arches his
flexible body, and then rolls himself up into a ball, turning his back
upon his visitor.

"Dear me, Melanio is not very polite to-day," says Doretta, escorting
the doll back to the sofa. "But you mustn't be offended; he's very
seldom impolite. I think it must be the weather; doesn't the weather
make you sleepy too, Nini? ...Come, let's take a nap; go by-bye, baby,
go by-bye."

Nini sleeps. Her head rests upon a cushion, her little rag and
horse-hair body is wrapped in a woollen coverlet, her lids are closed;
for Nini raises or lowers her lids according to the position of her
body.

Signor Odoardo looks at the clock and then glances out of the window.
It is two o'clock and the snow is still falling.

Doretta is struck by another idea.

"Daddy, see if I know my La Fontaine fable: Le corbeau et le renard."

"Very well, let's hear it," Signor Odoardo assents, taking the open
book from the little girl's hands.

Doretta begins:

"Maitre corbeau, sur un arbre perche,
Tenait en son bec un fromage;
Maitre...maitre...maitre..."

"Go on."

"Maitre..."

"Maitre renard."

"Oh, yes, now I remember:

Maitre renard, par l'odeur alleche,
Lui tint a peu pres ce langage:
He! bonjour..."

At this point Doretta, seeing that her father is not listening to her,
breaks off her recitation. Signor Odoardo has, in fact, closed the book
upon his forefinger, and is looking elsewhere.

"Well, Doretta," he absently inquires, "why don't you go on?"

"I'm not going to say any more of it," she answers sullenly.

"Why, you cross-patch! What's the matter?"

The little girl, who had been seated on a low stool, has risen to her
feet and now sees why her papa has not been attending to her. The snow
is falling less thickly, and the fair head of Signora Evelina has
appeared behind the window-panes over the way.

Brave little woman! She has actually opened the window, and is clearing
the snow off the sill with a fire-shovel. Her eyes meet Signor
Odoardo's; she smiles and shakes her head, as though to say: What
hateful weather!

He would be an ill-mannered boor who should not feel impelled to say a
word to the dauntless Signor Evelina. Signor Odoardo, who is not an
ill-mannered boor, yields to the temptation of opening the window for a
moment.

"Bravo, Signora Evelina! I see you are not afraid of the snow."

"Oh, Signor Odoardo, what fiendish weather!...But, if I am not
mistaken, that is Doretta with you...How do you do, Doretta?"

"Doretta, come here and say how do you do to the lady."

"No, no - let her be, let her be! Children catch cold so easily - you had
better shut the window. I suppose there is no hope of seeing you
to-day?"

"Look at the condition of the streets!"

"Oh, you men...you men!...The stronger sex...but no matter. Au revoir!"

"Au revoir."

The two windows are closed simultaneously, but this time Signora
Evelina does not disappear. She is sitting there, close to the window,
and it snows so lightly now that her wonderful profile is outlined as
clearly as possible against the pane. Good heavens, how beautiful she
is!

Signer Odoardo walks up and down the room, in the worst of humors. He
feels that it is wrong not to go and see the fascinating widow, and
that to go and see her would be still more wrong. The cloud has settled
again upon Doretta's forehead, the same cloud that darkened it in the
morning.

Not a word is said of La Fontaine's fable. Instead, Signor Odoardo
grumbles irritably:

"This blessed room is as cold as ever."

"Why shouldn't it be," Doretta retorts with a touch of asperity, "when
you open the window every few minutes?"

"Oho," Signer Odoardo says to himself, "it is time to have this matter
out."

And, going up to Doretta, he takes her by the hand, leads her to the
sofa, and lifts her on his knee.

"Now, then, Doretta, why is it that you are so disagreeable to Signora
Evelina?"

The little girl, not knowing what to answer, grows red and embarrassed.

"What has Signora Evelina done to you?" her father continues.

"She hasn't done anything to me."

"And yet you don't like her."

Profound silence.

"And SHE likes you so much!"

"I don't care if she does!"

"You naughty child!...And what if, one of these days, you had to live
with Signora Evelina?"

"I won't live with her - I won't live with her!" the child bursts out.

"Now you are talking foolishly," Signor Odoardo admonishes her in a
severe tone, setting her down from his knee.

She bursts into passionate weeping.

"Come, Doretta, come...Is this the way you keep your daddy
company?...Enough of this, Doretta."

But, say what he pleases, Doretta must have her cry. Her brown eyes are
swimming in tears, her little breast heaves, her voice is broken by
sobs.

"What ridiculous whims!" Signer Odoardo exclaims, throwing his head
back against the sofa cushions.

Signor Odoardo is unjust, and, what is worse, he does not believe what
he is saying. He knows that this is no whim of Doretta's. He knows it
better than the child herself, who would probably find it difficult to
explain what she is undergoing. It is at once the presentiment of a new
danger and the renewal of a bygone sorrow. Doretta was barely six years
old when her mother died, and yet her remembrance is indelibly
impressed upon the child's mind. And now it seems as though her mother
were dying again.

"When you have finished crying, Doretta, you may come here," Signor
Odoardo says.

Doretta, crouching in a corner of the room, cries less vehemently, but
has not yet finished crying. Just like the weather outside, - it snows
less heavily, but it still snows.

Signor Odoardo covers his eyes with his hand.

How many thoughts are thronging through his head, how many affections
are contending in his heart! If he could but banish the vision of
Signora Evelina - but he tries in vain. He is haunted by those blue
eyes, by that persuasive smile, that graceful and harmonious presence.
He has but to say the word, and he knows that she will be his, to
brighten his solitary home, and fill it with life and love. Her
presence would take ten years from his age, he would feel as he did
when he was betrothed for the first time. And yet - no; it would not be
quite like the first time.

He is not the same man that he was then, and she, THE OTHER, ah, how
different SHE was from the Signora Evelina! How modest and shy she was!
How girlishly reserved, even in the expression of her love! How
beautiful were her sudden blushes, how sweet the droop of her long,
shyly-lowered lashes! He had known her first in the intimacy of her own
home, simple, shy, a good daughter and a good sister, as she was
destined to be a good wife and mother. For a while he had loved her in
silence, and she had returned his love. One day, walking beside her in
the garden, he had seized her hand with sudden impetuosity, and raising
it to his lips had said, "I care for you so much!" and she, pale and
trembling, had run to her mother's arms, crying out, "Oh, how happy I
am!"

Ah, those dear days - those dear days! He was a poet then; with the
accent of sincerest passion he whispered in his love's ear:

"I love thee more than all the world beside,
My only faith and hope thou art,
My God, my country, and my bride -
Sole love of this unchanging heart!"

Very bad poetry, but deliciously thrilling to his young betrothed. Oh,
the dear, dear days! Oh, the long hours that pass like a flash in
delightful talk, the secrets that the soul first reveals to itself in
revealing them to the beloved, the caresses longed for and yet half
feared, the lovers' quarrels, the tears that are kissed away, the
shynesses, the simplicity, the abandonment of a pure and passionate
love - who may hope to know you twice in a lifetime?

No, Signora Evelina can never restore what he has lost to Signor
Odoardo. No, this self-possessed widow, who, after six months of
mourning, has already started on the hunt for a second husband, cannot
inspire him with the faith that he felt in THE OTHER. Ah, first-loved
women, why is it that you must die? For the dead give no kisses, no
caresses, and the living long to be caressed and kissed.

Who talks of kisses? Here is one that has alit, all soft and warm, on
Signor Odoardo's lips, rousing him with a start. - Ah!...Is it you,
Doretta? - It is Doretta, who says nothing, but who is longing to make
it up with her daddy. She lays her cheek against his, he presses her
little head close, lest she should escape from him. He too is
silent - what can he say to her?

It is growing dark, and the eyes of the cat Melanio begin to glitter in
the corner by the stove. The man-servant knocks and asks if he is to
bring the lamp.

"Make up the fire first," Signor Odoardo says.

The wood crackles and snaps, and sends up showers of sparks; then it
bursts into flame, blazing away with a regular, monotonous sound, like
the breath of a sleeping giant. In the dusk the firelight flashes upon
the walls, brings out the pattern of the wall-paper, and travels far
enough to illuminate a corner of the desk. The shadows lengthen and
then shorten again, thicken and then shrink; everything in the room
seems to be continually changing its size and shape. Signor Odoardo,
giving free rein to his thoughts, evokes the vision of his married
life, sees the baby's cradle, recalls her first cries and smiles, feels
again his dying wife's last kiss, and hears the last word upon her
lips, - DORETTA. No, no, it is impossible that he should ever do
anything to make his Doretta unhappy! And yet he is not sure of
resisting Signora Evelina's wiles; he is almost afraid that, when he
sees his enchantress on the morrow, all his strong resolves may take
flight. There is but one way out of it.

"Doretta," says Signor Odoardo.

"Father?"

"Are you going to copy out your letter to your grandmamma this evening?"

"Yes, father."

"Wouldn't you rather go and see your grandmamma yourself?"

"With whom?" the child falters anxiously, her little heart beating a
frantic tattoo as she awaits his answer.

"With me, Doretta."

"With YOU, daddy?" she exclaims, hardly daring to believe her ears.

"Yes, with me; with your daddy."

"Oh, daddy, DADDY!" she cries, her little arms about his neck, her
kisses covering his face. "Oh, daddy, my own dear daddy! When shall we
start?"

"To-morrow morning, if you're not afraid of the snow."

"Why not now? Why not at once?"

"Gently - gently. Good Lord, doesn't the child want her dinner first?"

And Signor Odoardo, gently detaching himself from his daughter's
embrace, rises and rings for the lamp. Then, instinctively, he glances
once more towards the window. In the opposite house all is dark, and
Signora Evelina's profile is no longer outlined against the pane. The
weather is still threatening, and now and then a snowflake falls. The
servant closes the shutters and draws the curtains, so that no profane
gaze may penetrate into the domestic sanctuary.

"We had better dine in here," Signor Odoardo says. "The dining-room
must be as cold as Greenland."

Doretta, meanwhile, is convulsing the kitchen with the noisy
announcement of the impending journey. At first she is thought to be
joking, but when she establishes the fact that she is speaking
seriously, it is respectfully pointed out to her that the master of the
house must be crazy. To start on a journey in the depth of winter, and
in such weather! If at least they were to wait for a fine day!

But what does Doretta care for the comments of the kitchen? She is
beside herself with joy. She sings, she dances about the room, and
breaks off every moment or two to give her father a kiss. Then she
pours out the fulness of her emotion upon the cat Melanio and the doll
Nini, promising the latter to bring her back a new frock from Milan.

At dinner she eats little and talks incessantly of the journey, asking
again and again what time it is, and at what time they are to start.

"Are you afraid of missing the train?" Signor Odoardo asks with a smile.

And yet, though he dissembles his impatience, it is as great as hers.
He longs to go away, far away. Perhaps he may not return until spring.
He orders his luggage packed for an absence of two months.

Doretta goes to bed early, but all night long she tosses about under
the bed-clothes, waking her nurse twenty times to ask: "Is it time to
get up?"

Signor Odoardo, too, is awake when the man-servant comes to call him
the next morning at six o'clock.

"What sort of a day is it?"

"Very bad, sir - just such another as yesterday. In fact, if I might
make the suggestion, sir, if it's not necessary for you to start
to-day - "

"It is, Angelo. Absolutely necessary."

At the station there are only a few sleepy, depressed-looking
travellers wrapped in furs. They are all grumbling about the weather,
about the cold, about the earliness of the hour, and declaring that
nothing but the most urgent business would have got them out of bed at
that time of day. There is but one person in the station who is all
liveliness and smiles - Doretta.

The first-class compartment in which Signor Odoardo and his daughter
find themselves is bitterly cold, in spite of foot-warmers, but Doretta
finds the temperature delicious, and, if she dared, would open the
windows for the pleasure of looking out.

"Are you happy, Doretta?"

"Oh, SO happy!"

Ten years earlier, on a pleasanter day, but also in winter, Signor
Odoardo had started on his wedding-journey. Opposite him had sat a
young girl, who looked as much like Doretta as a woman can look like a
child; a pretty, sedate young girl, oh, so sweetly, tenderly in love
with Signor Odoardo. And as the train started he had asked her the same
question:

"Are you happy, Maria?"

And she had answered:

"Oh, so happy!" just like Doretta.

The train races and flies. Farewell, farewell, for ever, Signora
Evelina.

And did Signora Evelina die of despair?

Oh, no; Signora Evelina has a perfect disposition and a delightful
home. The perfect disposition enables her not to take things too
seriously, the delightful home affords her a thousand distractions. Its
windows do not all look towards Signor Odoardo's residence. One of
them, for example, commands a little garden belonging to a worthy
bachelor who smokes his pipe there on pleasant days. Signora Evelina
finds the worthy bachelor to her taste, and the worthy bachelor, who is
an average-adjuster by profession, admires Signora Evelina's eyes, and
considers her handsomely and solidly enough put together to rank A No.
1 on Lloyd's registers.

The result is that the bachelor now and then looks up at the window,
and the Signora Evelina now and then looks down at the garden. The
weather not being propitious to out-of-door conversation, Signora
Evelina at length invites her neighbor to come and pay her a visit. Her
neighbor hesitates and she renews the invitation. How can one resist
such a charming woman? And what does one visit signify? Nothing at all.
The excellent average-adjuster has every reason to be pleased with his
reception, the more so as Signora Evelina actually gives him leave to
bring his pipe the next time he comes. She adores the smell of a pipe.
Signora Evelina is an ideal woman, just the wife for a business man who
had not positively made up his mind to remain single. And as to that,
muses the average-adjuster, have I ever positively made up my mind to
remain single, and if I have, who is to prevent my changing it?

And so it comes to pass that when, after an absence of three months,
Signor Odoardo returns home with Doretta, he receives notice of the
approaching marriage of Signora Evelina Chiocci, widow Ramboldi, with
Signor Archimede Fagiuolo.

"Fagiuolo!" shouts Doretta, "FAGIUOLO!" [Footnote: Fagiuolo: a
simpleton.]

The name seems to excite her unbounded hilarity; but I am under the
impression that the real cause of her merriment is not so much Signora
Evelina's husband as Signora Evelina's marriage.






COLLEGE FRIENDS

BY

EDMONDO DE AMICIS

The Translation by Edith Wharton.

[Footnote: Although "College Friends" is rather a reverie than in any
strict sense a story (something in the spirit of "The Reveries of a
Bachelor," if an analogy may be sought in another literature), it has
been thought best to include it here as one of the best-known of De
Amicis' shorter writings. Indeed it is the leading piece in his chief
volume of "Novelle," so that he has himself included it with his tales.]



I.

There are many who write down every evening what they have done during
the day; some who keep a record of the plays they have seen, the books
they have read, the cigars they have smoked - but is there one man in a
hundred, nay, in a thousand, who, at the end of the year, or even once
in a lifetime, draws up a list of the people he has known? I don't mean
his intimate friends, of course - the few whom he sees, or with whom he
corresponds; but the multitude of people met in the past, and perhaps
never to be encountered again, of whom the recollection returns from
time to time at longer and longer intervals as the years go by, until
at length it wholly fades away. Which of us has not forgotten a hundred
once familiar names, lost all trace of a hundred once familiar lives?
And yet to my mind this forgetfulness implies such a loss in the way of
experience, that if I could live my life over again I should devote at
least half an hour a day to the tedious task of recording the names and
histories of the people I met, however uninteresting they might appear.

What strange and complex annals I should possess had I kept such a list
of my earliest school-friends, supplementing it as time went on by any
news of them that I could continue to obtain, and keeping track, as
best I might, of the principal changes in their lives! As it is, of the
two or three hundred lads that I knew there are but twenty or thirty
whom I can recall, or with whose occupations and whereabouts I am
acquainted - of the others I know absolutely nothing. For a few years I
kept them all vividly in mind; three hundred rosy faces smiled at me,
three hundred schoolboy jackets testified more or less distinctly to
the paternal standing, from the velvet coat of the mayor's son to the
floury roundabout of the baker's offspring; I still heard all their
different voices; I saw where each one sat in school; I recalled their
words, their attitudes, their gestures. Gradually all the faces melted
into a rosy blur, the jackets into a uniform neutral tint; the gestures
were blent in a vague ripple of movement, and at last a thick mist
enveloped all and the vision disappeared.

It grieves me that it should be so, and many a time I long to burst
through the mist and evoke the hidden vision. But, alas! my comrades
are all scattered; and were I to try to seek them out, one by one, how
many devious twists and turns I should have to make, and to what
strange places my search would lead me! From a sacristy I should pass
to barracks, from barracks to a laboratory, thence to a lawyer's
office; from the lawyer's office to a prison, from the prison to a
theatre, from the theatre, alas! to a cemetery, and thence, perhaps, to
a merchant vessel lying in some American or Eastern port. Who knows
what adventures, what misfortunes, what domestic tragedies, what
transformations in appearance, in habits, in life, would be found to
have befallen that mere handful of humanity, within that short space of
time!

And yet those are not the friends that I most long to see again.
Indeed, if we analyze that sense of mournful yearning which makes us
turn back to childhood, we shall be surprised to find how faint is the
longing for our old comrades, nay, we may even discover that no such
sentiment exists in us. And why should it, after all? We were often
together, we were merry, we sought each other out, we desired each
other's companionship; but there was no interchange between us of
anything that draws together, that binds closer, that leaves its mark
upon the soul. Our friendships were unmade as lightly as they were
made. What we wanted was somebody to echo our laughter, to climb trees


1 2 3 4 6 8

Online LibraryVariousStories by Foreign Authors: Italian → online text (page 6 of 8)