Signa, by Ouida

Chapter 13.

MEANWHILE Lippo, munching tomatoes stewed with garlic, in the warm weather with his casement open to the evening air, said to his wife:

“Nita, I met a man in the city to‐day who has come over from Bologna upon busines. He told me that old Dini’s boast is not untrue — that the boy of Bruno’s is doing well at the Music School, and that people say he is clever, and he gains quattrini singing in the churches — only Bruno does not know that. The man knew, because his own son is at the great School, having a good bass voice that they think to make something of in a year or two. It is a good thing that we never stinted the lad, and that all the Lastra said how good we were to him, and always let him go to mass, and never a clean shirt for Toto but there was one for him too. If ever the lad should do anything that the world talks about (not that I think it likely, an idle, dreaming brat), still, if ever it do come to pass, people will know we have fair claim on him, and nobody could say that if he neglect us that it would be other than rank thanklessness. Not that what we did, we did for gain. No, never! But they do say those singing men and women make rare fortunes. Or if he write for the theatres and the churches — there is the man of Pesaro that wrote the ‘Gazza Ladra’ and the ‘Otello’— I have heard them scores of times down in the city, he lives still, or did quite lately; and such a fuss with him as kings and queens and other countries make — if it should be ever so with the dainty boy of Bruno’s — well, we did our duty by him, wife. That we can say honestly.”

“Aye, that we did!” said Nita, with a grin on her wide angry mouth, scarlet as the tomato that she ate.

Nita was a rough woman and a masterful, and could lie when need arose with all the stubborn‐ ness and inventiveness that could be desired from any daughter of Eve. But she could not take the daily pleasure that her lord did in keeping up the lie all the day long in her own household, when all need was over, and not a creature there to be the dupe of it.

“We did our duty by him, and very few there would have been who would have taken pity on Bruno’s base‐born, and brought him to a sense of what he owed to it,” said Lippo, pushing his emptied plate away with a sigh.

He had talked himself very nearly into the belief that the boy was Bruno’s, and his own charity just what he had told the neighbours. He had said it so often that he had nearly grown into the belief that it was true.

“I was thinking,” he added, timidly, for he was always timid before Nita, since who could say how she might persuade Baldo to leave his money? “I was thinking — after all, he is our blood, though not come rightly by it — what do you say if we were to send him a little basket of figs and the like when this man goes back to Bologna? It would be just a little remembrance, and show one bore no rancour against him for that fit of passion when he blinded you.”

“Wait till he has written his opera,” said Nita, with her mouth still in an angry laughter. “You are a shrewd fellow, Lippo. But sometimes you are too over‐fond of counting your chickens before your hen has even laid an egg. Figs are figs, and fetch five centimes each till August comes. And clever boys are like lettuces: in much sun they run all to seed. Your precious brute Bruno gives the lad all sun. If I had him —”

“Ah!” said Lippo, with a smile and sigh together, and girded up his loins and went intohe street to see who was inclined to play a turn at dominoes; and told the barber and the butcher that the poor boy Signa was trying to do right in Bologna, and was studying hard.

“Oh, I bear no ill‐will. We are all poor creatures; where should we be at our best unless the saints were there to intercede for us?” said he, with gentle self‐deprecation, when they praised his kind way of speaking. “Oh, I bear no ill‐will; Bruno is hard, and always unjust, and the greed of getting gold grows on him; but some day he will see the wrong that he has done. I can wait. It is sad to live ever in estrangement, but when one knows one’s innocence and good intent — and the poor lad truly never was to blame. He was encouraged in rebellion and ingratitude. I have sent him a trifle of money by a man that is going to Bologna; he is in little difficulties, so they tell me, and one does not like a boy to suffer for his elder’s fault. Besides, now he has left, he sees who were his true friends. Bruno dotes on him; oh, yes, in a mad fashion, but hoards for him, and presses poor men he lends to, as he did to Baccio — poor Baccio Alessio; he is in the Bargello for another debt! and all his children starve! it is not the way to bring a blessing on the lad. So I have a mind to tell Bruno, only he is so violent, and never speakes to me, being ashamed no doubt. But all that is not the lad’s fault. Nor would one visit it.”

And Lippo sat down to his dominoes, and was so pleased with himself that he cheated a little more than usual by way of self‐reward. He never cheated greatly, because he knew that to cheat a little every evening, with success and undetected, is much more productive and more prudent than to cheat with a big audacity, that reaps one golden harvest and then is found out, and so for ever ended.

“You will call him ‘nephew’ if he should write for a theatre, and get paid?” said old Baldo, looking up at him through his spectacles, as he returned, with some loose notes in his pocket, of which he would not speak to Nita.

“Blood is blood, without the Church or notary, that I do think,” said Lippo, gently; he liked these vague well‐sounding phrases that pledged nothing.

Old Baldo chuckled and smoked a second pipe. Baldo settled within himself that he would let all his savings and his snug little purchase of land above Giovoli go unrestricted to his daughter; her husband, he saw, was not a man to waste money or opportunities, poor‐spirited fool though the cobbler thought him, as he heard Nita’s voice saluting his return to bed with a shower of invectives, that rolled through the open casement on the night stillness up to the Pisan Gate.

“My dear,” he heard Lippo’s soft voice answer. “My dear, I have only been to drink a cup of coffee with the good canon. When he was so gracious as to do me so much honour, how could I say no?”

Baldo chuckled.

He did not like Lippo; he was impatient of him, and contemptuous of him, but he felt a sort of respect for him, nevertheless, as he listened where he sat on the porch.

Anyway, Lippo was a safe man to leave one’s money to, and all one’s little outstanding crop of bad debtors.

He might be poor‐spirited — no doubt he was. A bold opponent might wring his neck like a chicken’s. But such pretty, neat, ready‐lying as this would stand him in better stead than all the high spirit in the world; which, after all, only serves to get a man into hot water in this life and eternal fire in the next.

Baldo put his pipe out, and nodded to the barber, who was taking his neighbours’ characters away by lamplight under the Madonna of Good Counsel, and double‐locked his house‐door, and carried his stout old body to his bed.

 

“I used to wish she had married the other one,” he thought, as he laid himself down. “But he would have throttled her in a fit of passion; he would never have kept her quiet with the Canon’s cup of coffee. And he would never have got in for me all my bad debts. He would have burnt my ledgers as soon as I was dead. He is a fool. I am glad she married the clever one.”

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Last updated Thursday, March 6, 2014 at 21:06