Signa, by Ouida

Chapter 21.

MEANWHILE Lippo, in the Lastra, read the news‐sheets, and walked with meek pride among the idlers at the house‐doors at the close of the working‐day.

“Yes — my nephew,” he would say, with some new journal in his hand, out of which he could spell some fresh description of the successes of the Actea. “Dear boy! to see how great he is. And to think that if I, or rather my good father‐in‐law, had not advanced the money for that little bit of land, all this great talent might have been buried forever — aye! — it makes one proud to have been the humble means. But, indeed, in his babyhood, I foresaw the bent that he would have; you will remember; I always spared him to chant in any church they sought him for. I knew it was fine practice, and what young life can begin holier than by using God’s gifts to praise His saints? It always brings a blessing. ‘Put the child to work’ people said always; but I, and Nita too, said, ‘No; as far as we have aught to do with him, we dedicate him, as the parents did the little Samuel, to the sacred office of the Temple.’ Only then Bruno interfered, and would not have it, because the church only gives but a few pence; as if it were pence brought the blessing! — but that is all bygone. I wish to bury all remembrance of difference. Only poor Bruno is so hard and harsh. Oh, yes, it is all true! all printed here; the Syndic of Genoa sent him special entreaty to be present at the first representation in the Carlo Felice, and all the town was dressed with flags, and strangers flocking from all parts; it might have been a victory with half a million of men killed and wounded, for all the mighty rejoicing that there was. It does seem wonderful; and he such a little lad! But he does not forget us. No; he wrote to Nita yesterday, and sent a necklace of pearls for our Richetta, remembering she is sixteen years old to‐day. Was it not pretty, and so grateful? But he knows who were always his true friends — dear boy! Nita will show you the pearls if you go all of you upstairs. He is so fond of us, and we of him; only he cannot let it be seen when he stays here, because his first duty is, I always say, to Bruno; and we know what Bruno is.”

And Lippo would go up the street, and murmur much the same at other houses in the short twilight of the shortening days; and his towns‐folk listened, and ended in believing him.

True, some sceptic said that the pearls were old ones of his mother’s that he had reset himself on the jeweller’s bridge down in the city; and some of those malignant souls that keep long memories for the torment of their fellow‐creatures, since most folks like to write their lives in sand, remembered one with another a little fellow, beaten black and blue, who had run hungry about all day on Lippo’s errands.

But these were in a very small minority.

Baldo was a warm man, the Lastra knew, the Lastra felt itself being usually cold, so far as empty pockets go; and Lippo had got the bit of land upon the hill, and had added another little bit to it; and had moreover such a pretty way of lending money at convenient moments to his neighbours; and, when obliged to ask for it back again at inconvenient ones, sorrowed so and wept, and took high interest with such reluctance or such protestation of it, that the Lastra could not quarrel with him, nor object to seeing with his eyes.

Lippo grew daily into a power in the little place; and Bruno, all the Lastra knew — and Signa‐on‐the‐Hill knew, too — had always been a dangerous, dark man, who kept his own counsel in churlish silence, whilst candid cheerful Lippo laid his heart bare as a good comrade should, and kept close thoughts in nothing.

The Lastra, like the world, did not mind a little lying; it was the life of gossip; but silence it would not forgive; silence was the highest sin and biggest.

And Baldo felt so much respect for him in consequence, and had so high an opinion of his judgment, that he gave his money for any scheme of investment or modes of purchase that his son‐in‐law proposed.

“Lippo had not a centime of his own,” said the shoe‐maker to his special gossips, “But then he knows how to plant a centime in the ground, so as to make it take root and blossom into hundreds. That is better perhaps than to be born with money — to know the art of getting and turning about other people’s. The miller gains more by the wheat than the farmer does.”

It could hardly be said that Baldo ever liked his son‐in‐law. But he grew to be glad of him, and to believe in his good sense.

“Nature makes some folks false as it makes lizards wriggle,” said he. “Lippo is a lizard. No dog ever caught him napping, though he looks so lazy in the sun.”

Bruno had never known how, or knowing, never would have troubled himself, to please the people round him.

Lippo did know.

“It is no good to make your life into a bit of solid silver fit for goldsmiths, and shut it up in a cupboard: you will get no credit,” he said to himself. “Make it into a dish of tomatoes, and put plenty of garlic in; and let every one put a finger into it, and lick his finger afterwards; then they will always speak well of you, and think they helped to cook the dish as well as eat it, and so will take a pride — even when your plates are all cracked — in you.”

And Lippo always ate his tomatoes in public, and so was much beloved, and turned his vinegar to oil.


“I thought he was a ne’er‐do‐weel,” said Baldo. “But I was wrong. For pretty lying, nicely buttered, and going down like a fig in a dog’s throat, there is not his equal anywhere — not anywhere.”

Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 11:58