Read All Our Yesterdays Online

Authors: Natalia Ginzburg

All Our Yesterdays (7 page)

BOOK: All Our Yesterdays
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The old gentleman's funeral was a big funeral with a very long procession, a snake that curled itself all through the town. There were a great many large wreaths, and the driver of the hearse wore a white wig and a tall hat, and the horses had Mack hoods. In the first row could be seen Mammina with a black veil, leaning on Emanuele's arm, and Amalia and Giuma who had been summoned by telegram, and Franz with a grey overcoat and grey gloves and a sad, severe expression. Behind came all the people from the soap factory, and among them was to be seen Danilo's mother with a big tortoiseshell comb planted in her bush of hair, for she had been dismissed from the cake-shop, perhaps because of the affair of Danilo, and Emanuele had had her taken on at the soap factory. At the cemetery a long speech was made about the old gentleman, about the soap factory which previously had been nothing at all and he, gradually, had succeeded in making it big and important, and Anna and Concettina were very much bored and the heat was terrible. Anna looked at Giuma who was there right in front of her. He had long trousers now and the face almost of a grown-up man, big and hard, but he brushed the hair away from his eyes with the same gesture as before. Anna only saw him that day at the funeral and they did not say anything to each other, and a little time after the funeral Giuma went back to school.

Immediately after the opening of the will Amalia departed too, as though the ground were scorching her feet. She was going back to the nurses' college to finish her course, so Emanuele said, but goodness knows whether he was telling the truth and goodness knows where she was really going. She and Mammina had scarcely spoken to one another and Amalia had stayed almost all the time in her own room, as indeed Mammina had too, and Franz roamed the house with an unhappy expression, and tried to talk to Emanuele who barely answered him. The reading of the will was a very long and tedious ceremony, everyone sitting round the table with the uncle who was a colonel and the lawyer ; the uncle who was a colonel was the old gentleman's brother and the old gentleman in his will had appointed him to be the guardian of Giuma who was a minor. In the meantime Franz who had nothing to do with the reading of the will waited in the next room, and from time to time he put his head in at the door to make some foolish remark, to announce the arrival of the upholsterer or the dyer or to say that lunch was ready, and the uncle who was a colonel would give him a look of annoyance. According to the will Mammina had the usufruct of the inherited property, and the shares in the soap factory were to be divided equally between Amalia, Emanuele and Giuma. Mammina went very red and asked what a usufruct was, but the uncle who was a colonel told her to be quiet and that he would explain it to her afterwards.

A few days after Amalia had gone Franz said that he must go away too on stockbroking business. So Emanuele and Mammina were left alone, at lunch and at dinner the two of them were alone at that long table, and when they had finished Mammina would lie down on the sofa and take off her shoes, and say how unkind Amalia had been to her, she had done her no harm at all, she could not understand what Amalia had against her. Then she asked what usufruct was and whether it was much or little, and whether she would still be able to have a dress or two made for herself now and then, and Emanuele kissed her and told her she could have all the dresses made that she wanted. And Mammina said that Emanuele had always been so good to her, and this consoled her for Amalia's bad behaviour and for Giuma's air of indifference, Giuma had become so cold and arrogant with her. Emanuele suggested that they should go out for a little, and they took the car and went out of the town, but as they were passing along the lake Mammina said she did not wish to see the lake, and never again would she swim in it, because the lake reminded her of the day Papa died, while she was enjoying herself swimming. Emanuele accelerated and Mammina kept her eyes shut, until he told her that the lake was no longer to be seen. Mammina said she really could not have imagined that Papa was going to die just that morning, she had gone to the lake because it had not seemed to her that Papa was so very ill, he was quiet and as rosy as a baby. And then she said they must have a fine bronze statue made of Papa by some good sculptor, to put in the courtyard of the soap factory.

When he was able to leave Mammina Emanuele went back to his studies on the terrace with Ippolito, and Ippolito told him he was now the head of a business and despised his poor penniless friends, and the soap factory belonged to him, the soap factory was his very own, and from the terrace he pointed towards it with his outstretched arm, but Emanuele covered his eyes with his hands and would not look. He would go and work in the factory, he said, after he had got his degree, because he had promised his father he would do so, but he had no desire to work there, God knows what he would have given to work somewhere else. He was not in the least interested in soap and would like to bash in the face of anyone who dared to show him even the tiniest little bit of it.

The exams went well for everyone except Giustino, who as usual was told he must take them again in October. And after the exams Ippolito began asking what they were waiting for, why didn't they go to Le Visciole, and no one had any desire for Le Visciole and they suggested he should go there by himself, but he could not make up his mind to go all by himself. Signora Maria was hoping for an invitation from her sister at Genoa, and Anna and Giustino were hoping that the usual invitation would come from Cenzo Rena to that castle of his with the small towers, and perhaps it would be possible to accept, now that the old man was no longer there to forbid it : but Cenzo Rena was in Holland and wrote from there. No invitation arrived for anyone and they left for Le Visciole, otherwise Ippolito would have given them no peace ; but Concettina was obstinately determined to stay in the town, because she had to prepare her thesis and to consult books in the library. She was preparing a thesis on Racine, but so far she had written only three pages of it and Ippolito had read them and considered them to be idiotic. Emanuele had to accompany Mammina to Men-tone but promised that as soon as he had established Mammina there he would come himself to Le Visciole, and Signora Maria said wasn't it too stupid, to have a villa at Mentone and come to Le Visciole, where there wasn't even running water and to get a bucket of water you had to pump for an hour in the courtyard.


Emanuele arrived at Le Visciole at the beginning of July. So now Ippolito was no longer alone in his wanderings round the countryside, but Emanuele limped quickly along beside him up and down the paths, red from the sun and heated with discussion. Giustino spent his time in the village square, in company with the sons and. daughters of the Humbugs, and in the evenings went and danced on the open-air platform, with its paper lanterns swaying amongst the foliage. They did a great many things now which their father had not allowed them to do, and Anna swam in the river at a place where there was a quiet pool, and Signora Maria sat in the sun on the bank, where the wives of the Humbugs went with their babies, their work and their picnic lunches, and at last Signora Maria was able to speak to them.

One evening, while they were having supper under the pergola, a motor-car stopped at their gate. They heard the door of the car bang and the creaking of the gate as it opened, and did not understand who it could be at that hour, and they saw at the bottom of the drive a man in a long white waterproof and a hat all out of Shape. Emanuele rose and started limping nervously round the table. But it was not a policeman. It was Cenzo Rena and he began embracing them all.

And so at last they saw him, this Cenzo Rena who sent chocolates and post-cards from every part of the world. They had always imagined him as being very old, as old as their father, and yet he did not look so very old, he had just a few grey streaks in his hair and moustache. Signora Maria had always said he was very rich, and now again she was saying so and boasting of it while she prepared him a little supper, and at the same time she was cursing the idea that they all had of coming to Le Visciole, from Mentone, from Holland, they all came and planted themselves in this miserable hole where she already had so much to do.

Cenzo Rena did not appear very rich, just to look at him. He had on this very long waterproof which looked like a nightshirt, and underneath it he had on a thick sweater, all discoloured and dirty, which hung in folds over his stomach. He had enormous suitcases tied up with cords ; he ran off and pulled them out of the car and started furiously untying the knots, and then pulling out socks and drawers, all higgledy-piggledy. Anna and Giustino stood watching, expecting a present of some kind, but, instead of that, Cenzo Rena dug out from under the socks merely a few photographs of Holland which he had taken ; he seemed very proud of these photographs, but in reality they were not very clear, all you saw was a sort of blur, and Cenzo Rena explained that he had taken them in the rain. Then all at once he tapped himself on the forehead and apologized for having forgotten to bring any presents, he had intended to bring all sorts of things for everybody and had forgotten. From underneath the socks he pulled out also a tin of tunny-fish in oil, and they all sampled it and stayed till late under the pergola, because Cenzo Rena was eating and drinking and smoking and did not seem ever to want to go to bed.

When they went into the house, Cenzo Rena suddenly stopped at the foot of the stairs with his eyes full of tears, and said that he seemed to see the old man coming down those same stairs with his eyeglass and his white flannel trousers, and that he seemed to hear his snappish tone of voice when he said, “Make yourself useful, seeing that you're not ornamental ”. Cenzo Rena started stroking Ippolito's head, untidying his hair a little, and said that Ippolito was the very image of his father as a young man : but Ippolito remained stiff and motionless, with downcast eyes and frowning brows, as he always did when someone behaved with tenderness towards him.

Cenzo Rena stayed for several days at Le Visciole. In the morning he wanted to have a bath, he was dirty but he always had a bath, and he said he remembered that there was no bathroom at Le Visciole and so he had brought expressly a rubber bath. So Signora Maria had to go and pump water in the courtyard, and run up and down the stairs with buckets, and it was no use because he came out more shaggy and untidy than before, after splashing water all over the room. Cenzo Rena was tall and big, and his face was all hair and eyebrows and moustaches, and he wore glasses too, glasses with tortoiseshell rims. He did not choose to dress like other men, with a tie and a jacket, but always wore blouses and sweaters and strange things, and he wore strange things on his feet too, slippers or galoshes or sandals, never real shoes. He had brought with him a great many bottles of brandy and a great many tins of tunnyfish in oil, and at the end of lunch, as soon as he had finished his fruit, he opened one of these tins of tunny and started swallowing it in spoonfuls, and Signora Maria was offended and went over the lunch in her mind, to see if it had been good and plentiful enough. In the morning as soon as he woke up he at once started smoking, drinking and eating the tunnyfish in oil, and writing quantities of letters in a tearing hurry, and he upset a bottle of ink on a carpet in his room, and Signora Maria took the greatest trouble rubbing the stain with milk and breadcrumbs but it did not come out, a beautiful carpet ruined for ever. And Cenzo Rena stood watching her as she rubbed, he said it was Lady Macbeth's spot, which all the perfumes of Arabia could not remove. But Ippolito, too, was annoyed about the carpet, he said nothing but you could see he was annoyed. And at table Cenzo Rena from time to time slapped Ippolito hard on the shoulder, hard enough to make him jump, and set to work to try and comfort him about the carpet and promised to send him a very beautiful new carpet, a carpet from Smyrna. But then he shook his head and said that certainly Ippolito resembled his father physically, but was very different from him in spirit, for his father, at Ippolito's age, was ready to set all the carpets in his house on fire and the chairs too.

Cenzo Rena often went for country walks with Ippolito and Emanuele, and went out shooting with them, but he said that Ippolito had no idea at all of how to take up the right position nor of how to take aim, and indeed he hardly ever hit anything, and in any case it was impossible to go out shooting with that dog. When he came home Cenzo Rena was tired and out of temper, he threw himself into a chair under the pergola and shook his head, for a long time he shook his head and he said to Ippolito and Emanuele that the two of them were full of nothing but smoke and fog, they thought themselves goodness knows what and yet they didn't even know how to shoot little birds. Two little provincial intellectuals, that was what they were, and that is the dreariest and oddest thing that can exist on earth. They had never seen anything ; he, Cenzo Rena, had been in America, in Constantinople and in London, and he knew what Italy was when looked at from Mexico or from London, Italy was just a flea, and Mussolini a flea's droppings. But Emanuele and Ippolito did not even know Italy, they had never seen anything except their own little town, and they imagined the whole of Italy to be like their own little town, an Italy of teachers and accountants with a few workmen thrown in, but even the workmen and the accountants became rather like teachers in their imagination. And they had forgotten that in Italy there were peasants and priests as well, in fact if you came to think of it there was really nothing else, because teachers and workmen were, fundamentally, nothing but priests or peasants. And in Italy there was the South, cried Cenzo Rena, and he jumped up from his chair when he said the South, and banged his hand on the table and threw out his arms. They didn't know what the South was, or what the peasants of the South were, with nothing but a few beans to eat. Emanuele limped up and down the lawn and wiped the sweat from his face, and from time to time he turned his head quickly and drew in his breath as if he wanted to answer, but he did not answer. And Ippolito did not answer either, but sat sideways on his chair with the dog between his knees, and gave a little crooked smile as he stroked the dog's ears. On the other hand this was all vain chatter, went on Cenzo Rena, because in a short time there would be war, a war with poison gases and cholera germs rained down from aeroplanes. And so there would be nobody left on the earth.

BOOK: All Our Yesterdays
6.2Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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