Gior. (making introduction). My sister Gertrude. My friend Gianni Bartolomeo Senatori.
Ger. Very pleased! (To GIORGIO). And what next?
Gior. Oh, nothing! I must get the designs ready for my new machine. They are to be submitted to-day, and I must put all the papers and the drawings in proper order. (goes to a table, where he occupies himself in the manner named, making occasional notes).
Gian. (To GERTRUDE.). Yes, to be sure, I am an old friend of his, only we had not seen each other for an age. I find my dear Giorgio rather upset.
Gior. I should like to know what I have to be cheerful about.
Gian. You don’t believe in the proverb: “Heaven helps the cheerful man.”
Gior. I don’t believe in Heaven! Besides, you have not yet proved ——
Gian. How a living can be made? Indeed! Just consider my profession and my social position!
Ger. (To GIANNI ). Have you no employment/
Gian. At your service, madam — none.
Ger. Then you have some pension or allowance?120
Gian. Yours to command. All I can do is to manufacture bad verse, and I have a certain fluency of tongue, and that is how I make my way. But there are no dramas, no tragedies. Comedy — it’s all comedy — funny, you know.
Ger. Well, but what do you do for a living? Pardon me if I am indiscreet.
Gian. Quite the contrary, let me assure you! I go about it in this way: I have divided the city into twelve districts, or sections, whichever you like to call them. Each month I travel one of my districts. This month it happens to be this one.
Ger. Not very rich, this section! Noen but poor people live here.
Gian. At your service, madam.
Gior. The rich people are less charitable than the poor.
Gian. Very true. What a pity that it’s the poor people who are not rich! But they have an advantage — they are not so suspicious; and another — they don’t let you wait about in the hall; you go straight in. In the houses of the wealthy it’s maddening: porters, butlers, servants — everybody used to judging one by one’s appearance.
Ger. And to showing one the door without ceremony.
Gian. Yours to command.
Ger. But tell me what you do.
Gian. I have several systems. One is to provide poetry. Supposing, for instance, there is a wedding, or a new graduate, or a dancer who has made a tremendous hit, or a celebrated preacher, or a newly elected deputy. I have a sonnet that suits them all. It is sufficient to change the last triplet. I have six variations made up for that triplet. It 121 is a six-barreled-revolver sonnet, and can be shot off six times. Now, observe. Both the quatrains consist of philosophical reflections on the sorrows and joys of life; they answer very well for anybody. In the first triplet I come down to particulars. “And thou!” I begin, without mentioning names. “Thou,” may belong to any sex or condition: “thou” is equally good for a man and a woman, for old people and young, for a nobleman or a shopkeeper. Thus:
This, you see, is suitable for any person, the point being the possession of a beneficent disposition toward the unfortunate. The last triplet is the loaded chamber turning in the revolver. Let us say we have a bride:
Or else, “Enjoy, oh, artist rare”; or else, “Enjoy, oh, scion thou of royal blood”; or else, “Enjoy, oh, worthy burgher”; or else, “Enjoy, oh, orator sublime —— ”
Ger. And what if you were speaking of some one who had just died?122
Gian. At your service, madam. I should say, “Enjoy, oh, gentle heir —— “
Ger. Very ingenious!
Gian. Another system I have is to play the electrical agent. I present myself, we will say, to a marquis, a great man of letters, or a banker. I enter with a certain degree of dignity, stretch out my legs as I sit down, and after a brief preamble on the existing need for men of strong independent character, on the dangers threatening our country’s free institutions, I finally inquire, rather mysteriously, “Would you, in short, sir, be willing to be elected senator?” “But,” says he, flattered and smiling, “I do not quite understand,” And I reply, “Pardon me if I am unable to divulge anything more at present.” “Then, perhaps, you have been charged with sounding me?” “I might have been.” Note that I say I might have been, not that I have been. That would be a lie, and I never tell lies. Then he goes on, “Pardon me, with whom have I the honor of speaking?” “I am Gianni Bartolomeo Senatori. Don’t you remember — Turin — Exchange Café — at luncheon, at dinner?” “Ah, yes, of course I remember, my dear Signor Senatori!” Now observe that I never said I remembered. That would be a lie. I ask him if he remembers, and he says he does; so it is he who tells a lie. Sometimes it happens that after getting as far as the vestibule I am confronted by a rude domestic, who says, “Not at home!” Then I give the fellow my card, and say, with my nose in the air, “Here, hand this in to your master!” As you already know, my name is Gianni Bartolomeo Senatori. When you are poor you must use your wits. I use my name too. My cards bear my name, only Bartolomeo comes before Gianni, and is abbreviated to Bar.; the, after Gianni comes with fine flourishes Senatori. 123 When the gentleman sees my card, he reads, “Bar. Gianni — Ah, I see — Baron Gianni!” He gets up, and says, “Baron Gianni, Senator! Bring him in! Bring him in at once!” And in I go.
Ger. And after you have once got in?
Gian. Oh, at your service, madam.
Ger. (to GEORGIO). You see how he does it?
Gior. Yes, he gains his daily bread by daily tricks.
Gian. Now, that is a piece of cruel and unmerited sarcasm.
Gior. Do you mean to say yours are not daily tricks?
Gian. Yes, the tricks are. But the bread is not daily; it is irregular, and sometimes annoyingly accompanied by cold water.
Rai. I know, ninety per cent of the unfaithful wives represent only ninety out of a hundred husbands who deserve being deceived. But half of them deserve it through a single mistake they have made — an imprudent choice. And your case? The remedy? To make up for the first mistake with all the good sense possible. It is difficult, true, but there is a certain sword of Damocles which sharpens the wit and points the will.
Fed. A sword of Damocles?
Rai. Yes, a sword on whose blade a single word stands inscribed, the little word describing the husband of the 124 faithless wife. It is the Inquisition of our day. Should the man kill her? Should he forgive her? The law offers him a wash-basin, and when he has washed his hands he is no better off than he was before. Because society makes no allowances, but strikes him with a terrible punishment, which overtakes him and is inflicted on him without his being conscious of it. Nothing changes; no one denies him the usual bow. Quite the contrary, poor fellow! His friends shake hands with him; why not, poor devil? He is always welcome at his club; he is permitted to act as second in duels; he is invited to shoot at pigeons, to belong to racing committees. But the bows and hand-shakes have an imperceptible touch of irony, the very least tinge of mockery, which is most pronounced when he passes arm in arm with his best friend. The unhappy man feels as though he were in an unhealthy atmosphere; only he does not reflect, he does not stop to give himself an accurate account of his indisposition. Oh, it may be the heat; or it may be the dampness. No, the name of the disease that has smitten him is ridicule. A secret has escaped from a bedroom in his house, and has reached the hall; it runs down to the porter’s lodge, slips out into the street, and behold! a whole city is whispering it; a whole city conspires not to spoil the poor wretch’s comical trustfulness, to form a shield, while laughing and joking, between him and the two fortunate accomplices in this secret of Punchinello’s — while Punchinello is the only one ignorant of it.
Fed. Now I must really protest! The Hebrews stoned the unfaithful wife, the Locretians put her eyes out, the English cut her ears off, the Egyptians her nose, and the Romans, forsooth, chopped off her head — and we moderns make fun of the husband! Oh, if the husband has been a libertine or 125 a fool, I agree; but if his wife has found in him youth, love, protection, and a worthy example, then by God! the fools are they who laugh at him. And I join with the husband in laughing all the more heartily at those apes playing cockatoo! A man of character has no fear of ridicule.
Rai. Which is the same as if you said a man of character need have no fear of sickness.
Fed. So, then, there is ridicule for the innocent husband, and for the wife, and for the lover?
Rai. The same disease for all of them, you may be sure. But what is the use of telling you? It is time wasted!