Luigi Capuana ~ The Deposition

129-the-gate

 

“I know nothing at all about it, your honor!”

“Nothing at all? How can that be? It all happened within fifty yards of your shop.”

“‘Nothing at all,’ I said, … in an off-hand way; but really, next to nothing. I am a barber, your honor, and Heaven be praised! I have custom enough to keep me busy from morning till night. There are three of us in the shop, and what with shaving and combing and hair-cutting, not one of the three has the time to stop and scratch his head, and I least of all. Many of my customers are so kind as to prefer my services to those of my two young men; perhaps because I amuse them with my little jokes. And, what with lathering and shaving this face and that, and combing the hair on so many heads—how does your honor expect me to pay attention to other people’s affairs? And the morning that I read about it in the paper, why, I stood there with my mouth wide open, and I said, ‘Well, that was the way it was bound to end!'”

“Why did you say, ‘That was the way it was bound to end’?”

“Why—because it had ended that way! You see—on the instant, I called to mind the ugly face of the husband. Every time I saw him pass up or down the street—one of those impressions that no one can account for—I used to think, ‘That fellow has the face of a convict!’ But of course that proves nothing. There are plenty who have the bad luck to be uglier than mortal sin, but very worthy people all the same. But in this case I didn’t think that I was mistaken.”

“But you were friends. He used to come very often and sit down at the entrance to your barber shop.”

“Very often? Only once in a while, your honor! ‘By your leave, neighbor,’ he would say. He always called me ‘neighbor’; that was his name for everyone. And I would say, ‘Why, certainly.’ The chair stood there, empty. Your honor understands that I could hardly be so uncivil as to say to him, ‘No, you can’t sit down.’ A barber shop is a public place, like a café or a beer saloon. At all events, one may sit down without paying for it, and no need to have a shave or hair-cut, either! ‘By your leave, neighbor,’ and there he would sit, in silence, smoking and scowling, with his eyes half shut. He would loaf there for half an hour, an hour, sometimes longer. He annoyed me, I don’t deny it, from the very start. There was a good deal of talk.”

“What sort of talk?”

“A good deal of talk. Your honor knows, better than I, how evil-minded people are. I make it a practice not to believe a syllable of what I am told about anyone, good or evil; that is the way to keep out of trouble.”

“Come, come, what sort of talk? Keep to the point.”

“What sort of talk? Why, one day they would say this, and the next day they would say that, and by harping on it long enough, they made themselves believe that the wife—Well, your honor knows that a pretty wife is a chastisement of God. And after all, there are some things that you can’t help seeing unless you won’t see!”

“Then it was he, the husband—”

“I know nothing about it, your honor, nothing at all! But it is quite true that every time he came and sat down by my doorway or inside the shop, I used to say to myself, ‘If that man can’t see, he certainly must be blind! and if he won’t see, he certainly must be—Your honor knows what I mean. There was certainly no getting out of that—out of that—Perhaps your honor can help me to the right word?”

“Dilemma?”

“Dilemma, yes, your honor. And Biasi, the notary, who comes to me to be shaved, uses another word that just fits the case, begging your honor’s pardon.”

“Then, according to you, this Don Nicasio—”

“Oh, I won’t put my finger in the pie! Let him answer for himself. Everyone has a conscience of his own; and Jesus Christ has said, ‘Judge not, lest ye be judged.’ Well, one morning—or was it in the evening? I don’t exactly remember—yes, now it comes back to me that it was in the morning—I saw him pass by, scowling and with his head bent down; I was in my doorway, sharpening a razor. Out of curiosity I gave him a passing word as well as a nod, adding a gesture that was as good as a question. He came up to me, looked me straight in the face, and answered: ‘Haven’t I told you that, sooner or later, I should do something crazy? And I shall, neighbor, yes, I shall! They are dragging me by the hair!’ ‘Let me cut it off, then!’ I answered jokingly, to make him forget himself.”

“So, he had told you before, had he? How did he happen to tell you before?”

“Oh, your honor knows how words slip out of the mouth at certain moments. Who pays attention to them? For my part, I have too many other things in my head—”

“Come, come—what had he been talking about, when he told you before?”

“Great heavens, give me time to think, your honor! What had he been talking about? Why, about his wife, of course. Who knows? Some one must have put a flea in his ear. It needs only half a word to ruin a poor devil’s peace of mind. And that is how a man lets such words slip out of his mouth as ‘Sooner or later I shall do something crazy!’ That is all. I know nothing else about it, your honor!”

“And the only answer you made him was a joke?”

“I could not say to him, ‘Go ahead and do it,’ could I? As it was he went off, shaking his head. And what idea he kept brooding over, after that, who knows? One can’t see inside of another man’s brain. But sometimes, when I heard him freeing his mind—”

“Then he used to free his mind to you?”

“Why, yes, to me, and maybe to others besides. You see, one bears things and bears things and bears things; and at last, rather than burst with them, one frees one’s mind to the first man who comes along.”

“But you were not the first man who came along. You used to call at his house—”

“Only as a barber, your honor! Only when Don Nicasio used to send for me. And very often I would get there too late, though I tried my best.”

“And very likely you sometimes went there when you knew that he was not at home?”

“On purpose, your honor? No, never!”

“And when you found his wife alone, you allowed yourself—”

“Calumnies, your honor! Who dares say such a thing? Does she say so? It may be that once or twice a few words escaped me in jest. You know how it is—when I found myself face to face with a pretty woman—you know how it is—if only not to cut a foolish figure!”

“But it was very far from a joke! You ended by threatening her!”

“What calumnies! Threaten her? What for? A woman of her stamp doesn’t need to be threatened! I would never have stooped so low! I am no schoolboy!”

“Passion leads men into all sorts of folly.”

“That woman is capable of anything! She would slander our Lord himself to His face! Passion? I? At my age? I am well on in the forties, your honor, and many a gray hair besides. Many a folly I committed in my youth, like everyone else. But now—Besides, with a woman like that! I was no blind man, even if Don Nicasio was. I knew that that young fellow—poor fool, he paid dearly for her—I knew that he had turned her head. That’s the way with some women—they go their own gait, they’re off with one and on with another, and then they end by becoming the slave of some scalawag who robs and abuses them! He used to beat her, your honor, many and many a time, your honor! And I, for the sake of the poor husband, whom I pitied—Yes, that is why she says that I threatened her. She says so, because I was foolish enough to go and give her a talking to, the day that Don Nicasio said to me, ‘I shall do something crazy!’ She knew what I meant, at least she pretended that she did.”

“No; this was what you said—”

“Yes, your honor, I remember now exactly what I said. ‘I’ll spoil your sport,’ I told her, ‘if it sends me to the galleys!’ but I was speaking in the name of the husband. In the heat of the moment one falls into a part—”

“The husband knew nothing of all this.”

“Was I to boast to him of what I had done? A friend either gives his services or else he doesn’t. That is how I understand it.”

“Why were you so much concerned about it? “.

“I ought not to have been, your honor. I have too soft a heart.”

“Your threats became troublesome. And not threats alone, but promise after promise! And gifts besides, a ring and a pair of earrings—”

“That is true. I won’t deny it. I found them in my pocket, quite by chance. They belonged to my wife. It was an extravagance, but I did it, to keep poor Don Nicasio from doing something crazy. If I could only win my point, I told myself, if I could only get that young fellow out of the way, then it would be time enough to say to Don Nicasio, ‘My friend, give me back my ring and my earrings!’ He would not have needed to be told twice. He is an honorable man, Don Nicasio!”

“But when she answered you, ‘Keep them yourself, I don’t want them!’ you began to beg her, almost in tears—”

“Ah, your honor! since you must be told—I don’t know how I managed to control myself—I had so completely put myself in the place of the husband! I could have strangled her with my own hands! I could have done that very same crazy thing that Don Nicasio thought of doing!”

“Yet you were very prudent, that is evident. You said to yourself: ‘If not for me, then not for him!’ The lover, I mean, not Don Nicasio. And you began to work upon the husband, who, up to that time, had let things slide, either because he did not believe, or else because he preferred to bear the lesser evil—”

“It may be that some chance word escaped me. There are times when a man of honor loses his head—but beyond that, nothing, your honor. Don Nicasio himself will bear me witness.”

“But Don Nicasio says—”

“He, too? Has he failed me? Has he turned against me? A fine way to show his gratitude!”

“He has nothing to be grateful for. Don’t excite yourself! Sit down again. You began by protesting that you knew nothing at all about it. And yet you knew so many things. You must know quite a number more. Don’t excite yourself.”

“You want to drag me over a precipice, your honor! I begin to understand!”

“Men who are blinded by passion walk over precipices on their own feet.”

“But—then your honor imagines that I, myself—”

“I imagine nothing. It is evident that you were the instigator, and something more than the instigator, too.”

“Calumny, calumny, your honor!”

“That same evening you were seen talking with the husband until quite late.”

“I was trying to persuade him not to. I said to him, ‘Let things alone! Since it is your misfortune to have it so, what difference does it make whether he is the one, or somebody else?’ And he kept repeating, ‘Somebody else, yes, but not that rotten beast!’ His very words, your honor.”

“You stood at the corner of the adjoining street, lying in wait.”

“Who saw me there? Who saw us, your honor?”

“You were seen. Come, make up your mind to tell all you know. It will be better for you. The woman testifies, ‘There were two of them,’ but in the dark she could not recognize the other one.”

“Just because I wanted to do a kind act! This is what I have brought on myself by trying to do a kind act!”

“You stood at the street corner—”

“It was like this, your honor. I had gone with him as far as that. But when I saw that it was no use to try to stop him—it was striking eleven—the streets were deserted—I started to leave him indignantly, without a parting word—”

“Well, what next? Do I need tongs to drag the words out of your mouth?”

“What next? Why, your honor knows how it is at night, under the lamplight. You see and then you don’t see—that’s the way it is. I turned around—Don Nicasio had plunged through the doorway of his home—just by the entrance to the little lane. A cry!—then nothing more!”

“You ran forward? That was quite natural.”

“I hesitated on the threshold—the hallway was so dark.”

“You couldn’t have done that. The woman would have recognized you by the light of the street lamp.”

“The lamp is some distance off.”

“You went in one after the other. Which of you shut the door? Because the door was shut immediately.”

“In the confusion of the moment—two men struggling together—I could hear them gasping—I wanted to call for help—then a fall! And then I felt myself seized by the arm: ‘Run, neighbor, run! This is no business of yours!’ It didn’t sound like the voice of a human being. And that was how—that was how I happened to be there, a helpless witness. I think that Don Nicasio meant to kill his wife, too; but the wretched woman escaped. She ran and shut herself up in her room. That is—I read so afterwards, in the papers. The husband would have been wiser to have killed her first. Evil weeds had better be torn up by the roots. What are you having that man write, your honor?”

“Nothing at all, as you call it. Just your deposition. The clerk will read it to you now, and you will sign it.”

“Can any harm come to me from it? I am innocent! I have only said what you wanted to make me say. You have tangled me up in a fine net, like a little fresh-water fish!”

“Wait a moment. And this is the most important thing of all. How did it happen that the mortal wounds on the dead man’s body were made with a razor?”

“Oh, the treachery of Don Nicasio! My God! My God! Yes, your honor. Two days before—no one can think of everything, no one can foresee everything—he came to the shop and said to me, ‘Neighbor, lend me a razor; I have a corn that is troubling me.’ He was so matter-of-fact about it that I did not hesitate for an instant. I even warned him, ‘Be careful! you can’t joke with corns! A little blood, and you may start a cancer!’ ‘Don’t borrow trouble, neighbor,’ he answered.”

“But the razor could not be found. You must have brought it away.”

“I? Who would remember a little thing like that? I was more dead than alive, your honor. Where are you trying to lead me, with your questions? I tell you, I am innocent!”

“Do not deny so obstinately. A frank confession will help you far more than to protest your innocence. The facts speak clearly enough. It is well known how passion maddens the heart and the brain. A man in that state is no longer himself.”

“That is the truth, your honor! That wretched woman bewitched me! She is sending me to the galleys! The more she said ‘No, no, no!’ the more I felt myself going mad, from head to foot, as if she were pouring fire over me, with her ‘No, no, no!’ But now—I do not want another man to suffer in my place. Yes, I was the one, I was the one who killed him! I was bewitched, your honor! I am willing to go to the galleys. But I am coming back here, if I have the good luck to live through my term. Oh, the justice of this world! To think that she goes scot free, the real and only cause of all the harm! But I will see that she gets justice, that I solemnly swear—with these two hands of mine, your honor! In prison I shall think of nothing else. And if I come back and find her alive—grown old and ugly, it makes no difference—she will have to pay for it, she will have to make good! Ah, ‘no, no, no!’ But I will say, ‘Yes, yes, yes!’ And I will drain her last drop of blood, if I have to end my days in the galleys. And the sooner, the better!”

DMdJ Neu2

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