I go there
not to study the specimens but to converse with their keeper, the woman
who, in her quiet way, has cast a sort of charm over me. Our relations
are the whispered talk of the town; I am suspected of matrimonial
designs upon a poor widow with the ulterior object of appropriating the
cream of the relics under her care. Regardless of the perils of the
situation, I persevere; for the sake of her company I forswear the
manifold seductions of Catan-zaro. She is a noteworthy person, neither
vicious nor vulgar, but simply the dernier mot of incompetence. Her
dress, her looks, her children, her manners - they are all on an even
plane with her spiritual accomplishments; at no point does she sink, or
rise, beyond that level. They are not as common as they seem to be,
these harmoniously inefficient females.
Why has she got this job in a progressive town containing so many folks
who could do it creditably? Oh, that is simple enough! She needs it. On
the platform of the Reggio station (long before the earthquake) I once
counted five station-masters and forty-eight other railway officials,
swaggering about with a magnificent air of incapacity. What were they
doing? Nothing whatever. They were like this woman: they needed a job.
We are in a patriarchal country; work is pooled; it is given not to
those who can do it best, but to those who need it most - given, too, on
pretexts which sometimes strike one as inadequate, not to say recondite.
So the street-scavengering in a certain village has been entrusted to a
one-armed cripple, utterly unfit for the business - why?