The two young people moved away, other couples passed, less handsome, just as moving, each submerged in their transitory blindness. Don Fabrizio felt his heart thaw; his disgust gave way to compassion for all these ephemeral beings out to enjoy the tiny ray of light granted them between two shades, before the cradle, after the last spasms. How could one inveigh against those sure to die? It would be as vile as those fish-vendors insulting the condemned in the Piazza del Mercato sixty years before. Even the female monkeys on the poufs, even those old baboons of friends were poor wretches, condemned and touching as the cattle lowing through the city streets at night on the way to the slaughterhouse; to the ears of each of them would one day come that tinkle he had heard three hours earlier behind San Domenico. Nothing could be decently hated except eternity.
And then these people filling the rooms, all these faded women, all these stupid men, these two vainglorious sexes were part of his blood, part of himself; only they could really understand him, only with them could he be at his ease. “I may be more intelligent, I’m certainly more cultivated, but I come from the same stock as they, with them I must make common cause.”
He noticed Don Calogero talking to Giovanni Finale about a possible rise in the price of cheese and how in the hope of this beatific event his eyes had gone liquid and gentle. Don Fabrizio could slip away without remorse.
Till that moment accumulated irritation had given him energy; now with relaxed nerves he was overcome by tiredness; it was already two o’clock. He looked around for a place where he could sit down quietly, far from men, lovers and brothers, all right in their way, but always tiresome. He soon found it: the library, small, silent, lit, and empty. He sat down, then got up to drink some water which he found on a side table. “Only water is really good,” he thought like a true Sicilian; and did not dry the drops left on his lips. He sat down again; he liked the library and soon felt at his ease there; it put up no opposition to him because it was impersonal, as are rooms which are little used; Ponteleone was not a type to waste time in there. He began looking at a picture opposite him, a good copy of Greuze’s Death of the Just Man; the old man was expiring on his bed, amid welters of clean linen, surrounded by afflicted grandsons and granddaughters raising arms toward the ceiling. The girls were pretty, provoking, and the disorder of their clothes suggested sex more than sorrow; they, it was obvious at once, were the real subject of the picture, Even so, Don Fabrizio was surprised for a second at Diego always having this melancholy scene before his eyes; then he reassured himself by thinking that the other probably entered that room only once or twice a year.
Immediately afterward he asked himself if his own death would be like that; probably it would, apart from the sheets being less impeccable (he knew that the sheets of those in their death agony are always dirty with spittle, discharges, marks of medicine), and it was to be hoped that Concetta, Carolina, and his other womenfolk would be more decently clad. But the same, more or less. As always, the thought of his own death calmed him as much as that of others disturbed him; was it perhaps because, when all was said and done, his own death would in the first place mean that of the whole world?
From Giuseppe di Lampedusa’s 1958 novel The Leopard. English translation by Archibald Colquhoun.
The Jean-Baptiste Greuze painting that Don Fabrizio refers to as Death of the Just Man is actually titled The Son Punished or The Father’s Curse and the Punished Son.