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By ADRIANA SPADONI
HE man walked patiently along hungrily, gone back to the crowded
Tbetween the shafts of the little
cart, his head bent against the cutting wind. His hair was thick with gray, his brown face seamed, his shoulders were hopeless. Every now and then he stopped and called in a hoarse voice: "Apples, hot potatoes, a penny." Like an insect, dragging its home behind, he trudged between the clanging cars and the great trucks unloading before the factories. When some one called him, he turned and went back gratefully half a block to sell a shriveled apple or a soggy potato. When his hands grew too numb to feel the shafts, he halted a moment to warm them over the rusty oven.
Late in the afternoon the oven was empty. Cecco peered closely to make sure that not the smallest browned apple was left, drew a deep breath of relief, which froze a moment later to delicate frostwork on his grizzled mustache, then took a new grip on the shafts and hurried away. When he came to the bake-shop of il Sorcio, the Mouse, he drew the cart close to the wall, and went in.
At the back of the shop, close to the warm ovens, Cecco sat down. No one paid any attention to him. The four men arguing violently at the round table near the front counter went on with their talk. Every day for a week Cecco had come at this hour, listened
rooms of his son Carlo, and at night, in the bed he shared with Carlino and Paolo and Pietro, his three youngest grandsons, dreamed of what they said. Most vividly did he dream of Tomasso Soracco, father of Michele Soracco, the avvocato, beloved of the poor. In these dreams Tomasso always leaned across the table, as he was doing now, shaking his great, hairy fist in the faces of the others, roaring:
"It is as I say, and no more do I waste time talking to the deaf. Is not my own son, the avvocato, secretary of the company? Do not my words come to you straight as water from a well? In five years, in less, I tell you again, you will own the land. Here in New York, what have you? A home like a sardine in a can. The Americans know nothing of the earth, but we! Back beyond memory our fathers' fathers dressed the vines and planted corn and olives. Already I am old; I have already the family grown. Or I, even I, Tomasso Soracco, would go and dig in the fat earth with these hands."
"Bah!" Il Sorcio took the broad paddle from under the counter and went to turn his loaves in the oven. "When a man comes to me with so many fine words and says, 'Dear friend, I wish this only for your happiness,' I button the flap of the purse tight. Why this fine scheme to give
us the fat land of America? Twenty years I have been in this country, and no one has given to me a cent. The avvocato is a Christ with dreams."
"Holy Mother, pour oil on his heart, for it is stone!" Tomasso's beseeching hands sought it as a personal favor. "Only in the brain of a great man like my son can such ideas come, but not even he can make such a one see the truth. Ecco! bake on, poor Mouse, but these others-" He turned to the two remaining, their brown, unshaven faces cupped in their scarred palms. "In five years you can be padrone."
Their eyes were solemn with wonder. "In one year I send for Nicolena and the boy," said Felipe, softly.
"And no boss to say, 'Do this, do that, you Guinea.'" Giacomo's head wagged as if stricken to idiocy.
Cecco half rose from his chair, then sank back, huddling into the depths. He heard none of the mutterings of il Sorcio, turning the loaves near him. Wide land under the sun, open fields, black earth, freedom!
Il Sorcio drew the hot loaves from the oven, and the shop was filled with the sweet smell of fresh bread. Women came to buy, listened for a few moments to Tomasso, and went, longing in their dark eyes, the huge loaves swaying upon their heads. It was almost dark when Cecco went, unnoticed, as he had come.
When he had padlocked the cart to its iron ring in the basement wall, he climbed the five flights to the floor where he lived with his son Carlo, Gemma, and their eight children. As he opened the door, Gemma put the soup on the table. Carlo drew in his chair, the older children stood about the table, the younger fought over their meal, placed upon the floor.
When the edge of hunger had been dulled, Carlo began to talk loudly, working himself into a rage over the happenings of the day. The new boss in the factory was a pig and the son of a pig; Carlo cursed him, his ancestors and descendants, forever. Gemma listened dully, like a brown cow. When Carlo had expended his fury, he seized his hat and went out. Gemma cleared the table, spread clean newspapers, and emptied a mountain of violets. The old man and Gemma and all but the two youngest children began silently to work.
Spring came early. The days grew suddenly warm; babies sprawled in the gutters; high in the air women hung, laughing and chattering, from the windows. Tomasso Soracco no longer talked in the bake-shop of il Sorcio. Many had heeded, and from time to time, when Cecco stopped in the weary trundling of his little cart to gossip, he heard of them somewhere beyond the river, living like Christians in little houses and digging in the earth.
It was the second week in April that Carlo came earlier than usual from the wine-shop of Nicolo and said:
"Babbo mio, there is no longer need for hot potatoes. I have arranged with Luigi, and to-morrow thou wilt begin with the organ. I have paid more, and it is better than that cursed instrument of last year, the one the lying dog of a Genovese cheated us with."
"As thou sayest," answered Cecco, and went on making violets.
trees, and cross-streets that ran to the river. While he stood grinding the wailing tunes into the clear spring blue, he gazed across the shimmering water to the greening cliffs beyond.
The shafts of the organ-cart seemed to crumble into soft, warm earth in his hands.
It was the middle of May, a warm day with soft breezes that flirted in and out of the open windows in the office of Avvocato Soracco. Cecco sat respectfully upon the edge of the chair, his hat in both hands, while the avvocato listened with quiet attention.
"I tell you, Excellency, the truth. It is no longer possible. I am an old man. For more than thirty years I worked like a dog. In the morning I was in the fields before the sun. I was happy. Four girls and five boys I have given to the world, but of all, I loved best Carlo. He was so smart. When he came to America I was proud. When he wrote of this wonderful country, I ran with the letters to Beppo, who can read, and I learned by heart what Carlo said, and told to others. Three years ago he wrote, 'Come, make the home with me.'
"I saw before the eyes a home with my eldest. My work was done. I shall be fifty next winter, your Excellency. I would sit in the sun and teach his children the wisdom I had learned. Dio mio! dreams! dreams!" Before the memory Cecco blushed as if he had been found naked in a crowd. "I came. When I had been two months, he bought a little cart. 'Babbo,' he said, 'here is easy work. Thou also canst earn a little, and it costs much to live in America.' Bene, I am proud; I took the cursed little cart. I dragged it like a beast up and down the funnels of your streets-I who
had lived always with the air and sun.
"When summer came he said again: 'Babbo mio, next year I look to buy a house. Every scudo helps. I have rented an organ for thee. The work is easy.' I said nothing. In summer I hold out the hat like a beggar-I who asked never of any man anything. At fifty I grin like a monkey for a penny. My Carlo is good, but, like a fish in a net, he is caught in this America. It is a terrible country, your Excellency, like living always under a master with a whip. I believe not even the blessed dead rest in peace in your campo santo. And I, an old man, fifty next winter, I cannot run in the race. But since I must yet work, I will do the work of a man, not a slave.”
"You want a farm, Cecco?"
"Ah, your Excellency, that would be heaven, but it is not for me. I am old, fifty years, Signor Avvocato; I am poor; I have nothing. I ask only to do the work of a man. I would dig in the earth until I have money to return to the land of the sun, where men live like men, not like engines. Ecco, I have taken much time from your Excellency. Is it possible that you arrange it for me?"
Cecco leaned forward, and wiped his moist face on a yellow handkerchief, while his black eyes blinked nervously, waiting the decision of the avvocato. At last the latter looked up.
"I believe I can, Cecco. In six months Giuseppe Fabbri marries. Now he lives alone with his Sister Maria, and they wish a third to help till the marriage. After that he needs no one; with two women it will be enough. They are good people. The pay is not much, but you have nothing to buy, and in six months, if you wish, you have the fare to return to Italy."
"May the holy saints protect and guard your Excellency!" Cecco's voice broke, and he rubbed the yellow handkerchief across his eyes.
"It is nothing. To-day I shall write to Giuseppe. In three days we shall hear."
"You have opened paradiso, signor, to an old man. And your Excellency will mention it to no one-”
"As you wish, Cecco; as you wish."
Four days later Gemma waited supper for Cecco. When it was very late, and he did not come, they ate nervously, and afterward Carlo walked till late in the streets, looking for him. Il Sorcio remembered an old man who had come through the last cold weeks of winter to keep warm by the ovens, but since spring he had not been there. They waited three days; then the police took up the search. At the end of another week Gemma threw her apron over her head and sat one whole afternoon wailing in the kitchen: "He is dead; he is dead. The poor old one has been killed, and they have buried him in Protestant ground."
"Silence!" commanded Carlo. "He is not dead. We would hear. He has lost the memory, as is often with the old. He has become a child. No one would hurt an old man. He will be brought back. To-morrow I will give a fine candle of the purest wax of the Abruzzi to Saint Anthony that he find him."
But the candle burned away, Cecco did not come, and the police forgot that they had ever been asked to look for an organ-grinder, aged fifty, with gray hair and mustache, answering to the name of Cecco.
Out in the green fields Cecco dug deep into the soft, black earth. As he dug, he sang low to himself a song that he had sung in his youth, that his father had sung, his father's father, and all the peasants of that Calabrian village back beyond the memory of
Oh, those eyes so black,
Maria, the sister of Giuseppe, paused in throwing the grain to the chickens, and hummed the words with Cecco. She was a heavy woman of forty, but the black curls still clung close to her firm, brown neck, and her voice was full and strangely young. They sang it to the end, smiling; then Maria emptied the pan of wheat and went back to the house.
All through the long, hot summer Cecco worked in the earth. In the dusk of evening he sat with Giuseppe and Maria on the kitchen porch. Paolo and Giovanni came from the next farm with mandolin and accordion, and the three younger men sang songs, while Cecco and Maria listened -songs of passionate desire, young songs that beat and throbbed in the night long after they had gone. So life ran happily until the land lay bare and the wedding of Giuseppe was only three weeks off.
Already the sky pressed gray and heavy upon the bare field. Splashes of pale gold marked the flight of autumn through the leafless trees. All day Giuseppe and Cecco cut wood against the coming winter, and Maria cleaned and polished the three rooms for the coming of the bride. In three weeks the snow might lie thick on the fields. About the kitchen stove Giuseppe and