Cuore (Chapter 19)
Edmondo De Acimis
THE LITTLE MASON
The little mason came to-day, in a hunting-jacket, entirely dressed in the cast-off clothes of his father, which were still white with lime and plaster. My father was even more anxious than I that he should come. How much pleasure he gives us! No sooner had he entered than he pulled off his ragged cap, which was all soaked with snow, and thrust it into one of his pockets; then he advanced with his listless gait, like a weary workman, turning his face, as smooth as an apple, with its ball-like nose, from side to side; and when he entered the dining-room, he cast a glance round at the furniture and fixed his eyes on a small picture of Rigoletto, a hunchbacked jester, and made a “hare’s face.”
It is impossible to refrain from laughing when one sees him make that hare’s face. We went to playing with bits of wood: he possesses an extraordinary skill at making towers and bridges, which seem to stand as though by a miracle, and he works at it quite seriously, with the patience of a man. Between one tower and another he told me about his family: they live in a garret; his father goes to the evening school to learn to read, and his mother is a washerwoman. And they must love him, of course, for he is clad like a poor boy, but he is well protected from the cold, with neatly mended clothes, and with his necktie nicely tied by his mother’s hands. His father, he told me, is a fine man,—a giant, who has trouble in getting through doors, but he is kind, and always calls his son “hare’s face”: the son, on the contrary, is rather small.
At four o’clock we lunched on bread and goat’s-milk cheese, as we sat on the sofa; and when we rose, I do not know why, but my father did not wish me to brush off the back, which the little mason had spotted with white, from his jacket: he restrained my hand, and then rubbed it off himself on the sly. While we were playing, the little mason lost a button from his hunting-jacket, and my mother sewed it on, and he grew quite red, and began to watch her sew, in perfect amazement and confusion, holding his breath the while. Then we gave him some albums of caricatures to look at, and he, without being aware of it himself, imitated the grimaces of the faces there so well, that even my father laughed. He was so much pleased when he went away that he forgot to put on his tattered cap; and when we reached the landing, he made a hare’s face at me once more in sign of his gratitude. His name is Antonio Rabucco, and he is eight years and eight months old.
Do you know, my son, why I did not wish you to wipe off the sofa? Because to wipe it while your companion was looking on would have been almost the same as administering a reproof to him for having soiled it. And this was not well, in the first place, because he did not do it intentionally, and in the next, because he did it with the clothes of his father, who had covered them with plaster while at work; and what is contracted while at work is not dirt; it is dust, lime, varnish, whatever you like, but it is not dirt. Labor does not engender dirt. Never say of a laborer coming from his work, “He is filthy.” You should say, “He has on his garments the signs, the traces, of his toil.” Remember this. And you must love the little mason, first, because he is your comrade; and next, because he is the son of a workingman.