Cuore (Chapter 39)
Edmondo De Acimis
I witnessed a touching scene yesterday afternoon. For several days, every time that the vegetable-vender has passed Derossi she has gazed and gazed at him with an expression of great affection; for Derossi, since he made the discovery about that inkstand and prisoner Number 78, has acquired a love for her son, Crossi, the red-haired boy with the useless arm; and he helps him to do his work in school, suggests answers to him, gives him paper, pens, and pencils; in short, he behaves to him like a brother, as though to compensate him for his father’s misfortune, which has affected him, although he does not know it.
The vegetable-vender had been gazing at Derossi for several days, and she seemed loath to take her eyes from him, for she is a good woman who lives only for her son; and Derossi, who assists him and makes him appear well, Derossi, who is a gentleman and the head of the school, seems to her a king, a saint. She continued to stare at him, and seemed desirous of saying something to him, yet ashamed to do it. But at last, yesterday morning, she took courage, stopped him in front of a gate, and said to him:—
“I beg a thousand pardons, little master! Will you, who are so kind to my son, and so fond of him, do me the favor to accept this little memento from a poor mother?” and she pulled out of her vegetable-basket a little pasteboard box of white and gold.
Derossi flushed up all over, and refused, saying with decision:—
“Give it to your son; I will accept nothing.”
The woman was mortified, and stammered an excuse:—
“I had no idea of offending you. It is only caramels.”
But Derossi said “no,” again, and shook his head. Then she timidly lifted from her basket a bunch of radishes, and said:—
“Accept these at least,—they are fresh,—and carry them to your mamma.”
Derossi smiled, and said:—
“No, thanks: I don’t want anything; I shall always do all that I can for Crossi, but I cannot accept anything. I thank you all the same.”
“But you are not at all offended?” asked the woman, anxiously.
Derossi said “No, no!” smiled, and went off, while she exclaimed, in great delight:—
“Oh, what a good boy! I have never seen so fine and handsome a boy as he!”
And that appeared to be the end of it. But in the afternoon, at four o’clock, instead of Crossi’s mother, his father approached, with that gaunt and melancholy face of his. He stopped Derossi, and from the way in which he looked at the latter I instantly understood that he suspected Derossi of knowing his secret. He looked at him intently, and said in his sorrowful, affectionate voice:—
“You are fond of my son. Why do you like him so much?”
Derossi’s face turned the color of fire. He would have liked to say: “I am fond of him because he has been unfortunate; because you, his father, have been more unfortunate than guilty, and have nobly expiated your crime, and are a man of heart.” But he had not the courage to say it, for at bottom he still felt fear and almost loathing in the presence of this man who had shed another’s blood, and had been six years in prison. But the latter divined it all, and lowering his voice, he said in Derossi’s ear, almost trembling the while:—
“You love the son; but you do not hate, do not wholly despise the father, do you?”
“Ah, no, no! Quite the reverse!” exclaimed Derossi, with a soulful impulse. And then the man made an impetuous movement, as though to throw one arm round his neck; but he dared not, and instead he took one of the lad’s golden curls between two of his fingers, smoothed it out, and released it; then he placed his hand on his mouth and kissed his palm, gazing at Derossi with moist eyes, as though to say that this kiss was for him. Then he took his son by the hand, and went away at a rapid pace.