Cuore (Chapter 43)
Edmondo De Acimis
THE LITTLE MASON ON HIS SICK-BED
The poor little mason is seriously ill; the master told us to go and see him; and Garrone, Derossi, and I agreed to go together. Stardi would have come also, but as the teacher had assigned us the description of The Monument to Cavour, he told us that he must go and see the monument, in order that his description might be more exact. So, by way of experiment, we invited that puffed-up fellow, Nobis, who replied “No,” and nothing more. Votini also excused himself, perhaps because he was afraid of soiling his clothes with plaster.
We went there when we came out of school at four o’clock. It was raining in torrents. On the street Garrone halted, and said, with his mouth full of bread:—
“What shall I buy?” and he rattled a couple of soldi in his pocket. We each contributed two soldi, and purchased three huge oranges. We ascended to the garret. At the door Derossi removed his medal and put it in his pocket. I asked him why.
“I don’t know,” he answered; “in order not to have the air: it strikes me as more delicate to go in without my medal.” We knocked; the father, that big man who looks like a giant, opened to us; his face was distorted so that he appeared terrified.
“Who are you?” he demanded. Garrone replied:—
“We are Antonio’s schoolmates, and we have brought him three oranges.”
“Ah, poor Tonino!” exclaimed the mason, shaking his head, “I fear that he will never eat your oranges!” and he wiped his eyes with the back of his hand. He made us come in. We entered an attic room, where we saw “the little mason” asleep in a little iron bed; his mother hung dejectedly over the bed, with her face in her hands, and she hardly turned to look at us; on one side hung brushes, a trowel, and a plaster-sieve; over the feet of the sick boy was spread the mason’s jacket, white with lime. The poor boy was emaciated; very, very white; his nose was pointed, and his breath was short. O dear Tonino, my little comrade! you who were so kind and merry, how it pains me! what would I not give to see you make the hare’s face once more, poor little mason! Garrone laid an orange on his pillow, close to his face; the odor waked him; he grasped it instantly; then let go of it, and gazed intently at Garrone.
“It is I,” said the latter; “Garrone: do you know me?” He smiled almost imperceptibly, lifted his stubby hand with difficulty from the bed and held it out to Garrone, who took it between his, and laid it against his cheek, saying:—
“Courage, courage, little mason; you are going to get well soon and come back to school, and the master will put you next to me; will that please you?”
But the little mason made no reply. His mother burst into sobs: “Oh, my poor Tonino! My poor Tonino! He is so brave and good, and God is going to take him from us!”
“Silence!” cried the mason; “silence, for the love of God, or I shall lose my reason!”
Then he said to us, with anxiety: “Go, go, boys, thanks; go! what do you want to do here? Thanks; go home!” The boy had closed his eyes again, and appeared to be dead.
“Do you need any assistance?” asked Garrone.
“No, my good boy, thanks,” the mason answered. And so saying, he pushed us out on the landing, and shut the door. But we were not half-way down the stairs, when we heard him calling, “Garrone! Garrone!”
We all three mounted the stairs once more in haste.
“Garrone!” shouted the mason, with a changed countenance, “he has called you by name; it is two days since he spoke; he has called you twice; he wants you; come quickly! Ah, holy God, if this is only a good sign!”
“Farewell for the present,” said Garrone to us; “I shall remain,” and he ran in with the father. Derossi’s eyes were full of tears. I said to him:—
“Are you crying for the little mason? He has spoken; he will recover.”
“I believe it,” replied Derossi; “but I was not thinking of him. I was thinking how good Garrone is, and what a beautiful soul he has.”