Cuore (Chapter 52)
Edmondo De Acimis
The month of May could not have had a better ending than my visit of this morning. We heard a jingling of the bell, and all ran to see what it meant. I heard my father say in a tone of astonishment:—
“You here, Giorgio?”
Giorgio was our gardener in Chieri, who now has his family at Condove, and who had just arrived from Genoa, where he had disembarked on the preceding day, on his return from Greece, where he has been working on the railway for the last three years. He had a big bundle in his arms. He has grown a little older, but his face is still red and jolly.
My father wished to have him enter; but he refused, and suddenly inquired, assuming a serious expression:
“How is my family? How is Gigia?”
“She was well a few days ago,” replied my mother.
Giorgio uttered a deep sigh.
“Oh, God be praised! I had not the courage to present myself at the Deaf-mute Institution until I had heard about her. I will leave my bundle here, and run to get her. It is three years since I have seen my poor little daughter! Three years since I have seen any of my people!”
My father said to me, “Accompany him.”
“Excuse me; one word more,” said the gardener, from the landing.
My father interrupted him, “And your affairs?”
“All right,” the other replied. “Thanks to God, I have brought back a few soldi. But I wanted to inquire. Tell me how the education of the little dumb girl is getting on. When I left her, she was a poor little animal, poor thing! I don’t put much faith in those colleges. Has she learned how to make signs? My wife did write to me, to be sure, ‘She is learning to speak; she is making progress.’ But I said to myself, What is the use of her learning to talk if I don’t know how to make the signs myself? How shall we manage to understand each other, poor little thing? That is well enough to enable them to understand each other, one unfortunate to comprehend another unfortunate. How is she getting on, then? How is she?”
My father smiled, and replied:—
“I shall not tell you anything about it; you will see; go, go; don’t waste another minute!”
We took our departure; the institute is close by. As we went along with huge strides, the gardener talked to me, and grew sad.
“Ah, my poor Gigia! To be born with such an infirmity! To think that I have never heard her call me father; that she has never heard me call her my daughter; that she has never either heard or uttered a single word since she has been in the world! And it is lucky that a charitable gentleman was found to pay the expenses of the institution. But that is all—she could not enter there until she was eight years old. She has not been at home for three years. She is now going on eleven. And she has grown? Tell me, she has grown? She is in good spirits?”
“You will see in a moment, you will see in a moment,” I replied, hastening my pace.
“But where is this institution?” he demanded. “My wife went with her after I was gone. It seems to me that it ought to be near here.”
We had just reached it. We at once entered the parlor. An attendant came to meet us.
“I am the father of Gigia Voggi,” said the gardener; “give me my daughter instantly.”
“They are at play,” replied the attendant; “I will go and inform the matron.” And he hastened away.
The gardener could no longer speak nor stand still; he stared at all four walls, without seeing anything.
The door opened; a teacher entered, dressed in black, holding a little girl by the hand.
Father and daughter gazed at one another for an instant; then flew into each other’s arms, uttering a cry.
The girl was dressed in a white and reddish striped material, with a gray apron. She is a little taller than I. She cried, and clung to her father’s neck with both arms.
Her father disengaged himself, and began to survey her from head to foot, panting as though he had run a long way; and he exclaimed: “Ah, how she has grown! How pretty she has become! Oh, my dear, poor Gigia! My poor mute child!—Are you her teacher, signora? Tell her to make some of her signs to me; for I shall be able to understand something, and then I will learn little by little. Tell her to make me understand something with her gestures.”
The teacher smiled, and said in a low voice to the girl, “Who is this man who has come to see you?”
And the girl replied with a smile, in a coarse, strange, dissonant voice, like that of a savage who was speaking for the first time in our language, but with a distinct pronunciation, “He is my fa-ther.”
The gardener fell back a pace, and shrieked like a madman: “She speaks! Is it possible! Is it possible! She speaks? Can you speak, my child? can you speak? Say something to me: you can speak?” and he embraced her afresh, and kissed her thrice on the brow. “But it is not with signs that she talks, signora; it is not with her fingers? What does this mean?”
“No, Signor Voggi,” rejoined the teacher, “it is not with signs. That was the old way. Here we teach the new method, the oral method. How is it that you did not know it?”
“I knew nothing about it!” replied the gardener, lost in amazement. “I have been abroad for the last three years. Oh, they wrote to me, and I did not understand. I am a blockhead. Oh, my daughter, you understand me, then? Do you hear my voice? Answer me: do you hear me? Do you hear what I say?”
“Why, no, my good man,” said the teacher; “she does not hear your voice, because she is deaf. She understands from the movements of your lips what the words are that you utter; this is the way the thing is managed; but she does not hear your voice any more than she does the words which she speaks to you; she pronounces them, because we have taught her, letter by letter, how she must place her lips and move her tongue, and what effort she must make with her chest and throat, in order to emit a sound.”
The gardener did not understand, and stood with his mouth wide open. He did not yet believe it.
“Tell me, Gigia,” he asked his daughter, whispering in her ear, “are you glad that your father has come back?” and he raised his face again, and stood awaiting her reply.
The girl looked at him thoughtfully, and said nothing.
Her father was perturbed.
The teacher laughed. Then she said: “My good man, she does not answer you, because she did not see the movements of your lips: you spoke in her ear! Repeat your question, keeping your face well before hers.”
The father, gazing straight in her face, repeated, “Are you glad that your father has come back? that he is not going away again?”
The girl, who had observed his lips attentively, seeking even to see inside his mouth, replied frankly:—
“Yes, I am de-light-ed that you have re-turned, that you are not go-ing a-way a-gain—nev-er a-gain.”
Her father embraced her impetuously, and then in great haste, in order to make quite sure, he overwhelmed her with questions.
“What is mamma’s name?”
“What is the name of your little sister?”
“What is the name of this college?”
“The Deaf-mute Insti-tution.”
“How many are two times ten?”
While we thought that he was laughing for joy, he suddenly burst out crying. But this was the result of joy also.
“Take courage,” said the teacher to him; “you have reason to rejoice, not to weep. You see that you are making your daughter cry also. You are pleased, then?”
The gardener grasped the teacher’s hand and kissed it two or three times, saying: “Thanks, thanks, thanks! a hundred thanks, a thousand thanks, dear Signora Teacher! and forgive me for not knowing how to say anything else!”
“But she not only speaks,” said the teacher; “your daughter also knows how to write. She knows how to reckon. She knows the names of all common objects. She knows a little history and geography. She is now in the regular class. When she has passed through the two remaining classes, she will know much more. When she leaves here, she will be in a condition to adopt a profession. We already have deaf-mutes who stand in the shops to serve customers, and they perform their duties like any one else.”
Again the gardener was astounded. It seemed as though his ideas were becoming confused again. He stared at his daughter and scratched his head. His face demanded another explanation.
Then the teacher turned to the attendant and said to him:—
“Call a child of the preparatory class for me.”
The attendant returned, in a short time, with a deaf-mute of eight or nine years, who had entered the institution a few days before.
“This girl,” said the mistress, “is one of those whom we are instructing in the first elements. This is the way it is done. I want to make her say a. Pay attention.”
The teacher opened her mouth, as one opens it to pronounce the vowel a, and motioned to the child to open her mouth in the same manner. Then the mistress made her a sign to emit her voice. She did so; but instead of a, she pronounced o.
“No,” said the mistress, “that is not right.” And taking the child’s two hands, she placed one of them on her own throat and the other on her chest, and repeated, “a.”
The child felt with her hands the movements of the mistress’s throat and chest, opened her mouth again as before, and pronounced extremely well, “a.”
In the same manner, the mistress made her pronounce c and d, still keeping the two little hands on her own throat and chest.
“Now do you understand?” she inquired.
The father understood; but he seemed more astonished than when he had not understood.
“And they are taught to speak in the same way?” he asked, after a moment of reflection, gazing at the teacher. “You have the patience to teach them to speak in that manner, little by little, and so many of them? one by one—through years and years? But you are saints; that’s what you are! You are angels of paradise! There is not in the world a reward that is worthy of you! What is there that I can say? Ah! leave me alone with my daughter a little while now. Let me have her to myself for five minutes.”
And drawing her to a seat apart he began to interrogate her, and she to reply, and he laughed with beaming eyes, slapping his fists down on his knees; and he took his daughter’s hands, and stared at her, beside himself with delight at hearing her, as though her voice had been one which came from heaven; then he asked the teacher, “Would the Signor Director permit me to thank him?”
“The director is not here,” replied the mistress; “but there is another person whom you should thank. Every little girl here is given into the charge of an older companion, who acts the part of sister or mother to her. Your little girl has been intrusted to the care of a deaf-mute of seventeen, the daughter of a baker, who is kind and very fond of her; she has been assisting her for two years to dress herself every morning; she combs her hair, she teaches her to sew, she mends her clothes, she is good company for her.—Luigia, what is the name of your mamma in the institute?”
The girl smiled, and said, “Ca-te-rina Gior-dano.” Then she said to her father, “She is ve-ry, ve-ry good.”
The attendant, who had withdrawn at a signal from the mistress, returned almost at once with a light-haired deaf-mute, a robust girl, with a cheerful countenance, and also dressed in the red and white striped stuff, with a gray apron; she paused at the door and blushed; then she bent her head with a smile. She had the figure of a woman, but seemed like a child.
Giorgio’s daughter instantly ran to her, took her by the arm, like a child, and drew her to her father, saying, in her heavy voice, “Ca-te-rina Gior-dano.”
“Ah, what a splendid girl!” exclaimed her father; and he stretched out one hand to caress her, but drew it back again, and repeated, “Ah, what a good girl! May God bless her, may He grant her all good fortune, all consolations; may He make her and hers always happy, so good a girl is she, my poor Gigia! It is an honest workingman, the poor father of a family, who wishes you this with all his heart.”
The big girl caressed the little one, still keeping her face bent, and smiling, and the gardener continued to gaze at her, as at a madonna.
“You can take your daughter with you for the day,” said the mistress.
“Won’t I take her, though!” rejoined the gardener. “I’ll take her to Condove, and fetch her back to-morrow morning. Think for a bit whether I won’t take her!”
The girl ran off to dress.
“It is three years since I have seen her!” repeated the gardener. “Now she speaks! I will take her to Condove with me on the instant. But first I shall take a ramble about Turin, with my deaf-mute on my arm, so that all may see her, and take her to see some of my friends! Ah, what a beautiful day! This is consolation indeed!—Here’s your father’s arm, my Gigia.”
The girl, who had returned with a little mantle and cap on, took his arm.
“And thanks to all!” said the father, as he reached the threshold. “Thanks to all, with my whole soul! I shall come back another time to thank you all again.”
He stood for a moment in thought, then disengaged himself abruptly from the girl, turned back, fumbling in his waistcoat with his hand, and shouted like a man in a fury:—
“Come now, I am not a poor devil! So here, I leave twenty lire for the institution,—a fine new gold piece.”
And with a tremendous bang, he deposited his gold piece on the table.
“No, no, my good man,” said the mistress, with emotion. “Take back your money. I cannot accept it. Take it back. It is not my place. You shall see about that when the director is here. But he will not accept anything either; be sure of that. You have toiled too hard to earn it, poor man. We shall be greatly obliged to you, all the same.”
“No; I shall leave it,” replied the gardener, obstinately; “and then—we will see.”
But the mistress put his money back in his pocket, without leaving him time to reject it. And then he resigned himself with a shake of the head; and then, wafting a kiss to the mistress and to the large girl, he quickly took his daughter’s arm again, and hurried with her out of the door, saying:—
“Come, come, my daughter, my poor dumb child, my treasure!”
And the girl exclaimed, in her harsh voice:—
“Oh, how beau-ti-ful the sun is!”