Sunday, 25/02/2024 - 18:25

Chapter XXV. Mother, Brothers and Sisters

14:26 | 19/10/2019

If I had not been in a hurry to get to Paris I should have stayed a long time with Lise. We had so much to say to each other and could say so little in the language that we used. She told me with signs how good her uncle and aunt had been to her and what beautiful rides she had in the barges, and I told her how I had nearly perished in the mine where Alexix worked and

that my family were looking for me. That was the reason that I was hurrying to Paris and that was why it had been impossible for me to go and see Etiennette.

Naturally most of the talk was about my family, my rich family and all I would do when I had money. I would make her father, brothers, sisters, and above all herself, happy. Lise, unlike Mattia, was delighted. She quite believed that if one had money one ought to be very happy, because, would not her father have been happy if he had only had the money to pay his debts? We took long walks, all three of us, Lise, Mattia and I, accompanied by the doll and Capi. I was very happy those few days. In the evening we sat in front of the house when it was not too damp and before the fireplace when the mist was thick. I played the harp and Mattia played his violin or cornet. Lise preferred the harp, which made me very proud. When the time came and we had to separate and go to bed, I played and sang her my Neapolitan song.

Yet we had to part and go on our way. I told her that I would come back for her soon. My last words to her were: “I’ll come and fetch you in a carriage drawn by four horses.”

And she quite believed me and she made a motion as though she were cracking a whip to urge on the horses. She also, the same as I, could see my riches and my horses and carriages.

I was so eager to get to Paris now that if it had not been for Mattia I would have stopped only to collect what was absolutely necessary for our food. We had no cow to buy now, nor doll. It was not for me to take money to my rich parents.

“Let us get all we can,” said Mattia, forcing me to take my harp, “for we don’t know if we shall find Barberin at once. One would think that you had forgotten that night when you were dying of hunger.”

“Oh, I haven’t,” I said lightly, “but we’re sure to find him at once. You wait.”

“Yes, but I have not forgotten how I leaned up against the church that day when you found me. Ah, I don’t want to be hungry in Paris.”

“We’ll dine all the better when we get to my parents’,” I replied.

“Well, let’s work just as though we are buying another cow,” urged Mattia.

This was very wise advice but I must admit that I did not sing with the same spirit. To get the money to buy a cow for Mother Barberin or a doll for Lise was quite a different matter.

“How lazy you’ll be when you’re rich,” said Mattia. The nearer we got to Paris the gayer I became; and the more melancholy grew Mattia. As I had assured him that we should not be parted I wondered why he should be sad now. Finally, when we reached the gates of Paris, he told me how great was his fear of Garofoli, and that if he saw him he knew that he would take him again.

“You know how afraid you are of Barberin, so you can imagine how I fear Garofoli. If he’s out of prison he’ll be sure to catch me. Oh, my poor head; how he used to bang it! And then he will part us; of course he’d like to have you as one of his pupils, but he could not force you to stay, but he has a right to me. He’s my uncle.”

I had not thought of Garofoli. I arranged with Mattia that I should go to the various places that Mother Barberin had mentioned as to where I might find Barberin. Then I would go to the Rue Mouffetard and after that he should meet me at seven o’clock outside the Notre Dame Cathedral.

We parted as though we were never going to meet again. Mattia went in one direction, I in another. I had written down on paper the names of the places where Barberin had lived before. I went first to one place, then to another. At one lodging house they told me that he had lived there four years ago but that he had not been there since. The landlord told me that he’d like to catch the rogue, for he owed him one week’s rent. I grew very despondent. There was only one place left for me to inquire; that was at a restaurant. The man who kept the place said that he had not seen him for a very long time, but one of the customers sitting eating at a table called out that he had been living at the Hotel du Cantal of late.

Before going to the Hotel du Cantal I went to Garofoli’s place to see if I could find out something about him so that I could take back some news to poor Mattia. When I reached the yard I saw, as on my first visit, the same old man hanging up dirty rags outside the door.

“Has Garofoli returned?” I asked.

The old man looked at me without replying, then began to cough. I could see that he would not tell me anything unless I let him know that I knew all about Garofoli.

“You don’t mean to say he is still in prison?” I exclaimed. “Why, I thought he’d got out long ago.”

“No, he’s got another three months yet.”

Garofoli three more months in prison! Mattia could breathe. I left the horrible yard as quickly as possible and hurried off to the Hotel du Cantal. I was full of hope and joy and quite disposed to think kindly of Barberin; if it had not been for Barberin, I might have died of cold and hunger when I was a baby. It was true he had taken me from Mother Barberin to sell me to a stranger, but then he had no liking for me and perhaps he was forced to do it for the money. After all it was through him that I was finding my parents. So now I ought not to harbor any bitterness against him.

I soon reached the Hotel du Cantal which was only a hotel in name, being nothing better than a miserable lodging house.

“I want to see a man named Barberin; he comes from Chavanon,” I said to a dirty old woman who sat at a desk. She was very deaf and asked me to repeat what I had said.

“Do you know a man named Barberin?” I shouted.

Then she threw up her hands to heaven so abruptly that the cat sleeping on her knees sprang down in terror.

“Alas! Alas!” she cried, then she added: “Are you the boy he was looking for?”

“Oh, you know?” I cried excitedly. “Well, where’s Barberin?”

“Dead,” she replied, laconically.

I leaned on my harp.

“Dead!” I cried loud enough for her to hear. I was dazed. How should I find my parents now?

“You’re the boy they’re looking for; I’m sure you are,” said the old woman again.

“Yes, yes, I’m the boy. Where’s my family? Can you tell me?”

“I don’t know any more than just what I’ve told you, my boy; I should say my young gentleman.”

“What did Barberin say about my parents? Oh, do tell me,” I said imploringly.

She threw her arms up towards heaven.

“Ah, if that isn’t a story!”

“Well, tell it me. What is it?”

At this moment a woman who looked like a servant came forward. The mistress of the Hotel du Cantal turned to her: “If this isn’t an affair! This boy here, this young gentleman, is the man Barberin talked so much about.”

“But didn’t Barberin speak to you about my family?” I asked.

“I should say so—more than a hundred times. A very rich family it is, that you’ve got, my boy, my young gentleman.”

“And where do they live and what is their name?”

“Barberin wouldn’t tell us anything. He was that mysterious. He wanted to get all the reward for himself.”

“Didn’t he leave any papers?”

“No, nothing except one that said he came from Chavanon. If we hadn’t found that, we couldn’t have let his wife know he’s dead.”

“Oh, you did let her know?”

“Sure, why not?”

I could learn nothing from the old woman. I turned slowly towards the door.

“Where are you going?” she asked.

“Back to my friend.”

“Ah, you have a friend! Does he live in Paris?”

“We got to Paris only this morning.”

“Well, if you haven’t a place to lodge in, why don’t you come here? You will be well taken care of and it’s an honest house. If your family get tired of waiting to hear from Barberin they may come here and then they’ll find you. What I say is for your own interest. What age is your friend?”

“He is a little younger than I.”

“Just think! two boys on the streets of Paris! You could get into such a bad place; now this is real respectable on account of the locality.”

The Hotel du Cantal was one of the dirtiest lodging houses that I had ever seen and I had seen some pretty dirty ones! But what the old woman said was worth considering, besides we could not be particular. I had not found my family in their beautiful Paris mansion yet. Mattia had been right to want to get all the money we could on our way to the city. What should we have done if we had not our seventeen francs in our pockets?

“How much will you charge for a room for my friend and myself?” I asked.

“Ten cents a day. That’s not much.”

“Well, we’ll come back to-night.”

“Come back early; Paris is a bad place at night for boys,” she called after me.

Night was falling. The street lamps were lit. I had a long way to walk to the Cathedral, where I was to meet Mattia. All my high spirits had vanished. I was very tired and all around me seemed gloomy. In this great Paris full of light and noise I felt so utterly alone. Would I ever find my own people? Was I ever to see my real mother and my real father? When I reached the Cathedral I had still twenty minutes to wait for Mattia. I felt this night that I needed his friendship more than ever. What a comfort it was to think that I was going to see him so gay, so kind, such a friend!

A little before seven I heard a quirk hark, then out of the shadows jumped Capi! He sprang onto my knees and licked me with his soft wet tongue. I hugged him in my arms and kissed his cold nose. It was not long before Mattia appeared. In a few words I told him that Barberin was dead and that there was now little hope that I could ever find my family. Then he gave me all the sympathy of which I was in need. He tried to console me and told me not to despair. He wished as sincerely as I that we could find my parents.

We returned to the Hotel du Cantal. The next morning I wrote to Mother Barberin to express my grief for her loss and to ask her if she had had any news from her husband before he died. By return mail she sent me word that her husband had written to her from the hospital, where they had taken him, and said that if he did not get better she was to write to Greth and Galley’s, Lincoln Square, London, for they were the lawyers who were looking for me. He told her that she was not to take any steps until she was sure that he was dead.

“We must go to London,” said Mattia, when I had finished reading the letter that the priest had written for her. “If the lawyers are English, that shows that your parents are English.”

“Oh, I’d rather be the same as Lise and the others. But,” I added, “if I’m English I’ll be the same as Mrs. Milligan and Arthur.”

“I’d rather you were Italian,” said Mattia.

In a few minutes our baggage was ready and we were off. It took us eight days to hike from Paris to Bologne, stopping at the principal towns en route. When we reached Bologne we had thirty-two francs in our purse. We took passage on a cargo boat that was going the next day to London. What a rough journey we had! Poor Mattia declared that he would never go on the sea again. When at last we were steaming up the Thames I begged him to get up and see the wonderful sights, but he implored me to let him alone. At last the engine stopped and the ropes were thrown to the ground, and we landed in London.

I knew very little English, but Mattia had picked up quite a great deal from an Englishman who had worked with him at the Gassot Circus. When we landed he at once asked a policeman to direct us to Lincoln Square. It seemed to be a very long way. Many times we thought that we had lost ourselves but again upon making inquiries we found that we were going in the right direction. Finally we reached Temple Bar and a few steps further we came to Green Square.

My heart heat so quickly when we stood before the door of Greth and Galley’s office that I had to ask Mattia to wait a moment until I had recovered myself. After Mattia had stated to the clerk my name and my business, we were shown at once into the private office of the head of the firm, Mr. Greth. Fortunately this gentleman spoke French, so I was able to speak to him myself. He questioned me upon every detail of my life. My answers evidently convinced him that I was the boy he was looking for, for he told me that I had a family living in London and that he would send me to them at once.

“One moment, sir. Have I a father?” I asked, scarcely able to say the word “father.”

“Yes, not only a father, but a mother, brothers and sisters,” he replied.

“Oh….”

He touched a bell and a clerk appeared whom he told to take charge of us.

“Oh, I had forgotten,” said Mr. Greth, “your name is Driscoll; your father’s name is Mr. John Driscoll.”

In spite of Mr. Greth’s ugly face I think I could have jumped at him and hugged him if he had given me time, but with his hand he indicated the door and we followed the clerk.

 



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