Edmondo De Amicis – College Friends – The Translation by Edith Wharton

[Footnote: Although "College Friends" is rather a reverie than in any strict sense a story (something in the spirit of "The Reveries of a Bachelor," if an analogy may be sought in another literature), it has been thought best to include it here as one of the best-known of De Amicis' shorter writings. Indeed it is the leading piece in his chief volume of "Novelle," so that he has himself included it with his tales.]

I.

There are many who write down every evening what they have done during the day; some who keep a record of the plays they have seen, the books they have read, the cigars they have smoked—but is there one man in a hundred, nay, in a thousand, who, at the end of the year, or even once in a lifetime, draws up a list of the people he has known? I don’t mean his intimate friends, of course—the few whom he sees, or with whom he corresponds; but the multitude of people met in the past, and perhaps never to be encountered again, of whom the recollection returns from time to time at longer and longer intervals as the years go by, until at length it wholly fades away. Which of us has not forgotten a hundred once familiar names, lost all trace of a hundred once familiar lives? And yet to my mind this forgetfulness implies such a loss in the way of experience, that if I could live my life over again I should devote at least half an hour a day to the tedious task of recording the names and histories of the people I met, however uninteresting they might appear.

What strange and complex annals I should possess had I kept such a list of my earliest school-friends, supplementing it as time went on by any news of them that I could continue to obtain, and keeping track, as best I might, of the principal changes in their lives! As it is, of the two or three hundred lads that I knew there are but twenty or thirty whom I can recall, or with whose occupations and whereabouts I am acquainted—of the others I know absolutely nothing. For a few years I kept them all vividly in mind; three hundred rosy faces smiled at me, three hundred schoolboy jackets testified more or less distinctly to the paternal standing, from the velvet coat of the mayor’s son to the floury roundabout of the baker’s offspring; I still heard all their different voices; I saw where each one sat in school; I recalled their words, their attitudes, their gestures. Gradually all the faces melted into a rosy blur, the jackets into a uniform neutral tint; the gestures were blent in a vague ripple of movement, and at last a thick mist enveloped all and the vision disappeared.

It grieves me that it should be so, and many a time I long to burst through the mist and evoke the hidden vision. But, alas! my comrades are all scattered; and were I to try to seek them out, one by one, how many devious twists and turns I should have to make, and to what strange places my search would lead me! From a sacristy I should pass to barracks, from barracks to a laboratory, thence to a lawyer’s office; from the lawyer’s office to a prison, from the prison to a theatre, from the theatre, alas! to a cemetery, and thence, perhaps, to a merchant vessel lying in some American or Eastern port. Who knows what adventures, what misfortunes, what domestic tragedies, what transformations in appearance, in habits, in life, would be found to have befallen that mere handful of humanity, within that short space of time!

And yet those are not the friends that I most long to see again. Indeed, if we analyze that sense of mournful yearning which makes us turn back to childhood, we shall be surprised to find how faint is the longing for our old comrades, nay, we may even discover that no such sentiment exists in us. And why should it, after all? We were often together, we were merry, we sought each other out, we desired each other’s companionship; but there was no interchange between us of anything that draws together, that binds closer, that leaves its mark upon the soul. Our friendships were unmade as lightly as they were made. What we wanted was somebody to echo our laughter, to climb trees with us, and return the ball well; and as the pluckiest, liveliest, and most active boys were best fitted to meet these requirements, it was upon them that our choice usually fell. But did we feel kindly towards the weaklings? Did it ever occur to us, when a comrade looked sad, to ask: What ails you? or, if he answered that somebody lay dead at home, did we have any tears for his sorrow? Ah, we were not real friends!

It has probably happened to many of you to come across a companion of your primary-school days, after the lapse of fifteen years or so. You receive a letter in an unfamiliar hand, you glance at the signature, and you shout out: “What? Is HE alive?” On with your hat and off you rush to the hotel. Your heart thumps as you run, and you race upstairs to his door in hot haste, laughing, rejoicing, and thinking to yourself that you wouldn’t have missed those few minutes for any amount of money. Well, those few minutes are the best. You bounce into the room, and find yourself embracing a strange man in whom, as you look at him more closely, you can just discern some faint resemblance to the lad you used to know; one of you exclaims, “How are you, old man?” the other plunges breathlessly into some old school reminiscence; and then… that’s all.

You begin to say to yourself: “Who IS this strange man? what has he been doing all these years? what has been going on in his soul? is he good or bad, a believer or a sceptic? I have nothing in common with him, I don’t know the man! He must be observed and studied first—how can I call him a friend?”

What you think of him, he thinks of you, and conversation languishes. With your first words you may have discovered that you and he have followed opposite paths in life; he betrays his democratic tendencies, you, your monarchical leanings; you try him on literature, he retaliates with the culture of silk-worms. Before telling him that you are married, you take the precaution to ask if he has a wife; he answers, “What do you take me for?” and you take leave with a touch of the finger-tips and a smile that has died at its birth.

The friends of infancy! Dear indeed above all others when the years of boyhood have been spent with them; mere phantoms otherwise! And childhood itself! I have never been able to understand why people long to return to it. Why mourn for years without toil, without suffering, without intelligent belief, without those outbursts of fierce and bitter sorrow that purify the soul and uplift the brow in a splendid renewal of hope and courage? Better a thousand times to suffer, to toil, to fight and weep, than to let life exhale itself in a ceaseless irresponsible gayety, causeless, objectless, and imperturbable! Better to stand bleeding on the breach than to lie dreaming among the flowers.
II.

I was seventeen years old when I made the acquaintance of my dearest friends, in a splendid palace which I see before me as clearly as though I had left it only yesterday. I see the great courtyard, the stately porticos, the saloons adorned with columns, statues and bas-reliefs; and, amidst these beautiful and magnificent objects, vestiges of the bygone splendors of the ducal residence, the long lines of bedsteads and school-benches, the hanging rows of uniforms, dirks and rifles. Five hundred youths are scattered about those courts and corridors and staircases; a dull murmur of voices, broken by loud shouts and sonorous laughter, reverberates through the most distant recesses of the huge edifice. What animation! What life! What varieties of type, of speech and gesture! Youths of athletic build, with great moustaches and stentorian voices; youths as slim and sweet as girls; the dusky skin and coal-black eyes of Sicily; the fair-haired, blue-eyed faces of the north; the excited gesticulation of Naples, the silvery Tuscan intonation, the rattling Venetian chatter, a hundred groups, a hundred dialects; on this side, songs and noisy talk, on that side running, jumping, and hand-clapping; men of every class, sons of dukes, senators, generals, shopkeepers, government employees; a strange assemblage, suggesting the university, the monastery, and the barracks: with talk of women, war, novels, the orders of the day; a life teeming with feminine meannesses and virile ambitions; a life of mortal ennui and frantic gayety, a medley of sentiments, actions, and incidents, absurd, tragic, or delightful, from which the pen of a great humorist could extract the materials for a masterpiece.

Such was the military college of Modena in the year 1865.
III.

I cannot recall the two years that I spent there without being beset by a throng of memories from which I can free myself only by passing them all in review, one after another, like pictures in a magic-lantern; now laughing, now sighing, now shaking my head, but feeling all the while that each episode is dear to me and will never be forgotten while I live.

How well I remember the first grief of my military life, a blow that befell me a few days after I had entered college all aglow with the poetry of war. It was the morning on which caps were distributed. Each new recruit of the company found one that fitted him, but all were too small for me, and the captain turned upon me furiously.

“Are you aware that the commissary stores will have to be reopened just for you?” And I heard him mutter after a pause, “What are you going to do with a head like that?”

Great God, what I underwent at that moment! What—be a soldier? I thought. Never! Better beg my bread in the streets—better die and have done with it!

Then I remember an officer, an old soldier, gruff but kindly, who had a way of smiling whenever he looked at me. How that smile used to exasperate me! I had made up my mind to demand an explanation, to let him know that I didn’t propose to be any man’s butt, when one evening he called me to him, and having given me to understand that he had heard something about me and that he wanted to know if it were really true (I was to speak frankly, for it would do me no harm), he finally, with many coughs and smiles and furtive glances, whispered in my ear: “Is it true that you write poetry?”

I recall, too, the insuperable difficulty of accomplishing the manual tasks imposed upon me, especially that of sewing on my buttons—how every few seconds the needle would slip through my fingers, till the thread was tangled up in a veritable spider’s web, while the button hung as loose as ever, to the derision of my companions and the disgust of the drill-sergeant, whose contemptuous—”You may be a great hand at rhyming, but when it comes to sewing on buttons you’re a hundred years behind the times,” seemed to exile me to the depths of the eighteenth century.

I see the great refectory, where a battalion might have drilled; I see the long tables, the five hundred heads bent above the plates, the rapid motion of five hundred forks, of a thousand hands and sixteen thousand teeth; the swarm of servants running here and there, called to, scolded, hurried, on every side at once; I hear the clatter of dishes, the deafening noise, the voices choked with food crying out: “Bread—bread!” and I feel once more the formidable appetite, the herculean strength of jaw, the exuberant life and spirits of those far-off days.

The scene changes, and I see myself locked in a narrow cell on the fifth floor, a jug of water at my side, a piece of black bread in my hand, with unkempt hair and unshorn chin, and the image of Silvio Pellico before me; condemned to ten days’ imprisonment for having made an address of thanks to the professor of chemistry on the occasion of his closing lecture, thereby committing an infraction of article number so-and-so of the regulation forbidding any cadet to speak in public in the name of his companions. And to this day I can hear the Major saying: “Take my advice and never let your imagination run away with you;” citing the example of his old school-fellow, the poet Regaldi, who had got into just such a scrape, and concluding with the warning that “poetry always made men make asses of themselves.”

Yes, I see it all as vividly as though I were reliving the very same life again—the silent march of the companies at night down the long, faintly-lit corridors; the professors behind their desks, deafening us with their Gustavus-Adolphuses, their Fredericks the Great, and their Napoleons; the great lecture-rooms full of motionless faces; the huge, dim dormitories, resounding with the respirations of a hundred pairs of lungs; the garden, the piazza, the ramparts, the winding Modenese sheets, the cafis full of graduates devouring pastry, the picnics in the country, the excursions to neighboring villages, the intrigues, the studies, the rivalries, the sadnesses, the enmities, the friendships.
IV.

A few days before the graduating examinations we were given leave to study wherever we pleased. There were two hundred of us in the second class, and we dispersed ourselves all over the palace, in groups of five or six friends, each group in a separate room, and began the long, desperate grind, cramming away day and night, with only an occasional interruption to discuss the coming examination and our future prospects.

How cheerily we talked, and how bright our anticipations were! After two years of imprisonment, home, freedom, and epaulets were suddenly within our reach. Aside from the common satisfaction of being promoted to be an officer, each one of us had his own special reasons for rejoicing. With one of us it was the satisfaction of being able to say to the family that had pinched and denied itself to pay for his schooling, “Here I am, good people, nineteen years old and able to shift for myself;” with another, the fun of swaggering in full uniform, with clanking heels and rattling sword, into the quiet house where the old uncle who had been so generous sat waiting to welcome him home; with a third, the joy of mounting a familiar staircase, brevet in pocket, and knocking at a certain door, behind which a girlish voice would be heard exclaiming, “There he is!”—the voice of the little cousin to whom he had said good-bye, two years before, in her parents’ presence, reassured only by the non-committal phrase: “Well, well, go to college first and make a man of yourself; then we’ll see.”

Already we saw ourselves surrounded by children eager to finger our sabres, by girls who signed to us as we passed, by old men who clapped us on the shoulder, by mothers crying, “How splendidly he looks!” So that it was with the greatest difficulty that we shook off this importunate folk, saying to ourselves: “Presently, presently, all in good time; but just now, really, you must let us be!”

Then, each following the bent of his disposition, his habits, and his plans, we confided to one another the regiment, province, and city to which we hoped to be assigned. Some of us longed for the noise and merriment of the Milanese carnivals, and dreamed of theatres, balls and convivial suppers. One sighed for a sweet Tuscan village, perched on a hilltop, where, in command of his thirty men, he might spend the peaceful spring days in collecting songs and proverbs among the country-folk. Another longed to carry on his studies in the unbroken solitude of a lonely Alpine fortress, hemmed in by ravines and precipices. One of us craved a life of adventure in the Calabrian forests; another, the activities of some great seaboard city; a third, an island of the Tyrrhenian Sea. We divided up Italy among ourselves a hundred times a day, as though we had been staking off plots in a garden; and each of us detailed to the others the beauties of his chosen home, and all agreed that every one of the places selected would be beautiful and delightful to live in.

And then—war! It was sure to come sooner or later. Hardly was the word mentioned when our books were hurled into a corner and we were all talking at once, our faces flushed, our voices loud and excited. War, to us, was a superhuman vision in which the spirit lost itself as in some strange intoxication; a far-off, rose-colored horizon, etched with the black profiles of gigantic mountains; legion after legion, with flying banners and the sound of music, endlessly ascending the mountain-side; and high up, on the topmost ridges, surrounded by the enemy, our own figures far in advance of the others, dashing forward with brandished swords; while down the farther slope a torrent of foot, horse, and artillery plunged wildly through darkness to an unknown abyss.

A medal for gallantry? Which one of us would not have won it? Lose the battle? But could Italians be defeated? Death—but who feared to die? And did anybody ever die at nineteen? Who could tell what strange and marvellous adventures awaited us, what sights we should see! Perhaps some foreign expedition; a war in the East; was not the Eastern question still stirring? We wandered in imagination over seas and mountains, we saw the marshalling of fleets and armies, we glowed with impatience, we cried out within ourselves, “Only give us time to pass our examinations, and we’ll be there too!”

And then the examinations took place, and on a beautiful July morning the doors of the ducal palace were thrown open and we were told to go forth and seek our destiny. And with a great cry we dashed out, and scattered ourselves like a flight of birds over the length and breadth of Italy.
V.

And now?

Six years have gone by, only six years, and what a long and strange and varied romance might be woven out of the lives of those two hundred college comrades! I have seen many of them since we graduated, and have had news of many others, and I have a way of passing them in review one after another, and questioning them mentally; and what I see and hear fills me with a wonder not unmixed with sadness. And here they all are.

The first that I see are a group of brown, broad-shouldered, bearded men, whom I do not recall just at first; but when they smile at me I recognize the slender fair boys who used to look so girlish.

“Is it really you?” I exclaim, and they answer, “Yes,” with a deep sonorous note so different from the boyish voices I had expected to hear, that I start back involuntarily.

And these others? Their features are not changed, to be sure, their figures are as robust and well set-up as ever, but the smile has vanished, there is no brightness in the eye.

“What has happened to you?” I ask; and they answer, “Nothing.”

Ah, how much better that some misfortune should have befallen them than that the years alone, and only six short years, should have had the power so sadly to transform them!

Here are others. Good God! One, two, three, five of them; let me look again; yes—gray-headed! What—at twenty-seven! Tell me—what happened? They shrug their shoulders and pass on.

Then I see a long file of my own friends, some of them the wildest of the class, one with a baby in his arms, one with a child by the hand, another leading two. What? So-and-so married? So-and-so a pere de famille? Who would have thought it?

Here come others; some, with bowed heads and reddened eyes, sign to me sadly in passing. There is crape upon their sleeves.

Others, with heads high and flashing eyes, point exultantly to their breasts. Our college dream, the military medal—ah, lucky fellows!

And here are some, moving slowly, and so pale, so emaciated, that I hardly know them. Ah me! The surgeon’s knife has probed those splendid statuesque limbs, once bared with such boyish pride on the banks of the Panaro; the surgeon’s knife, seeking for German bullets, while the blood streamed and the amputated limbs dropped from the poor maimed trunks. Alas, poor friends! But at least they have remained with us, rewarded for their sacrifice by the love and gratitude of all.

But what’s become of so-and-so?

He died on the march through Lombardy.

And so-and-so?

Killed by a mitrailleuse at Monte Croce.

And my friend so-and-so?

He died of a rifle-bullet, in the hospital at Verona.

And the fellow who sat next to me in class?

HE died of cholera in Sicily.

Enough—enough!

So they all pass by, fading into the distance, while my fancy hastens back over the road they have travelled, seeking traces of their passage —how many and what diverse traces!

Here, books and papers scattered on the floor, half-finished projects of battles, an overturned table, a smoking candle-end, tokens of a studious vigil. There, broken chairs, fragments of glasses, the remains of a carouse. Farther on, an expanse of waste ground, two bloody swords, deep footprints, the impress of a fallen body. Here, a table covered with a torn green cloth and strewn with cards and dice; yonder, in the grass, a scented love-letter and a knot of faded violets. Over there a graveyard cross, with the inscription: To my Mother. And farther on more cards, cast-off uniforms, women’s portraits, tailors’ bills, bills of exchange, swords, flowers, blood. What a vast tapestry one can weave with those few broken and tangled threads! What loves, what griefs, what struggles, follies, and disasters one divines and comprehends! Many a high and generous impulse too; but how much more of squandered opportunity and effort!

And even if nothing had been squandered, if, in those six years, not a day, not an hour, had been stolen from our work, if we had not opened our hearts to any affections but those that exalt the mind and give serenity to life, a great and dear illusion must still have been lost to us; an illusion that in vanishing has taken with it much of our strength and hope; the illusion of that distant rose-colored horizon, edged with the black profiles of gigantic mountains, legion after legion hurling itself upon the enemy with flying banners and the sound of martial music!

A lost war.

And if we had not lost that illusion, would not some other have vanished in its place?
VI.

I think of myself and say: “How far it is from nineteen to twenty-five!”

Wherever I went, then, I was the youngest, since boys under nineteen don’t mix on equal terms with men; and I knew that whoever I met envied me three things: my youth, my hopes, and my light-heartedness. And now, wherever I go, I meet young fellows who look at me and speak to me with the deference shown to an elder brother; and, as I talk to them, I am conscious of making an effort to appear as cheery as they, and even find myself wondering what stuff they are made of.

The other day, looking at a friend’s child, a little girl of six, I said to him, half laughing, “Who knows?”

“Isn’t there rather too much disparity of age?” he answered.

I was silent, half-startled; then, counting up the years on my fingers,
I murmured sadly, “Yes.”

At nineteen I could say of any little maid I met, that one day she might become my wife; the rising generation belonged to me; but now there is a part of humanity for which I am already too old!

And the future—once an undefined bright background, on which fancy sketched all that was fairest and most desirable, without one warning from the voice of reason: now, clearly outlined and distinctly colored, it takes such precise shape that I can almost guess what it is to be, can see my path traced out for me, and the goal to which it leads. And so, marvels and glories, farewell!

And mankind? Well—I never was mistrustful, nor inclined to see the bad rather than the good in human nature; indeed, I have a friend who is so exasperated by my persistent optimism that, when I enlarge upon my affection for my kind, he invariably answers, “Wait till your turn comes!”

And yet, how much is gone already of the naif abandonment of those boyish friendships, of that candid and ready admiration that, like a well-adjusted spring, leapt forth at a touch, even when I heard a stranger praised! Two or three disillusionments have sufficed to weaken that spring. Already I begin to question my own enthusiasm, and a rising doubt silences the warm, frank words of affection that once leapt involuntarily to my lips. I read with dry eyes many a book that I used to cry over; when I read poetry my voice trembles less often than it did; my laugh is no longer the sonorous irresistible peal that once echoed through every corner of the house. When I look in the glass—is it fancy or reality?—I perceive in my face something that was not there six years ago, an indescribable look about the eyes, the brow, the mouth, that is imperceptible to others, but that I see and am troubled by. And I remember Leopardi’s words, AT TWENTY-FIVE THE FLOWER OF YOUTH BEGINS TO FADE. What? Am I beginning to fade? Am I on the downward slope? Have I travelled so far already? Why, thousands younger than I have graduated since my day from the college of Modena; I feel them pressing upon me, treading me down, urging me forward. The thought terrifies me. Stop a moment—let me draw breath; why must one devour life at this rate? I mean to take my stand here, motionless, firm as a rock; back with you! But the ground is sloping and slippery, my feet slide, there is nothing to catch hold of. Comrades, friends of my youth, come, let us hold fast to each other; let us clasp each other tight; don’t let them overthrow us; let us stand fast! Ah, curse it, I feel the earth slipping away under me!
VII.

Well, well-those are the mournful imaginings of rainy days. When the sun reappears, the soul grows clear like the sky, and there succeeds to my brief discouragement a state of mind in which it appears to me so foolish and so cowardly to fret because I see a change in my face, to mourn the careless light-heartedness of my youth, to rebel against the laws of nature in a burst of angry regret, that I am overcome with shame. I rouse myself, I scramble to my feet, I seize hold of my faith, my hopes, my intentions, I set to work again with a resolution full of joyful pride. At such moments I feel strong enough to face the approach of my thirtieth year, to await with serenity disillusionments, white hairs, sorrows, infirmities, and old age, my mind’s eye fixed upon a far-off point of light that seems to grow larger as I advance. I march on with renewed courage; and to the noisy and drunken crew calling out to me to join them, I answer, No!—and to the knights of the doleful countenance, who shake their heads and say, “What if it were not true?” —I answer, without turning my eyes from that distant light, No!—and to the grave, proud men who point to their books and writings, and say with a smile of pity and derision, “It is all a dream!”—I answer, with my eyes still upon that far-off light, and the great cry of a man who sees a ghost in his path, No! Ah, at such moments, what matters it that I must grow old and die? I toil, I wait, I believe!
VIII.

Most of my classmates have undergone the same change. Their faces have grown older, or sadder, as Leopardi would have us say; but with the faces the souls have grown graver also. I have spoken of certain changes in my friends that saddened me; but there are others which make me glad. Now and then it has happened to me to come across some of the most careless, happy-go-lucky of my classmates, and to be filled with wonder when I hear them speak of their country, of their work, of the duties to be performed, of the future to be prepared for. Owing, perhaps, to the many and great events of these last years, their characters have been suddenly and completely transformed. Some ruling motive—ambition, family cares, or the mere instinctive love of study—has gathered together and focused their vague thoughts and scattered powers; has brought about the habit of reflection, and turned their thoughts towards the great problem of life; has given to all a purpose, and a path to travel, and left them no time to mourn the vanished past. We have all entered upon our second youth, with some disillusionments, with a little experience, and with the conviction that happiness—what little of it is given to us on earth—is not obtained by struggling, storming, and clamoring to heaven and earth WE MUST HAVE IT!—but is slowly distilled from the inmost depths of the soul by the long persistence of quiet toil. Humble hopes have succeeded to our splendid visions; steady resolves, to our grand designs; and the dazzling vision of war, the goddess promising glory and delirium, has been replaced by the image of Italy, our mother, who promises only—and it is enough—the lofty consolation of having loved and served her.
IX.

Our souls have emerged fortified from the sorrow of the lost war.

One day, surely, Italy will re-echo from end to end with the great cry, “Come!”—and we shall spring to our feet, pale and proud, with the answering shout, “We are ready!”

Then, in the streets of our cities, thronged with people, with soldiers, horses, and wagons, amidst the clashing of arms and the blare of trumpets, we classmates shall meet again. I shall see them once more, many of them, perhaps, only for that short hour, some only for a moment. At night, in the torchlit glare of a railway-station, we shall meet again, and greet each other in silence, hand in hand and eye to eye. No shouting, no songs, no joyous clamor, no vision of triumphal marches, no veiling of death’s image in the light hopefulness of reunion; we shall say but one word to each other—good-bye—and that good-bye will be a promise, a vow; that good-bye will mean, “This time, there will be no descending from the mountains; you and I, lad, will be left lying on the summit.”

And often, traversing a long expanse of time, I evoke the vision of distant battle-fields on which the lot of Italy is decided. My fancy hastens from valley to valley, from hill to hill; and at all the most difficult passages, at all the posts of danger, I see one of my old classmates, a gray-haired colonel or general, at the head of his regiment or of his brigade; and I love to picture him at the moment when, attacked by a heavy force of the enemy, he directs the defence.

The two sides have joined battle, and from a neighboring height, he observes the fighting below. Poor friend! At that moment, perhaps, life and honor hang in the balance; thirty years of study, of hopes, of sacrifices, are about to be crowned with glory or scattered like a handful of dust down that green slope at his feet—it all hangs on a thread. Pale and motionless he stands there watching, the sabre trembling in his convulsive grasp. I am near him, my eye is upon his face, I feel and see and tremble with him, I live his life.

Courage, friend! Your spirit has passed into your men, the fight is theirs, never fear! That uncertain movement over there towards the right wing is but the momentary confusion caused by some inequality of the ground; they are not falling back, man. Listen, the shouts are louder, the firing grows heavier, the last battalion has been thrown into action, all your men are fighting. Ah! how his gaze hurries from one end of the line to the other, how pale he has grown; life seems suspended. What are those distant voices? What flame rushes to his face? What is this smile, this upward glance? Victory!—but, by God, man, rein in your horse, look at me—here I am, your old classmate who holds out his arms to you—and now off, down to the battlefield among your soldiers—and God be with you!

He has put his charger to the gallop and disappeared.

And who knows how many of my friends may find themselves some day, at some hour of their lives, face to face with such an ordeal? Who knows how many an act of patriotism will make their names illustrious, how dear to the people some of these names may become? What if some day I were to see the youth who sat next to me in the class-room or at table, or slept beside me in the dormitory, riding through the streets on a white horse, in a general’s uniform, covered with flowers and surrounded by rejoicing crowds? And who knows—may I not knock at the door of some other, and throw my arms about the pale, sad figure, grown ten years older in a few months; telling him that the popular verdict is unjust, that there are many who know that he is not to blame for the disaster, that sooner or later the excitement will subside, and the victims of the first rash judgment be restored to honor; that his name is still dear and respected, that he must not despond, that he must take heart and keep on hoping?

Ah, when I think of the fierce trials that life has in store for many of my classmates, of all that they may do to benefit their country, of all that their glory will cost them; when I, who have left the army, think of all this, I feel that, not to be outdone by my old school-fellows in paying the debt of gratitude that I owe my country, I ought to toil without ceasing, to spend my nights in study, to treasure my youth and strength as a means of sustaining my intellectual effort; that, in order to preach the beauty of goodness, I ought to lead a blameless life; that I ought to keep alive that glowing affection, a spark of which I may sometimes communicate to others; to study children, the people, and the poor, and to write for their benefit; to let no ignoble word fall from my pen, to sacrifice all my inclinations to the common welfare, never to lose heart, never to strive for approval, to hope for nothing and long for nothing but the day on which I may at last say to myself: I have done what I could, my life has not been useless, I am satisfied.
X.

And this is the thought that comes to me in closing: I should like to have before me a lad of seventeen, well-bred and kindly, but ignorant of the human heart, as we all are at that age; and putting a friendly hand on his shoulder, I should like to say to him:

“Do you want to make sure of a peaceful and untroubled future? Treat your friends as considerately as you would a woman, for, believe me, every harsh word or ill-mannered act (however excusable, however long-forgotten) will return some day to pain and trouble you. Recalling my friends after all these years, I remember a quarrel that I had with one of them, a sharp word exchanged with another, the resolve, maintained for many months, not to speak to a third. Puerilities, if you like, and yet how glad I should be not to have to reproach myself with them! And, though I feel sure that they have made no more impression upon others than upon myself, how much I wish for an opportunity of convincing myself of the fact, of dissipating any slight shadow that may have lingered in the minds of my friends!

“When one’s youth is almost past, and one thinks of the years that have flown so quickly and of those that will fly faster yet, of the little good one has done and the little there is still time to accomplish, the pride that set one against one’s friends seems so petty, ridiculous and contemptible a sentiment, that one longs for the power of returning to the past, of renewing the old discussions in a friendly tone, of extending a conciliatory hand in place of every angry shrug, of seeking out the friends one has offended, looking them in the face and saying, ‘Shall bygones be bygones, old man?’”
XI.

Dear friends! If only because it was in your company that I first wandered over my country, how could my thoughts cease to seek you out, my heart to desire you?

When, from the ship’s deck, I saw the gulf of Naples whiten in the distance, and clasping my hands, laughing and thinking of my mother, I cried out, It is a dream!—when, from the summit of the Noviziate pass my gaze for the first time embraced Messina, the straits, the Appennines and the cape of Spartivento, and I said to myself, half-sadly, Here Italy ends;—when, from the top of Monte Croce, beyond the vast plain swarming with German regiments, I first beheld the towers of Verona, and stretching out my arms, as though fearful of their vanishing, cried out to them, Wait!—when, from the dike of Fusina, I saw Venice, far-off, azure, fantastic, and cried with wet eyes, Heavenly!—when Rome, surrounded by the smoke of our batteries, first burst upon me from the height of Monterondo, and I shouted, She is ours!—always, everywhere, one of you was beside me, to seize my arm and cry out: How beautiful is Italy!—always one of you to mingle your tears, your laughter and your poetry with mine!

There is not a spot of Italy, not a joyful occurrence, nor profound emotion, which is not associated in my mind with the clank of a sword saying, ‘I am here!’—and the hand-clasp of one of you, making me pause and wonder what has become of such an one, what he is doing and thinking, and whether he too remembers the good days we spent together.

It may fall to my lot to meet, in the future, many faithful, dear and generous friends, whose smiling images I already picture to myself; but beyond their throng I shall always see your plumes waving and the numbers glittering on your caps; I shall always hurry towards you, crying out: Let us talk of our college days, of our travels, of war, of soldiers, and of Italy!
XII.

We old classmates will many of us doubtless live to see the twentieth century. Strange thought! I know, of course, that the transition from nineteen hundred to nineteen hundred and one will seem as natural as that from ninety-nine to a hundred, or from this year to next. And yet it seems to me that to see the first dawn of the new century will be like reaching the summit of some high mountain, and looking out over new countries and new horizons. I feel as though, that morning, something unexpected and marvellous would be revealed to us; as though there would be a sense almost of terror in finding one’s self face to face with it; a sense of having been hurled, by some unseen power, from brink to brink of a measureless abyss.

Idle fancies! I know well enough what we shall be like when that time comes. I see a sitting-room with a fireplace in the corner, or rather many sitting-rooms with many fireplaces, and many old men seated, chin in hand, in arm-chairs near the hearth. Near by stands a table with a lamp on it, surrounded by a circle of children, or of nephews and nieces, who nudge each other and point to their father or uncle, whispering, “Hush—he’s asleep;”—and laughing at the grotesque expression that sleep has given to our wrinkled faces.

And then perhaps we shall wake, and the children will surround us, begging, as usual, for stories of “a long time ago,” and asking with eager curiosity, “Uncle, did you ever see General Garibaldi?”—”Father, were you ever close to King Victor Emmanuel?”—”Grandpapa, did you ever hear Count Cavour speak?”

“Why, yes, child, many and many a time!”

“Oh, do tell us, what were they like? Did they look like their portraits? How did they talk?”

And we shall tell them everything, and gradually, as we talk, our voices will regain their old vigor, our cheeks will glow, and we shall watch with delight the brightening of those eager eyes, the proud uplifting of those innocent brows, and the impatient movement of the little hands, signing to us, at each pause, to go on with the story.

And what will have befallen the world by that time? Will a Victor Emmanuel III. rule over Italy? Will the Bersaglieri be at Trent? Will one of our old friends, attached to the Ministry of the Interior, have been made Governor of Tunis? Will France have passed through another series of empires, republics, communes, and monarchies? Will the threatened invasion of northern barbarians have taken place? Will England also have received her coup-de-grace? Shall we have experimented with a Commune? Will our great poet have been born? The Church have been reformed? Rome rebuilt? Will there be any armies in those days? And we—what standing shall we have in our village or town? What shall we have done? How shall we have lived?

Ah, whatever has happened, whatever fate awaits us, if we have worked, and loved, and believed—then, when we sit at sunset in the big arm-chair on the terrace, and think of our families, of our friends, of the mountains, of the carnivals, of the Tyrrhenian islands that we dreamed of in our college days, we shall be sad, indeed, at the thought of parting before long from such dear souls and from so beautiful a country; but our faces will brighten with a smile serene and quiet as the dawn of a new youth, and tempering the bitterness of farewell with the tacit pledge of reunion.

Edmondo De Amicis – A Great Day – Translated by Edith Wharton

The G—s were living in the country, near Florence, when the Italian army began preparations to advance upon Rome. In the family the enterprise was regarded with disapproval. The father, the mother, and the two grown daughters, all ardent Catholics and temperate patriots, talked of moral measures.

“We don’t profess to understand anything about politics,” Signora G—— would say to her friends; “I am especially ignorant; in fact, I am afraid I should find it rather difficult to explain WHY I think as I do. But I can’t help it; I have a presentiment. There is something inside me that keeps saying: ‘This is not the right way for them to go to Rome; they ought not to go, they must not go!’ I remember how things were in forty-eight, and in fifty-nine and sixty; well, in those days I never was frightened, I never had the feeling of anxiety that I have now; I always thought that things would come right in the end. But now, you may say what you please, I see nothing but darkness ahead. You may laugh as much as you like… pray heaven we don’t have to cry one of these days! I don’t believe that day is so far off.”

The only one of the household who thought differently was the son, a lad of twenty, just re-reading his Roman history, and boiling over with excitement. To mention Rome before him was to declare battle, and in one of these conflicts feeling had run so high that it had been unanimously decided not to touch upon the subject in future.

One evening, early in September, one of the official newspapers announced that the Italian troops had actually entered the Papal States. The son was bursting with joy. The father read the article, sat thinking awhile, and then, shaking his head, muttered: “No!” and again: “No!” and a third time: “No!”

“But I beg your pardon, father!” shouted the boy, all aflame.

“Don’t let us begin again,” the mother gently interposed; and that evening nothing more was said. But the next night something serious happened. The lad, just before going to bed, announced, without preamble, as though he were saying the most natural thing in the world, that he meant to go to Rome with the army.

There was a general outcry of surprise and indignation, followed by a storm of reproaches and threats. No decent person would willingly be present at such scenes as were about to be enacted; it was enough that, as Italians, they were all in a measure to blame for what had happened, without deliberately assuming the shame of being an eye-witness; there was nothing one could not forgive in a lad of good family, except (it was his mother who spoke) this craze to go and see A POOR OLD MAN BOMBARDED. A fine war! A glorious triumph, indeed!

When they had ended the lad set his teeth, tore in bits the paper clutched between his fingers, and, lighting a candle, flung out of the room, stamping his feet like an Italian actor representing an angry king.

Half an hour later he stole gently back to the dining-room. His father and mother sat there alone, sad and silent. He asked pardon of his father, who grumblingly shook hands; then he returned to his room, followed by his mother.

“Then we shall hear no more of these ideas?” she tenderly suggested, laying her hands on his shoulders.

He answered her with a kiss.

The next day he crossed the borders of the Papal States.

The discovery of his flight was received with tears, rage, and invectives. They would never consent to see him again; if he came back, they would not even rise from their seats to welcome him; they would not speak to him for a month; they would cut off his allowance; they had a hundred other plans for his discomfiture. With the mother it was only talk; but the father meant what he said. He was a good but hard man, averse to compromises, and violent in his anger; his son knew it and feared him. It was incomprehensible that the lad should have ventured upon such a step.

The news of the 20th of September only increased the resentment of his parents.

“He will see,” they muttered. “Only let him try to come back!”

Their words, their gestures, the manner in which they were to receive him, were all thought out and agreed upon: he was to receive a memorable lesson.

On the morning of the 22d they were all seated in the dining-room, reading, when there was a great knock at the door, and the boy, flushed, panting, sunburnt, stood erect and motionless on the threshold.

No one moved.

“What!” cried the boy, extending his arms in amazement, “you haven’t heard the news?”

No one answered.

“Hasn’t any one told you? Has no one been out from Florence? Are you all in the dark still?”

No one breathed.

“We have heard,” one of the girls at length faltered, after exchanging glances with her father, “that Rome was taken—”

“What! Is THAT all?”

“That is all.”

“But what a victory! What a victory!” cried the son, with a shout that set them trembling. “So I am the one to tell you of it!”

They sprang up and surrounded him.

“But how is it possible?” he went on, with excited gestures—”how is it possible that you haven’t heard anything? Have there been no rumors about the neighborhood? Haven’t the peasants held a meeting? What is the municipality about? Why, it’s inconceivable! Just listen—here, come close to me, so—I’ll tell you the whole story; my heart’s going at such a rate that I can hardly speak…”

“But what has happened?”

“Wait! You shan’t know yet. You must hear the whole story first, from beginning to end. I want to tell you the thing bit by bit, just as I saw it.”

“But WHAT is it?—the Roman festival?”

“The PLEBISCITE?”

“The King’s arrival?”

“No, no, no! Something much more tremendous!”

“But tell us, tell us!”

“Sit down, lad!”

“But how is it that we haven’t heard anything about it?”

“How can I tell? All I know is that bringing you the first news of it is the most glorious thing that’s ever happened to me. I reached Florence this morning—they knew all about it there, so I rushed straight out here. I fancied that perhaps you mightn’t have heard yet—I … I’m all out of breath …”

“But tell us, tell us quickly!” the mother and daughters cried, drawing their chairs around him. The father remained at a distance.

“You shall hear, mother—SUCH things!” the boy began. “Here, come closer to me. Well, you know what happened on the morning of the twenty-first? The rest of the regiments entered; there were the same crowds, the same shouting and music as on the day before. But suddenly, about midday, the noise stopped as if by common consent, first in the Corso, then in the other principal streets, and so, little by little, all over the city. The troops of people began to break up into groups, talking to each other in low voices; then they scattered in all directions, taking leave of each other in a way that made one think they meant to meet again. It seemed as though the signal had been given to prepare for something tremendous. Men said a hasty word to each other in passing and then hurried on, each going his own way. The whole Corso was in movement; people were rushing in and out of the houses, calling out from the street and being answered from the windows; soldiers dashed about as though in answer to a summons; cavalry officers trotted by; men and boys passed with bundles of flags on their shoulders and in their arms, all breathless and hurried, as if the devil were after them. Not knowing a soul, and having no way of finding out what it all meant, I tried to guess what was up from the expression of their faces. They all looked cheerful enough, but not as frantically glad as they had been; there was a shade of doubt, of anxiety. One could see they were planning something. From the Corso I wandered on through some of the narrower streets, stopping now and then to watch one of the groups. Everywhere I saw the same thing—crowds of people, all in a hurry, all coming and going, with the same air that I had already noticed in the Corso, of concealing from somebody what they were doing, although it was all being done in the open. Knots, bands, hundreds of men and women passed me in silence; they were all going in the same direction, as though to some appointed meeting-place.”

“Where were they going?” the father and mother interrupted.

“Wait a minute. I went back to the Corso. As I approached it I heard a deep, continuous murmur of voices, growing louder and louder, like the noise of a great crowd. The Corso was full of people, all standing still and facing toward the Capitol, as though they expected something to come from that direction. From the Piazza del Popolo to the Piazza di Venezia they were jammed so tight that nobody could budge. I heard whispers flying about: ‘Now they’re coming!’—’They’re coming from over there!’—’Who’s coming?’—’The main column—here’s the main column!’—’Here it is!’—’No, it isn’t!’—’Yes, it is!’ All at once there was a stir in the crowd, and a big shout, ‘Here they are!’ and down the middle of the street a wide passageway seemed to open of itself, as though to make room for a procession. Every head was uncovered. I fought my way through from the outer edge of the crowd, to get a look at what was coming. I can feel the shiver down my back now! First, a lot of generals in full uniform, and gentlemen in civilian’s dress, with the tri-colored scarf; in the midst of them, girls, women, and ragged, tattered men; workmen, peasants, women with babies, soldiers of all arms; smartly dressed ladies, students, whole families clutching hold of each other’s hands, for fear of getting lost in the crowd; all jammed together, trampled upon, so that they could barely move; and with it all not a sound but a buzzing, monotonous murmur; silence on both sides of the street; silence in the windows. It was awfully solemn; half strange and half fearful. I felt as if I were in a trance.”

“But where were they going to?” his parents and sisters interposed with growing impatience.

“Wait a bit!” he returned. “I fought my way into the thick of it, with the crowds on both sides of the street piling in on top of me. Lord, what a crush! They spread out like a torrent, pouring into every cranny, sweeping people on ahead of them, into shop-doors, into the court-yards of houses, wherever there was a yard of vacant space. As we went on, other streams of people kept surging into the Corso from all the side streets, which were just as closely packed; on we swept from the Capitol; and they said that there were thousands more in the Forum. Hordes kept pouring in from the Piazza di Spagna, from the Via del Babbuino, from the Piazza del Popolo. Every one had something in his hand: a wreath of flowers, a branch of olive or laurel, a banner, a rag tied to a stick. Some carried holy images uplifted above their heads; inscriptions, emblems, pictures of the Pope, of the King, of the Princes, of Garibaldi; never under the sun was there such a medley and confusion of people and things! And all the while only that low murmur, and the great multitude moving on with a calmness, a dignity that seemed miraculous. I felt as though I were dreaming!”

They gathered close round him without a word. “Suddenly I noticed that the crowd had turned to the left. Round we all went; very slowly, with the greatest difficulty, shoved, trampled on, knocked about; with our arms pinned to our sides, and hardly able to breathe, we fought our way, street by street, to the little square by the bridge of St. Angelo. The bridge itself was crammed with people; beyond it, there were more crowds, which seemed to stretch all the way to St. Peter’s. The right bank of the Tiber swarmed like an ant-hill. Crossing the bridge was a hard job; it took us over a quarter of an hour. The poor devils on each side, in their fear of being pushed over the edge, clutched the parapet madly, and shouted with terror; I believe there were several accidents.

“Well, at last we got across. All the streets leading to the Piazza of St. Peter were choked with human beings. When we reached the foot of one of the two streets that run straight to St. Peter’s we heard a great roar, like the noise of the sea in a gale; it seemed to come to us in gusts, now near by, now a long way off. It was the noise of the crowd in the square before St. Peter’s. We rushed ahead more madly than ever; climbing over each other, carried along, pushed, swept, and dragged, till at last we reached the square. God, if you could have seen it!—What a spectacle!—The whole huge square was jammed, black, swarming; no longer a square, but an ocean. All around the outer edge, between the four lines of columns, on the steps of the church, in the portico, on the great terraced roof, in the outer galleries of the dome, on the capitals of the columns, on the very pilasters; in the windows of the houses to the right of the square, on the balconies, on the leads, above, below, to the right and to the left, wherever a human being could find foothold, wherever there was some projection to cling to or to dangle from, everywhere there were heads, arms, legs, banners, shouts, gesticulations. The whole of Rome was there.”

“Heavens! … And the Vatican?” the women cried, in a tremble.

“All shut up. You know that a wing of the Vatican overlooks the square, and that the Pope’s apartments are in that wing. Every window was closed; it looked like an abandoned palace; like a cold, rigid, impassive face, staring straight ahead with wide-open motionless eyes. The crowd looked up at it with a murmur.

“Over by the church steps I noticed a lot of officers and gentlemen moving about and giving orders, which seemed to be handed on through the crowd. The excitement was increasing. Every head in the square was uncovered; white heads of old men, brown heads of soldiers, fair heads of little children. The sun blazed down on it all. Thousands of shapes, colors, sounds, seemed to undulate and blend; banners, green boughs, fluttering rags, were tossed back and forth as though upon a dancing sea. The crowd seethed and quivered as if the ground underfoot were on fire.

“Suddenly there was a shout that swept over the whole square: ‘The boys! The children! Let’s have the children!’”

“Then, as if every one were following some concerted plan of action, all the children in the square were lifted up above the crowd, and the men and women who carried them fought a way through to the front of the Vatican. The bigger boys made their own way. Bands of ten and twenty of them, holding each other by the hand, wriggled between people’s legs; hundreds of children, some on their own feet, some carried, some pushed, a whole world of little folk, hidden till then in the crowd, suddenly swarmed in one corner of the square; and how the women screamed! ‘Take care!—Make room!—Look out for my child!’”

“Presently there was another shout: ‘The women now! The women!’ and another shuffling up and settling down of the crowd. Then a third shout, louder than any of the others: ‘The army! The troops!’ this time. Then came the most indescribable agitation, but underneath it all a sense of order and rapidity; none of the ordinary confusion and delay; every one helped, made way, co-operated; the whole immense multitude seemed to be under orders. Gradually the disturbance ceased, the noise diminished, the gesticulation subsided; and looking about one saw that all the soldiers, women, and children in the crowd had disappeared as if by magic.

“There they all stood, on the right side of the square, divided into three great battalions that extended from the door of St. Peter’s to the centre of the colonnade, all facing the Vatican, packed together and motionless. The crowd burst into frantic applause.”

“But the Vatican?” the whole family cried out for the third time.

“Shut up and silent as a convent; but wait. Suddenly the applause ceased, and every head turned backward, whispering: ‘Silence!’ The whisper travelled across the square and down the length of the two streets leading to it; gradually the sound died out, and the crowd became absolutely, incredibly silent: it was supernatural. All at once, in the midst of this silence, we heard a faint mysterious chirping; a vague, diffused sound of voices, that seemed to come from overhead. Gradually it grew louder, and there was an uncertain gathering of shrill, discordant tones, now close by, now far off, but growing steadier and more harmonious, until at length it was blent in a single tremulous silvery chant that soared above us like the singing of a choir of angels. Thousands of children were singing the hymn to Pius IX.—the hymn of forty-seven.”

“Oh, God—oh, God!” cried the mother and daughters, with clasped hands.

“That song re-echoed in every heart; it touched something deep down and tender in every one of us. A thrill ran through the crowd; there was a wild waving of arms and hands, as though to take the place of speech; but the only sound was a confused murmur.

“‘Holy Father,’ that murmur seemed to say, ‘look at them, listen to them! They are our children, they are your little ones, who are looking for you, who are praying to you, who implore your blessing. Yield to their entreaty; give them your blessing; grant that our religion and our country may dwell together as one faith in our hearts. One word from you, Holy Father, one sign from you, one glance even, promising pardon and peace, and every man of us shall be with you and for you, now and for ever! Look—these our children and your little ones!’

“Thousands of banners fluttered in the air, the song ceased, and a deep silence followed.”

“Well?” they cried breathlessly.

“Still shut up,” the lad answered. “Then the women began to sing. There was a deep thrill in the immense voice that rose; a something that throbs only in the breast of mothers; it seemed a cry rather than a hymn; it was sweet and solemn.

“At first the crowd was motionless; then a wave of excitement passed over it, and the hymn was drowned in a great clamor: ‘These are our mothers, these are our wives and sisters; Holy Father, listen to them. They have never known hatred or anger; they have always loved and hoped; all they ask is that you should give them leave to couple your name with that of Italy on their children’s lips. Holy Father, one word from you will spare them many cruel doubts and many bitter tears. Give them your blessing, Holy Father!”

The boy’s listeners questioned him with look and gesture.

“Still closed,” he answered; “still closed. But then a tremendous chant burst out, followed by a wild surging of the crowd: the soldiers were singing.—’These are our soldiers,’ the people cried; ‘they shall be yours, Holy Father. They come from the fields and the workshops; they will keep watch at your door, Holy Father, they will attend upon your steps. They were born under your rule, as children they heard your glorious cry for liberty, they fought the stranger in your name and in that of their king; in the hour of danger, you will find them close about your throne, ready to die for you. One word, Holy Father, and these swords, these breasts, this flesh and blood is yours! They ask your blessing on their country, Holy Father, they ask you to repeat your own glorious words!’…

“A window in the Vatican opened. The song ceased, the shouts died out—silence. There was not a soul in the window. For a few seconds the immense multitude seemed to stop breathing. It seemed as though something moved behind the window—as though at the back of the room a shadow appeared and then vanished. Then we fancied that we caught a glimpse of people moving to and fro, and heard a vague sound. Every face was turned towards the window, every eye was fixed upon it. Suddenly, as if by inspiration, every arm in the multitude was stretched out towards the palace; mothers lifted their children above their heads, soldiers swung their caps on the points of their bayonets, every banner was shaken out, and a hundred thousand voices burst into one tremendous shout, ‘Viva! Viva! Viva!’ At the window of the Vatican something light-colored appeared, wavered, fluttered in the air. God in heaven!” cried the boy, with his arms about his mother’s neck, “it was the flag of Italy!”

The delight, the joy, the enthusiasm which greeted his words are indescribable. The lad had spoken with so much warmth, had been so carried away by his imagination, that he had not perceived that, gradually, as the story proceeded, he had passed from fact to fiction; and his eyes were wet, his voice shook, with the spell of his hallucination. His words carried conviction, and not a doubt clouded the happiness of his listeners. They laughed and cried and kissed each other, feeling themselves suddenly released from all their doubts and scruples, from all the miserable conflicts of conscience that had tortured them as Italians and as Catholics! The reconciliation between Church and State! The dream of so many years! What peace it promised, what a future of love and harmony! What a sense of freedom and security!

“Thank God, thank God!” the mother cried, sinking into a chair, worn out by her emotions. And then, in a moment or two, they were all at the lad again, clamoring for fresh details.

“Is it really true?”

“Haven’t you dreamed it?”

“Go on, tell us everything. Tell us about the Pope, about the crowd, about what happened next”…

“What happened next?” the boy began again, in a tired voice. “I hardly know. There was such an uproar, such confusion, such an outburst of frenzy, that the mere recollection of it makes my brain reel. All I saw was a vortex of arms and flags, and the breath was almost knocked out of me by a thundering blow on the chest. After a while, I got out of the thick of it, and plunged into one of the streets leading to the bridge of St. Angelo. People were still pouring into the piazza from Borgo Pio with frantic shouts. I heard afterwards that the crowd tried to break into the Vatican; the soldiers had to keep them back, first breast to breast, then with blows, and then with their bayonets. They say that some people were suffocated in the press. No one knows yet what happened inside the Vatican; there was a rumor that the Pope had given his blessing from the window—but I didn’t see him. I was almost dead when I got to the bridge. The news of what had taken place had already spread over the whole city, and from every direction crowds were still pouring towards the Vatican. Detachments of cavalry went by me at a trot; orderlies and aides-de-camps carrying orders dashed along the streets. Hearing their shouts, the people in the windows shouted back at them. Decrepit old men, sick people, women with babies in their arms, swarmed on the terraces, poured out of the houses, questioning, wondering, embracing one another… At last I got to the Corso. At that minute there was a tremendous report from the direction of the Pincio, another from Porta Pia, a third from San Pancrazio: all the batteries of the Italian army were saluting the Pope. Soon afterwards the bells of the Capitol began to ring; then, one after another, a hundred churches chimed in. The crowds of Borgo Pio surged frantically back towards the left bank of the Tiber, invading the streets, the squares, the houses, stripping the coverings from the papal escutcheons, carrying in triumph busts of Pius IX., portraits and banners. Thousands assembled with frantic cheers before the palaces of the Roman nobles who are known for their devotion to the Holy See. In answer to the cheers, the owners of the houses appeared on their balconies and unfurled the Italian flag.

“Wait a minute, I’m out of breath”…

As soon as he had recovered his breath he was assailed with fresh questions.

“Well, and what then? And the Vatican—? The Pope—?”

“I don’t know.—But Rome that night… how can I ever tell you how beautiful, how great, how marvellous it was! The night was perfectly clear, and I don’t believe such an illumination was ever seen since the world began. The Corso was on fire; the churches were jammed with people, and there was preaching in every one of them. The streets were full of music, dancing, and singing; people harangued the crowds in the cafes and the theatres.

“I wanted to see St. Peter’s again. There had been a rumor that His Holiness needed rest, and Borgo Pio was as still as it is on the stillest night. The piazza was full of moonlight. A silent throng was gathered about the two fountains and on the steps of the church. Many were sitting down, many stretched at full length on the ground; the greater number had fallen asleep, worn out by the fatigue and excitement of the day; women, soldiers, children, lay huddled together in a confused heap. Hundreds of others were on their knees, and sentinels of all the different corps moved about here and there, with little flags and crosses fastened to the barrels of their guns. The ground was strewn with flags, foliage, flowers, and hats lost in the crush; the windows of the Vatican were lit up; there was not a sound to be heard, the crowd seemed to be holding its breath.

“I turned away, beside myself with the thought of all that I had seen, of the effect that it would produce in Italy, and all over the world; of what you would all say to it, and you most of all, father! I found myself at the station without knowing how I had got there. It was full of noise and confusion. I jumped on to the train, we started, and here I am. The news reached Florence last night; they say the excitement was indescribable; the King has left for Rome; the news is all over the world by this time!”

He sank into a chair and sat silent, as though his breath had failed him. Then he sprang up and rushed out to intercept the papers, which usually reached the villa at eleven o’clock in the morning.

In this way he succeeded in maintaining the blissful delusion until evening. The dinner was full of gayety, the lad continued to pour out detail after detail, and his listeners to heap benediction upon benediction.

Suddenly a hurried step was heard on the stairs, and the bell rang violently. The door opened, and a tall, pale priest, with a drawn mouth, appeared on the threshold. He was a recent acquaintance of the family, who felt no great sympathy for him, but who received him courteously more out of respect for his cloth than out of regard for his merits.

As he entered, all but the son sprang up and surrounded him with excited exclamations.

“Well, have you heard the news? Thank God, it’s all ended! The hand of God is in it! What do you think of it all? Tell us, let us hear your opinion!”

“But what news?” asked the priest, looking from one to the other with astonished eyes.

In wild haste, and all speaking at once, they poured out the story of the festival, the forgiveness, the reconciliation.

The priest stared at them, with the look of a man who finds himself unexpectedly surrounded by lunatics; then, with a withering glance at the boy, and a smile of malignant triumph—

“Luckily,” he said, “there is not a word of truth in it!”

“Not a word of truth in it?” they clamored, turning upon their informant.

The boy, unmoved by their agitation, returned the priest’s look half-scornfully, half-sadly.

“Your reverence, don’t say fortunately. Since you are an Italian, say rather, ‘Alas, that it is not so!’”

For a moment the others stood aghast; then, angered, as people will be, rather against those who undeceive them than against those who delude them, they turned towards the priest, involuntarily echoing the boy’s words: “He’s right, your reverence! Say rather, ‘Alas, that it is not so!’”

The priest pointed to his own breast with a long knotty finger.

“I?” he exclaimed bitterly, “never!”

At these words, the boy’s father, rudely roused from his mood of tender exaltation, and bursting, after his wont, into sudden fury, stretched his arm towards the priest, with a cry that rang through the room like a pistol-shot: “Out of my house this instant!”

The priest stalked out, slamming the door. The lad’s arms were about his father’s neck; and the old man, laying his hands on his son’s head, said gently: “I forgive you.”

Edmondo De Amicis – Sangue Romagnolo – Lettura di Valerio Di Stefano – Audiobook – MP3

Quella sera la casa di Ferruccio era più quieta del solito. Il padre, che teneva una piccola bottega di merciaiolo, era andato a Forlì a far delle compere, e sua moglie l’aveva accompagnato con Luigina, una bimba, per portarla da un medico, che doveva operarle un occhio malato; e non dovevano ritornare che la mattina dopo. Mancava poco alla mezzanotte. La donna che veniva a far dei servizi di giorno se n’era andata sull’imbrunire. In casa non rimaneva che la nonna, paralitica delle gambe, e Ferruccio, un ragazzo di tredici anni. Era una casetta col solo piano terreno, posta sullo stradone, a un tiro di fucile da un villaggio, poco lontano da Forlì, città di Romagna; e non aveva accanto che una casa disabitata, rovinata due mesi innanzi da un incendio, sulla quale si vedeva ancora l’insegna d’un’osteria. Dietro la casetta c’era un piccolo orto circondato da una siepe, sul quale dava una porticina rustica; la porta della bottega, che serviva anche da porta di casa, s’apriva sullo stradone. Tutt’intorno si stendeva la campagna solitaria, vasti campi lavorati, piantati di gelsi.

Filename Size Date
SANGUE ROMAGNOLO.aac 10,657,390   8/15/12  11:13 am
SANGUE ROMAGNOLO.m4a 7,903,250   8/15/12  11:14 am
 
12,607,905   8/15/12  11:03 am
SANGUE ROMAGNOLO.ogg 10,985,237   8/15/12  10:05 am
SANGUE ROMAGNOLO.wma 19,702,940   8/15/12  11:04 am

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