Tom's House

Chapter 18

Ice House

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One of Ragazzo's popular pitches was at the corner of West Strand and Adelaide Street, beneath the pepper-pot turrets and balconies of a big building of shops and offices. Here he would come in the late afternoon to catch shoppers with their children, hurrying home to tea, or the visitors who had come to gaze at the great monument to Admiral Nelson in Trafalgar Square nearby.

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One hot afternoon, just as he was serving his last ice cream to two little boys, he heard a shout behind him.
"On guard."
He turned quickly to see Tom standing erect, hand outstretched, holding his imaginary sword ready for action.
"0h, it's you," Ragazzo sighed with relief.
In a series of twists and lunges Tom approached him, then thrusting his arm forward, he shouted, "Toccato, I hit you."
Ragazzo laughed. Tom had been for his fencing lesson with Professor Angelo.
"Phew," said Tom, "it's so hot. Can I have an ice?"
Ragazzo looked in the canister. "It's all gone now. I've just sold the last of it. I was just off back to the café."
"Come on then, we'll go together."

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They crossed over the Strand. Then Tom said suddenly, "It's Cook's day off today, why don't you come back and have tea? And I'll show you the map I told you about - of the Ticino."
Ragazzo hesitated, but he was not expected back at the cafe immediately.
"Alright", he said.
Together they walked on to Craven Street, where Tom lived. It was a street of fine three-storeyed houses. Tom stopped at No.10.
"Leave the barrow there," he said, opening a little gate in the railings and disappearing into the basement. Ragazzo followed, entering first into a dark passage and then into a large kitchen, with a huge black shiny range on one side of the wall. There was a fine white sanded table in the centre of the room and a big dresser, crammed with plates and tureens.

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Their arrival brought a young girl in a white cap and apron into the kitchen.
"Oh it's you, Master Tom."
"May, be a dear and make us some tea?" May's eyes widened in astonishment at the sight of Ragazzo in his rough clothes.
"But Master Tom .... "
"And bring it upstairs as soon as you can. I'm starving."
Tom opened a baize door. "Come on, Ragazzo."
Ragazzo followed on through the door, up a flight of steps and into a spacious hall, dark with pannelling. One open door showed him a room lined with books from floor to ceiling.

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Tom ran quickly up the stairs, but Ragazzo followed more slowly, stepping onto the thick carpet, noticing as he climbed, the sweeping staircase with its carved balustrades. At the top of the stairs there was a very large room, lit by three windows looking out onto the street. He peered in. At one side was a great fireplace set with logs with a great marble mantlepiece, topped by a golden mirror. All around him the parquet floor shone. There were beautiful rugs and big comfortable chairs in flowered patterns. Ragazzo had never seen such wealth and luxury. And the walls - the walls were covered in pictures, pictures of people, of animals and places. He stood and stared.

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"Come on!"
He heard Tom call from the second landing. He continued up the stairs, his feet sinking into the thick carpet. Tom stood at an open door.
"This used to be my brother and my nursery, but we use it now as a kind of study."
It was a much simpler room. A table and chairs in the centre. An ottoman with a collection of old toys, a desk, books on shelves and in the far corner what looked like a horse.

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Seeing Ragazzo looking at it, Tom went over, patted its head. The horse began to rock slowly backwards and forwards.
"This is old Dobbin. We couldn't give him away. He's part of the family. Try him."
Feeling a bit foolish Ragazzo got on, his legs hanging almost to the floor, but rocking backwards and forwards, he thought how lucky Tom and his brother had been. Tom got down a large slim book from the shelves.
"Here's the atlas. I'll show you what I found."
Ragazzo came over to the table.
"That's the British Isles." Ragazzo looked at the strange red shape, covered with small print. He had never seen a map before.
"And this is where we are in London." Tom put his finger on the spot.
Then turning the pages, "This is France!" Another page turned.
"And this is Switzerland and down here in the south is the Ticino."

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Ragazzo gazed at the map, mauve, brown and green. This was the Ticino, where all the men he worked with, belonged. Where Signor Carlo came from and Rosa.
"It must be very mountainous. See the mauve part means high mountains - part of the Alps."
There was a knock at the door and May came in with a big tray. She began to set out cups and saucers, a plate of bread and butter and a large fruit cake.
"But you can't remember anything about it?"
"No, but the men have told me about it."
"Thanks, May." Tom began to pour out the tea. Ragazzo noticed how awkward he was in doing it.
"Have some bread and butter."

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Ragazzo had never tasted butter and the jam was very sweet and full of fruit. For a while they sat eating, enjoying the food in companionable silence. Tom was just offering Ragazzo a third piece of fruit cake when the door opened and a tall man stood in the doorway.
"Tom." Tom stood up.
"Yes, father."
"What's that barrow doing outside the front door? May says you've brought .... "
The barrow. Ragazzo had forgotten about the barrow. Seeing Ragazzo starting up, Mr Crampton said, "If it's yours, young man, be off with you."
"But father . . . "
"Yes, signore." Ragazzo bowed his head and walked past Mr Crampton and down the stairs. As he reached the first floor, he saw May waiting for him in the hall. He was not upset or hurt. He knew this was no place for the likes of him. It was kind of Tom to ask him to tea. He hoped he would not get into trouble.

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May opened the front door and Ragazzo stepped out. Fortunately the barrow was untouched. Wheeling it back to the café full of good food, Ragazzo thought about the map of the Ticino. He had heard so much about that country, but now it was real, a real place on a map. A place where Signor Carlo regularly went home to, a place to which Luke Corazza and all the others longed to return, a place, where though he could not remember, he had probably come from.

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For the first time in his life, Ragazzo realised that somewhere on that map there were people to whom he belonged - perhaps even a family, the family he had always wanted.

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