Homecoming*

Chapter 24

Ice House

Luke Corazza stood up, staring at him. Then he stepped forward, put his arms round Ragazzo and hugged him.
"The Lord be praised, you're back. We thought you'd gone for ever!"
For a moment they stood locked in each other's arms. Then Luke pushed Ragazzo away.
"But where have you been all this time?" "Why at sea on this ice ship - and in Norway. This is the first time the Caesar's been back to London." Then he went on anxiously, "Luke, Captain Pettereson has promised he will speak for me ... about the Police - the theft I mean."

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Luke looked at him. "Jesu, that was forgotten years ago. The Police caught the boys. They admitted they had threatened you. That it was not your fault."
Ragazzo felt as if a heavy weight had lifted from him. "And Signor Carlo?" Luke laughed. "Why Signor Carlo, I'm sure he wants to see you. He has important news."
"Important news. What about?"
Luke shook his head. "I can't tell you that - only he can." Climbing down on the deck he said, "You must go straightaway. There'll be ice carts going up to the Strand this morning. You can get a lift." He laughed again. "My, what a surprise you'll give them, and what a fine young man you've turned out!"
He patted Ragazzo on the back. "Go on with you now, you're in for a big celebration."

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Ragazzo went to give the Captain the good news and ask for the afternoon off. An hour later, after he had cooked the midday meal, he set off to pick up one of the ice carts delivering ice in the West End. He did not know the carter. He was a new man from Lombardy and it was difficult to understand his dialect, so from the high seat beside him, Ragazzo had time to look around him and recognise many familiar places, as the horses jogged along.

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Coming from Norway with its pure clean air, the forests and its tidy weather boarded houses, the sprawl of London, street after street, the dirt and the confusion of the traffic almost overwhelmed him. The sound of the horses\ hooves along the cobbles was deafening. But soon he found he was enjoying the hustle and bustle. It was familiar and reassuring. Through the City and into the Strand. He was soon to recognise and notice the changes in some of the shops and offices. And there were new men on the ice cream pitches. Past King's College . . . Where he wondered was Tom nowadays? Eagerly he looked towards Hungerford Market. As they approached, he saw to his horror the buildings were shattered, the fine facade in ruins. There tens of men breaking down the walls, removing the rubble. Aghast he turned to the driver.
"What's happened? What's going on?"
The driver remained unimpressed. "Pulled down for the station . . . railway station."
Then Ragazzo remembered what Luke had said . . . ask for Gatti's Restaurant. "Gatti's Restaurant?"
"Over there?" The driver pointed across the Strand.
Ragazzo jumped down as the cart turned into Villiers Street. The sight of Hungerford Market in ruins hurt him. He hurried across the road and there it was - Gatti's new restaurant with smart double doors. He entered nervously. It was a large high room, comfortable, gaily decorated, with four long rows of marble topped tables. As it was early afternoon there were few customers, but at the far end of the room, beside a huge spluttering grill, a group of men were sitting chatting. Ragazzo recognised the broad back of Signor Carlo immediately. He walked down towards him. He coughed.
Signor Carlo turned. "If you sit down young man, the waiter will serve you in a minute."
"Signore I came to see you. Luke sent me. He said you had news for me, important news." Carlo got up and came towards him. He took him by the arm and turned his face to the light.
"Ragazzo?"
"Yes, signore." All the others crowded round. Amongst them Ragazzo recognised Signor Giovanni and Agostino.
Carlo said, "Take off your jacket."
Confused, Ragazzo did as he was told.
"Now your shirt."
Deeply embarassed, Ragazzo began to loosen his shirt and as he did so, Carlo pulled back the material across his left shoulder. The livid strawberry mark was there for all to see.
There was silence for a moment. Then Carlo said rather formally.
"Welcome back, Luigi Derighetti." And suddenly everyone was laughing and clapping him on the back. Stephano and some of the waiters he knew from the old café, came in shouting and congratulating him and then Rosa came forward from the cashier's desk and kissed him saying, "Welcome Cousin Luigi."
Ragazzo looked at them uncomprehendingly.
"Some wine," Carlo said to Stephano, and leading Ragazzo to one of the tables, he sat him down. And it was then he explained to Ragazzo the riddle of his life. How his father, a chestnut seller, had gone to Paris, how his mother had died giving birth to her second child and how Luigi, put into the hands of his grandparents, had strayed from home and been stolen by the padrone. Carlo had checked all this on his last visit to the Ticino. Now all he had needed was proof of his identity - the birth mark.

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"Luigi Derighetti," Ragazzo repeated the unfamiliar name, "Luigi Derighetti." "Derighetti was my mother's name," said Carlo. "You are a distant cousin. A second cousin one might say. But, of course, part of our family."
He smiled at Ragazzo.
"It's good to have you back, Luigi. We must see now where to fit you in to the family business."
"But, signore, I must go back to my ship."
"Your ship?"
"I've been working on an ice ship, the Caesar."
"An ice ship. Well now that's valuable experience. Didn't I tell you that one day you might be one of my Managers in the ice business?"
"Signore," said Ragazzo firmly, "I want to be a confectioner."
Carlo looked astonished, "A confectioner?"
"That's what I've always wanted to be."
"But things are different now. You don't want to go back to the kitchen. You can do better for yourself."
"I want to be a confectioner."
Carlo got up. "You go back to your ship and sign off and then when you've met all the family and had a few days rest, we'll see."